Two days later Ilya learnt that a tall man in a lambs-wool cap was being sought for as the probable murderer of Poluektov. During the investigations made in the shop, two silver clasps from an eikon were found and it appeared that these were stolen goods. The errand boy who had been employed in the business, stated that these mounts had been bought from a tall man in a short fur jacket, called Andrei, that this Andrei had several times before sold gold and silver ornaments to Poluektov, and that the money-changer had advanced him money. Further it was known that on the evening before the murder and on the same day, a man corresponding to the description, had wasted much money in carousing in the public houses of the town.
Every day Ilya heard something new; the whole town took a keen interest in this crime, so ingeniously carried out, and in all the ale-houses and all the streets nothing else was spoken of. But all the talk had little attraction for Ilya. Fear had fallen from his heart, like the scab from a wound, and instead he only felt now a sense of awkwardness. He listened attentively to all that was said, but thought only—how would his life shape itself now, what had the future in store for him? And the conviction that the murderer would not be discovered, strengthened every day.
He felt like a recruit before the conscription summons, or like a man who is proceeding towards some unknown far-off goal. More than ever he felt the need to live for himself and take thought for himself, but life hissed and boiled round him like water in a kettle, and almost every day came something to distract his mind from its preoccupation. He grew pale and thin.
Of late Jakov had been more drawn to him again. Tousled and carelessly dressed, he wandered aimlessly about the tap room and the courtyard, looking vaguely at everything with wandering eyes and had the appearance of a man brought face to face with strange ideas. When he met Ilya he would ask him mysteriously, half aloud, or whispering, "Have you no time to talk?"
"Wait a bit; I can't now."
"It's something very important."
"What is it?"
"It's a book. I tell you, brother, the things in it——Oh! oh!" said Jakov, with a terrified air.
"Bother your books! I'd rather know why your father always scowls at me now."
But Jakov had no mind for realities.
At Ilya's question he looked astonished, as though he hardly understood, and said:
"Eh? I don't know. That is, once I heard him speaking to your uncle about it; something about your passing false money; but he only said it chaffing."
"How do you know he was only chaffing?"
"Why, what a thing to say—false money," he interrupted Ilya with a gesture as though to wave the subject away. "But won't you talk to me? No time?"
"About your book?"
"Yes, there's a bit in it I've just read. Oh! well!"
And the philosopher made a face as though something had scalded him. Ilya looked at his friend as at a person half idiotic. Sometimes Jakov seemed to him absolutely blind. He took him for an unlucky man, unfit to cope with life.
The gossip ran in the house, and it was all over the street already, that Petrusha was going to marry his mistress, who kept a public house in the town. But Jakov paid absolutely no attention. When Ilya asked him when the wedding was to be, he said:
"Why, your father's."
"Oh! who's to know? disgusting! A pretty witch he's chosen!"
"Do you know she has a son—a big boy, who goes to the High School?"
"No, I didn't know. Why?"
"He'll come in for your father's property."
"Oh!" said Jakov, indifferently, then with a sudden interest, "A son, you say?"
"A son—that'll just do, father can stick him behind the bar, and I can do what I like. That'll suit me."
And he smacked his lips as with a foretaste of his longed-for freedom. Ilya looked at him with pity, then said, mockingly:
"The proverb is right, 'Give the stupid child a piece of bread if he wants a carrot.' You! I can't imagine how you're going to live."
Jakov pricked up his ears, looked at Ilya with big eyes starting out of his head, then said in a hurried whisper:
"I know how I shall live! I've thought about it! Before everything, one must get one's soul in order; must understand what God wants one to do. Now I see one thing; the ways of men are all confused, like tangled threads, and they are drawn in different directions, and no one knows what to hold to or where to let himself be drawn. Now a man is born—no one knows why—and lives—I don't know why—and death comes and blows out the light. Before anything else I must know what I'm in the world for, mustn't I?"
"You—you've tied yourself up in your cobwebs," said. Ilya with some heat. "I'd like to know what's the sense of that?"
He felt that Jakov's dark sayings gripped his heart more strongly than of old, and waked very strange thoughts in him. He felt as though there were a being in his mind, the same that always opposed his clear, simple conception of a clean, comfortable life, that listened to Jakov with strange curiosity, and moved in his soul like a child in the mother's womb.
This troubled Ilya, confused him, and seemed to him undesirable, and therefore he avoided conversation with Jakov; but it was not easy to get rid of him once he had begun.
"What's the sense? It's very simple. Not to be clear where you're going's like trying to burn without fire, isn't it? You must know where you're going, and why, and if it's the right road."
"You're like an old man, Jakov—you're a bit of a bore. My opinion is, as the proverb says: 'Seeing that even swine long to be happy, how should man do otherwise.' Good-bye!"
After such conversation, he felt as though he had eaten something very salt; he was overcome with thirst, and longed for something out of the common. The thought of the punishment God held over him burned more brightly in him and singed his soul; he sought for loneliness and could not find it. Then he would go to Olympiada, and in her arms seek forgetfulness and peace from torturing thought. Sometimes he would go to see Vyera. The life she led had drawn her deeper and deeper into its deep turbid whirlpool. She used to tell Ilya with excitement, of feasting with rich young tradesmen, with officials and officers, of suppers in restaurants and troika excursions. She showed him new dresses and jackets, the gifts of her admirers. Luxurious, strong, and healthy, she was proud to be entreated and quarrelled over. Ilya rejoiced in her health and good spirits and beauty, but more than once warned her: "Don't lose your head at the game, Vyeratchka."
"What's the odds? It's my way. At least, one lives in style. I take all I can get from life. That's enough!"
"Well, what about Pavel?"
As soon as he named her lover, she lost her gaiety and her brows contracted.
"If only he'd let me go my own way! It troubles him so, and he torments himself so! If only he'd be content with what I can give him. But he wants me altogether, and I can't stop now; I'm like a fly caught in the treacle."
"Don't you love him?"
"I can't help it," she replied, seriously, "he's such a fine fellow."
"Very well, then, you ought to live with him."
"With him? Nice drag I should be on him! He has barely a bit of bread for himself, how's he to keep me too? No, I'm sorry for him."
"Look out that no harm comes of it. He's hot-tempered," Ilya warned her one day; but she laughed.
"He? He's as gentle—I can twist him which way I want."
"You'll break him!"
"Good heavens!" she cried crossly, "what am I to do? Was I born for just one man? Every one wants to enjoy his life, and every one lives for himself, as he pleases, just as you do, and I do."
"N—No! it isn't so exactly," said Ilya gloomily and thoughtfully. "We all live, but not only for ourselves."
"For whom, then?"
"Take yourself, for instance. You live for the young clerks and all sorts of easy-going people."
"I'm easy-going too," said Vyera, and laughed contentedly.
Ilya left her, in a downcast mood. Only twice, and for a moment, had he seen Pavel during this time. Once when he met his friend at Vyera's house, he had sat there dark and troubled, silent, with teeth clenched and a red spot on each cheek. Ilya understood that Pavel was jealous of him, and that flattered his vanity. But he saw too, clearly, that Gratschev was tangled in a net, from which he would hardly free himself without severe injury. He pitied Pavel, and still more Vyera, and gave up visiting her. He was living a new honeymoon with Olympiada. But here too, a cold shadow glided in and took the peace from his heart. Sometimes, in the midst of a conversation, he would sink into a deep moodiness. Olympiada said to him once, in a loving whisper:
"Dear, don't think of it. There are so few men in the world whose hands are clean."
"Listen!" he answered seriously and tonelessly. "Please don't speak of that to me! I'm not thinking of my hands, but of my soul. You are clever, but you can never understand what it is that moves me. Tell me, if you can, how shall a man begin, what shall he do, to live honourably and cleanly, peacefully and rightly to others? That is what I want to know. But say nothing to me of the old man!"
But she could not keep silence, and implored him again and again to forget. He grew angry, and went away. When he returned, she flew out at him, and exclaimed that he only loved her out of fear, or from pity; that she would not endure it, and would rather leave him, rather go away out of the town. She wept, pinched or bit him, then kissed his feet, or tore her clothes like a mad thing, and said:
"Am I not beautiful, desirable? And I love you with every vein, every drop of my blood. Hurt me, tear me, and I'll laugh at it." Her blue eyes would darken, her lips quiver, and her bosom heave. Then he would embrace her and kiss her passionately; but afterwards, as he went home, he would wonder how she, so full of life, so passionate, how could she endure the disgusting caresses of that old man? Then Olympiada appeared so pitiable, so contemptible that he could spit for disgust when he thought of her kisses. One day, after such an outbreak, he said to her, tired of her caresses:
"Do you love me more warmly since I strangled that old devil?"
"Yes, of course. Why?"
"Nothing. It makes me laugh to think there are people who like a stale egg better than a fresh, and would rather eat an apple when its rotten—odd!"
She looked at him wearily, and said in a tired voice:
"'Every beast likes something best,' as the saying goes. One likes the owl, another the nightingale."
And both fell into a heavy moodiness.
One day when Ilya had returned home and was changing his clothes, Terenti came quietly into the room. He shut the door fast behind him, stood a moment, as if listening, then pushed to the bolts.
Ilya noticed this, and looked at him mockingly.
"Ilusha," began Terenti, in a low voice as he sat down on a chair.
"There are strange reports going about you; people say evil things of you."
The hunchback sighed, and closed his eyes.
"For instance?" said Ilya, drawing on his boots.
"Some say one thing, some another; some say you were mixed up in that affair when the old merchant was strangled; others say you pass false money."
"They're envious, eh?"
"Different people have been here, secret police it seems—detectives—they questioned Petrusha about you."
"Let them till they're tired," said Ilya, indifferently.
"Certainly, what have they to do with us if we have no sins on our conscience?"
Ilya laughed and stretched himself on the bed.
"They don't come now, but Petrusha is always on about it," said Terenti shyly, in an embarrassed way. "He's always taunting one, Petrusha. You ought to take a little room for yourself somewhere, Ilusha, a room of your own to live in. Yes. 'I can't have these worthy dark gentlemen in my house,' says Petrusha. 'I'm a town councillor,' he says."
Ilya turned, his face red with anger, on his uncle, and said loudly:
"Listen! If he values his ugly face, let him hold his tongue! Tell him that! If I hear one word I don't like, I'll smash his skull for him. Whatever I am, he, at any rate, has no call to judge me, the scoundrel! And I'll go away when I want to. Meantime I shall stay and enjoy this honourable and distinguished company."
The hunchback was terrified at Ilya's wrath; he sat silent a while, rubbing his back, and looking at his nephew with big eyes full of anxious expectation.
Ilya compressed his lips and stared at the ceiling. Terenti looked at him, the curly head, serious handsome face, with the small moustache and strong chin, the broad chest and all the vigorous, well-knit body, and then said slowly, with a sigh:
"What a fine lad you've grown! the girls in the village would crowd after you. We'll go to the village."
Ilya was silent.
"H'm, yes—you'll have a real life there! I'll give you money, and set you up in business, and then you'll marry a rich girl, he! he! And your life will glide along like a sleigh on the snow downhill."
"Perhaps I prefer to go uphill," said Ilya, peevishly.
"Of course, uphill," Terenti caught up his words. "That's what I meant; it's an easy life—that's what I meant; why, uphill, of course, to the very top."
"And when I'm there, what then?"
The hunchback looked at him and chuckled. Then he spoke again, but Ilya did not listen. He was thinking of all his experiences of this later time, and figuring to himself how evenly all life hangs together, like the strings in a net. Circumstances surround men and lead them where they will, as the police do the rogues. He had always had it in his mind to leave this house and live by himself, and now here chance comes to his aid! He was still thinking how he would plan out his life alone, when there came a sudden knock at the door.
"Open it!" cried Ilya crossly to his uncle, who was shaking with fear.
The hunchback drew back the bolts and Jakov appeared, a great, red-brown book in his hand.
"Ilya, come to Mashutka!" he said quickly, and advanced to the bed.
"What's wrong with her?" said Ilya hastily.
"With her? I don't know, she's not at home."
"Where does she always go gadding to in the evenings?" asked the hunchback in a tone of annoyance.
"She always goes out with Matiza," said Ilya.
"She'll get a lot of good there!" answered Terenti, with emphasis.
"It doesn't matter. Come Ilya!"
Jakov caught Ilya by the sleeve and drew him away.
"Hold on!" cried Lunev. "Tell me, have you got your mind clear yet?"
"Think—it's here—the Black Magic's here!" whispered Jakov, radiant.
"Who?" asked Ilya, pulling on his felt slippers.
"Why, you know, the book. Heavens! you'll see. Come. Extraordinary things, I tell you," Jakov went on enthusiastically, as he dragged his friend along the dark passage.
"It's awful to read, it's like falling down a precipice."
Ilya saw his friend's excitement and heard how his voice shook. When they reached the cobbler's room, and had lighted the lamp, he saw that Jakov's face was quite pale, and his eyes dim and happy, like those of a drunken man.
"Have you been drinking?" asked Ilya, suspiciously.
"I? No. Not a drop to-day! I never drink now, anyway, or only when father's at home, to screw up my courage, two or three glasses, no more. I'm afraid of father—always drinks stuff that doesn't smell too strong though—but never mind that, listen!"
He fell into a chair so heavily that it creaked, opened his book, bent double over it, and fingering the old pages, yellow with age, he read in a hollow, trembling voice: "'Third Chapter—On the origin of man.' Now, listen!"
He sighed, took his left hand off the book, and read aloud. The index finger of his right hand preceded his voice, as though writing in the old book. "'It is said, and Diodorus confirms, that the origin of man is conceived according to two ways, by the virtuous men'—d'you hear, virtuous men—'who have written on the nature of things. Some consider that the world is uncreated and imperishable, and that the race of men has existed from eternity, without any beginning.'"
Jakov raised his head, and said in a whisper, gesticulating with his hand in the air:
"D'you hear? Without beginning!"
"Go on!" said Ilya, and looked distrustfully at the old leather-bound book. Jakov's voice continued, softly and solemnly: "'This opinion was held, according to Cicero, by Pythagoras of Samos, Archytas of Tarentum, Plato of Athens, Xenokrates, Aristotle of Stagira, and many others of the peripatetic philosophers, who took the view that all that is, exists from eternity, and has no beginning'—d'you see, again, no beginning—'but that there is a certain cycle of life, those that were born and those that are born, in which cycle is the beginning and the end of every man that is born.'"
Ilya stretched out his hand and struck the book, and said mockingly:
"Throw it away! Devil take it! Some German or other has been showing off his cleverness. There's no sense in it."
"Wait a minute!" cried Jakov, and looked anxiously round, then at his friend, and said gently:
"Perhaps you know your beginning?"
"What beginning?" cried Ilya crossly.
"Don't shout so! Take the soul. Man is born with a soul, isn't he?"
"Then he must know where he comes from, and how? The soul is immortal, they say. It was always there; isn't that true? Wait! It isn't so much to know how you were born as how you lived. When did you live? When did you first know that you were alive? You were born living. Well, then, when did you become living. In the womb? Very well. Why don't you remember more—what happened before your birth, and not only what happened after you were five years old? Eh? And, if you have a soul, how did it get inside you? Eh? Tell me."
Jakov's eyes shone triumphantly, his face broke into a happy smile, and he cried, with a joy that seemed to Ilya very strange: "You see, there you have your soul!"
"Stupid!" said Ilya, and looked at him angrily, "what's that to be glad about?"
"I'm not glad. I'm only saying—I'm only saying——"
"Well, I tell you, throw the book away! You see quite well it's written against God. It doesn't matter a bit how I was born alive, but how I live. How to live so that everything is clean and pleasant, so that no one hurts me, and I hurt nobody. Find me a book that'll make that plain to me."
Jakov sat silent and thoughtful, his head on his breast. His joy vanished when it found no echo. After a time he said: "When I look at you, there's something about you I don't like. I don't understand your thoughts, but I see you've been getting very proud about something or other for some time. You go on as if you were the only righteous man."
Ilya laughed aloud.
"What are you laughing at? It's true. You judge every one so harshly. You don't love anybody."
"There you're right," said Ilya, fiercely. "Whom should I love; and why? What good have men done to me? Every one wants to get his bread by some one else's work, and every one cries out: 'love me, respect me, give me a share of your goods; then perhaps I'll love you!' Every one, every where, thinks of nothing but stuffing himself."
"No. I think men don't think only of stuffing themselves," answered Jakov displeased and hurt.
"I know—every one tries to adorn himself with something, but it's only a mask. I see my uncle try and bargain with God, like the shopman with his master. Your papa gives one or two weathercocks to churches. I conclude from that that he either has swindled some one or is going to; and so they all behave, as far as I can see; there's your penny they say, but give me back five. I read the other day in the paper of Migunov the merchant, who gave three hundred roubles to a hospital, and then petitions the town council to knock off the arrears of his taxes, just a thousand roubles—and so they all do, trying to throw dust in one another's eyes and put themselves in the right. My view is, if you've sinned, willingly or unwillingly, take your punishment!"
"You're right there," said Jakov thoughtfully. "What you said of father and the hunchback, that was right too. Ah! we're both born under an evil star. You have your wickedness at any rate, you comfort yourself by judging everybody, but I have not even that. Oh! if only I could go away somewhere, away from here."
His speech ended with a cry of distress.
"Away from here. Where d'you want to go?" asked Ilya with a faint smile.
"It's all the same. I don't know."
They sat at the table opposite one another, gloomy and silent, and there lay the big red-brown book with the steel clasp.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the passage, a low voice was heard and a hand fumbled at the door for the latch. The friends waited in silence. The door opened slowly, and Perfishka staggered in: he stumbled on the threshold and fell on his knees, holding up his harmonica.
"Prr,"—he said, and laughed drunkenly.
Immediately behind him Matiza crept into the room. She bent over the cobbler, took his arm and tried to lift him up, saying with stammering tongue:
"Ah! How drunk he is! Oh, you soaker!"
"Don't touch me, jade! I'll stand alone, quite alone."
He swayed hither and thither, but got on his legs with difficulty, and came up to the two friends: he stretched out his left hand and cried:
"Welcome to my house!"
Matiza laughed, a deep, silly laugh.
"Where do you come from?" asked Ilya.
Jakov looked at the two with a smile and said nothing.
"Where? From the deep sea! Ha! ha! my dear, good boys. Oh! yes!"
Perfishka stamped his feet on the floor and sang:
"Oh little bones, dear little bones,
I weep for you in piteous tones.
For hardly are you grown at all
Before the shopman cracks you small."
"Sing, you jade, sing too," he screamed, turning to Matiza, "or let's sing the song you taught me, go ahead!"
He leant his back against the stove, where Matiza had already found support, and dug his elbow into her ribs, while his fingers wandered over the harmonica keys.
"Where is Mashutka?" asked Ilya suddenly, in a harsh voice.
"Yes, tell us," cried Jakov, and sprang from his chair. "Where is she? Tell us!"
But the drunken pair paid no heed to the question. Matiza leant her head to one side and sang:
"Ah! neighbour, your brandy is rousing and good."
And Perfishka struck in in a high tenor:
"Drink it, my neighbour, it comforts the blood."
Ilya stepped up to the cobbler, caught him by the shoulder, and shook him, till he fell against the stove.
"Where's your daughter?" he said commandingly.
"And oh! his daughter she vanished away,
In the midnight hour, ere the break of day,"
babbled Perfishka, and held his head with his hand.
Jakov attempted to get the truth from Matiza, but she only said smirking: "I won't tell. I won't. I won't."
"They've sold her, the devils," said Ilya to his friend, gloomily. Jakov looked at him in terror, then asked the cobbler almost weeping:
"Perfishka! listen—Where is Mashutka?"
"Mashutka?" repeated Matiza, scornfully. "Aha! you see. Now you remember."
"Ilya! what shall we do?" cried Jakov full of anxiety.
"We must tell the police," said Ilya, and looked with disgust at the drunkards.
"Aha! jade! d'you hear," shouted Perfishka, beaming, "they want to tell the police! ha! ha! ha!"
"The po—lice?" cried Matiza emphatically, and looked with extraordinary great eyes from Ilya to Jakov and back again. Then stretching out her hands helplessly, she screamed loudly:
"You'll go to your police, will you? Get out of my room! It is my room now, we're just married, we two."
"Ha! ha! ha! laughed the cobbler, holding his sides.
"Come Jakov!" said Ilya. "The devil would be sickened at them! Come."
"Wait!" cried Jakov, in anxious excitement. "Have they really married her? That child? Is it possible? Perfishka, tell me, have you really. Oh, tell me, where is Masha?"
"Matiza, my wife, go for them! Catch them—catch—scream at them, bite them! Ha! ha! where is Masha?"
Perfishka pursed his lips as though to whistle, but could not get out a sound, and instead, put out his tongue at Jakov and laughed again.
Matiza pressed close to Ilya with her huge bosom heaving, and roared:
"Who are you, eh? D'you think we don't know all about you?"
Ilya gave her a push and left the cellar.
In the passage Jakov overtook him, caught him by the shoulder, held him fast in the darkness, and said:
"Is it allowed; can it be done? She's so little, Ilya! Have they really married her!"
"Oh! don't whimper!" said Ilya wrathfully. "That's no good! You ought to have kept your eyes open before; you began it, and now they've finished it."
Jakov was silent for a moment, then at once began again, as he stepped into the courtyard after Ilya.
"It's not my fault. I only knew that she went out to work somewhere."
"What does it matter, if you knew or didn't know?" said Ilya, harshly, and stood still in the middle of the courtyard. "I'll get out of this house anyhow; it ought to be burnt to the ground."
"O God! O God!" sighed Jakov, in a low voice, keeping behind Ilya. Ilya wheeled round. Jakov stood there miserable, his arms hanging helplessly and his head bowed as if to receive a blow.
"Cry away!" said Ilya, mockingly, and went off, leaving his friend in the middle of the dark courtyard. Next day Ilya learnt from Perfishka that Masha was actually married to Ehrenov the grocer, a widower of fifty, who had lost his wife shortly before.
"'I've two children,' he said to me, 'one five years old, one three,'" explained Perfishka, "'and I shall have to get a nurse. But a nurse,' he says, 'is always a stranger. She'll rob me, and that sort of thing. Speak to your daughter, if she'll marry me!' Well, so I spoke to her, and Matiza spoke to her, and since Masha is a reasonable child, she understood it all, and what else was she to do? 'All right,' she says, 'I'll do it!' And so she went to him. It was all settled in three days. We two—I and Matiza—got three roubles, so yesterday we got drunk. Heavens! how Matiza drinks, like a horse!"
Ilya listened in silence. He understood that Masha had done better for herself than would have been generally expected. But all the same, his heart ached for the girl. He had seen little of her of late, and hardly thought of her, but now, without her, the house felt dirtier and more hateful than ever.
The yellow, bloated face of the cobbler grinned down at Ilya from the stove, and his voice creaked like a broken branch in the autumn wind. Lunev looked at him disgustedly.
"Ehrenov made one condition: I'm never to show up at his house! 'You can come to the shop,' he says. 'I'll give you schnapps and odds and ends, but to the house—never! It's shut to you, like Paradise.' Now then, Ilya Jakovlevitch, couldn't you hunt up a five-kopeck piece, to get a drink. Please give me five kopecks."
"You shall have 'em in a minute," said Ilya. "What are you going to do now?"
The cobbler spat on the ground, and replied: "I'll just become an out-and-out drunkard. Till Masha was provided for, I used to worry. I worked sometimes. I had a sort of conscience with her. But now I know she's enough to eat and shoes and clothes, and is shut up in a box, so to speak, I can devote myself, free and unhindered, to the drinking profession."
"Can't you really give up brandy?"
"Never!" answered the cobbler, and shook his shaggy head in a vigorous negative. "Why should I?"
"Is there nothing else in life you want?"
"Give me five kopecks. I don't want anything else."
"I can't understand that," said Ilya, shrugging his shoulders. "I can't understand how a man can live, and want nothing out of life."
"I'm different from the rest," answered Perfishka, with philosophical calm. "I think this way: keep quiet!—Fate gives what it will, and if a man is hollow and empty, so that nothing can be put in him, then, what can Fate do? Once, I admit, I wanted things, while my dead one was alive—I knew of Jeremy's pile. I'd have liked to have a fist in that. 'If I don't rob him,' I thought, 'some one else will.' Well, thank God, two others actually got in before me. I don't complain, but then I understood that one must learn, too, how to wish."
The cobbler laughed, climbed down from the stove, and added:
"Now give me the five kopecks. My inside's on fire. I can't stand it any more."
"There! Have your glass," said Ilya. Then he looked at Perfishka with a smile, and asked:
"Shall I tell you something?"
"You're a humbug, and a good-for-nothing, and a miserable drunkard. That's all certain."
"Yes, it's certain," confessed the cobbler, standing before Ilya with the five-kopeck piece in his hand.
"And yet," Ilya went on seriously and thoughtfully, "I don't believe I know a better man than you, by God, I don't."
Perfishka smiled incredulously, and looked at Lunev's serious but friendly face.
"Believe it or not, it is so. I don't say it to praise you, but only because, so far as I can see, that's my opinion."
"Wonderful! my head's too stupid I'm afraid; did I understand you to say——But let me have a mouthful, perhaps then I'll be cleverer."
"Not so fast!" said Ilya, and caught him by the shirt sleeve. "I want to ask you one thing—do you fear God?"
Perfishka shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, and said in a voice that sounded a little hurt:
"I have no reason to fear God. I do no harm to anyone—never have."
"And now, do you pray?"
"Oh, I pray, of course—not often."
Ilya saw that the cobbler had no desire to talk, and that his whole soul was longing for the tap room.
"There you are, Perfishka—ten more!"
"My word! that's what I call treating!" cried Perfishka and beamed with joy.
"But tell me, how do you pray?" Lunev pressed him again.
"I? Quite simply. I don't know any prayers. I knew 'the Virgin Mother of God' once, but I forgot it long ago. There's a beggar's prayer: 'O Lord Jesus,' and so on, I know that by heart right to the end. Perhaps when I'm old I'll use it. But now I just pray in my own way. 'Lord have mercy,' I say."
Perfishka looked at the ceiling, nodded with conviction, and went on.
"He'll understand up there. Can I go now? I've an awful thirst."
"Go on—go on," said Ilya, and looked at Perfishka thoughtfully. "But see here, when the day comes, when the Lord asks you, How have you lived?"
"Then I'll say, 'when I was born I was small, and when I died I was dead drunk. So I don't know.' Then He'll laugh and forgive me."
The cobbler smiled pleasantly and hurried away.
Lunev remained in the cellar alone. He was strangely moved to think that Masha's pretty little face would never again appear to him in this narrow, dirty cave, and that Perfishka would soon be turned out.
The April sun shone through the window and illuminated the floor, now long uncleaned. Everything there was untidy, hateful, and melancholy, as though a dead body had just been borne away. Ilya sat upright on his chair, looked at the big stove, rubbed away on the one side, and gloomy thoughts passed in succession through his mind.
"Shall I go out and confess?" flashed suddenly up in his heart.
But he thrust the thought away from him angrily.