Three Men

by Maxim Gorky

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Chapter XVI

On the evening of this day Ilya was compelled to leave Petrusha's house. Events fell out in this way. When he returned, his uncle met him in the courtyard, with downcast countenance, led him aside to a corner behind a pile of wood, and said:

"Now, Ilusha, you must get away from here. The things that have happened here to-day—awful, I tell you." The hunchback closed his eyes, wrung his hands, and broke into a fit of coughing. "Jashka got drunk and called his father to his face, 'You thief' and other bad names—'Shameless beast,' and 'heartless fellow.' He just screamed like a madman, and Petrusha hit him in the mouth, and tore his hair, and kicked him till he bled all over; and now Jashka's lying in his room and groaning and crying.—And then Petrusha began at me. 'It's your fault,' he growled. 'Get your Ilya away.' He thinks you've stirred up Jakov against him. He shouted awfully.—It was terrible!"

Ilya took the straps from his shoulders, handed his box to his uncle, and said, "Wait a minute!"

"Wait! But what? Why? He'll——"

Ilya's hands trembled with wrath against Petrusha and pity for Jakov.

"Hold my box, I say!" he said impatiently, and went into the bar. He clenched his teeth till his jaws ached, and a buzzing noise went through his head. He heard his uncle call after him something about police and damaging himself, and prison, but he did not stop. Petrusha stood behind the counter, smiling and talking to a raggedly-dressed man. The lamp-light fell on his bald head, and it shone as though the whole gleaming cranium smiled.

"Aha! Mr. Merchant!" he cried mockingly, and his brows contracted at the sight of Ilya, "you're just in time."

He stood before the door of his room, his body hiding it. Ilya went close up to him, insolent and overbearing, and said loudly:

"Out of the way!"

"Wh—at?" drawled Petrusha.

"Let me by! I want to see Jakov."

"I'll give you something to remember your Jakov!"

Without another word, Ilya struck out with all his might and hit Petrusha on the cheek. He howled aloud and fell on the floor. The pot-boys ran from all sides, and some one cried: "Hold him! Thrash him!"

The customers sprung up as though boiling water were poured on them, but Ilya sprung over Petrusha's body, went into the room behind, and bolted the door. A tin lamp with a blackened chimney burned flickeringly in the little room, made still smaller by wine-bins and boxes of all kinds.

At first Ilya did not distinguish his friend in the dark, cramped space. Jakov lay on the floor, his head in the shadow, and his face seemed black and dreadful. Ilya took the lamp, and, bending down, examined the maltreated lad. Bluish spots and bruises covered the face like a horrible dark mask; the eyes were swollen; he breathed with difficulty and groaned and evidently could not see, for he asked, as Ilya bent over him:

"Who is it?"

"I," said Lunev softly, and straightened himself.

"Give me something to drink!"

Ilya turned round. There was a loud knocking at the door, and some one called out:

"We'll try it from the stairs at the back!"

"Run for the police!" said another.

Petrusha's whimpering rose above the noise: "You all saw it! I never touched him. O—oh!"

Ilya smiled rejoicingly. He liked to realise that Petrusha was suffering. He stepped to the door and began to parley with the besiegers.

"Hullo, you there! Stop your noise! If I gave him one in the mouth, he won't die of it, and I'll take my punishment from the magistrate. Don't you shove yourselves in! Don't bang on the door! I'll open it."

He opened the door, and stood on the threshold, his fists clenched in case of an attack. The crowd gave back before his strong figure and fighting look. Only Petrusha growled, pushing the others aside:

"Ah, you robber! Wait, I'll——"

"Take him away—and look here, just look here!" cried Ilya, inviting the crowd to enter, "see how he's handled this fellow!"

Several customers came in, with anxious side glances at Ilya, and bent down over Jakov.

One said, astonished and frightened:

"He's smashed him up!"

"He's absolutely cut to ribbons!" added another.

"Bring some water," said Ilya, "and then we must have the police." The crowd was now on his side, he read it in their manner, and said aloud and with emphasis:

"You all know Petrusha Filimonov; you know that he is the biggest rascal in the street, and who has a word to say against his son? Well, here lies the son, wounded, perhaps maimed for life; and the father is to get off scot-free, is he? I have struck him once; I shall be condemned for that, is that right and fair? Is that even justice? And so it is all round. One man may do as he likes, and another must not move an eyelash."

One or two sighed sympathetically, others went silently away. Ilya was going on, but Petrusha burst into the room and turned them all out.

"Get out! Be off! This is my affair. He's my son, I'm his father. Be off! I'm not afraid of the police, and I don't need 'em, either—not a bit of it. I'll settle with you, my lad. Clear out of this!"

Ilya kneeled down, gave Jakov a glass of water and looked with deep compassion at his friend's swollen closed eyes and discoloured face. Jakov drank and whispered:

"He's knocked my teeth out, it hurts me to breathe, get me out of the house, Ilusha, get me away!"

Tears flowed from his swollen eyes down over his cheeks.

"He'll have to be taken to the hospital," said Ilya sternly, turning to Petrusha. Petrusha looked at his son and murmured to himself unintelligibly. Of his eyes, one was wide open, the other swollen up like Jakov's from the blow of Ilya's fist.

"Do you hear?" shouted Ilya.

"Don't shout so!" said Petrusha, suddenly becoming quiet and peaceful. "He can't go to the hospital. There'd be a row! You've made bother enough already here. I'm a town councillor, you know. It's bad for my reputation."

"You old blackguard!" said Ilya, and spat contemptuously. "I tell you, take him to the hospital, or there'll be another sort of row."

"Now, now, don't—keep your temper! you know it's half imagination."

Ilya sprang up at these words, but Filimonov was already at the door and called to a waiter:

"Ivan, call a droshky to go to the hospital! Jakov, pull yourself together, don't make yourself out worse than you are; it's your own father beat you, not a stranger—yes—I usen't to be so tenderly handled, my word, no!"

He moved restlessly about the room, took Jakov's clothes from their pegs, and threw them to Ilya, still dilating freely upon the thrashings he had received in his young days.

"Thanks," said Jakov in a voice hardly audible to Ilya, and the tears flowed on from his swollen eyes over his blood-stained cheeks. Terenti was standing behind the counter; he whispered shyly in Ilya's ear: "What'll you have? three kopecks' worth or five? There—please, five—caviar?—the caviar's all gone. I'm sorry, will you try a sardine?"

After Lunev had left Jakov at the hospital he realised he could not return to Filimonov's house, and he went to Olympiada. He felt as though a cold mist drove through his body, something gnawed at his heart and stole away his strength. Sadness lay heavy on his breast, his thoughts were confused, he walked wearily; one thing only stood out clearly, he could not live much longer in this way. The dream of a little pretty shop, a life apart from the world in cleanliness and comfort, rose up anew and more strongly.

Next day he hired a lodging, a little room next to a kitchen. A young woman in a red blouse let it to him. Her face was rosy, with a little saucy nose and a small, pretty mouth; she had a narrow brow framed in black curly hair that she frequently threw back with a quick movement of her slender, small fingers.

"Five roubles for such a pretty little room, that is not dear!" she said cheerfully, and smiled as she saw that her dark, vivacious eyes threw the broad-shouldered lad into some confusion.

Ilya looked at the walls of his future home, and wondered what sort of young woman this might be.

"You see the paper is quite new, the window looks on the garden, what could be nicer? In the morning I'll put the samovar outside your door, but you must take it in yourself."

"Do you do the waiting here, then?" asked Ilya with curiosity.

The girl ceased to smile, her eyebrows twitched, she drew herself up and said, condescendingly:

"I am not the housemaid, but the owner of this house, and my husband——"

"Why, are you married?" cried Ilya in astonishment, and looked incredulously at her pretty slender figure. She was not angered, but laughed gaily:

"How funny you are! first you take me for a housemaid, then you won't believe I'm married."

"How can I believe it, when you look just like a little girl?" said Ilya, and laughed too.

"And I tell you, that I've been married for three years, and that my man is district inspector—in the police."

Ilya looked in her face and smiled quietly, he did not know why.

"What a silly!" cried the girl, shrugging her shoulders and inspecting Ilya curiously. "Well, anyhow, will you take the room?"

"Agreed! D'you want a deposit?"

"Of course, a rouble, at least."

"I'll bring my things in, in two or three hours."

"As you please. I'm glad to have such a lodger, you're a cheerful one, I fancy."

"Not specially," said Lunev, smiling.

He went out into the street still smiling, with a feeling of pleasure in his breast. He liked both the room, with its blue wall-paper, and the brisk little woman, and he liked specially to think he was going to live in the house of a police inspector.

It seemed to him at once comical, with a certain irony, and rather dangerous.

He was on his way to visit Jakov at the hospital, and took a droshky to get there sooner. On the way he laughed in his heart and considered what to do with the money, and where to hide it. When he reached the hospital, he was told that Jakov had just had a bath, and was now fast asleep. He stood by the corridor window, and did not know whether to go away or wait till Jakov woke up. Patients passed him, shuffling slowly in slippers, in yellow night-gowns, and as they went they looked at him with melancholy eyes. They chattered in low voices with one another, and through their whispers rang a painful, groaning coming from somewhere far off. A dull echo, redoubling every sound, boomed through the long corridor; it was as though some one floated invisible on the heavy air of the hospital, groaning mournfully and lamenting.

Ilya felt he must leave these yellow walls at once, but suddenly one of the patients came up to him with outstretched hand, and said in a muffled voice:

"How are you?"

Lunev looked up, then stepped back in surprise.

"Pavel? Goodness! are you here too?"

"Who else is here?" asked Pavel quickly.

His face was curiously grey, his eyes blinked restlessly and confusedly.

"Jakov is here! his father thrashed him—and now you here too! Been here long?" Then he added compassionately: "Ah, brother, how changed you look!"

Pavel sighed, his lips twitched and his eyes looked strangely dull. He hung his head as though guilty, and repeated hoarsely: "Changed? Oh yes."

"What's the matter?" asked Lunev sympathetically.

"Matter? You can guess, surely."

Pavel glanced at Ilya's face, and then let his head fall again.

"Not Vyera?"

"Who else?" answered Pavel gloomily.

Ilya shook his head, was silent a moment, then said bitterly:

"It's our fate, who knows when my turn'll come?"

Pavel smiled sadly, then came closer and looking confidingly in Ilya's face, he said:

"I thought you'd be disgusted with me. I was walking here and all at once I saw you. I was ashamed and turned my face away as I passed you."

"That was a very clever thing to do," said Ilya, reproachfully.

"How's one to know how people take a thing like that? To tell the truth, it's beastly. Ah, brother! two weeks have I been here. The torture, the dreariness! You go about, and lie in bed and think, think! The nights are awful. Like lying on red-hot coals. The time draws out, like a hair in the milk. It's like being drawn down into a swamp, and you're alone and can't call for help." Pavel spoke almost in a whisper. A shudder passed over his face, as if from cold, and his hands grasped convulsively at the collar of his dressing-gown. He shook his head, and said, still half-aloud: "Once fate starts against you to mock you, it goes like a hammer on your heart."

"Where is Vyera?" asked Ilya, thoughtfully.

"The devil knows!" said Pavel, with a bitter smile.

"Doesn't she come to see you?"

"Once. But I sent her packing. I can't bear the sight of her, the little beast!" cried Pavel angrily.

Ilya looked reproachfully at his altered face, and said: "Nonsense! If you want justice, then be just! Why, is it her fault? Think a minute."

"Then, whose fault is it?" cried Pavel, passionately, but in a low voice. "Whose? Tell me. Often I lie awake all night, and think how it is I have made such a mess of my life. It's just through loving Vyera. She took the place of mother and sister and wife and friends. I loved her. I can't say in words how much, nor even write it on the skies in writing of stars." His eyes grew red, and two big tears rolled down his face. He wiped them away with his sleeve, and went on, in a low voice:

"She lay in my way like a stone that I have stumbled over."

"That is not right," said Lunev, who felt clearly that he pitied Vyera even more than his friend. "What way do you speak of? You had no way. All that's just talk. You have longed for the mead, and praised it, that it was strong; now it has made you drunk, you blame it for getting into your head. And how about her? Isn't she ill too?"

"Yes," said Pavel, then suddenly continued, his voice trembling with emotion, "Do you think I'm not sorry for her?"

"Of course. How can you help it?"

"I'm hard on her. Is it much wonder? I sent her away; and when she went and began to cry, so softly and bitterly, then my heart was wrung. I felt I should weep too, but I had no tears in my soul, only stones. And then I began to think it all over. Ah, Ilya! The life I live's no life at all."

"Yes," said Lunev slowly, with a strange smile. "Things go very oddly in life. There's something takes us all by the throat and strangles—strangles us. There's Jakov, who's good. His father makes his life a burden; they've married Mashutka to an old devil; you're here in hospital——"

Suddenly he smiled quietly, and said in a lower voice:

"I'm the only lucky one! Fact! As soon as I wish for anything—pat, it comes!"

"How?" asked Pavel, with curiosity and suspicion.

"Trust me. I have luck. It draws me on and on."

"I don't like the way you talk," said Pavel, and looked at Ilya searchingly. "Are you laughing at yourself?"

"No, it's some one else who laughs at me," replied Ilya, and his brows contracted gloomily. "There's some one somewhere, laughs at us all. I could tell you things. Wherever I look, there's no justice anywhere."

"I can see that," cried Pavel softly, but with intensity. "Come, let's go into that corner, there."

They went along the corridor, close together, looking into one another's eyes. Red patches appeared in Pavel's cheeks, and his eyes sparkled brightly, as in the days when he was healthy. "And I can see how we're robbed down to the last stitch," he whispered in Ilya's ear. "Whatever you can see, none of it is for us."

"That's true."

"Everything for the others. See—my little girl. She was as good as my wife. I need her all. Every man wants his wife for himself. But I can't have mine, and she can't live for me, as she wanted. Why? Just because I am poor? Well, but I work, don't I? I've slaved all my life, ever since I was ten years old. Surely I may be allowed to live, at least!"

"Petrusha Filimonov lives without working, so easily and comfortably, and can have everything he wants, do whatever he likes. Why is that?" said Ilya, seconding his friend's speech, with a scornful laugh.

"The doctor shouts at me, as if I were a criminal—why?" went on Gratschev. "He's an educated man. He ought to treat people decently. I'm a man, surely. Eh? And so it comes. I turned Vyerka out, but I know quite well it's not her fault."

"It's not the stick that gives the pain, but the one who uses it."

They stayed in the dark corner close to the corridor window, whose panes were streaked with yellow colour, and here side by side they conversed in passionate words, each catching the other's thought as it flew.

The heavy groaning came again from far away. The monotonous moan was like the muffled tone of a bass string, plucked at regular intervals, which vibrates wearily and hopelessly, as though it knew that no living heart beats fit to understand and appease its melancholy, quivering lament. Pavel was flaming with irritation over the buffets that life's heavy hand had dealt him.

He too, vibrated, like that string, with excitement, and whispered hurriedly, disconnectedly his grievances and complaints, and Ilya felt that Pavel's words fell on his heart like sparks, stirring to life in his own breast something dark and contradictory, that constantly troubled him, now flaming up, now sinking down. It seemed as though, in place of the dull, evil doubt, with which till now he had faced life, something else was suddenly kindled in his soul, brightening its darkness and shaping for it rest and relief for ever.

"Why is a man holy, if he's enough to eat? is he always in the right, if he's educated?" whispered Pavel, standing close to Ilya, and looking round him as though he were aware of the unknown enemy who had spoilt his life. "See," he went on, "if I am hungry, if I'm stupid, still I have a soul! Or hasn't a hungry man a soul? I see that I have no decent, real life, they have ruined my life, they've cut short my wishes and set up barriers on all my ways, and why?"

"No one can say," cried Ilya harshly, "and there's no one we could ask who would understand? We are all strangers."

"That's true, whom can we talk to?" asked Pavel, with a despairing gesture, and was silent.

Lunev looked straight before him down the wide corridor, and sighed deeply.

The dull moaning was heard again, now they were silent, it sounded more clearly; it seemed to come from the breast of a big, strong man, struggling with great pain.

"Are you still with Olympiada?" asked Pavel.

"Yes, still," answered Ilya.

"And think," he added with a strange smile, "Jakov has got on so well with his reading that now he's doubtful about God."


"Yes, he's found such a book! And you, what do you think about that?"

"I, you see," said Pavel, thoughtfully, "I've never thought much about it. I never go to church."

"And I do think about it, I think a lot about it, and I cannot understand how God endures it all!"

And they began to talk again, short, disconnected sentences, and they remained absorbed in their conversation till an attendant came up to them and said severely to Lunev:

"Why are you hiding here? eh?"

"I'm not hiding."

"Don't you see all the visitors are gone?"

"I didn't notice. Good-bye Pavel—give Jakov a look up."

"Now then, get on—get on!"

"Come again soon, for God's sake!" implored Gratschev.

"I tell you, get on!" and the attendant followed Ilya muttering:

"These fellows, loafers, hiding in corners."

Lunev slackened his pace and as the attendant came up to him, he said quietly and maliciously:

"Don't growl, else I'll have to say, 'lie down dog! lie down!'"

The attendant stopped suddenly, but Lunev went quickly on and felt an evil pleasure in having insulted a man.

In the street he fell again into brooding on the fate of his friends. Pavel, since he was a little lad had fended for himself, had been in prison, and tried all sorts of hard work. What hunger and cold, what blows he had endured! And now finally he had come to the hospital.

Masha would hardly see happy days again, and Jakov the same; how should a being like Jakov keep a whole skin in this world?

Lunev saw that, as a matter of fact, of all the four he had the best of it. But this consciousness brought him no comfort, he only smiled, and looked suspiciously about him.


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