Time passed on. Ilya stood behind the counter, twisted his moustache, and conducted his business, but it began to seem to him that the days went more slowly. Sometimes he felt a desire to close the shop and go for a walk, but he knew that such a proceeding would be bad for his business and he did not go. To walk in the evenings was inconvenient; Gavrik was afraid to be alone in the shop and there was a certain risk in leaving him, he might set the place on fire by accident or let in some rascal or other. Business went fairly well. Ilya thought it might be necessary to take an assistant. His intimacy with Tatiana had insensibly grown less, and she seemed willing that it should come to an end. She laughed cheerfully when she came, and looked very carefully through the book that recorded the day's business. While she sat and made calculations in Ilya's room, he felt that this woman with the bird's face was repugnant to him; but still from time to time she would be pert and gay, jesting and making eyes at him, and calling him her partner. Then he would rouse himself and re-enter what in his heart he called a horrible web. Sometimes Kirik came too, stretched himself out in a chair by the counter and cracked jokes with the tailoresses who came in to make purchases while he was there. He had discarded his police uniform, and boasted of his success in his new commercial employment.
"Sixty roubles salary and then in different ways I make as much again extra—not so bad, eh? I work very carefully for the extras, keep within the law—ho! ho! We've moved, did you hear? We've a jolly house now. We've taken on a cook—cooks splendidly, the wretch! When the autumn comes we'll ask lots of our friends and play cards; it's very pleasant, by Jove! To have a good time and make money at it; we play into one another's hands, I and my wife, one of us must always win, and the winnings pay the cost of entertainment, ho! ho! my boy! There, that's living cheaply and pleasantly!"
He settled himself in a chair, puffed out the smoke of his cigarette and went on, lowering his voice:
"A little while ago, brother, I was in a village—have you heard? I tell you, the girls there—d'you know, such children of Nature, so solid you know, you can't pinch them, the rascals,—and so cheap, too; a bottle of Schnapps, a pound of honey cakes, and she is yours!"
Lunev listened, but said nothing. For some reason or other he was sorry for Kirik, and pitied him without realising why this fat and stupid fellow should rouse such a feeling. At the same time he almost always wanted to laugh at the sight of him. Ilya did not believe Kirik's tales of his adventures in the village, but thought he was only boasting, talking as he had heard others talk. But when he was in a gloomy mood, then he listened to Kirik and thought: "Fighting for crumbs!"
"Yes, brother, it's splendid to make love in the bosom of Nature, in the shade of the leaves as they say in books."
"But if Tatiana Vlassyevna knew?"
"She won't know, brother," answered Kirik, and winked cheerfully.
But when Avtonomov departed Ilya thought of his words, and felt hurt. It was evident that Kirik, good-tempered and ridiculous though he were, yet held himself to be a man out of the common, whom Ilya could not hope to equal, higher in station and more important. Yet he profited by the business Ilya carried on with his wife. Perfishka had told them that Petrusha laughed at his shop and called him a rascal. Jakov had said to the cobbler that formerly Ilya was better and more friendly than now and did not think so much of himself, and Gavrik's sister constantly demonstrated that she thought herself superior to him. The daughter of a postman, who went about almost in rags, behaved as though it were too much for her to live on the same world as he did. Ilya's ambition had grown since he had opened his shop, and he was more sensitive than before. His interest deepened in this girl who was so ugly, but had so strong a personality; he sought to understand whence came this pride in a poor ragged girl, a pride which grew to annoy him more and more. At first she would not talk to him, and that pained him. Her brother was his servant, and therefore she ought to be more friendly with him, the employer. He said to her once:
"I'm reading the book of 'Don Quixote.'"
"Well, do you like it?" she asked, without looking at him.
"Rather, most amusing,—he was a funny old owl that fellow!"
She looked at him, and Ilya felt as though her proud dark eyes pierced his face angrily.
"I knew you would say something like that," she said, slowly and with meaning.
Ilya was conscious of something reproachful, contemptuous and hostile in her words.
"I'm an uneducated man," he said, and shrugged his shoulders.
She said nothing as though she had not heard him.
Once again the mood that long ago had possessed Ilya, began to invade his soul again; once more he was angered at mankind, pondered long and deeply upon justice, and his sins, and what might be in store for him in the future. The last question troubled him persistently. He liked his shop, he liked almost all his life at this time; in comparison with the life of his younger days it was cleaner, more peaceful, freer. But would it always be like this; to squat in his shop from morning to night, then sit awhile with his thoughts by the samovar, and then go to sleep, only to wake and begin again in the shop? He knew that many tradesmen, perhaps all, lived just such a life. But then they were married, and had children, they drank brandy, played cards, and among them all there was hardly one like himself.
He had many reasons, outward as well as inward, to consider himself an unusual man, unlike the rest.
He did not care for tradesmen; some of them were like Kirik, boasted of everything and spoke of nothing but their business, others swindled openly. Once, as he meditated on all these things, he remembered Jakov's words: "God guard you from good fortune—you are greedy," and the words appeared to him a deep insult. No, he was not covetous; he wanted to live simply, cleanly, and quietly, to have men respect him and to have no one say: "I stand higher than you, Ilya Lunev, I am better than you."
Again he began to wonder what the future held in store for him. Would the murder be avenged on him or not? Up and down, he thought, whether it would be unjust for the sin to be avenged on him. He had had no desire to strangle the man, it happened of itself, he said to himself a hundred times. In the town there live many murderers, libertines, robbers, all know they are murderers and robbers and libertines of their own choice, yet all live, and enjoy the good things of life, and no punishment is swift to fall upon them. In justice, every injury done to man must be avenged on the evildoer, and in the Bible it is written: "He rewardeth him and he shall know it." These thoughts set all his old wounds throbbing and a raging thirst burned in his heart to revenge his blighted life. Sometimes the idea came to him to do some daring deed; to go and set fire to Petrusha's house, and when it began to burn, and people began to run from it, to cry out: "I have done it, and I have murdered Poluektov, the merchant." Then men would seize him and judge him, and send him to Siberia as they had sent his father. This thought roused him and narrowed his thirst for revenge to the desire to tell Kirik of his intimacy with Tatiana, or to visit old Ehrenov and thrash him for torturing Masha.
Often he lay on his bed in the darkness listening to the deep stillness, and felt as though all round him life quivered, and twisted in a wild whirlpool with noise and outcry. The whirlpool would suck him in, and sweep him away like a feather or a fallen leaf, and destroy him, and he shuddered with the premonition of something uncanny.
One evening, as he was about to close the shop, Pavel appeared, and said quietly, without greeting him: "Vyera has run away."
He sat down on a chair, rested his elbows on the counter, and whistled softly as he gazed out into the street. His face was as though turned to stone, but his fair moustache twitched like a cat's whiskers.
"Alone?" asked Ilya.
"I don't know; it's three days ago."
Ilya looked at him without speaking. The quiet face and voice made it impossible to tell how Gratschev felt the flight of his companion, but in the stillness Ilya was aware of an unalterable resolution.
"What are you going to do?" he asked at length, when he saw that Pavel would not speak. Pavel stopped whistling, and said sharply, without turning round: "I'll cut her throat!"
"Ah! talking like that again!" cried Ilya, and with a gesture of annoyance.
"She's trod my heart under foot," said Pavel half-aloud. "There's the knife!" He drew from his bosom a little bread-knife and shook it.
"I'll stick it in her throat."
Ilya caught his hand, tore the knife away, and threw it on the counter, and said angrily:
"An ox once raged against a fly——"
Pavel sprang from his chair and turned his face on Ilya. His eyes were blazing, his face convulsed, and he trembled in all his limbs; then he sank back again on his chair and said, contemptuously:
"You're a fool!"
"You're so very clever, aren't you?"
"The strength is in the hand, not in the knife."
"And if my hands fall off, I'd tear her windpipe with my teeth."
"Don't talk so horribly!"
"Don't talk to me Ilya," said Pavel, once more quietly. "Believe or don't believe, but don't torment me. Fate is bad enough."
"Think, think, you silly fellow——" began Ilya, speaking in a friendly tone.
"I've thought for two years. Everything's settled long ago. Anyhow, I'll go—how can a fellow talk to you? You're well fed; you're no comrade for me."
"Get rid of your crazy thoughts!" cried Ilya reproachfully.
"But I'm hungry, body and soul."
"It surprises me, the way men judge," said Ilya mockingly and shrugged his shoulders. "A woman is to be a man's property, like a cow or a horse! Will you do what I want? All right, you shan't be beaten,—won't you? then crack! there's one on the head for you, devil! A woman is like a man, and has a character of her own."
Pavel looked at him and laughed hoarsely.
"Then who am I, am I no man?"
"Well, ought you to be just or not?"
"Oh, go to the devil with your old justice!" shouted Gratschev furiously, and sprang up again. "Be just, that's easy for the well fed, d'you hear? Now, good-bye."
He went quickly from the shop and in the doorway, for some reason, took off his cap. Ilya sprang from behind the counter after him, but already Gratschev was away down the street, holding his cap in his hand, and shaking it excitedly.
"Pavel!" cried Ilya. "Stop!"
He did not stop, nor turn round once, but turned into a side street, and disappeared.
Ilya turned slowly back and felt his face burn with the words of his friend as though he had looked into a hot oven.
"How angry he was!" said Gavrik.
"Whose throat did he want to cut?" asked the boy, and came up to the counter. He held his hands behind his back, his head thrown up, and his coarse face was red with excitement.
"His wife," said Ilya.
Gavrik was silent for a moment, then he wrinkled his forehead and said softly and thoughtfully to his master:
"There was a woman near us poisoned her husband last Christmas with arsenic, because he was always drinking."
"It does happen," said Lunev slowly, thinking of Pavel.
"But this man, will he really kill her?"
"Go away now, Gavrik."
The boy turned round and went to the door murmuring: "Marry! O Lord!"
The dusk of twilight filled the streets and lights appeared in the windows opposite.
"It's time to shut up," said Gavrik quietly.
Ilya looked at the lighted windows. Below they were decked with flowers and above with white curtains. Between the flowers, golden frames could be seen on the walls within. When the windows were opened, sounds of song and guitar and loud laughter poured into the street. There was singing and music and laughter in this house almost every evening. Lunev knew that a man, Gromov, lived there, of the district court of justice, a fat, red-cheeked man, with a big, black moustache. His wife was stout, too, fair-haired, with little friendly blue eyes; she went proudly along the street like the queen in a fairy tale, but if she was talking to any one, she smiled all the time. Gromov had an unmarried sister, a tall, brown-skinned and black-haired girl, a crowd of young officials courted her; they all assembled at Gromov's almost every evening and laughed and sang.
Gromov's cook bought thread of Ilya, complained of her employers, and said that they fed their servants badly and were always behindhand with their wages, and Lunev thought:
"There—there are people who live well."
"Really it is time to shut up," persisted Gavrik.
"Shut up then."
The boy closed the door and the shop grew dark; there was a noise as the key turned in the lock.
"Like a prison," thought Ilya.
The insulting words of his friend about his well fed condition stabbed his heart like splinters. As he sat by the samovar he thought angrily of Pavel, but did not believe he could murder Vyera.
"It was no good trying to help them, hang them; they don't know how to live, they spoil one another," he thought crossly.
Gavrik drank noisily out of his saucer and shuffled his feet under the table.
"Has he killed her or not?" he asked his master, suddenly.
Lunev looked at him moodily and said:
"Drink your tea, and go to bed."
The samovar boiled and bubbled as though it would jump off the table. From the courtyard of a neighbouring house an angry cry resounded. "Nifont! Ni—if—ont."
Suddenly a dark figure appeared at the window, and a trembling, timid voice asked:
"Does Ilya Jakovlevitch live here?"
"Yes, he does," cried Gavrik, sprang up and flew to the door of the courtyard so quickly that Ilya had no time to say anything.
"It's sure to be she," he said in a loud whisper, holding the latch of the door.
"Who?" asked Ilya, involuntarily lowering his voice.
"Why—she—he wanted to kill."
He pushed open the door and the thin small figure of a woman appeared, wearing a cotton dress and a small kerchief on her head. She supported herself by the doorpost with one hand and with the other pulled at the ends of her kerchief. She stood sideways, as though ready to go away again at once.
"Come in," said Lunev roughly; he looked at her and did not recognise her. She started at the sound of his voice, then lifted her head with a smile on the pale small face.
"Masha!" cried Ilya, and sprang up. She laughed softly, shut the door fast behind her and came towards him.
"You didn't know me—you didn't know me a bit," she said and stood in the middle of the room.
"God! Yes. I can recognise you now. But—how—you've changed!"
Ilya took her hand with exaggerated politeness, and led her to the table, bowed, looked at her face and did not know how to say in what way she had changed. She was incredibly thin and walked as though her feet gave under her.
"Where have you come from? Are you tired? Ah—you—how you look!"—he murmured, settled her carefully in a chair and looked steadily at her.
"See how he treats me," she said, and looked at Ilya with a smile. His heart contracted painfully. Now that the lamplight fell on her, he saw her face plainly. She leant back in the chair, with her thin hands in her lap, bent her head sideways, and her flat chest heaved in shallow rapid breathing. She looked as though made of skin and bone; through the cotton stuff of her dress showed the bony shoulders, elbows and knees, and her face was terrible in its thinness. Over the temples, and the cheek-bones and chin, the bluish skin was tight drawn, the mouth was half open, the thin lips did not cover the teeth, and the expression of pain and fear stared from the long narrow face. The eyes looked dull and dead.
"Have you been ill?" asked Ilya.
"N—no," she answered slowly. "I'm quite well—he has made me like this."
Her slow, drawling speech came like groans, the uncovered teeth gave her a fish-like, dead look—it seemed as though the dead might smile as she smiled now and then.
Gavrik stood beside her and looked at her with lips compressed and fear in his eyes.
"Go to bed!" said Lunev to him.
The lad went into the shop, moved about a little there—then his head appeared again in the doorway. Masha sat motionless, only her eyes moved and wandered from one thing to another. Lunev poured her out some tea, looked at her, but asked her no questions.
"Ye—es—he torments me so," she said. Her lips trembled and her eyes closed for a moment; when she opened them again two big, heavy tears rolled down from under the lashes.
"Don't cry," said Ilya, turning away.
"Drink your tea—and tell me all about it—then it will be easier."
"I'm afraid—he'll come," she said, and shook her head.
"We'll turn him out."
"He's strong," Masha warned him.
"Have you run away?"
"Yes—it's the fourth time—when I can't bear it any more, I run away—before I meant to drown myself—but he caught me—and beat me and hurt me so." Her eyes grew unnaturally big from the fear her memories roused, and her lower jaw trembled. She hung her head and said in a whisper:
"He always hurts my feet."
"Ah," cried Ilya. "What's the matter with you? Haven't you a tongue? Tell the police—say—he tortures me! He can be punished for that; put in prison."
"But—he's one of the judges," said Masha, hopelessly.
"Ehrenov?—a judge? What do you mean?"
"I know. A little while ago, he was on the bench for two weeks—judging. He came back angry and hungry. He pinched my breast with the tongs and twisted it and turned it like a rag—look!"
She unbuttoned her dress with trembling fingers and showed the small withered breast, all covered with dark patches, as though it had been gnawed.
"Don't!" said Ilya gloomily. It made him sick to see the tortured, lacerated body—he could not believe that it was Masha, the friend of his childhood, once so gay, who sat before him. She bared her shoulder and said in a toneless voice:
"See how my shoulder is knocked about! Everything he can, all my body is pinched and hair torn out."
"He's a beast. He says, 'You don't love me,' and he pinches me."
"Perhaps—before he married you, there was some one else?"
"How could there be? I saw only you and Jakov—no one ever touched me. Yes, and now I hate all that. It hurts me. I hate it. I'm always sick."
"Don't—don't—Masha," said Ilya gently. She was silent, sat once more as though turned to stone, her breast still bare. Ilya looked from behind the samovar again at her thin bruised body and said: "Do up your dress!"
"I don't mind you," she answered mechanically, and began to button her blouse with shaking fingers. All was still. Then the sound of loud sobbing came from the shop. Ilya got up and went to the door and closed it, saying crossly:
"Be quiet—Gavrushka—go to sleep!"
"Is that the boy?" asked Masha.
"Is he frightened?"
"No. I think—he's sorry."
"Ah—the boy!" said Masha, indifferently; but her lifeless face did not move. Then she began to drink her tea, but her hands shook so that the saucer rattled against her teeth. Ilya looked on and wondered—was he sorry for Masha—or not? But his heart was heavy, and he thought of her husband with hatred.
"What will you do?" he asked after a long pause.
"I don't know," she answered with a sigh. "What can I do? I'll rest—till they catch me again."
"You ought to complain to the police," said Lunev, firmly. "Why should he torment you? Who has any right to torment any one like that?"
"He did the same to his first wife," said Masha. "He tied her to the bed by her hair—and pinched her—just the same—and once I was asleep and suddenly I felt a pain and woke and screamed—he'd burnt me with a lighted match."
Lunev sprang up and said fiercely and loudly that the very next morning she should go to the police and show her bruises and demand to have her husband condemned. She listened to him, shifting unceasingly to and fro, looked at him in terror, and said:
"Don't shout—don't shout, please! They'll hear you."
His words only distressed her. He soon perceived this little girl, once so cheerful and gay, had been beaten and crushed till all human spirit was tortured out of her.
"Very well," he said, and sat down again. "I'll see to it. I'll find a way. You'll stay here, Mashutka—d'you hear?"
"Yes. I hear," she answered softly, and looked round the room.
"You can have my bed, and I'll go into the shop—but to-morrow."
"I'll lie down at once, I think. I'm tired." He folded back the coverlet from the bed. She fell on it and tried to cover herself with the bedclothes, but could not manage it, and said with a dull smile:
"How silly I am. I might be drunk."
Ilya drew the coverlet over her, arranged the pillows, and was going away, when she said anxiously:
"Don't go. Stay a little. I'm so frightened alone—there's something haunts me." He sat down by the bed, looked once at her pale face, framed in its curls, and turned away. All at once he was full of shame that she should lie there, hardly alive. He remembered Jakov's entreaties, and Matiza's account of Masha's life, and he hung his head.
"And his father beats Jasha, they say. Matiza says, 'What a life!'" she said.
"Such fathers," said Lunev between his teeth, interrupting her soft, lifeless speech. "Such fathers—ought to go to penal servitude—your father and Petrusha Filimonov."
"No, my father is weak—he isn't wicked."
"If you can't look after your children you've no business to have any."
From the house opposite came the music of two voices singing together, and the words of the song drifted through the open window into Ilya's room. A strong, deep bass sang fiercely:
"My heart is disenchanted."
"There. I shall go to sleep," murmured Masha. "How nice it is—so peaceful—and the singing—they sing well."
"Oh, yes—they sing,", said Lunev smiling, grimly. "Though the skin is torn off one, the others can shout."
"It will not trust again," sang the tenor voice, the clear, round tones ringing through the quiet night lightly and freely up into the sky. Lunev got up and shut the window crossly; the song was unendurable, it tormented him. The noise of the window-frame made Masha start. She opened her eyes, raised her head in terror and asked: "Who's there?"
"I. I was shutting the window."
"For Heaven's sake—are you going?"
"No, no—don't be afraid."
She turned on her pillow and went to sleep again. Ilya's least movement, or the noise of footsteps in the street, disturbed her. She opened her eyes at once and cried in her sleep.
Or she stretched out her hand to Ilya and asked: "Is that a knock at the door?" While he tried to sit still, and looked out of the window which he had opened again, Ilya pondered how he could help Masha, and determined grimly not to let her go till the matter was in the hands of the police.
"I must work it through Kirik."
"Please, please—go on!" through the windows came the sound of lively appeals and applause from Gromov's house. Masha groaned in her sleep, but the music began again.
"A pair of bay horses, and early away."
Lunev shook his head despairingly. The singing and outcry and laughter disturbed him. He propped his elbows on the window-ledge and stared at the lighted windows opposite, with wrath and fierce resentment, and thought how good it would be to cross the street and hurl a paving stone through into the room; or to have a gun and send a charge of shot among these cheerful people. The shot would come whizzing in—he imagined the terrified bleeding faces, the confusion and outcry, and smiled with an evil joy in his heart. But the words of the song crept involuntarily into his ears, he repeated them to himself, and suddenly grasped with amazement, that these happy people were singing of the burial of a mistress. This surprised him; he began to listen more attentively and thought:
"Why do they sing that? What sort of pleasure can there be in such a song? See, what a thing to think of—the fools! A funeral—such a funeral! And here—ten steps away lies a living, suffering human being."
"Bravo! Bravo!" came from over the street.
Lunev smiled, looked first at Masha, and then at the street; it seemed to him ridiculous that men should find amusement in singing of the burial of a light-o'-love.
"Vassily—Vassilitch," murmured Masha. "I won't. O God!"
She threw herself about in bed as if she were burning, threw the coverlet on the floor, stretched her arms out, and stared in front of her. Her mouth was half open, she rattled in her throat. Lunev bent quickly over her, he was afraid she was dying. Then, relieved by hearing her breathe, he covered her up again, crawled back to the window, leaned his face against the bars and looked over at Gromov's house. There they were still singing, now one voice, now two, now several in chorus. Music was followed by laughter. Past the windows flitted ladies dressed in white or pink or blue. He listened to the music and marvelled how these men could sing long-drawn, melancholy songs of the Volga and of funerals and of desert lands, and laugh at the end of every song as though it were all nothing, as if they had sung of indifferent things. Is it possible that they find sorrow amusing? But every time that Masha attracted his attention, he looked at her stupidly and wondered what was to become of her. Suppose Tatiana came in and saw her—what was he to do with Masha? He felt as though caught in a mist; his heart was weighed down with the songs and Masha's groans, and his own heavy, disconnected thoughts. When he felt sleepy he crawled from under the window-ledge, lay down on the floor by the bed and put his overcoat under his head. He dreamed that Masha was dead and lying on the ground in a big shed, and round about were standing ladies, dressed in white and pink and blue, and singing songs over her; and when they sang mournful songs they all laughed, and when the songs were cheerful they wept bitterly, and nodded their heads sadly and wiped away their tears with white pocket-handkerchiefs. In the shed it was dark and damp, and in the corner stood Savel the smith, hammering at an iron railing and striking noisy blows on the red-hot bars. On the roof of the shed someone went round about and cried, "Ilya. Il—ya."
But he lay in the shed, bound somehow fast, he could hardly turn, he could not speak.