"Ilya, get up please."
He opened his eyes and recognised Pavel Gratschev. Pavel was sitting on a chair, kicking Ilya's legs gently. The bright sunlight streamed into the room and shone on the samovar boiling on the table; Lunev blinked, dazzled.
Pavel's voice was hoarse, as though after heavy drinking, his face was yellow, his hair disordered. Lunev looked at him, then sprung up from the floor and cried half aloud:
"She's caught," said Pavel, and shook his head.
"What? Where is she?" asked Ilya, bending over him and catching him by the shoulder. Gratschev swayed and said miserably:
"They've put her in prison, yesterday morning, they say; they brought her to the prison."
"What for?" asked Ilya in a loud whisper. Masha waked up, shuddered at the sight of Pavel, and stared at him terrified. From the door into the shop Gavrik looked in, his lips compressed in disapproval.
"They say she's stolen six hundred roubles from a merchant, a pocket book, bills, and so on."
Ilya laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, and then moved silently away.
"When they searched they found the money at her house," said Gratschev, in a dull way. "The police inspector, she struck him in the face."
"Oh, of course," said Ilya with a harsh laugh. "If you've got to go to prison, why not go in style!"
When Masha understood that all this did not concern her she smiled and said softly: "If they'd take me to prison."
Pavel looked at her, then at Ilya.
"Don't you know her?" asked Ilya. "Masha, Perfishka's daughter, you remember."
"Oh, yes," said Pavel slowly and indifferently, and turned away, although Masha, who had recognised him, greeted him with a smile.
"Ilya," said Gratschev gloomily. "If she's done that for me? She spoke of it."
"Oh, I don't know for whom, for you or for herself, it's all the same! Her song is finished."
Lunev could not collect his thoughts. Weary for want of sleep, unwashed, and dishevelled, he sat down at Masha's feet, and looked first at her, then at Pavel, and felt overwhelmed.
"I knew," he said slowly, "the whole business could come to no good end."
"She wouldn't listen to me," said Pavel, in a lifeless tone.
"That's it, of course!" cried Lunev ironically. "That's the whole trouble, that she wouldn't listen to you! What could you say to her?"
"I loved her."
"What's the good of your love? in the devil's name! What can you get with that? Apart from anything else you never got her enough to eat by your work."
"That's true," said Pavel, sighing. Lunev was irritated, he felt that all these lives, Pavel's, Masha's, stirred him to wrath, excited him, and not knowing where to direct his feelings, he vented them on his friend.
"Every one wants to be decent and happy, you too, but you say to her, I love you, therefore live with me, and suffer want; do you think that's the way to take it?"
"How should I then?" asked Pavel gently.
The question calmed Ilya a little, involuntarily he fell to thinking of it. "It would be easier for me to kill her with my own hands," said Pavel.
Gavrik looked in. "Ilya Jakovlevitch! shall I open the shop!"
"Oh, go to the devil!" shouted Lunev in anger. "Don't worry me with the shop."
"Am I in the way," asked Pavel.
He sat in the chair leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and looked at the floor. A vein, full of blood, swelled on his temple.
"You," cried Lunev, and looked at him. "You don't disturb me, nor Masha; it's a very different thing! I've told you before, that there's something gets in the way of us all, you and me, and Masha. It's our folly or something. I don't know what; but it's not possible to live like human beings!"
Lunev looked round his little room at Masha sitting on the bed, motionless with downcast expression, into the shop where Gavrik was having his tea, into the street, through the railed-in window, and continued with despair in his soul, excitedly, angrily, and hoarsely:
"It's impossible to live. It's cramped and stupid, and absurd; you find a quiet corner, and there's no peace there! Everything is impure, heavy, painful; you can't understand; everything goes wrong, you hear people singing and you think you're happy. But it hurts you to hear their songs if your soul's in pain."
"What are you talking of?" asked Pavel, without looking at him.
"Of every one," cried Lunev. "I feel now that nothing's any use, damn it! I don't understand, perhaps, well then I don't! But I do understand what I want. I want to live like a man, cleanly, and honourably, and happily! I don't want to see trouble and horrors and sin, and all sorts of beastliness. I don't want it! But——"
He stopped and grew pale.
"Well?" said Pavel.
"No, that's not it. I only meant——" began Lunev, and his voice dropped.
"You always speak of yourself," observed Pavel.
"And whom do you speak of? Of her? But who is it she troubles, me or you? Every man cares for his own wounds, and groans with his own voice. I don't speak of myself only, I speak of every one, for every one troubles me."
"I'll go," said Gratschev, and got up heavily.
"Ah," cried Ilya. "Don't be hurt, try to understand. I'm hurt too, and sufferers should understand one another, then it will be clear who it is who torments us."
"Brother, it's as though you hit me on the head with a stone. I don't understand. I'm sorry for Vyera—there, I am, really. What can I do? I don't know."
"You can't do anything," said Ilya firmly. "I tell you she's done for! They'll condemn her, she's caught in the act."
Gratschev sat down again.
"But if I declare she did it for me?"
"Are you a prince? Say it, and they'll put you in prison too. Anyhow, we must pull things together. You had better have a wash, and you, too, Masha. We're going into the shop, but you get up and tidy yourself, have some tea, make yourself at home."
Masha shuddered, raised her head from the pillow and asked:
"What, am I to go home?"
"No. You're home is where, at any rate, you're not tortured. Come Pasha!"
When they were in the shop, Pavel asked gloomily:
"Why is she here? She's like a corpse."
Lunev told him briefly how matters stood. To his astonishment, Gratschev seemed cheered.
"My word, the old devil!" he said, and smiled.
Ilya stood by him, looking round his shop, and said:
"Theft and lying, and robbery, and drunkenness—all kinds of filth and disorder—that is life. You don't want it, but it's all the same, you go down the same stream as the rest and the same water soaks you; live as you have to! You can't get out of it anyhow. Run away to the forest? or a monastery? You told me a little while ago that I should find no peace here."
He indicated the shop with a sweeping gesture, nodded and smiled unpleasantly. "Right, there is no peace. What's the good to me to stand on one spot and do business? Plenty of worry, but no freedom. I can't go out. Before, I went where I liked, in the streets, if I found a nice comfortable place I sat down and enjoyed myself, but now here I squat, day in day out, and that's all."
"See, you might have taken Vyera as an assistant," said Pavel.
Ilya looked at him, but said nothing.
"Come in," cried Masha.
At tea, hardly a word was spoken.
The sun shone on the street, the bare feet of the children shuffled along the pavement, the hawkers of vegetables went by the window.
"Fresh leeks, onions!" a woman cried.
Everything spoke of spring, of fine warm, clear days, but in the little room it smelt damp and close. From time to time a melancholy, sorrowful word was uttered, the samovar hummed and glittered in the sunshine.
"We sit here as if we were at a funeral," said Ilya.
"Yes, Vyera's," added Gratschev. He sat there like a beaten hound. His hands moved slackly, his face was despairing, and he spoke slowly in a dull voice.
"Pull yourself together," said Ilya to him coldly. "It's no good giving way."
"It's my conscience," said Gratschev, shaking his head. "I sit here and think that I drove her to prison."
"That's quite possible," said Ilya remorselessly.
Gratschev raised his head and looked at his friend reproachfully.
"Why do you look at me?"
"You're a bad-hearted man."
"Well, why should I be good? What joy have I to make me cheerful?" cried Ilya. "Who has ever done any good thing for me? Who has cared for me? One soul perhaps in all the world, and she was a ne'er-do-well, a vicious woman, ah! Every one may strike me, and I'm to keep quiet? No thank you!"
His face flushed as anger welled up in him, his eyes grew bloodshot; he sprang up in a paroxysm of rage, longing to scream, to insult them, to strike the walls or the table with his fists. Masha, terrified, cried aloud like a child:
"I want to go home, let me go," she said in a trembling tearful voice, and moved her head as though trying to hide it.
Lunev was silent; he saw Pavel look at him with enmity.
"Well, what are you crying at?" he said ill-temperedly. "I didn't shout at you, and you needn't go. I'll go, I must. Pavel will stay with you."
"Gavrilo! If Tatiana Vlassyevna——"
There was a knock at the door of the courtyard. Gavrik looked inquiringly at his master.
"Open," said Ilya.
Gavrik's sister appeared on the threshold. She stood without moving for a few seconds, as straight as a dart, her head drawn back, and looked at them all with screwed-up eyes. Then on her cold, ugly face appeared a grimace of disgust, and without noticing Ilya's bow, she said to her brother:
"Gavrik, come here a moment."
Ilya flared out. The blood rushed to his face at the insult with such force that his eyes burned.
"If you're saluted, madam, you might acknowledge it," he said emphatically, restraining himself as well as he could. But she held her head higher and her brows contracted. With lips close-pressed, she measured Ilya with her eyes, and said nothing. Gavrik also looked with anger at his master.
"You are not visiting drunkards or rascals," Ilya went on, quivering with his emotion. "You receive a respectful greeting, and as a well-mannered lady, you are bound to acknowledge it."
"Don't be stuck up, Sonyka," said Gavrik suddenly, in a peaceful tone, and took her hand. A painful silence followed. Ilya and the girl faced one another and waited. Masha shrunk silently into a corner. Pavel blinked stupidly.
"Speak up! Sonyka," said Gavrik impatiently. "Do you suppose they'll hurt you?" and he added with an unexpected smile, "You are funny, you people."
His sister snatched away her hand and said to Lunev coldly and sharply:
"What do you want?"
But here a fine idea came into his head. He advanced and said as politely as he could:
"Allow me; you see we are three uneducated people, quite obscure. You are an educated lady."
He was eager to speak out his thought but could not. The stern, open glance of the dark eyes confused him; it never wavered and seemed to drive his senses from him. Her nostrils twitched, and her fingers pressed her brother's hand nervously. Ilya lowered his eyes and murmured confusedly and angrily:
"I don't know how to say it right off; if you've time, come in, sit down," and he made way for her.
"Stay here, Gavrik!" said the girl, left her brother by the door and went into the room. Ilya pushed a stool towards her. She sat down; Pavel went into the shop, Masha shrank into the corner by the stove, but Lunev stood motionless two paces from the girl and sought for words to speak.
"Well," she said.
"See, this is the business," said Ilya, with a deep sigh. "You see, this girl, that is, she's not a girl, she's married to an old man, who bullies her; she is all bruised and tortured and she ran away, she came to me. Perhaps you think that means something sinful. It doesn't at all." He confused his words and spoke vaguely between his desire to tell Masha's story and give the girl his own thoughts about it. He wanted especially to make his hearer share his own thoughts. She looked at him, and her face was more yielding, though her eyes flashed strangely.
"I understand," she interrupted. "You don't know what to do. First of all you must get a doctor; he must examine her. I know a good doctor, if you like, shall I take her to him? Gavrik, what's the time? Close on eleven. Good, that's his consultation hour. Gavrik, call a droshky, and you introduce me to her."
But Ilya did not move. He had not imagined that this stern, serious girl could speak in such a soft voice. Her face, too, amazed him; still proud, but now wholly anxious, and in it something good, kind, capable, that Ilya had never seen before. He looked at her and smiled in silent amazement. She, however, had turned away already, and going over to Masha, spoke to her gently.
"Don't cry, dear; don't be frightened, the doctor is a good man, he'll examine you and make out a certificate, and that's all. I'll bring you back here; now my dear, don't cry like that." She put her hands on Masha's shoulders, and tried to draw her closer.
"A—ah! that hurts," groaned Masha softly.
"How? What is it?"
Lunev heard and smiled.
"How? Good heavens, how awful!" cried the girl, falling back; her face was pale, and fear and anger glittered in her eyes.
"How she's bruised! Ah!"
"You see how we live!" cried Lunev, flaring up again. "Do you see? I can show you another, there! Allow me, my comrade, Pavel Savelitch Gratschev." Pavel came slowly out of the shop, and held out his hand without looking at the girl.
"Medvedeva, Sofia Nikonovna," she said, as she looked at Pavel's despairing face. "And you are Ilya Jakovlevitch?" and she turned again to Lunev.
"Yes," said Ilya, pressed her hand, and went on, still holding it——
"You see, since you're so good—that's to say—as you've helped in one business, you won't despise the other. There's a trouble here too."
She looked attentively and seriously in his handsome excited face and tried quietly to withdraw her hand; but he told her of Vyera and Pavel, speaking warmly, passionately, feeling that a load was falling from his heart. He shook her hand hard and said:
"He makes verses and all sorts of things. But he's quite knocked over by this. And she too, you think, that it's all right because she's—that kind of woman? No, don't think that! No one is all good or all bad!"
"How d'you mean?"
"I mean, even if any one is bad, still there's something good there, and if he's good, there's sure to be something bad. All our souls are two-coloured—all."
"That's well said," she agreed, and nodded seriously. "That's thought like a man! but please let go my hand, you hurt me."
Ilya began to apologise, but she did not attend to him, saying to Pavel in a tone of conviction;
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Gratschev; you mustn't be like that; you must do something. One must always try to do something, either defend or attack. We must get her a lawyer, an advocate, d'you see? I'll find you one, and nothing will happen to her because he'll get her off. I promise you, he'll get her off."
Her face was flushed, the hair on her temples disordered, and her eyes burned with a strange joy. Masha stood by her and looked at her with the trustful curiosity of a child. But Lunev looked at Pavel and Masha triumphantly, and felt mingled pride and joy at the presence of this girl in his room.
"If you can really help," said Pavel, with a trembling voice, "help us. I'll never forget it as long as I live; although I don't believe it can come to a good end, yet I will believe it!"
"Come to me at seven o'clock, will you? Gavrik will tell you where."
"I'll come. I don't know how to thank you."
"But I feel——"
"Don't say anything! we ought to help one another."
"Yes, men think that, don't they?" cried Ilya, ironically.
The girl turned round on him quickly. But Gavrik, who felt himself in this confusion the only healthy, sensible person, caught her hand and said:
"There, get on, you chatterbox!"
"Yes, Masha, get your things on!"
"I haven't anything to put on," said Masha shyly.
"Ah! well, anyhow, let's go. You'll come then, Gratschev, eh? Good-bye Ilya Jakovlevitch."
The men pressed her hand respectfully and silently, then she went out leading Masha. In the door, however, she turned round, threw her head up, and said to Ilya:
"I forgot, but it's important! I didn't acknowledge your greeting when I came in. That was abominable. I beg your pardon."
Her face flamed red, and her eyes were lowered; Ilya looked at her and his heart rejoiced.
"I'm sorry, very sorry! I thought you had a drinking party; it was very stupid, but——"
She broke off as though the words choked her.
"When you blamed me for not speaking, I thought he's speaking as the employer, and I was wrong. I'm very glad it was a real human feeling that spoke."
She broke into a bright happy smile and said sincerely, and as though it gave her pleasure to say it:
"Oh! it is so good to recognise human feeling in any one. I'm very glad, very; everything has come right, so splendidly—splendidly."
She disappeared like a little grey cloud, lighted with the rays of the morning sun. The friends looked after her; both faces were solemn and withal a little comic. Lunev looked round the room and said:
"Quite jolly here? eh?" Pavel laughed softly.
"Well, she's a good sort!" Lunev continued with a little sigh. "How she——ah!"
"She just swept everything clean like the wind!"
"There, did you see?" cried Ilya in triumph, pulling at his curly hair, "How she apologised, eh? You see what it's like to be really cultivated; you can respect a person, but you're never the first to make advances, see?"
"She's good," Gratschev confirmed him. "How long was she here? Close on an hour; it seems like a minute or two."
"Like a star."
"Yes, and put everything straight in no time; told us how and where and when."
Lunev laughed excitedly; he was delighted that this proud girl should have shown herself so capable and cheerful, and he was pleased with himself for knowing how to conduct himself worthily.
"Ah, yes," he cried regretfully. "I forgot; she took me by surprise with her apology."
"What did you forget?"
"I ought to have kissed her hand; that's what they do, educated people; it shows special respect."
Gavrik came in apparently loafing aimlessly.
"Ah, Gavrik!" said Ilya, and clapped him on the shoulder. "Your sister's a brick."
"Yes, she's a good sort," the boy agreed condescendingly. "Are we going to work to-day, or have a holiday? for I'd like to go into the country."
"No work to-day. Pavel, come, let's go for a walk."
"I shall go to the police station," said Pavel, and his face clouded over again.
"Perhaps they'll let me see her."
"I shall go for a walk," said Ilya.
Fresh and happy he strolled through the streets thinking of Gavrik's sister, and comparing this strange girl with all the people he had ever known. It was clear to him that she was better than them all, and had treated him better. The words of her apology rang in his ears, and he saw before him her face, with its wide nostrils, and every feature stamped with an expression of striving towards some unknown goal.
"And how she used to look down on me at first," he said to himself smiling, and began to wonder why at first she had treated him so proudly and distantly when she did not know him, and had hardly exchanged a word with him.
Life surged round about him. Students went by laughing, droshkys and carts of goods rolled past, a beggar limped along in front of him, his wooden leg tapping loudly on the stone pavement.
Two prisoners, guarded by a soldier, were carrying a wooden tub on a pole between them. A seller of pears passed along shouting, "Garden pears! Cooking pears!" Behind him ran a little dog with lolling tongue, rattle and crash, shouting and tramping, every sound blended in a lively, exciting hubbub. A warm dust whirled aloft and tickled the nostrils; the sun flamed out of a deep clean sky, and flooded the whole world with radiant splendour. Lunev looked at everything with a joy to which he had long been a stranger; everything in the streets seemed new and interesting; there, almost dancing along, goes a pretty girl with a merry red-cheeked face, and looks Ilya in the eyes, frank and friendly, as though she would say: "How nice you are!" Lunev smiled back at her. A droshky driver took off his hat, bowing sideways, with a grin, and said to a fat lady standing on the pavement: "It's too little, lady, five kopecks more." Ilya saw by his face that he was lying, the rascal—he had his proper fare. A young man hurries out of a shop with a copper can in his hand, pours out the cold water, sprinkling the passers-by, and the lid of the can rings cheerfully. The street is hot, stifling, noisy, and the thick green of the old lime-trees in the town churchyard is enticing with its peace and cool shade. The churchyard is surrounded with a white stone wall, and the thick foliage of the old trees sweeps up in a mighty wave to heaven, crowned with a spray of pointed green leaves. Against the blue every leaf stands out, and slowly quivering seems to melt away, and high over the foam of leaves shines the golden crosses of the church, a net-work of glancing, trembling rays.
Lunev entered the churchyard and went slowly along the broad alley, drawing deep breaths of perfume from the blossoming limes. Between the trees, under the branches' shade, stood monuments of marble and granite, stout and heavy, overgrown with moss and lichen. Here and there in the mysterious twilight crosses or half-erased inscriptions glimmered; golden honeysuckle, acacia, whitethorn and elder grew in the hedges, and their branches hid the graves. Here and there in the dense green a slender grey wooden cross appeared and was lost immediately among the surrounding bushes. White stems of young birch-trees glimmered like velvet through the thick network of leaves; they seemed to choose the shade with calculated modesty in order to be seen more easily. On green mounds, behind railings, shone gay flowers, a bee buzzed by in the stillness, two white butterflies played in the air; all kinds of flies swarmed noiselessly; and everywhere grasses and plants made towards the light, hid the mournful graves, and all the green of the churchyard was full of a tense striving to grow, to develop, to drink in air and light and change the richness of the earth to colour and scent and beauty for the joy of eyes and hearts. Everywhere life prevails and will prevail.
Lunev rejoiced to wander at will in the quiet and breathe in the sweet perfume of the flowers and the lime-trees. In his heart, too, there was rest and peace, he thought of nothing, but tasted the joy of solitude long unknown to him. He turned to the left out of the alley by a narrow path, and went slowly reading the inscriptions on crosses and gravestones. The graves hemmed him in with their railings, ornamental and wrought, or plain cast-iron.
"Beneath this cross rest the ashes of Vonifanty, servant of God."
He read and smiled, the name seemed ridiculous. Over the ashes of Vonifanty was set a huge granite stone. Near by in another enclosure rested "Peter Babushkin, twenty-eight years old."
"A young fellow," thought Ilya.
On a pillar of white marble he read:
"Earth's little flower is plucked and dies,
A new star shines in heaven's skies."
Lunev read the couplet over and felt something touching in it. Suddenly he felt as though he had been struck to the heart, he swayed and shut his eyes; but through his closed lids he still saw clearly the inscription that had terrified him. The shining, golden letters on the big, brown stone seemed to have been cut on his brain:
"Here lies the body of the merchant Gilde Vassily Gavrilovitsch Poluektov, the younger."
After a moment or two, terrified at his own fear, he opened his eyes quickly, and looked suspiciously round about him. No one was there, only far off a burial service was being conducted. Through the stillness rang a thin tenor voice singing:
"Let us pray."
A deep, rather unpleasant voice answered, "Have mercy," and the clinking of the censers was just audible.
Lunev stood with his back against a maple-tree, his head thrown back, staring at the grave of the man he had murdered. He had pushed his cap off his brow, and it was pressed against the tree by the back of his head. His eyebrows were dark, his upper lip twitched, showing his teeth; his hands were deep in his jacket pockets, and his feet braced against the ground.
Poluektov's monument represented a coffin, and carved on it an open book, and a skull and crossbones. Beside it in the same enclosure was another smaller stone with an inscription that beneath it rested Eupraxia Poluektov, twenty-two years old.
"The first wife," thought Lunev. The thought came from only a small part of his brain, that remained free from the straining labour of his memory. He was gripped by the recollections of Poluektov; the first meeting, the murder, the feeling of the old man's saliva on his hands. But while all this stirred to life in his memory, he felt no trouble, no remorse, he looked at the gravestone with hate and bitterness and deep ill-will; and under his breath, with hot anger in his heart, and a real conviction of the truth of his words, he addressed the merchant:
"It's for you, damn you, that I ruined all my life, for you! You devil. What life is it I lead, through you! I have smirched myself for ever through you."
The words "for you" thumped in him like hammer strokes. He longed to cry with all his might these words for every one to hear, and he could hardly restrain the fierce desire. He pressed his teeth together till they ached, and stared before him while the thought of his life took hold of his soul like fire. Before him appeared the little, spiteful face, and near it somehow the wicked, bald head of Strogany with the red eyebrows, the self-satisfied face of Petrusha, the stupid Kirik, the grey head of Ehrenov, snub-nosed and pig-eyed—a whole crowd of familiar faces. There was a roaring in his ears, and it seemed as though all these men surrounded him, pressed on him, crowded him obstinately. He stepped away from the tree; his cap fell down behind him; as he bent to pick it up, he could not help stealing a sidelong glance at the money-changer's gravestone. He felt hot and sick, his face was full of blood, his eyes were strained with the tenseness of their gaze. With great difficulty he tore them away, walked straight up to the enclosure, grasped the railings in his hands and trembling with hate, spat on the grave; as he went away he stamped his feet on the ground as though to free them from a pain.
He could not go home; his soul was heavy and a sense of sick, cold weariness grew suffocatingly upon him. He walked with slow steps without looking at any one, without caring for anything, without thinking. In this way he walked along one street, turned mechanically into a second at the corner, went on a little further, and then found himself close to Petrusha Filimonov's tavern; the thought of Jakov came into his mind. As he passed by the door he felt that he must go in, though he had no wish to do so. As he went up the steps he heard Perfishka's voice.
"Oh! good people, be tender with your hands and spare my sides."
Lunev stood still in the open door; he saw Jakov behind the counter through the clouds of dust and tobacco smoke. His hair plastered down, in a coat with short sleeves, he was hurrying about, putting tea in teapots, counting lumps of sugar, pouring out brandy, and drawing the drawer of the till noisily in and out. The waiters hurried up and called, throwing the counters on the table: "Half a bottle, two beers, roast meat, ten kopecks' worth."
"He's grown handier," thought Lunev with an almost malicious pleasure, as he saw how quickly his friend's red hands moved.
"Ah! I'll remember that half-rouble against him," growled the loud harsh voice of a customer.
"Ah!" cried Jakov in delight, as Ilya came up to the counter, then looked nervously at the door behind him. His forehead was wet with perspiration, his cheeks yellow, with red patches. He grasped Ilya's hand and shook it, coughing at the same time, a harsh, dry cough.
"How are you?" asked Lunev, forcing a smile.
"Pretty well. I help in the business."
"Brought into the yoke at last?"
"What's a fellow to do?"
Jakov's shoulders were bowed, and he looked as if he had grown smaller.
"What ages it is since we met," he said, and looked in Ilya's face with his loving mournful eyes. "I'd like a bit of a talk with you. Father isn't there as it happens. See here, come in, and I'll ask the step-mother to let me away for a little."
He opened the door of his father's room slightly, and called respectfully:
"Mamma, can I speak to you a minute?"
Ilya entered the room that he had shared with his uncle, and looked round with interest. It was hardly altered; the wall-paper was darker, and instead of two beds there was only one, and above it a shelf of books. On the spot where he used to sleep stood a high, stout chest.
"There, I've got off for an hour," said Jakov cheerfully as he came in, and then shut and bolted the door. "But would you like some tea? All right. Ivan, tea," he called loudly, then began to cough and coughed for a long time; he supported himself with a hand against the wall, bowed his head and bent his back as though he would force something from his chest.
"That's a pretty noise to make," said Lunev,
"It's consumption, but I am glad to see you again, and my word, how you look! so swell, quite splendid! Well and how are you getting on?"
"I? What?" answered Lunev hesitatingly.
"Oh! I get along, but you, tell me, that's much more interesting."
Lunev felt absolutely disinclined to give information about himself; he hardly wanted to speak at all. He looked at Jakov and seeing him suffering, pitied him, but it was a cold pity, almost an empty, unmeaning feeling.
"I, brother? I endure my life as well as I can," answered Jakov, half aloud.
"Your father sucks your blood."
"Oh, he's in a tight place himself."
"Serves him right!"
"Step-mother's the chief person in the house now; if she says a thing, that's the law."
"Child, what use is money to you?
Give me a kiss, I'll give you two,"
sang Perfishka in a piping voice in the next room, and played on his harmonica.
"What kind of a chest is that?" asked Ilya.
"That? That's a harmonium. Father bought it for me for four roubles. 'Learn to play it,' he said, 'then I'll buy you a good one at three hundred roubles,' he said, 'and we'll put it in the restaurant, and you can play to the guests and be some use, anyhow.' It was smart of him; they have organs in all the taverns now except ours, and I like playing."
"He's a mean wretch!" cried Lunev.
"Not at all! Why? Let him alone. It's quite true, I'm no use to him."
Ilya looked darkly at his friend, and said bitterly:
"Here's a good idea for him! Tell him when you die to make a show of you in the bar, and charge to see it, five kopecks a head. Then you'll be worth something to him."
Jakov laughed in an embarrassed way, and began to cough again, holding his hand first against his chest, then against his throat.
And Perfishka went on cheerfully:
"He kept the fast days as 'tis fit,
He did not eat or drink a bit,
His empty stomach felt the pain,
But oh! his soul was clean again!"
"So, ho—holiness!" And his harmonica drowned the words with a confused medley of sounds.
"How do you get on with your step-brother?" asked Ilya when Jakov ceased coughing. His friend raised his face, quite blue with the exertion of coughing, and said, struggling to get his breath:
"He doesn't live here. His superiors won't let him—because of—the business. He—is bearable—a little uppish—plays the gentleman. Comes often for money to his mother. He's always wanting money."
Jakov lowered his voice, and went on in a troubled way:
"Do you remember that book? You know? Yes—he took it away from me—it was rare he said—that it was worth a lot—and so he took it away. I begged him—leave it to me—but no!—he would have it." Ilya laughed aloud. Then the two friends began their tea. Through the chinks in the wooden partition all kinds of noises and different odours made their way into the little room. One angry voice, towering above the rest, shouted:
"Mitry Nikolayitch—don't you throw my words back at me!"
"I'm reading a story now, brother," Jakov went on again; "it's called 'Julia, or the Subterranean Vault of the Muzzini Castle'—most interesting. And you? What are you doing that way?"
"Go to the devil with your subterranean vaults. I don't live so very high above ground myself," was Lunev's sulky answer.
Jakov looked at him sympathetically, and asked:
"Is there anything gone wrong with you?"
Lunev did not reply. He was wondering whether to tell Jakov of Masha or not; but Jakov began again gently:
"Ilya, you're so touchy and bitter—about nothing, as far as I can see. Because you see—after all—it isn't anybody's fault. It's all settled. They haven't any hand in it—it was all arranged and ordered long before them."
Lunev drank his tea and said nothing.
"And you know—every man shall be rewarded according to his deeds—that is certain. There's my father—to tell the truth. What is he? Why, a tyrant! And then comes along Thekla Timofeyevna and—crock! She has him under the harrow. He leads a life of it now—ah! ah! He's begun to drink out of worry—and how long is it since they were married? And so for every man there's a Thekla Timofeyevna somewhere for his evil deeds."
Ilya was weary and uninterested; he pushed away his teacup and said suddenly:
"And what are you looking for now?"
"How do you mean? From whom?" replied Jakov in a low voice with eyes wide open.
"Why—in the future—what are you looking for?" Ilya repeated his question sharply.
Jakov hung his head and became thoughtful.
"Well?" said Ilya half aloud, feeling a burning restlessness at his heart and a wish to get away as soon as possible.
"What could I look for?" Jakov began at last softly and without looking at his friend.
"To look for? There's no more of that for me. I shall die—that's all—and soon—that's certain."
He held up his head and went on with a gentle happy smile on his wasted face.
"I always see things blue in my dreams—d'you know? as if everything were sky-blue—not only the sky, but the ground and the trees and the flowers and the grass. Everything! And so quiet—quite, quite peaceful! As if nothing at all existed—everything seems so still—and all bright blue. I feel so light—as though I could go anywhere, without feeling tired—go right on and never stop—and you can't tell whether it's really you or not—so light, so light. Dreams like that—that's a sign of death."
"Good-bye!" said Lunev, and got up.
"Where are you going so soon? Stay a little."
Jakov got up also. "Very well then—go!"
Lunev pressed his hot hand and looked at him silently, finding no words to bid his comrade farewell; he wanted to say something, wanted so strongly and so much that his heart pained him.
"Why do you look at me like that?" asked Jakov, smiling.
"Forgive me, brother," said Lunev slowly and heavily, lowering his eyes.
"Am I a priest then?" said Jakov, smiling gently. "But wait, wait a minute. I forgot what I wanted to say to you. Mashutka—you know?"
"She too—have you heard? She has a bad time too."
"Yes. I heard."
"You see, we all have the same fate. You too. I feel sure. Your heart is sad—isn't it?"
He spoke with a dull smile. The tone of his voice, and every word of his conversation, everything about him seemed bloodless, colourless; Lunev let go his hand—and it fell slackly down.
"Well, Jasha—forgive me, anyway."
"God forgives! You'll come again?"
Ilya went out without replying. Once in the street his heart felt lighter and less weary. He saw that Jakov must soon die, and the knowledge irritated him vaguely. He did not exactly pity Jakov, because he could not imagine how this gentle, quiet youth could live in this world. Long ago he had come to regard his friend as one who was ordained to depart from the riot of life. But what irritated him was the thought—Why do people torture this harmless man? Why do they drive him out of the world before his time? And from this thought his hostile feeling against life now became almost the most deeply rooted of his sensations, grew and strengthened. That night he could not sleep. In spite of the open window the room was close.
He went out into the courtyard and lay down on the ground under the elm-tree by the fence. Lying on his back, he looked up into the clear sky, and the more intently he gazed the more stars he could see. The Milky Way stretched across the heavens from one end to the other, like a silver tissue, and to look up at it through the branches of the tree was at once pleasant and saddening. The sky where no one lives glitters with stars, and the earth—What is there to adorn it? Ilya blinked his eyes, the branches seemed to mount up higher and higher; against the blue velvet of the arch of heaven sown with sparkling stars, the black outlines of the leaves looked like hands stretched up in the attempt to scale the heights. Ilya thought involuntarily of his friend's "blue dreams," and before his mind appeared the image of Jakov—blue, light, and transparent, his kind eyes shining like stars. There—that was a man, and he was martyred because he lived peaceably. But the tormentors live on as their hearts desire, and will live long.