Three Men

by Maxim Gorky

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Chapter XXIV

Ilya did not succeed in visiting Jakov next day, because his uncle Terenti arrived in the town. It was early morning.

Ilya was just awoke, and sat on his bed saying to himself that another day was here that must be lived through somehow.

"It's a life—like travelling through a swamp in autumn, cold and muddy—and you get more and more tired, and hardly get on at all."

There came a knocking at the door of the yard, repeated, single knocks. Ilya got up, thinking the cook had come for the samovar, opened the door, and found himself face to face with the hunchback.

"Ha! ha!" laughed Terenti, shaking his head playfully: "Close on nine, Mr. Shopman, and your shop still shut up!"

Ilya stood, blocking the entrance, and smiled at his uncle. Terenti's face was sunburnt and looked younger; his eyes were cheerful and happy; his bags and bundles lay at his feet, and amid them he himself looked almost like another bundle.

"How goes it, my dear nephew? Will you let me into your house?"

Ilya stood aside, and began to collect the bundles without speaking. Terenti's eyes sought the eikon, he crossed himself, and said, bending reverently: "Thanks be to thee, oh Lord! I am home again. Well, Ilya!"

As Ilya embraced his uncle he felt that the body of the hunchback had grown stronger and stouter.

"If I could have a wash," said Terenti, standing and looking round the room. He stood less bent than of old. Wandering with a knapsack on his back seemed to have drawn down his hump. He held himself straighter, and his head higher.

"And how are you?" he asked his nephew, as he washed his face.

Ilya was glad to see his uncle looking so much younger. He made him sit down at the table, and prepared tea, and answered questions pleasantly, though a little hesitatingly.

"And you?"

"I? Splendid!" Terenti closed his eyes and moved his head with a happy smile. "I have made a good pilgrimage; couldn't have done better. I've drunk of the Water of Life, in one word."

He settled himself at the table, twisted a finger in his beard, put his head on one side, and began to relate his experiences.

"I went to St. Athanasius and the other holy miracle workers, to Mithrophanes at Voronesh, and the holy Tichon on the Don. And I went to the island of Valaam too. I've travelled a great way round. I've prayed to many Saints and Holy ones, and I've now come from the last—St. Peter and the holy Febroma in Murom."

Evidently it delighted him to tell of all the Saints and places; his face was mild, his eyes moist and confident. He spoke in the half singing way that experienced storytellers adopt in their tales and legends of Saints.

Outside it began to rain; at first the rain drops struck the window as it were carefully and without hurry, then by degrees harder and faster till the glass rang under the shower.

"In the depths of the sacred monasteries there's an unbroken stillness; the darkness is over everything; but through it the lamps before the shrines shine like the eyes of children, and there's a perfume of holy oil of unction." The rain increased; a sound as of weeping and sighing came from outside the window; the galvanised iron on the roof rattled and groaned, the water pouring off it splashed, sobbing, and a network of strong steel threads seemed to quiver in the air.

"This oil of unction, the Chrism, comes from the heads of the Saints."

"O—oh!" said Ilya, slowly. "Well, did you find peace for your soul?"

Terenti was silent for a moment, then straightened himself in his chair, bent forward to Ilya and said, lowering his voice:

"See, it's like this, my unwilling sin crushed my heart like a wooden boot. I say unwilling because if I had not obeyed Petrusha—bang! he would have kicked me out! He would have thrown me on the streets, wouldn't he?"

"Yes," Ilya agreed.

"Well, then, as soon as I began my pilgrimage, my heart was lighter at once, and as I went I prayed. 'Oh, Lord, see, I am going to Thy holy Saints. I know I am a sinner.'"

"That's to say, you bargained with Him?" asked Ilya, with a smile.

"His will be done! How He received my prayer I do not know," said the hunchback, looking upwards.

"But your conscience?"

"How do you mean?"

"Is it at peace?"

Terenti considered for a moment, as if he were listening, then said:

"It is silent."

Lunev smiled.

"Prayer, if it comes from a clean heart, always brings relief," said the hunchback, softly but emphatically.

Ilya got up and went to the window. Wide streams of dirty water flowed down the gutters; little pools were formed between the stones of the pavement; they trembled under the descending shower, so that it looked as though all the pavement quivered. The house over the way was quite wet and gloomy, its window-panes were dim and the flowers behind them invisible. The streets were deserted and quiet; only the rain hissed and all the little gutters splashed along. A solitary pigeon was sheltering under the eaves by the gable-window, and a damp, heavy dreariness invaded the town from all sides.

"Autumn is here!" The thought shot through Lunev's brain.

"How else can a man set himself right with God except through prayer?" asked Terenti, as he began to open one of his bags.

"It's very simple," remarked Ilya gloomily, without turning round. "You sin as you please; then you pray hard, and it's all right! All settled, begin again, sin some more!"

"But why? On the contrary, live honestly!"


"How d'you mean?"

"What I say. Why should you?"

"To have a clear conscience."

"What's the good of that?"

"Oh—oh!" said Terenti, slowly and reproachfully, "How can you say that?"

"I do say it, though," said Ilya obstinately and firmly, turning his back.

"That is wicked!"

"Tcha! Wicked!"

"Punishment will follow."


At this he turned away from the window and looked Terenti in the face. The hunchback, in his turn looked searchingly at his nephew's strong face, moving his lips, he tried to find a word in reply, and at last he said, emphatically:

"'No' you say; but it does come! There—I fell into sin, and have been punished for it."

"How?" asked Ilya, darkly.

"Is anxiety nothing? I lived in fear and trembling. Any moment it might be found out, and I should——"

"Well. I fell into sin, and I'm not afraid at all," said Ilya, with an insolent laugh.

"Don't jest!" said Terenti warningly.

"It's a fact! I'm not afraid! Life is hard for me, but——"

"Aha!" cried Terenti, and stood up in triumph. "Hard, you say?"

"Yes! Every one keeps away from me as if I were a mangey dog."

"That's your punishment! D'you see?"

"But why?" screamed Ilya, almost in fury; his jaw quivered, and he tore at the wall behind his back with his fingers. Terenti looked at him in terror, and flourished in the air with a piece of string.

"Don't shout—don't shout so!" he said, half aloud.

But Ilya went on unheeding. It was so long since he had spoken to any one, and now he hurled from his soul all that had accumulated there in these last days of loneliness; he spoke passionately and furiously.

"You've been on a pilgrimage for nothing—nothing—nothing! It's all the same. Nothing would have happened to you. It's not only stealing; you can kill if you like. Nothing will come of it. There's no one to punish you! The stupid get punished; but the clever man—he can do anything, everything!"

"Ilya," answered Terenti, approaching him anxiously, "Wait, wait. Don't get so excited! Sit down. We can talk of it quite quietly."

Suddenly from the other side of the door came the noise of something breaking; there was a rolling and a cracking, and finally whatever it was came to a stop close to the door. The two men startled and were silent for a moment. All was still again; only the rain poured down.

"What was that?" asked the hunchback, softly and timidly.

Ilya went silently to the door, opened it, and looked through.

"Some card-board boxes have fallen down," he said, closed the door and returned to his old place by the window. Terenti still stood up arranging his belongings. After a short silence he began again.

"No—no, think a moment! You say such things! Such Godlessness does not anger God, but it destroys you yourself. Try to understand that; they are wise words. I heard them on my pilgrimage. Ah! how many wise sayings I heard!"

He began again to tell of his travels, looking sideways at Ilya from time to time. But his nephew listened, as he listened to the patter of the rain, and wondered all the time how he should live with his uncle.

Things adjusted themselves fairly well.

Terenti knocked a bed together out of some old boxes, placed it in the corner between the stove and the door, where the darkness was thickest at night. He observed the course of Ilya's life and took upon himself the duties Gavrik had formerly fulfilled; he set out the samovar, swept the shop and the room, went to the tavern to fetch the mid-day meal, humming all the time his pious hymns. In the evening he related to his nephew how the wife of Alliluevov had saved Christ from his enemies by throwing her own infant into the glowing fire and taking the child Jesus in her arms. Or he told of the monk who had listened to the bird's song for three hundred years; or of Kirik and Ulit and of many others. Lunev listened and followed the course of his own thoughts. At this time he made a point of taking a walk every evening, and was always overjoyed to leave the town behind him. There in the open fields, at night, it was still and dark and desolate, as in his own soul.

A week after his return Terenti went to the house of Petrusha Filimonov, and came away sad and grieved. But when Ilya asked him what was wrong, he answered: "Nothing—nothing at all. I went. I mean I saw them all, and we had a talk—h'm—yes!"

"What's Jakov doing?" asked Ilya.

"Jakov? Jakov is dying; he spoke of you; so yellow, and coughs."

Terenti was silent and looked at one corner of the room, sad and melancholy, gnawing his lips.

Life went on uniformly and monotonously every day as like the rest as copper pennies of the same year. Dark misery hid in the depths of Ilya's soul like a huge snake, that swallowed the sensations of the days. None of his old acquaintances visited him; Pavel and Masha seemed to have found for themselves another road in life; Matiza was run over by a horse and died in hospital; Perfishka had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him. Lunev determined from time to time to go and see Jakov, and could not carry out his determination; he felt only too well that he had nothing to say to his dying comrade.

In the morning he read the newspaper, all day he sat in the shop and watched the yellow withered leaves whirl down the street before the autumn wind. Sometimes a leaf would drift into the shop.

"Holy Father Tichon intercede for us in Heaven," murmured Terenti in a voice that seemed to resemble the dry leaves, while he busied himself about the room.

One Sunday, when Ilya opened the newspaper, he saw a poem on the first page: "Then and Now," and the signature at the end was P. Gratschev.

"Once my heart like a strife-weary warrior

Torn by black thoughts as by fierce birds of prey,

All hope seemed dead and for evermore buried,

Torment and pain were my portion each day."

So Pavel wrote. Lunev read the verse and before his eyes he seemed to see the lively face of his comrade; now restless, with bright bold eyes, now sad and darkened, concentrated on one thought. In his verses Pavel told again how he wandered poor and alone in a foreign town, receiving no greeting or friendly word. But when he was at the point of death from longing and want, then he found kind people, who bade him welcome to their hearth, where he drank new life: "Drank from their words that were radiant with love," words that fell upon his heart like sparks of fire:

"Hope flamed again in the heart of the hopeless,

Songs of rejoicing resound through his soul."

Lunev read to the end, and then pushed the paper impatiently aside.

"Always rhyming, always with some crank in your head! Wait a little! these kind people of yours will handle you presently! kind people!" A scornful smile drew his mouth awry. Then suddenly he thought as though with a new soul. "Suppose I went there? Just went and said: 'Here I am, forgive me?'"

"Why?" he asked himself the next moment, and he ended with the gloomy words: "They'll turn me out."

He read the verses again with sorrow and envy, and fell into a new meditation on the girl. "She's proud. She'll just look at me, and well; I should go away the way I'd come."

In the same newspaper among the official information, he found that the case against Vyera Kapitanovna for robbery would be tried in court on September 23rd.

A malicious feeling flared up in him, and in his thought he addressed Pavel: "Make verses do you? and she—she's in prison!"

"Lord be merciful to me a sinner," murmured Terenti with a sigh, and shook his head sadly. Then he looked at his nephew who was turning over his paper and called to him: "Ilya!"


"Petrusha——" the hunchback smiled sadly and stopped.


"He has robbed me!" Terenti explained in a slow, conscience-stricken voice, and smiled again in a melancholy way.

"Serves you right!"

"He's done me fairly!"

"How much did you steal altogether?" asked Ilya quietly. His uncle pushed his chair back from the table, and with his hands on his knees began to twist his fingers.

"Say, ten thousand?" asked Lunev again.

The hunchback turned his head quickly, and said in a long-drawn tone of astonishment.


Then he waved his hand and added:

"Whatever's got into your head? good Lord! Altogether it was three thousand seven hundred and a little over, and you think ten thousand—ten; you've fine ideas!"

"Jeremy had more than ten thousand," said Ilya, laughing mockingly.

"That's a lie!"

"Not a bit; he told me himself."

"Why, could he reckon money?"

"As well as you and Petrusha."

Terenti fell into deep thought, and his head sank again on his breast.

"How much has Petrusha to pay you still?"

"About seven hundred," answered Terenti, with a sigh. "Well, well, more than ten."

Lunev was silent; he hated the sight of his uncle's troubled, disappointed face.

"Where on earth did he hide it all?" asked the hunchback thoughtfully and wonderingly. "I thought we had taken the lot; but perhaps Petrusha had been there already, eh?"

"I wish you'd stop talking of it!" said Lunev harshly.

"Yes, it's no good now; what's the good of talking?" agreed Terenti with another deep sigh.

Lunev could not keep his mind off the greed of mankind, and the evil and miserable meanness practised for money. Then he began to think; if he possessed all this money, ten thousand, a hundred thousand then he'd show the world! How they should creep on all fours before him! Carried away with revengeful feelings, he smashed on the table with his fist; at the blow he started, glanced at his uncle, and saw that he was staring with terrified eyes and mouth half open.

"I was thinking of something," he said moodily, and stood up.

"Yes, of course," said his uncle suspiciously, as Ilya passed into the shop he looked searchingly at Terenti, and saw his lips moving silently; he felt the suspicious look behind his back, though he could not see; he had noticed for some time that his uncle followed his every movement and seemed anxious to find out something, or to ask something. But this only made Lunev anxious to avoid all conversation; every day he felt more plainly that his hunchbacked guest troubled the course of his life, and more and more often he asked himself:

"Will it go on much longer?"

It was as though a cancer were gnawing at his soul; life became daily more wearisome, and worst of all was the sense that he had no longer any desire to do anything. Days passed aimlessly, and often his feeling was that he sank slowly, but every hour deeper, into a bottomless abyss. Convinced that mankind had deeply injured him, he concentrated all the strength of his soul on one point—the bitter sense of injury; he stirred the flames by constant brooding and found therein the exculpation for every fault he had himself committed.

Shortly after Terenti's arrival, Tatiana Vlassyevna appeared, after a holiday spent some distance from the town. When she saw the hunchbacked peasant in brown fustian, she pinched her lips together in disgust and asked Ilya:

"Is that your uncle?"


"Is he going to live with you?"


Tatiana perceived dislike and challenge in her partner's answers and ceased to take any notice of Terenti. But he, who had Gavrik's old place by the door, twisted his yellow beard and followed the small, slender woman in grey clothes with eager curious eyes.

Lunev noticed how she hopped about the shop like a sparrow, and waited silently for further questions, fully prepared to hurl at her rough ill-tempered words. But she spoke no more, after stealing a glance at his grim, cold face, standing at the desk, turning over the leaves of the book of daily sales. She remarked how pleasant it was to spend a couple of weeks in the country, and live in a village; how cheap it was, and how good for the health.

"There was a little stream, so quiet and still, and pleasant company, a telegraph official, for instance, who played the violin beautifully. I learned to row, but the peasant children! a perfect plague! like flies, they worry, and beg and whine—give—give! they learn it from their parents; it's disgusting!"

"No one teaches them anything!" replied Ilya coldly. "Their parents work, and the children live as they can—it's not true what you say."

Tatiana looked at him in astonishment and opened her mouth to speak; but at that moment Terenti smiled propitiatingly and remarked:

"When ladies come to the villages nowadays, that's quite a wonder to the people. Formerly the owner used to live there all his life, and now they only come for a holiday."

Madame Avtonomov looked at him, then at Ilya, and without saying anything fixed her eyes on the book. Terenti was confused, and began to pull at his shirt. For a minute no one spoke in the shop, only the rustling leaves of the book and a kind of purring as Terenti rubbed his hump against the door posts.

"But you," said Ilya's calm, cold voice suddenly, "before you address a lady, say, 'Excuse me, or allow me, and bow.'"

The book fell from Tatiana's hand and slipped over the desk; but she caught it, slapped her hand on it and began to laugh. Terenti went out, hanging his head. Tatiana looked up smiling into Ilya's gloomy face, and asked softly: "You're cross, is it with me? Why?"

Her face was roguish, tender; her eyes shone teasingly. Lunev stretched out his arm and caught her by the shoulder.

All at once his hate against her flared up, a wild tigerish desire to embrace her, to hug her till he heard her bones crack. He drew her towards him, showing his teeth; she caught his hand, tried to loosen his grasp, and whispered:

"Let go, you hurt me, are you mad? you can't kiss me here. And listen: I don't like your uncle being here, he's a hunchback, and people will be afraid of him; let go, I say. We must get rid of him somehow, d'you hear?"

But he held her in his arms and bent his head down to her, with wide-open eyes.

"What are you doing, it's impossible here. Let go!"

Suddenly she let herself sink to the ground and slipped out of his hands like a fish. Through a hot mist he saw her standing in the street door, straightening her jacket with trembling hands: she said:

"Oh, you're brutal! can't you wait, then?"

In his head was a noise of running waters; standing motionless, with fingers intertwined, he looked at her from behind the counter as if in her alone he saw all the evil and sorrow of his life.

"I like you to be passionate, but, my dear, you must be able to control yourself."

"Go!" said Ilya.

"I'm going. I can't see you to-day, but the day after to-morrow, the twenty-third, it's my birthday, will you come?"

As she spoke she fingered her brooch without looking at Ilya.

"Go away!" he repeated, trembling with desire to clutch and torture her.

She went. Almost immediately, Terenti reappeared and asked politely:

"Is that your partner?"

Ilya sighed with relief and nodded.

"A fine lady! isn't she? Small but——"

"She's a beast!" said Ilya.

"H'm—h'm," growled Terenti suspiciously. Ilya felt the searching look on his face, and asked angrily, "Well what are you looking at?"

"I? good Lord! nothing."

"I know what I'm saying. I said a beast, and that's all about it. And if I said worse things it'd be just as true!"

"A—ha! Is that it? O—Oh!" said the hunchback slowly, with an air of condolence.

"What? cried Ilya roughly.

"Only that."

"Only what?"

Terenti stood shifting from one foot to the other, frightened and hurt at being shouted at; his face was sorrowful and he blinked his eyes rapidly.

"Only, you know best, of course," he said at last.

"And that's enough," cried Ilya. "I know them; these people that are so clean and tidy outside!"

"I talked with the boot boy once," said the hunchback gently, as he sat down, "about his brother, the magistrate sentenced him to seven days, think! The lad said he was such a peaceable fellow, never drunk, and yet all at once he broke out as if he were mad. He got drunk and smashed up everything; hit his master on the nose, and the shopman, and before, think! his master had often struck him and he kept quite quiet, never did anything."

Lunev listened and thought.

"I'll have to drop all this and get away. This beautiful life can go to the devil! There's no life left for me! I'll give it all up and go. I'll get away—here, I'm just going to pieces."

"He bore it, bore everything and then at last bang, like a bombshell!" Terenti went on.


"Why, the boy's brother. He got seven days for assault."


"Seven days! I say, the fellow had borne it, stood everything, but it had all piled up in his soul like the soot in the chimney, and then all of a sudden it catches fire, and the flames flare up."

"Uncle, look after the shop for a bit! I'm going out," answered Lunev.

His uncle's monotonous, well-meant words rang in his ears as mournfully as the sound of bells in Lent, and it was cold in the shop and there seemed no room to move, but it was hardly more cheerful in the street. It had been raining now for several days steadily. The clean, grey pavement stones stared unwinkingly back at the grey sky, and seemed weary like the faces of men. The dirt in the spaces between the stones, showed up clearly against the cold, clean surface. The air was heavy with damp, and the houses seemed oppressed with it. The yellow leaves still left on the trees seemed to shudder with the knowledge of approaching death.

At the end of the street behind the roofs clouds, bluish-grey or white, rose up to the height of the sky. They shouldered over one another higher and higher, constantly changing their shapes, now like the reek of a bonfire, now like mountains, or waves of a turbid river. They seemed to mount to the summit only to fall the heavier on houses and trees and ground. Lunev grew weary of the moving wall and turned back to the shop, shivering from dreariness and cold.

"I must give it up, the shop and all, uncle can see to it with Tanyka, but I, I'll go away."

In his mind he had a vision of a wet, boundless plain, arched by grey clouds; there was a broad road set with birch-trees; he himself walked forward, his knapsack on his back; his feet stuck fast in the mud, a cold rain drove in his face, and on the plain and on the road no living soul, not even crows on the branches.

"I'll hang myself," he thought, without emotion, when he saw that he had no place to go to, nowhere in all the world.


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