Three Men

by Maxim Gorky

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Chapter XXV

When he awoke on the morning of the next day but one, he saw on his calendar the black figure 23, and remembered that this was the day that Vyera would appear for trial. He rejoiced at the excuse to get away from the shop, and felt keen curiosity over the girl's fate. He dressed hastily, drank his tea, almost ran to the court, and reached it too early. No one was admitted yet—a little crowd of people pressed about the steps, waiting for the doors to open; Lunev took his place with the rest and leant his back against the wall. There was an open space before the court-house, with a big church in the middle of it. Shadows swept over the ground. The sun's disc, dim and pale, now appeared, now vanished behind the clouds. Almost every moment a shadow fell widely over the square, gliding over the stones, climbing the trees, so that the branches seemed to bend under its weight; then it wrapped the church from base to cross, covered it entirely, then noiselessly moved further to the court of justice and the waiting crowd.

The people all looked strangely grey, with hungry faces; they looked at one another with tired eyes and spoke slowly. One—a long-haired man in a light overcoat buttoned to his chin and a crushed hat, twisted his pointed red beard with cold red fingers, and stamped the ground impatiently with his worn out shoes. Another in a patched waistcoat, and cap pulled down over his brows, stood with bent head, one hand in his bosom, the other in his pocket. He seemed asleep. A little swarthy man in an overcoat and high boots looking like a cockchafer, moved about restlessly. He looked up to the sky showing a pale pointed little nose, whistled, wrinkled his brows, ran his tongue over the edge of his moustache and spoke more than all the others.

"Are they opening?" he called, listening with his head on one side.

"No—h'm. Time is cheap! Been to the library yet, my boy?"

"No—too early," answered the long-haired man briefly.

"The Devil! it is cold!"

The other growled agreement and said thoughtfully:

"Where should we warm ourselves if it weren't for the law courts and the libraries?"

The dark man shrugged his shoulders. Ilya looked at them more carefully and listened. He saw they were loafers—people who passed their lives in various "shady" businesses either cheating the peasants, for whom they drew up petitions or papers of different kinds, or going from house to house with begging letters. Once he had feared them, now they roused his curiosity.

"What's the good of these people? Yet, they live."

A pair of pigeons settled on the pavement near the steps. The man with the bent head swayed from one foot to the other and began to circle round the birds, making a loud cooing noise.

"Pfui!" whistled the dark little man sharply. The man in the waistcoat started and looked up; his face was blue and swollen, and his eyes glassy.

"I can't stand pigeons," cried the little man watching them as they flew away. "Fat—as rich tradesmen—and their beastly cooing! Are you summoned?" he asked Ilya, unexpectedly.


"You're not called?"


The dark man looked Ilya up and down and growled: "That's strange."

"What is strange?" asked Ilya, laughing.

"You have the kind of face," answered the little man speaking quickly. "Ah, they're opening."

He was one of the first to enter the building. Struck by his remark Ilya followed him and in the doorway pushed the long-haired man with his shoulder.

"Don't shove so, you clown!" said the man half aloud, and giving Ilya a push in his turn passed in first. The push did not anger Ilya, but only astonished him.

"Odd!" he thought. "He pushes in as if he were a great lord and must go in first, and he's only just a poor wretch."

In the court of justice it was dark and quiet. The long table covered with a green cloth, the high-backed chairs, the gold frames round the big full-length portraits, the mulberry coloured chairs for the jury, the big wooden bench behind the railing—all this inspired respect and a sense of gravity. The windows were set deep in gray walls; curtains of canvas hung in heavy folds in front of them, and the window panes looked dim. The heavy doors opened without noise, and people in uniform walked here and there with rapid silent steps. Everything in the big room seemed to bid the spectators to remain quiet and still. Lunev looked round him, and a painful sensation caught at his heart; when an official announced—"The Court," he started and sprang up before any one else, though he did not know that he was expected to rise. One of the four men who entered was Gromov, who lived in the house opposite Ilya's shop. He took the middle chair, ran both his hands over his hair, rumpling it a little and settled the gold-trimmed collar of his uniform. The sight of his face had a calming effect on Ilya; it was just as jolly and red-cheeked as ever, only the ends of the moustache were turned up. On his right sat a good-natured looking old man with a little, grey beard, a blunt nose, and spectacles—on the left a bald-headed man with a divided foxy beard, and a yellow, expressionless face. Besides these a young judge stood at a desk, with a round head, smoothly plastered hair, and black prominent eyes. They were all silent for a few moments, looking through the papers on the table. Lunev looked at them full of respect and waited for one of them to rise and say something loudly and importantly. But suddenly, turning his head to the left Ilya saw the well-known fat face of Petrusha Filimonov shining as if it were lacquered. Petrusha sat in the front row of the jury, with his head against the back of the chair looking placidly at the public. Twice his glance passed over Ilya, and both times Ilya felt a wish to stand up and say something to Petrusha or to Gromov or to all the people.

"Thief, who killed his son!" flamed through his brain, and there was a feeling in his throat like heartburn.

"You are therefore accused," said Gromov in a friendly voice, but Ilya did not see who was addressed; he looked at Petrusha's face, oppressed with doubt and could not reconcile himself to the thought that Filimonov should be a dispenser of justice.

"Now, tell us," asked the president, rubbing his forehead. "You said to the tradesman Anissimov, you wait! I'll pay you for this!"

A ventilator squeaked somewhere, "ee—oo, ee—oo."

Among the jury Ilya saw two other faces he knew. Behind Petrusha and above him sat a worker in stucco—Silatschev, a big peasant's figure with long arms and little ill-tempered face, a friend of Filimonov and his constant companion at cards. It was told of Silatschev, that once in a quarrel he had pushed his master from a scaffolding, with fatal result. And in the front row, two places from Petrusha sat Dodonov, the proprietor of a big fancy-ware shop. Ilya bought from him and knew him for hard and grasping and a man who had been twice bankrupt, and paid his creditors only ten per cent.

"Witness! when did you see that Anissimov's house was on fire?"

The ventilator lamented steadily, seeming to echo the sadness in Lunev's breast.

"Fool!" said the man next him in a whisper. Ilya looked round, it was the little dark man who now sat with his lips contemptuously drawn.

"A fool," he repeated, nodding to Ilya.

"Who?" whispered Ilya stupidly.

"The accused—he had a fine chance to upset the witness and lets it go. If I—ah."

Ilya looked at the prisoner. He was a tall, bony peasant with an angular head. His face was terrified and gloomy; he showed his teeth like a tired, beaten dog, crowded into a corner by its foes and without strength to defend itself. Stupid, animal fear was impressed on every feature; and Petrusha, Silatschev and Dodonov looked at him quietly with the eyes of the well fed. To Lunev it seemed as though they thought: "He's been caught—that is, he is guilty."

"Dull!" whispered his neighbour. "Nothing interesting. The accused—a fool, the Public Prosecutor a gaping idiot, the witnesses blockheads as usual. If I were Prosecutor I'd settle his job in ten minutes."

"Guilty?" asked Lunev in a whisper, shivering as if with cold.

"Probably not. But easy to condemn him. He doesn't know how to defend himself. These peasants never do. A poor lot! Bones and muscles—but intelligence, quickness—not a glimmer!"

"That is true. Ye—es."

"Have you by any chance twenty kopecks about you?" asked the little man suddenly.

"Oh, yes."

"Give it to me."

Ilya had taken out his purse and handed over the piece of money, before he could make up his mind whether to give it or no. When he had parted with it he thought with an involuntary respect as he looked sideways at his neighbour:

"He's quick, but that's the way to live; just take——"

"A stupid ass, that's all," whispered the dark man again, and indicated the accused with his eyes.

"Sh!—sh!" said the usher.

"Gentlemen of the jury," began the Prosecutor with a low but emphatic voice, "look at the face of this man—it is more eloquent than any testimony of the witnesses who have given their evidence without contradiction—er—er—it must be so—it must convince you that a typical criminal stands before you, an enemy of law and order, an enemy of society—stands before you."

The enemy of society was sitting down; but as it evidently troubled him to sit while he was being spoken of, he stood up slowly with bent head. His arms hung feebly by his sides, and the long gray figure bowed as though before the vengeance of justice.

Lunev let his head fall also. His heart was sick, almost to death; helpless thoughts circled slowly and heavily in his head—he could find no words for them, and they fought him and strangled him. Petrusha's red, uneasy face drifted through his thoughts, as the moon through clouds.

When Gromov announced the adjournment of the sitting Ilya went out into the corridor with the little man who took a damaged cigarette from his coat pocket, pressed it into shape and began:

"The silly fellow stands there and swears he has not kindled the fire. Oaths are no good here. It's a serious business—some shopkeeper's been injured—you have done it or another—that doesn't matter. What does matter is to have it punished—you walk into the net. Very well, you shall be punished."

"Do you think he's guilty, that fellow?" asked Ilya thoughtfully.

"Of course he's guilty, because he's stupid; clever people don't get condemned," said the little man calmly and quickly, and smoked his cigarette vigorously. He had little black eyes like a mouse, and his teeth were also small-pointed and mouse-like.

"In that jury," began Ilya slowly and with emphasis, "there are men."

"Not men, tradesmen," the dark-headed man improved the phrase. Ilya looked at him and repeated:

"Tradesmen. I know some of them."


"A fine sort—not to put it too finely."

"Thieves—eh?" his companion helped him out. He spoke loudly, but in an ordinary way, then threw away his cigarette end, pinched up his lips in a loud whistle and looked at Ilya with eyes bold almost to insolence; all these movements followed one another in eager restlessness.

"Of course; anyway, justice so-called is mostly a pretty good farce," he said shrugging. "The fat people improve the criminal tendencies of the hungry people. I often come to the courts, but I never saw a hungry man sit in judgment on the well fed—if the well fed do it among themselves—it happens generally from extra greed and means—don't take everything, leave me some!"

"It also means—the well fed can't understand the hungry," said Ilya.

"Oh, nonsense!" answered his companion. "They understand all right—that's what makes them so severe."

"Well—well fed and honourable—that might pass!" Ilya went on half aloud. "But well fed scoundrels, how can they judge other men?"

"The scoundrels are the severest judges," the black-haired man announced quietly.

"Now, sir, we'll hear a case of robbery."

"It's some one I know," said Lunev softly.

"Ah!" cried the little man and shot a glance at him. "Let us have a look at your acquaintance!"

In Ilya's head all was confusion. He wanted to question this clever little man about many things, but the words rattled in his brain like peas in a basket. There was in the man something unpleasant, dangerous, that frightened Ilya, but at once the persistent thought of Petrusha in the seat of justice, swamped every other idea. The thought forged an iron ring round his heart and kept out every other.

As he drew near to the door of the hall he saw in the crowd in front of him the thick neck and small ears of Pavel Gratschev. Overjoyed, he twitched Pavel by the sleeve and smiled in his face; Pavel smiled too, but feebly, with evident effort.

"How are you?"

"How are you?"

They stood for a few moments in silence, and the thought of each was expressed almost simultaneously.

"Come to see?" asked Pavel with a wry smile.

"She—is she here?" asked Ilya.


"Why—your Sophie Nik——"

"She isn't mine," answered Pavel, interrupting coldly.

Both went into the hall without further speech. "Sit near me!" asked Lunev.

Pavel stammered. "You see—I—I'm with some people."

"Oh, very well."

"I say—d'you know," added Pavel quickly. "Listen to what her advocate says."

"I'll listen," said Ilya quietly, and added in a lower voice: "So—good-bye—brother."

"Good-bye—we'll meet presently."

Gratschev turned away and walked quickly to one side. Ilya looked at him with the sensation that Pavel had rubbed an open wound. Burning sorrow possessed him, and an envious, evil feeling to see his friend in a good new overcoat, looking, too, healthier, clearer in the face. Gavrik's sister sat on the same bench with Pavel; he said something to her, and she turned her head quickly to Lunev. When he saw her expressive, eager face, he turned away and his soul was wrapped more firmly and densely in dark feelings of injury, enmity and inability to understand. His thoughts stormed giddily in his head like a whirlwind, one tangled in another; suddenly they stopped—vanished; he felt a void in his brain, and everything outside seemed to move against him malevolently—and he ceased to follow the course of events.

Vyera had already been brought in. She stood behind the railing in a grey dress, reaching to her heels like a night-gown, with a white kerchief. A strand of yellow hair lay against her left temple, her cheeks were pale, her lips compressed, and her eyes, widely opened, rested earnestly and immovably on Gromov.

"Yes—yes—no—yes," her voice rang in Ilya's ears, as though muffled.

Gromov looked at her kindly, and spoke in a subdued low voice like a cat purring.

"And do you plead guilty, Kapitanovna, that on that night——" his insinuating voice glided on.

Lunev looked at Pavel; he sat bent forward, his head down, twisting his fur cap in his hands. His neighbour, however, sat straight and upright, and looked as though she were sitting in judgment on every one there, Vyera and the judges and the public. Her head turned often from side to side, her lips were compressed scornfully, and her proud eyes glanced coldly and sternly from under her wrinkled brows.

"I plead guilty," said Vyera. Her voice broke and the sound was like the ring of a cup that is cracked.

Two of the jury, Dodonov and his neighbour, a red-haired, clean-shaven man, bent their heads together, moved their lips silently, and their eyes, that rested on the girl, smiled. Petrusha, holding with both hands to his chair, bent his whole body forward; his face was even redder than usual and the ends of his moustache twitched; others of the jury looked at Vyera, all with the same definite attentiveness, which Lunev understood but hated furiously.

"They sit in judgment, and every one of them looks at her lustfully!" he thought, and clenched his teeth; he longed to call out to Petrusha:

"You rascal! what are you thinking? Where are you? What is your duty?"

Something stuck in his throat, like a heavy ball, and hampered his breath.

"Tell me, Kapitanovna," said Gromov lazily, while his eyes stood out like those of a lustful he-goat, "have you-ah—practised prostitution long?"

Vyera passed her hand over her face as though the question stuck fast to her fiery red cheeks.

"A long time."

She answered firmly. A whisper ran among the people like a snake. Gratschev bowed lower as though he would hide, and twisted his cap ceaselessly.

"About how long?"

Vyera said nothing, but looked earnestly, seriously at Gromov out of her wide-open eyes:

"One year? Two? Five?" persisted the president.

She was still silent; her grey figure stood as though hewn from stone, only the ends of her kerchief quivered on her breast.

"You have the right not to reply, if you wish," said Gromov, stroking his beard.

Now an advocate sprang up, a thin man with a small pointed beard and long eyes. His nose was long and thin, and the nape of his neck wide so that his face looked like a hatchet.

"Say, what compelled you to adopt this, this profession!" he said loudly and clearly.

"Nothing compelled me," answered Vyera, her eyes fixed on the judge's.

"H'm, that's not altogether correct; you see, I know, you told me."

"You know nothing!" answered Vyera.

She turned her head towards him, and looking at him sternly, went on angrily:

"I told you nothing, you yourself have made it all up!"

Her eyes glanced quickly over the audience, then she turned back to the judges and asked with a movement of her head towards her defender:

"Need I answer him?"

A new hissing whisper crawled through the room, but louder and plainer. Ilya shivered with the tension and looked at Gratschev. He expected something from him, awaited it with confidence. But Pavel, looking out from behind the shoulders of the people in front of him, sat silent and motionless. Gromov smiled and said, his words were smooth and oily; then Vyera began not loudly but quite firmly:

"It's quite simple. I wanted to be rich, so I took it, that is all, there's nothing else, and I was always like that."

The jury began to whisper together; their faces grew dark and displeasure appeared on the features of the judges. The room was still; from the street came the dull regular sound of footsteps on the pavement; soldiers were marching by outside.

"In view of the prisoner's confession," said the Prosecutor.

Ilya felt he could sit still no longer. He got up, and took a step forward.

"Sh—silence!" said the usher loudly. He sat down again and hung his head like Pavel. He could not see Petrusha's red face, now puffed out importantly, and apparently annoyed at something; but for all the unaltered friendliness of Gromov's face, he saw a cold heart behind the kind demeanour of the judge, and he understood that this cheerful man was accustomed to condemn men and women as a joiner is to plane boards. And an angry, oppressive thought rose in Ilya's mind:

"If I confessed, it would be the same with me. Petrusha would judge; to the prison with me, while he stays here."

At this he stopped and sat there, to listen, seeing nobody.

"I will not have you speak of it," came in a trembling, sorrowful cry from Vyera; she screamed, cried, caught at her breast, and tore the kerchief from her head.

"I will not. I will not."

A confused noise filled the room.

The girl's cry set all in movement, but she threw herself down behind the railing as though burnt, and sobbed heart-brokenly.

"Don't torture me, let me go, for Christ's sake!"

Ilya sprang up and tried to force his way forward, but the people opposed him and before he could realize it he found himself in the corridor.

"They've stripped her soul," said the voice of the black-haired man.

Pavel, pale, and with dishevelled hair, stood against the wall, his jaw quivering. Ilya went up to him and scowled at him in anger; people stood or moved round them talking eagerly. There was a smell of tobacco smoke in the air.

"It's imprisonment! She can scream till she's tired, it's all the same."

"She confessed, little fool!"

"But they found the money."

"Why didn't she say he gave it to her."

The words buzzed about the corridor like autumn flies, and penetrated into Ilya's ears.

"What?" he asked Pavel gloomily and angrily, going quite close to him.

Pavel looked at him and opened his mouth but said nothing.

"You've ruined a human being," said Lunev. Pavel started as though he had been lashed with a whip; he raised his hand, laid it on Ilya's shoulder, and asked in a sorrowful voice:

"Is it my fault?"

Ilya shook off the hand from his shoulder; he wanted to say: "you—oh! don't be afraid, no one called out that it was for you she stole," but he said instead, "and Petrusha Filimonov to condemn her, that's as it should be, isn't it?" and laughed.

Then with scorn in his face he went out into the street, and went slowly along with a sense as though he were fast bound by invisible cords. Anxiety lay like a heavy stone on his heart; it sent a coldness through him confusing his thoughts, and until the evening he wandered about aimlessly, from street to street, like a stray dog, tired and hungry. No wish, no desire moved within him, and he saw nothing of all that passed round about him, till at last a sick feeling of hunger roused him from his brooding.


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