A Rolling Stone

by Maxim Gorky

Previous Chapter

II. The Story of His Life

Well—then! let us discourse for your profit and edification ... I'll begin with papa. My papa was a stern and conscientious man, just touching upon his sixtieth year, on half-pay, and he settled down in a little country town where he bought himself a little house. My mamma was a woman with a kind heart and generous blood.... For me, at any rate, he had no respect. For every trifle he made me kneel in a corner and lambed into me with a strap. But mamma loved me, and it was pleasant to live with her.... At the time papa moved into the little provincial town, I was in the sixth class of the Gymnasium, but I was expelled from it shortly afterwards for getting mixed up with the teacher of physics.... I ought to have taken my lessons in physics from this teacher, and I took them instead from the head master's chambermaid. The head master was very angry with me for this, and drove me away to papa. I appeared before him, and explained that here I was expelled from the Temple of Learning because of a misunderstanding with the head master. But the head master had taken the precaution of informing my father of the whole affair by letter, so that the moment papa beheld me he began scolding me with all sorts of nasty words, and mamma did ditto. When they were tired of scolding me they resolved to send me away to Pskov, where papa had a brother living. So they're sending me to Pskov, I said to myself; well, uncle is stupid and savage enough, but my dear little cousins are nice and kind, so life will be possible there anyhow. But even at Pskov it soon appeared that I had no friends at court, so to speak. In three months uncle turned me out, accusing me of immoral conduct, and having a bad influence on his daughters. Again I was scolded, and again I was banished, this time to the country, to the house of an aunt who lived in the Government of Ryazan. My auntie seemed to be a glorious and good-natured old lady, who always had heaps of young people about her. But at that time everyone was infected by the foolish habit of reading forbidden books—and suddenly I found myself in gaol, where I suppose I must have remained three or four months. Mamma thereupon instructed me by letter that I had killed her; papa informed me that I had dishonoured him—what very tiresome parents it was my fate to have!

You know that if a man were free to choose his own parents it would be a much more convenient arrangement than the present order of things—now, wouldn't it? Well, well! They let me out of prison, and I went to Nijni-Novgorod, where I had a married sister. But my sister appeared to be overwhelmed by family cares, and very ill-humoured on that account. What was I to do? Just at the nick of time Mass was being celebrated, and I joined the choir of singers. My voice was good, I had a handsome exterior, they promoted me to the rank of solo-singer, and I sang all by myself. You imagine, I suppose, that I must have taken to drink on this occasion. No, even now I hardly ever drink vodka, only sometimes, and that very rarely—by way of warming myself. A drunkard I never was; of course I have had my fill when good wines were going—champagne for instance, and if you gave me Marsala, lots of it I mean, I should undoubtedly get drunk upon it, for I love it as I love women Women I love to frenzy—and perhaps I hate 'em too, for in the end I always feel an irresistible desire to play them some dirty trick.... Well, well! Why I feel so mad with them sometimes I do not know and cannot explain to myself. They have always been gracious to me, for I was handsome and bold. But they're such ties! Well, the deuce take them for what I care. I love to hear them cry and groan—for then I always think: Aha! now you are having your deserts.

However, there was I singing away, I cared not what, so long as I had a merry life. Then, one day, I was suddenly accosted by a clean-shaven man who appeared before me and said: "Have you ever tried acting on the stage?" Well, I had played a part in domestic spectacles. "Would you like to earn twenty-five roubles[1] a month for playing light-comedy parts?" "All right!" said I. So off we went to the town of Perm. At Perm I played and sang in comic operas made up as a passionate dark young chap—with a past, the past of a political offender. The ladies were in raptures. Then I took the second lover rôles. "Try the heroic parts," they said to me. So I played the part of Max in "Errant Fires," and it went off capitally—I knew it I played through a whole season That summer our tour was a great success. We played at Vyatka, we played at Ufa, we even played at Elabuga. In the winter we returned to Perm.

[1] £2 10s.

And in that winter I felt a hatred and loathing of mankind. You know how it is. You appear on the stage, and you see hundreds of fools and wretches with their eyes fixed full upon you—that slavish cowardly shudder (I know it so well) runs all down your back, and you have the prickly sensation of one who has sat down in an ant heap. They look upon you as their plaything, as a thing which they have purchased for their gratification for a single evening. They have the power to condemn or to approve. And there they sit waiting to see whether you will exert yourself with sufficient diligence to please them And if they think that you have used sufficient diligence, they will bray—bray like tethered asses, and you must listen to them and feel content with their applause. For a time you will forget that you are their property ... then, when you call it to mind, you will smite yourself upon the snout for having found pleasure in their approval.

I hated this "public" to the verge of convulsions. Frequently I should have liked to have spat on them from the stage, to have rowed them with the vilest words. There were times when their eyes—you will feel with me—pricked my body like darning-needles; and how greedily that "public" waits for you to tickle it—waits with the confidence of that lady land-owner whose serf-girls used to scratch the soles of her feet every evening. You are sensible of this expectation of theirs, and you think how pleasant it would be to have in your hand a knife long enough to clean slice off all the noses of the first row of spectators at a single stroke. Devil take the whole lot of them!

But pardon me this outburst! I fear that for the moment I was becoming quite sentimental!—I only meant to say that I was a player, that I hated my public, and wanted to run away from it. In this I was assisted by the wife of a procurator. She did not please me and that did not please her. She set her husband in motion, and I suddenly appeared in the town of Saransk—just as if I were a grain of wheat whirled by the wind from the banks of the Kama. Ah, well! everything in this wretched life of ours is like a dream!

So I settled down in the town of Saransk, and there settled down along with me the young wife of a young Permiak of the mercantile persuasion. She was a determined character and dearly loved my art. So there we were together. We had no money, neither had we any acquaintances. Moreover, I was weary of her. She also, from sheer ennui, began to din it into me that I did not love her. At first I endured it patiently, but after a bit I could stand it no longer: "Be off," I cried! "leave me! go to the devil!" That is exactly what I said to her. She caught up a revolver and fired it at me. The bullet lodged in my left shoulder—a little lower and I should have been in Paradise long ago. Anyhow, down I fell. But she was frightened, and in her terror leaped into a well.

And there she soddened to death.

Me they conducted to the hospital. Well, there of course ladies appeared upon the scene They revolved around me till I was able to stand on my legs again, and when I could do that I got the billet of secretary to the local police-station. Well, say what you will—to be associated with the police is more convenient than to be under police supervision. So there I lived for two or three months.

It was in those days, for the first time in my life, that I had an attack of crushing, overwhelming ennui, that most horrible of all sensations to which humanity is liable.... Everything around you ceases to be of interest, and you desire something new. You cast about hither and thither, you seek and seek, you find something, you seize it, and immediately you discover it is not what you wanted. You feel yourself led captive by something dark, you feel yourself fettered within, you feel yourself incapable of living in the world with yourself, and yet this world is more necessary to a man than everything else. A wretched condition of things!

And it brought me at last to such a pass that I married. Such a step in a man of my character is only possible in case of anguish or drunkard's head-ache.

My wife was the daughter of a priest, who lived with her mother—her father was dead—and had the free disposition of her property. She had her own house, you might even say mansion, and she had money besides. She was a handsome girl, no fool, and of a lively disposition, but she was very fond of reading books, and this had a very bad effect both upon me and her. She was constantly fishing for rules of life in all sorts of little books, and whenever she got what she wanted, she immediately proceeded to apply k personally to us both. Now, from my tenderest years morality was a thing I never could endure.... At first I laughed at my wife, but afterwards it became tiresome to listen to her. I saw that she always made a great show of ideas extracted from various little books, and bookish lore is about as suitable for a woman as his master's cast-off costume is for a lackey. We began to quarrel.... Then I made the acquaintance of a certain priest—there was one of that sort there—a rogue who could play the guitar and sing, dance the trepak[2] to admiration, and take his skinful like a man. To my mind he was the best fellow in the town, because one could always live a jolly life in his company, and she—that is my wife—was always running him down, and always tried to drag me into the company of the Scribes and Pharisees who surrounded her. For in the evenings all the serious and best people in the town, as she called them, used to assemble at her house; and serious enough they all were, as serious, to my mind, as gallows-birds.... I also loved reading in those days, but I never used to trouble myself about what I read, and I don't understand why people should. But they—I mean my wife and those who were with her—whenever they had read through a book, immediately became as restless as if they had hundreds of prickles beneath their skin. Now, I look upon it like this. Here's a book. Very well! An interesting book. So much the better. But every book has been written by a man, and a man cannot leap higher than his own head. All books are written with one object: they want to prove that good is good and bad is bad, and it's all one whether you have read a hundred of them or a thousand. My wife discussed her little books by the dozen, so that I began to tell her straight out that I should have had a better time of it if I had married the parson instead of her. It was only the parson who saved me from boredom, and but for him I should have bolted from my wife there and then. As soon as the Pharisees called upon her—off I went to the parson. In this way I lived through a year and a half. From sheer boredom I helped the parson in the church services. At one time I read the epistles, at another I stood in the choir and sang:

"From my youth up many passions have fought against me."

[2] A boisterous national dance of Russia.

I went through a good deal in those days, and I shall be justified for many things at the Last Day for this endurance. But now my parson was joined by a young kinswoman, and this woman came to him first because he was a widower, and in the second place because his swine had eaten him, i.e., had not eaten him entirely, but spoilt the look of him. He had, you must know, fallen down drunk in the yard and gone to sleep, and the swine had come into the courtyard and nibbled away at his ears, cheeks, and neck. It is notorious that swine eat all sorts of garbage. This diminution of his person threw my parson into a fever, and caused him to summon his kinswoman that she might cherish him and I might cherish her. Well, she and I set about the business very zealously, and with great success. But my wife found out how the land lay—found out I say, and at last it came to a quarrel. What was I to do? I gave her as good as I got. Then she said to me: "Leave my house!" Well, I thought the matter well over, and I quietly went away—right away from the town. Thus the bonds of my marriage were unloosed. If my consort is still alive she certainly regards me as happily dead to her. I have never felt the slightest desire to see her again. I also think that it is well for her to forget me. May she live in peace! Greatly did she bore me in those days.

So now behold me a free man again, living in the town of Penza! I came to loggerheads with the police; no place could be found for me here or there—no place anywhere in fact. At last I became a psalmsinger in the church. I took up the office and sang and read. In the church I had again a "public" before me, and again a loathing of it arose within me. I was a miserable labourer in a dependent position. It was horrible to me. But a merchant's wife was my salvation. She was a stout, God-fearing woman, and had a very dull time of it. And she goes and gets enamoured of me by way of spiritual edification. So I got into the habit of going to see her, and she fed me. Her husband lived at home and was a little dotty, so she had to manage the whole plaguy business. I went to her very courteously, and I said to her: "It is hard for me to be paying visits here, Sekleteya Kirillovna, precious hard," I said; "why don't you make me your assistant?" She made some bones about it at first, and said I was much mistaken, but at last she took me as her manager. And now I had a good time of it, but the town itself was a filthy hole. There was no theatre, no decent hotel, no interesting people. Of course I was bored to death, and in the midst of my boredom I wrote a letter to my uncle. During my five years' absence from Petersburg I had, of course, become very knowing. So I wrote now requesting forgiveness for all that I had done, promised never to do anything like it any more, and asked, among other things, whether it was not possible for me to live at Petersburg. My uncle wrote it was possible, but I must be careful. Then I broke with the merchant's wife.

You must know that she was stupid, fat, stodgy, and ugly. I had had mistresses of great repute, elegant and sensible gossips every one of them. Very well! Yet with all my other mistresses I had parted scurvily; either I had driven them away with wrath and contumely, or they had played me some nasty trick or other. But this Sekleteya had inspired me with respect by reason of her very simplicity.

"Farewell," I said to her; "farewell, my dearly-beloved! God grant thee prosperity!"

"And does it not pain thee to part with me?" said she.

"What!" I cried, "how can I help being pained at parting with one so beautiful and wise?"

"I would never have parted from thee," said she, "but I suppose it must be so, nevertheless I will always remember thee. Well, now, thou art a free bird again, and canst fly away whithersoever thou desirest," and she burst into tears.

"Forgive me, Sekleteya, I beg," said I.

"What!" she cried, "I owe thee thanks, not forgiveness."

"Thanks?" I asked, "how and for what?"

"I'll tell thee. Thou art this sort of man. Thou wouldst think nothing of casting me adrift in the wide world, I put myself wholly into thy hands, and thou mightest have robbed me as thou didst like, and I would not have prevented thee—and all this thou knewest. But thou hast repaid confidence with confidence, and I know how much of mine thou hast consumed in these days—about four thousand in all. Another in thy place," she said, "would have gobbled up the whole pot and emptied the saucer on the hearth as well."

That's what she said. Well, she was a kind-hearted old thing, that I will say.

I gave her a parting kiss, and with a light heart and five thousand roubles in my pocket—no doubt she had taken these also into consideration—I appeared at St. Petersburg. I lived like a baron, went to the theatre, made acquaintances, sometimes from sheer ennui played on the boards, but I played much more frequently at cards. Cards are a capital occupation. You sit down at a table, and in the course of a single night you die and rise again ten times over. It is exciting to know that within the next few moments your last roubles may dribble away, and you yourself may step down into the street a beggar, with nothing but suicide or highway robbery before you. It is also good to know that your neighbour or partner has, with reference to his last rouble, exactly the same ticklish and cruelly poignant sensation as you yourself have had not so very long before him. To see red and pale excited faces, tremulous with the terror of being beaten and with the greed of gain, to look at them and win their cards away, one after the other—ah! how strangely that excites the nerves and the blood!... You win a card—and it is just as if you stole away from the man's heart a bit of warm flesh with the nerves and blood.... That's being happy if you like! This constant risk of falling is the finest thing in life, and the finest thought in life was well expressed by the poet:

"Fierce contest is a rapturous bliss, E'en on the marge of the abyss." Yes, there is rapture in it, and, in general, it is only possible to feel happy when you are risking something. The more risk—the larger and fuller the life. Have you ever happened to starve? It has been my luck not to eat anything for twice twenty-four hours at a stretch.... And look you, when the belly begins to prey upon itself, when you feel your vitals drying up and dying with hunger—then, for the sake of a bit of bread, you are ready to kill a man, a child; you are ready for anything, and this capacity for crime has its own peculiar poetry, it is a very precious sensation, and, having once experienced it, you have a great respect for yourself.

However, let us continue our varied story. As it is, it is spinning itself out as long as a funeral procession, in which I occupy the place of the dear departed. Ugh! what foolish comparisons do crowd into my head. Yet it is true, I suppose, though it is none the wiser, after all, for being that. Apropos, Mr. Balzac has a very true and timely expression—"It is as stupid as a fact." Stupid? Well, let it pass. What do I care about the difference between stupid and wise? Well, as I was saying, I lived at St. Petersburg. It was a good sort of town, but it would be as good again if one half of its inhabitants were drowned in that tiresome sea which is always flop-flopping around it. I lived a merry, easy life at St Petersburg for two or three years, under the protection of a lady who had taken a great fancy to me; but then, in order to oblige a friend, I seriously offended the police, and they asked me whither I would like to go out of St. Petersburg. I suggested Tsarskoe-Selo. "No," they said, "you must go further." At last we effected a compromise, and Tula was fixed upon. "Very well, let it be Tula then," said they. "You may go even further," they said, "if you like, but you must not appear here till three years have expired. Your documents we will keep by us in the meantime as a memento of you, and permit us to offer you in exchange a transit certificate to Tula. Try within four-and-twenty hours to take your flight from hence." Well, thought I, what am I to do now? One must obey one's superiors, how can one help doing so?

Well, there I was. I sold all my property to my landlady for a mere song, and posted off to my protectress. She had given orders that I was not to be admitted, the minx! I then went on to two or three others of my acquaintances—they met me as if I were a leper. I spat upon them all, and repaired to a holy place I knew of, there to spend the last hours of my life at Petersburg. At six o'clock in the morning I issued from thence without a farthing in my pocket—I had played at cards and was stony broke! So thoroughly had a high official cleared me out that I was even lost in admiration at his talent, without feeling the least humiliation at having been beaten. What was I to do next? I went, why I know not, to the Moscow Station, entered and mingled with the crowd. I saw the train to Moscow come in. I got into a carriage and sat down. We passed two or three stations, and then they drove me out in triumph. They wanted to report me, asked who I was; but when I showed them my testimonial they left me in peace. "Go on further," said they, and I went. Ten versts I traversed, I grew tired, and felt that I must have something to eat. There was a sentry-box, belonging to a sentry of a line regiment. I went up to him: "Give me a bit of bread, dear little friend," I said. He looked at me. He gave me not only bread but a large cup of milk. I passed the night with him, for the first time in my life in vagabond fashion, in the open air, on straw, in the field behind the sentry-box. I awoke next day, the sun was shining, the air like champagne, green things all round, and the birds singing. I took some more bread from the sentry and went on further.

You should understand that in a vagabond life there is something that draws you on and on, something that quite swallows you up. It is pleasant to feel yourself free from obligations, free from the various little fetters tying down your existence when you live among men; free from all those bagatelles obstructing your life to such an extent that it ceases to be a satisfaction, and becomes a weary burden—a heavy basket-like burden in the nature of an obligation to dress becomingly, to speak becomingly, and do everything according to an accepted form and not as you would have it On meeting an acquaintance, for instance, you must use the accepted formula and say: How do you do?—instead of: Be d——d! as you would sometimes like to say.

In general—if I may speak the truth freely—these foolishly-ceremonious usages are such as to turn the mutual relations of respectable citizens into a wearisome comedy. Nay, even into a base comedy, for nobody ever calls anybody a fool or a villain to his face—or if it be done sometimes it is only in an access of that sincerity which we call anger.

Now the vagabond position is clean outside all these tinsel trappings. The very circumstance that you renounce all the earlier conveniences of life without regret, and can exist without them, gives you a pleasant sense of elevation in your own eyes. You take up an unreservedly indulgent attitude towards yourself—though for the matter of that I for one have never been severe towards myself. T have never taken myself to task, the teeth of my conscience have never gnawed me, nor have I ever been scratched by the claws of my reason. You must know that very early, and as if insensibly, I appropriated the most simple and sensible of philosophies: however you may live you must die all the same. Why then come to loggerheads with yourself—why drag yourself by the tail to the left when your nature with all her might pricks you on to the right? Pah! I cannot endure people who are always rending themselves in twain. Why do they strive and strive? Supposing I were to talk to some of these monstrosities, this is what I should ask them: "Why do you go on like this? Why do you make such a fuss?" "I am striving after self-perfection," he would say. "But what for?—what on earth for?" "Because human perfection is the sense of life." "Well, I don't understand that at all. Now if you talk about the perfection of a tree, the sense of your words would be quite clear to me. Its perfection is to be measured by its utility; you may use it for making cart shafts or coffins, or anything else useful to man. Very well! But your striving after perfection is entirely your own affair. But tell me, why do you come to me and try to convert me to your faith?" "Because," he would say, "you are a beast, and don't seek out the sense of life." "But I have found it if I am a brute, and the consciousness of my brutality does not overwhelm me." "You lie," he would say; "if you are conscious of it you ought to try to improve." "Improve? How? Here I am, you see, living my own life in the world; my mind and my feelings are at one with each other, and word and deed are in perfect harmony." "That," he would say, "is vileness and cynicism." And so the whole lot of them would argue of course. I feel that they are liars and fools—I feel that, I say, and I cannot but despise them. For indeed—I know what people are—if everything which is mean, dirty, and evil to-day, were to be declared by you to-morrow upright, pure, and good—all these snouts, without any effort of their own, would to-morrow be upright, pure, and good. One thing only would be necessary—the cowardice to annihilate self within themselves. That's how it is.

That's putting it strong, you'll say. Bosh! It is so. Let it be strongly put, it's none the less right for all that Look now! I'll put it like this: Serve God or the Devil, but don't serve God and the Devil. A good rascal is always better than a shoddy honest man. There's black and there's white, but mix them and you only get a dirty smudge. In all my life I have only met with shoddy honest folks—the sort you know whose honesty is piecemeal, as it were, just as if they had picked it up beneath windows as beggars gather crumbs. This sort of honesty is parti-coloured, badly stuck together, as if with pegs; it is the bookish honesty, which is learnt by repetition, and serves men in much the same way as their best trousers, which are trotted out on state occasions. And, in general, the best part of good people is made up for Sunday use; they keep it not in them but by them, for show, to take a rise out of each other.... I have met with people naturally good, but they are rarely to be met with, and only among simple folks outside the walls of towns. You feel at once that these really are good. And you see that they are born good. Yes.

But be that as it may. Deuce take the whole lot of them, good or bad. What's Hecuba to me, or I to Hecuba!

I am well aware that I am relating to you the facts of my life briefly and superficially, and that it will be difficult for you to understand the why and the wherefore, but that's my affair. It's not the facts but the inclinations that are of importance. Facts are rot and rubbish. I can make all sorts of facts if I like. For instance, I can take this knife and stick it in your throat. That would be a fact of the first order. Or if I were to stick myself with it that also would be a fact, and in general you may make all sorts of facts according to inclination. Inclinations—there you have the whole thing. Inclinations produce facts, and they create ideas—and ideals. And you know what ideals are—eh? Ideals are simply crutches, expressly invented for the period when man has become a wretched brute, obliged to walk on his hind paws only. On raising his head from the grey earth he sees above him the blue sky, and is dazzled by the splendour of its brightness. Then, in his stupidity, he says to himself: I will reach it. And thenceforth he hobbles about the earth on these crutches, holding himself upright on his hind paws with their assistance to this very day.

Pray don't imagine that I also am climbing up to Heaven—I have never experienced any such desire—I only say it because it sounds well.

But I have let my story get knotted and tangled again. However, it doesn't matter. It is only in romances that the skein of events revolves regularly; but our life is an irregular, clueless jumble. Why do they pay money for romances while I grow old in vain? The Devil only knows.

Well, let's get on.... This wandering life pleased me—pleased me all the more because I soon discovered a means of subsistence. Once, as I was on the trot, I perceived coming towards me—a Manor House stood forth picturesquely in the distance—three highly genteel figures, a man and two ladies. The man already had some grey in his beard, and looked very genteel about the eyes; the faces of the ladies were somewhat pinched, but they also were highly genteel. I put on the mug of a martyr, drew up level with them, and begged for a night's lodging at the Manor House. They looked at one another, and deliberated a long time among themselves as if it were a matter of great importance. I bowed politely, thanked them, and went on without making too much haste. But they turned back and came after me. We entered into conversation. Who was I, whence did I come, what was I about? They were of a human temperament—liberal views, and their very questions suggested such answers to me that by the time we had reached the Manor House I had lied to them—the Devil only knows how much! I had been a student, I had taught the people, my soul was held captive to all manner of ideas, etc., etc. And all this simply because they themselves would have it so. All I did was not to stand in the way of their taking me for what they wanted to take me for. When I began to reflect how hard the part would be that they wanted me to play, I was not a little out of conceit with myself, I can tell you. But after dinner I quite understood that it was for my own interest to play this part, for they ate with a truly divine taste. They ate with feeling, ate like civilised people. After the meal they conducted me to a little apartment, the man provided me with trousers and other requisites—and, speaking generally, they treated me humanely. Well, and I, in return, loosed the reins of my imagination for their behoof.

Queen of Heaven, how I lied! Talk of Khlestakov![3] Khlestakov was an idiot! I lied without ever losing the consciousness that I was lying, although it was my delight to lie my utmost. I lied to such an extent that even the Black Sea would have turned red if it could have heard my lying. These good people listened to me with delight—listened to me and fed me, and looked after me as if I had been a sick child of their own family. And I in return made up all sorts of things for them. Now it was that I profited by all the good little books I had ever read, and by the learned disputations of my wife's Scribes and Pharisees.

[3] The hero of Gogol's famous comedy, "Revizor."

Believe me, to lie with gumption is a high delight. If you lie and see that folks believe you, you feel yourself on a higher level, and to feel yourself above your fellows is a rare satisfaction. To command their attention and think much of yourself in consequence is foolishness; but to fool a man is always pleasant. And besides, it is pleasant to the man himself to listen to lies—good lies—lies which do not go against the grain. And it is possible that every lie, good or the reverse, is a good lie. There is scarcely anything in the world more worthy of attention than the various popular fables: notions, dreams, and such like. Let us take love for instance. I have always loved in women just that which they have never possessed, and with which I myself have generally requited them. And this, too, is the best thing in them. For instance, you come across a fresh little wench and immediately you think to yourself: such a one must needs embrace you this way, or kiss you that way. If in tears, she must look thus, and if she laughs—thus. And then you persuade yourself that she has all these qualities, and must certainly be exactly as you imagine her to be. And, of course, when you make her acquaintance, and come to know her as she really is—you find yourself sitting triumphantly in a puddle! But that is of no importance. You cannot possibly make an enemy of fire simply because it burns you sometimes, you must remember that it always warms you. Isn't that so? Very well. For the same reason you must not call a lie harmful; in every case put up with it and prefer it to truth.... Besides, it is quite uncertain what this thing called Truth is really like. Nobody has ever seen her passport, and possibly if she were called upon to produce her documents the deuce only knows how it would turn out.

But here I am like Socrates, philosophising instead of attending to my business.

Well, I lied to these good people till I had exhausted my imagination, and as soon as I realised the danger of being a bore to them—I went on further, after residing with them for three weeks. I departed well provisioned for the journey, and I directed my footsteps towards the nearest police-station in order that I might go from thence to Moscow. But from Moscow to Tula I arrived in vain, in consequence of the carelessness of my conductors.

Behold me, then, face to face with the Police-master at Tula. He looked at me and inquired:

"What profession do you mean to follow here?"

"I don't know," I said.

"And why did they send you away from Petersburg?" he said.

"That also I don't know," said I.

"Obviously for some debauch not foreseen by the criminal code—eh?" and he cross-examined me searchingly.

But I remained inscrutable.

"You are a very inconvenient sort of person," he observed.

"Everyone, I suppose, has his own speciality, my good sir," I rejoined.

He thought the matter over, and then he made me a proposition. "As you have chosen your own place of residence, perhaps, if we do not please you, you will go further on. There are many other towns for choice—Orel, Kursk, Smolensk for example. After all it is all the same to you where you live. Wouldn't it be agreeable to you if we passed you on? It would be quite a relief to us not to have the bother of looking after your health. We have such a mass of business here, and you—pardon my candour—seem to be a man fully capable of increasing the cares of the police; nay, you even seem to me expressly made for the purpose. Well now," says he, "would you like me to give you a treshnetsa[4] to assist you on your way?"

[4] A small Russian coin.

"You seem to appraise your duties somewhat cheaply," said I, "I think it would be better if you let me remain here under the protection of the laws of Tula."

But he obstinately refused to take me even as a gift. He was an odd sort of chap! Well, I got fifteen roubles out of him, and went on to the town of Smolensk. You see! The most awkward position contains within it the possibility of something better. I affirm this on the basis of solid experience and on the strength of my deep faith in the dexterity of the human mind. Mind—that's the power! You are still a young man, and what I say to you is this: believe in mind and you shall never fall! Know that every man holds within him a fool and a rogue; the fool is his senses, the rogue is his mind. His senses are the fool because they are upright, just, and cannot dissemble, and how is it possible to live without dissimulation? It is indispensable to dissemble; it is necessary to do so even from compassion, and most of all when they—your senses of course—pity others.

So I walked into Smolensk, feeling that the ground was firm beneath me, and that on the one hand I could always count upon the support of humane people, and on the other hand I was always sure of the support of the Police. I was necessary to the first for the display of their feelings, and to the second I was unnecessary—therefore they and others were bound to pay me out of their superfluities.

That's how it was then!

So I went along and fell quite in love with myself. My prospects were excellent. I fell in with a little muzhik. He looked up and asked:

"You will be one of the Enquiry-Agents, I suppose?"

"Enquiry-Agents," I thought, "what does he mean?"—but I answered:

"Yes, of course I am!"

"Did you come along the Trepovka Road?" he asked.

"Yes, along the Trepovka," I answered.

"And will you hire the folks soon?" he said.

"Very soon," said I.

"Listen, will they take deposits?"

"They will."

"Have you heard how much per head?"

"Yes, about two griveniki[5] per head."

"Laws!" said the little muzhik.

I put two and two together, guessed why he was ploughing there, and asked him whence he came? how many souls[6] there were in his village? how many could go out to work? how many went on foot? how many could go on horseback?

[5] A grivenik = 10 kopecks = about 2¼d.

[6] Peasants.

He understood me.

"You are going to take labourers out of our village, eh?" said he.

"It is all the same to me where I take them from," said I.

I took from them a bank-note and promised to give to their village the preference over other villages. I took two griveniki per head from the labourers who had no horses, and thirty kopecks from the labourers who had, on the pretext of giving them a written assurance of employment for a period fixed by myself. They handed me over about a hundred roubles[11] or so. And I wrote out little receipts for them, said a few kind words to them, and so bade them adieu.

I appeared at Smolensk, and as it was already growing cold, I resolved to pass the winter there. I quickly found some good people and stayed with them The winter didn't pass half badly, but soon spring came and, would you believe it, it drew me out of the town. I wanted to loaf about—and who was there to prevent me? Off I went and strolled about for a whole summer, and in the winter I plumped down into the city of Elizavetgrad. There I plumped down, I say, and I could not wheedle myself in anywhere. I hunted high and low, and at last I found my way. I got the post of reporter of the local gazette—a petty affair, but it found me my grub and left me a pretty free hand After that I made the acquaintance of some Junkers—there is a school for the Junkers of the cavalry regiment in the town—and established card-parties. We had some capital card play, and in the course of the winter I managed to grab a thousand roubles. And then spring again appeared. She found me with money and the appearance of a gentleman.

Whither should I go? Well, I went to the town of Slavyansk by water. There I played successfully till August, and then I was obliged to quit the town. I passed the winter at Zhitornir with a butterfly—she was wretched trash, but a woman of exquisite beauty.

In this manner I passed the years of my banishment from Petersburg and then returned thither. The devil knows why, but the place has always had an attraction for me. I arrived there a gentleman with means. I sought out my acquaintances, and what do you think I discovered? My adventures with the liberal people of the Moscow Government were notorious. Everything was known—how I had lived three weeks with the Ivanovs at the Manor House, feeding their hungry souls with the fruits of my fancy; how I behaved to the Petrovs, and how I had impoverished Madame Vanteva. Well, and what of it? Necessity knows no law, and if seven doors are closed against you, ten more will open to you. But it was no go. I tried very hard to make for myself a stable position in society, and I could not do it. Was it because I had lost during these three years something of my capacity of consorting with men, or was it because people had grown more artful during that period? And now when the shoe began to pinch the devil put it into my head to offer my services to the Detective Force. I offered myself in the capacity of an agent who keeps his eye upon the play-houses. They accepted me. The terms were good. With this secret profession I combined a public one—that of reporter to a small gazette. I provided them with excellent newsletters, and occasionally composed the feuilletons for them. And then, too, I played. In fact so carried away was I by this card playing that I forgot to report it to the authorities. I completely forgot, you know, that it was my duty to do so. But when I lost I remembered: I must report this, I said to myself. But no, I thought, first let me win back my losings, and then I will make my report. In this way I put off the performance of my duty for a very long time, till at last I was actually grabbed by the police on the very scene of the offence behind a card-table. They abused me publicly as one of their own agents. Next day I was brought up in the usual way, a very savage indictment was laid against me; they told me I had absolutely no conscience whatever; and banished me from the capital—banished me a second time. And this time without the right of re-entry for the space of ten years.

For six years I travelled about without complaining to God of my fate—what did I care! I will relate nothing about this period, for it was too monotonous—and manifold. Life in general is a gay bird. Sometimes, indeed, it hasn't a grain to peck at; but it doesn't do to be too exacting; even people sitting on thrones, remember, haven't always things exactly their own way. In such a life as mine there are no duties—that's the first great advantage—and there are no laws except the law of nature—and that's the second. We disposers of our lives may have our disquietudes—but then you'll find fleas even in the best inns. On the other hand, you can go where you like, to the right, to the left, forwards, backwards, everywhere your fancy draws you; and if your fancy doesn't draw you, you can live on a peasant's loaf—he is good, and will always give—you can live on the peasant's loaf, I say, and lie down till the impulse seizes you to go on further.

Where have I been? I have been in the Tolstoi Colonies, and I have fed in the kitchens of the Moscow merchants. I have lived in the great monastery at Kiev and at New Athos. I have been at Czenstochowa, the holiest shrine in Poland; at Muroma, the favourite place of pilgrimage in Russia. Sometimes it seems to me as if I have traversed every little footpath in the Russian Empire twice over. And as soon as ever I have the opportunity of repairing my exterior I shall cross the frontier. I shall make for Roumania, and there every road lies open before you. For Russia now begins to bore me, and there is nothing to be done in her that I have left undone.

And, indeed, during these six years, it seems to me that I have accomplished a good deal. What a number of wondrous things I have said, and what wonders I have related! You know the sort of thing. You come to a village, you beg for a night's lodging, and when they have fed you—you give free reins to your fancy. It is even possible that I may have founded some new Sects, for I have spoken much, very much, concerning the Scriptures. And the muzhik has a fine nose for the Scriptures, and a couple of texts suffices him for the construction of an entirely—new confession of faith which—but you know what I mean. And how many laws have I not composed about the division and repartition of land! Yes, I have infused a great deal of fancy into life.

Well, that's how I live. I live and believe: wish for a dwelling-place and it is yours. For I have common-sense and the women prize me. For instance, I come to the town of Nikolaiev, and I go to the suburbs where dwells the daughter of a soldier of Nikolaiev. The woman is a widow, handsome, and well to do. I come in and say: "Well, Kapochka, here I am; warm a bath for me! Wash me and clothe me, and I will abide with thee even from moon to moon!" She immediately does everything for me, and if she was entertaining a lover besides me, she drives him away. And I live with her, a month or more, as long as I like. For three years I lived with her, during the winter for two months, last year I lived with her even three months; I might live with her the whole winter through if she were not so silly and did not bore me. Except her market garden, which brings her in two thousand roubles a year, the woman certainly wants nothing.

And then I go to the Kuban, to the Labinskaya station. There lives the cossack, Peter Cherny, and he accounts me a holy man—many consider me a righteous man. Many simple believing folks say to me: "Little father, take this money and place a candle for me before the Just One when you are there...." I take it. I respect believing folks, and do not want to offend them with the horrible truth. Not for the world would I let them know that I expend their mite, not for a candle for their patron, but in tobacco for my pipe.

There is also much charm in the consciousness of your aloofness from people, in the clear comprehension of the height and stability of that wall of offences committed against them which I myself have freely erected. And there is much, both of sweet and bitter, in the constant risk of being unmasked. Life is a game. I stake on my cards everything, i.e., nothing, and I always win, without the risk of losing anything else except my own ribs. But I am certain that if people, anywhere, were to set about beating me, they would not be content with maiming me but would kill me outright. It is impossible to feel offended at this, and it would be foolish to fear it.

And so, young man, I have told you my story. I've even spun it out a bit, as my story has its own philosophy, and you know that I take a pleasure in telling it. It appears to me that I have told it pretty well. I will go further, and say, very accurately. I have made up a good deal of it, no doubt, but if I have lied I call Heaven to witness that I have lied according to the facts. Look not upon them, but at my talent for exposition—that, I assure you, is faithful to the original—my own soul. I have set before you a dish hot from my fancy served up with the sauce of the purest truth.

But why have I told you all this? I have told it you because, my dear fellow, I feel that you believe in me—a little. It is kind of you. Be it so!—but—believe no man! For whenever he tells you anything about himself he is sure to be lying. If he be unfortunate he lies in order to excite greater sympathy; if he be prosperous he lies in order to make you envy him the more; and in every case, whether he be fortunate or unfortunate, he lies in order to attract greater attention.

Return to the A Rolling Stone Summary Return to the Maxim Gorky Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson