Mitya Kuldarov, with excited face and ruffled hair, flew into his parents' flat, and hurriedly ran through all the rooms. His parents had already gone to bed. His sister was in bed, finishing the last page of a novel. His schoolboy brothers were asleep.
"Where have you come from?" cried his parents in amazement. "What is the matter with you?
"Oh, don't ask! I never expected it; no, I never expected it! It's . . . it's positively incredible!"
Mitya laughed and sank into an armchair, so overcome by happiness that he could not stand on his legs.
"It's incredible! You can't imagine! Look!"
His sister jumped out of bed and, throwing a quilt round her, went in to her brother. The schoolboys woke up.
"What's the matter? You don't look like yourself!"
"It's because I am so delighted, Mamma! Do you know, now all Russia knows of me! All Russia! Till now only you knew that there was a registration clerk called Dmitry Kuldarov, and now all Russia knows it! Mamma! Oh, Lord!"
Mitya jumped up, ran up and down all the rooms, and then sat down again.
"Why, what has happened? Tell us sensibly!"
"You live like wild beasts, you don't read the newspapers and take no notice of what's published, and there's so much that is interesting in the papers. If anything happens it's all known at once, nothing is hidden! How happy I am! Oh, Lord! You know it's only celebrated people whose names are published in the papers, and now they have gone and published mine!"
"What do you mean? Where?"
The papa turned pale. The mamma glanced at the holy image and crossed herself. The schoolboys jumped out of bed and, just as they were, in short nightshirts, went up to their brother.
"Yes! My name has been published! Now all Russia knows of me! Keep the paper, mamma, in memory of it! We will read it sometimes! Look!"
Mitya pulled out of his pocket a copy of the paper, gave it to his father, and pointed with his finger to a passage marked with blue pencil.
The father put on his spectacles.
"Do read it!"
The mamma glanced at the holy image and crossed herself. The papa cleared his throat and began to read: "At eleven o'clock on the evening of the 29th of December, a registration clerk of the name of Dmitry Kuldarov . . ."
"You see, you see! Go on!"
". . . a registration clerk of the name of Dmitry Kuldarov, coming from the beershop in Kozihin's buildings in Little Bronnaia in an intoxicated condition. . ."
"That's me and Semyon Petrovitch. . . . It's all described exactly! Go on! Listen!"
". . . intoxicated condition, slipped and fell under a horse belonging to a sledge-driver, a peasant of the village of Durikino in the Yuhnovsky district, called Ivan Drotov. The frightened horse, stepping over Kuldarov and drawing the sledge over him, together with a Moscow merchant of the second guild called Stepan Lukov, who was in it, dashed along the street and was caught by some house-porters. Kuldarov, at first in an unconscious condition, was taken to the police station and there examined by the doctor. The blow he had received on the back of his head. . ."
"It was from the shaft, papa. Go on! Read the rest!"
". . . he had received on the back of his head turned out not to be serious. The incident was duly reported. Medical aid was given to the injured man. . . ."
"They told me to foment the back of my head with cold water. You have read it now? Ah! So you see. Now it's all over Russia! Give it here!"
Mitya seized the paper, folded it up and put it into his pocket.
"I'll run round to the Makarovs and show it to them. . . . I must show it to the Ivanitskys too, Natasya Ivanovna, and Anisim Vassilyitch. . . . I'll run! Good-bye!"
Mitya put on his cap with its cockade and, joyful and triumphant, ran into the street.
The barber's shop is small, narrow, and unclean. The log walls are hung with paper suggestive of a cabman's faded shirt. Between the two dingy, perspiring windows there is a thin, creaking, rickety door, above it, green from the damp, a bell which trembles and gives a sickly ring of itself without provocation. Glance into the looking-glass which hangs on one of the walls, and it distorts your countenance in all directions in the most merciless way! The shaving and haircutting is done before this looking-glass. On the little table, as greasy and unwashed as Makar Kuzmitch himself, there is everything: combs, scissors, razors, a ha'porth of wax for the moustache, a ha'porth of powder, a ha'porth of much watered eau de Cologne, and indeed the whole barber's shop is not worth more than fifteen kopecks.
There is a squeaking sound from the invalid bell and an elderly man in a tanned sheepskin and high felt over-boots walks into the shop. His head and neck are wrapped in a woman's shawl.
This is Erast Ivanitch Yagodov, Makar Kuzmitch's godfather. At one time he served as a watchman in the Consistory, now he lives near the Red Pond and works as a locksmith.
"Makarushka, good-day, dear boy!" he says to Makar Kuzmitch, who is absorbed in tidying up.
They kiss each other. Yagodov drags his shawl off his head, crosses himself, and sits down.
"What a long way it is!" he says, sighing and clearing his throat. "It's no joke! From the Red Pond to the Kaluga gate."
"How are you?"
"In a poor way, my boy. I've had a fever."
"You don't say so! Fever!"
"Yes, I have been in bed a month; I thought I should die. I had extreme unction. Now my hair's coming out. The doctor says I must be shaved. He says the hair will grow again strong. And so, I thought, I'll go to Makar. Better to a relation than to anyone else. He will do it better and he won't take anything for it. It's rather far, that's true, but what of it? It's a walk."
"I'll do it with pleasure. Please sit down."
With a scrape of his foot Makar Kuzmitch indicates a chair. Yagodov sits down and looks at himself in the glass and is apparently pleased with his reflection: the looking-glass displays a face awry, with Kalmuck lips, a broad, blunt nose, and eyes in the forehead. Makar Kuzmitch puts round his client's shoulders a white sheet with yellow spots on it, and begins snipping with the scissors.
"I'll shave you clean to the skin!" he says.
"To be sure. So that I may look like a Tartar, like a bomb. The hair will grow all the thicker."
"Pretty middling. The other day she went as midwife to the major's lady. They gave her a rouble."
"Oh, indeed, a rouble. Hold your ear."
"I am holding it. . . . Mind you don't cut me. Oy, you hurt! You are pulling my hair."
"That doesn't matter. We can't help that in our work. And how is Anna Erastovna?"
"My daughter? She is all right, she's skipping about. Last week on the Wednesday we betrothed her to Sheikin. Why didn't you come?"
The scissors cease snipping. Makar Kuzmitch drops his hands and asks in a fright:
"Who is betrothed?"
"How's that? To whom?"
"To Sheikin. Prokofy Petrovitch. His aunt's a housekeeper in Zlatoustensky Lane. She is a nice woman. Naturally we are all delighted, thank God. The wedding will be in a week. Mind you come; we will have a good time."
"But how's this, Erast Ivanitch?" says Makar Kuzmitch, pale, astonished, and shrugging his shoulders. "It's . . . it's utterly impossible. Why, Anna Erastovna . . . why I . . . why, I cherished sentiments for her, I had intentions. How could it happen?"
"Why, we just went and betrothed her. He's a good fellow."
Cold drops of perspiration come on the face of Makar Kuzmitch. He puts the scissors down on the table and begins rubbing his nose with his fist.
"I had intentions," he says. "It's impossible, Erast Ivanitch. I . . . I am in love with her and have made her the offer of my heart. . . . And auntie promised. I have always respected you as though you were my father. . . . I always cut your hair for nothing. . . . I have always obliged you, and when my papa died you took the sofa and ten roubles in cash and have never given them back. Do you remember?"
"Remember! of course I do. Only, what sort of a match would you be, Makar? You are nothing of a match. You've neither money nor position, your trade's a paltry one."
"And is Sheikin rich?"
"Sheikin is a member of a union. He has a thousand and a half lent on mortgage. So my boy . . . . It's no good talking about it, the thing's done. There is no altering it, Makarushka. You must look out for another bride. . . . The world is not so small. Come, cut away. Why are you stopping?"
Makar Kuzmitch is silent and remains motionless, then he takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and begins to cry.
"Come, what is it?" Erast Ivanitch comforts him. "Give over. Fie, he is blubbering like a woman! You finish my head and then cry. Take up the scissors!"
Makar Kuzmitch takes up the scissors, stares vacantly at them for a minute, then drops them again on the table. His hands are shaking.
"I can't," he says. "I can't do it just now. I haven't the strength! I am a miserable man! And she is miserable! We loved each other, we had given each other our promise and we have been separated by unkind people without any pity. Go away, Erast Ivanitch! I can't bear the sight of you."
"So I'll come to-morrow, Makarushka. You will finish me to-morrow."
"You calm yourself and I will come to you early in the morning."
Erast Ivanitch has half his head shaven to the skin and looks like a convict. It is awkward to be left with a head like that, but there is no help for it. He wraps his head in the shawl and walks out of the barber's shop. Left alone, Makar Kuzmitch sits down and goes on quietly weeping.
Early next morning Erast Ivanitch comes again.
"What do you want?" Makar Kuzmitch asks him coldly.
"Finish cutting my hair, Makarushka. There is half the head left to do."
"Kindly give me the money in advance. I won't cut it for nothing."
Without saying a word Erast Ivanitch goes out, and to this day his hair is long on one side of the head and short on the other. He regards it as extravagance to pay for having his hair cut and is waiting for the hair to grow of itself on the shaven side.
He danced at the wedding in that condition.
On the seat opposite sits the Provincial Secretary of Special Commissions, a budding young author, who from time to time publishes long stories of high life, or "Novelli" as he calls them, in the leading paper of the province. He is gazing into her face, gazing intently, with the eyes of a connoisseur. He is watching, studying, catching every shade of this exceptional, enigmatic nature. He understands it, he fathoms it. Her soul, her whole psychology lies open before him.
"Oh, I understand, I understand you to your inmost depths!" says the Secretary of Special Commissions, kissing her hand near the bracelet. "Your sensitive, responsive soul is seeking to escape from the maze of ---- Yes, the struggle is terrific, titanic. But do not lose heart, you will be triumphant! Yes!"
"Write about me, Voldemar!" says the pretty lady, with a mournful smile. "My life has been so full, so varied, so chequered. Above all, I am unhappy. I am a suffering soul in some page of Dostoevsky. Reveal my soul to the world, Voldemar. Reveal that hapless soul. You are a psychologist. We have not been in the train an hour together, and you have already fathomed my heart."
"Tell me! I beseech you, tell me!"
"Listen. My father was a poor clerk in the Service. He had a good heart and was not without intelligence; but the spirit of the age -- of his environment -- vous comprenez? -- I do not blame my poor father. He drank, gambled, took bribes. My mother -- but why say more? Poverty, the struggle for daily bread, the consciousness of insignificance -- ah, do not force me to recall it! I had to make my own way. You know the monstrous education at a boarding-school, foolish novel-reading, the errors of early youth, the first timid flutter of love. It was awful! The vacillation! And the agonies of losing faith in life, in oneself! Ah, you are an author. You know us women. You will understand. Unhappily I have an intense nature. I looked for happiness -- and what happiness! I longed to set my soul free. Yes. In that I saw my happiness!"
"Exquisite creature!" murmured the author, kissing her hand close to the bracelet. "It's not you I am kissing, but the suffering of humanity. Do you remember Raskolnikov and his kiss?"
"Oh, Voldemar, I longed for glory, renown, success, like every -- why affect modesty? -- every nature above the commonplace. I yearned for something extraordinary, above the common lot of woman! And then -- and then -- there crossed my path -- an old general -- very well off. Understand me, Voldemar! It was self-sacrifice, renunciation! You must see that! I could do nothing else. I restored the family fortunes, was able to travel, to do good. Yet how I suffered, how revolting, how loathsome to me were his embraces -- though I will be fair to him -- he had fought nobly in his day. There were moments -- terrible moments -- but I was kept up by the thought that from day to day the old man might die, that then I would begin to live as I liked, to give myself to the man I adore -- be happy. There is such a man, Voldemar, indeed there is!"
The pretty lady flutters her fan more violently. Her face takes a lachrymose expression. She goes on:
"But at last the old man died. He left me something. I was free as a bird of the air. Now is the moment for me to be happy, isn't it, Voldemar? Happiness comes tapping at my window, I had only to let it in -- but -- Voldemar, listen, I implore you! Now is the time for me to give myself to the man I love, to become the partner of his life, to help, to uphold his ideals, to be happy -- to find rest -- but -- how ignoble, repulsive, and senseless all our life is! How mean it all is, Voldemar. I am wretched, wretched, wretched! Again there is an obstacle in my path! Again I feel that my happiness is far, far away! Ah, what anguish! -- if only you knew what anguish!"
"But what -- what stands in your way? I implore you tell me! What is it?"
"Another old general, very well off----"
The broken fan conceals the pretty little face. The author props on his fist his thought -- heavy brow and ponders with the air of a master in psychology. The engine is whistling and hissing while the window curtains flush red with the glow of the setting sun.
He came back from the high school late, between four and five. He came in, and noiselessly lay down on his bed. His thin face was pale. There were dark rings round his red eyes.
"Well, how did you get on? How were you marked?" asked his mother, going to his bedside.
Vanya blinked, twisted his mouth, and burst into tears. His mother turned pale, let her mouth fall open, and clasped her hands. The breeches she was mending dropped out of her hands.
"What are you crying for? You've failed, then?" she asked.
"I am plucked. . . . I got a two."
"I knew it would be so! I had a presentiment of it," said his mother. "Merciful God! How is it you have not passed? What is the reason of it? What subject have you failed in?"
"In Greek. . . . Mother, I . . . They asked me the future of phero, and I . . . instead of saying oisomai said opsomai. Then . . . then there isn't an accent, if the last syllable is long, and I . . . I got flustered. . . . I forgot that the alpha was long in it. . . . I went and put in the accent. Then Artaxerxov told me to give the list of the enclitic particles. . . . I did, and I accidentally mixed in a pronoun . . . and made a mistake . . . and so he gave me a two. . . . I am a miserable person. . . . I was working all night. . . I've been getting up at four o'clock all this week . . . ."
"No, it's not you but I who am miserable, you wretched boy! It's I that am miserable! You've worn me to a threadpaper, you Herod, you torment, you bane of my life! I pay for you, you good-for-nothing rubbish; I've bent my back toiling for you, I'm worried to death, and, I may say, I am unhappy, and what do you care? How do you work?"
"I . . . I do work. All night. . . . You've seen it yourself."
"I prayed to God to take me, but He won't take me, a sinful woman. . . . You torment! Other people have children like everyone else, and I've one only and no sense, no comfort out of him. Beat you? I'd beat you, but where am I to find the strength? Mother of God, where am I to find the strength?"
The mamma hid her face in the folds of her blouse and broke into sobs. Vanya wriggled with anguish and pressed his forehead against the wall. The aunt came in.
"So that's how it is. . . . Just what I expected," she said, at once guessing what was wrong, turning pale and clasping her hands. "I've been depressed all the morning. . . . There's trouble coming, I thought . . . and here it's come. . . ."
"The villain, the torment!"
"Why are you swearing at him?" cried the aunt, nervously pulling her coffee-coloured kerchief off her head and turning upon the mother. "It's not his fault! It's your fault! You are to blame! Why did you send him to that high school? You are a fine lady! You want to be a lady? A-a-ah! I dare say, as though you'll turn into gentry! But if you had sent him, as I told you, into business . . . to an office, like my Kuzya . . . here is Kuzya getting five hundred a year. . . . Five hundred roubles is worth having, isn't it? And you are wearing yourself out, and wearing the boy out with this studying, plague take it! He is thin, he coughs. . . just look at him! He's thirteen, and he looks no more than ten."
"No, Nastenka, no, my dear! I haven't thrashed him enough, the torment! He ought to have been thrashed, that's what it is! Ugh . . . Jesuit, Mahomet, torment!" she shook her fist at her son. "You want a flogging, but I haven't the strength. They told me years ago when he was little, 'Whip him, whip him!' I didn't heed them, sinful woman as I am. And now I am suffering for it. You wait a bit! I'll flay you! Wait a bit . . . ."
The mamma shook her wet fist, and went weeping into her lodger's room. The lodger, Yevtihy Kuzmitch Kuporossov, was sitting at his table, reading "Dancing Self-taught." Yevtihy Kuzmitch was a man of intelligence and education. He spoke through his nose, washed with a soap the smell of which made everyone in the house sneeze, ate meat on fast days, and was on the look-out for a bride of refined education, and so was considered the cleverest of the lodgers. He sang tenor.
"My good friend," began the mamma, dissolving into tears. "If you would have the generosity -- thrash my boy for me. . . . Do me the favour! He's failed in his examination, the nuisance of a boy! Would you believe it, he's failed! I can't punish him, through the weakness of my ill-health. . . . Thrash him for me, if you would be so obliging and considerate, Yevtihy Kuzmitch! Have regard for a sick woman!"
Kuporossov frowned and heaved a deep sigh through his nose. He thought a little, drummed on the table with his fingers, and sighing once more, went to Vanya.
"You are being taught, so to say," he began, "being educated, being given a chance, you revolting young person! Why have you done it?"
He talked for a long time, made a regular speech. He alluded to science, to light, and to darkness.
"Yes, young person."
When he had finished his speech, he took off his belt and took Vanya by the hand.
"It's the only way to deal with you," he said. Vanya knelt down submissively and thrust his head between the lodger's knees. His prominent pink ears moved up and down against the lodger's new serge trousers, with brown stripes on the outer seams.
Vanya did not utter a single sound. At the family council in the evening, it was decided to send him into business.