LIBRARY

 

UNIVERSITY OF

CALIFORNIA

 

SAN DIEGO

 

 

 

 

presented to the

UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

SAN DIEGO

 

by

 

MRS. LEO HERZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD

 

 

 

" Aleksyei Maksimovitch Pyeshkof (pseudonym

Maxim Gorky). Born at Nijni-Novgorod, March 14,

1868. He led a vagabond life for many years, working

and tramping with the poorest classes in Russia, and his

writings record the tragedy of poverty and crime as he

found it. Among the best known of his works are

'Makar Chudra' (1890), ' Emilian Pibgai,' ' Chelkash,'

'Oshybka' (1895), ' Tyenovya Kartinki ' (1895),

'Toska,' 'Konovalov' (1896), 'Malva' (1896), ' Foma

Gordyeev' (1901), 'Mukiki' (1901). Three volumes

of short stories (189899), ' Miestchanye ' (1902),

'Comrades' (1907), 'The Spy' (1908), 'In the

Depths,' a play, and ' Tales of Two Countries ' (1914)."

Century Cyclopedia of Names.

 

 

 

 

MAXIM GORKY

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD

 

 

 

BY

 

MAXIM GORKY

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK

 

THE CENTURY CO.

 

1915

 

 

 

Copyright, 1915, by

THE CENTURY Co.

 

 

 

Published, October,

 

 

 

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Maxim Gorky Frontispiece

 

 

 

FACING

PAGE

 

 

 

He Dance Unweariedly, Oblivious of Everything . . 56

The Sharing-out of the Family Goods 120

 

When They Came Back from Church They Drank Tea

 

in a Depressed Manner 315

 

"Mother Sent Me to School . . . and from the First I

 

Took a Dislike to It 332

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD

 

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

IN a narrow, darkened room, my father, dressed in a

white and unusually long garment, lay on the floor

under the window. The toes of his bare feet were curi-

ously extended, and the fingers of the still hands, which

rested peacefully upon his breast, were curved; his

merry eyes were tightly closed by the black disks of

two copper coins; the light had gone out of his still

face, and I was frightened by the ugly way he showed

his teeth.

 

My mother, only half clad in a red petticoat, knelt

and combed my father's long, soft hair, from his brow

to the nape of his neck, with the same black comb which

I loved to use to tear the rind of watermelons; she

talked unceasingly in her low, husky voice, and it

seemed as if her swollen eyes must be washed away

by the incessant flow of tears.

 

Holding me by the hand was my grandmother, who

had a big, round head, large eyes, and a nose like a

 

3

 

 

 

4 MY CHILDHOOD

 

sponge a dark, tender, wonderfully interesting person.

She also was weeping, and her grief formed a fitting

accompaniment to my mother's, as, shuddering the

while, she pushed me towards my father; but I, terri-

fied and uneasy, obstinately tried to hide myself

against her. I had never seen grown-up people cry

before, and I did not understand the words which my

grandmother uttered again and again:

 

"Say good-by to daddy. You will never see him

any more. He is dead before his time."

 

I had been very ill, had only just left my bed in fact,

and I remember perfectly well that at the beginning of

my illness my father used to merrily bustle about me.

Then he suddenly disappeared and his place was taken

by my grandmother, a stranger to me.

 

"Where did you come from?" I asked her.

 

"From up there, from Nijni," she answered; "but I

did not walk here, I came by boat. One does not walk

on water, you little imp."

 

This was ludicrous, incomprehensible, and untrue;

upstairs there lived a bearded, gaudy Persian, and in

the cellar an old, yellow Kalmuck who sold sheepskins.

One could get upstairs by riding on the banisters, or if

one fell that way, one could roll. I knew this by ex-

perience. But where was there room for water? It

was all untrue and delightfully muddled.

 

"And why am I a little imp?"

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 5

 

"Why? Because you are so noisy," she said, laugh-

ing.

 

She spoke sweetly, merrily, melodiously, and from

the very first day I made friends with her; all I wanted

now was for her to make haste and take me out of that

room.

 

My mother pressed me to her; her tears and groans

created in me a strange feeling of disquietude. It was

the first time I had seen her like this. She had always

appeared a stern woman of few words ; neat, glossy, and

strongly built like a horse, with a body of almost sav-

age strength, and terribly strong arms. But now she

was swollen and palpitating, and utterly desolate.

Her hair, which was always coiled so neatly about her

head, with her large, gaily trimmed cap, was tumbled

about her bare shoulders, fell over her face, and part

of it which remained plaited, trailed across my

father's sleeping face. Although I had been in the

room a long time she had not once looked at me; she

could do nothing but dress my father's hair, sobbing

and choking with tears the while.

 

Presently some swarthy gravediggers and a soldier

peeped in at the door.

 

The latter shouted angrily:

 

"Clear out now ! Hurry up !"

 

The window was curtained by a dark shawl, which

the wind inflated like a sail. I knew this because one

 

 

 

6 MY CHILDHOOD

 

day my father had taken me out in a sailing-boat, and

without warning there had come a peal of thunder.

He laughed, and holding me against his knees, cried,

"It is nothing. Don't be frightened, Luke!"

 

Suddenly my mother threw herself heavily on the

floor, but almost at once turned over on her back, drag-

ging her hair in the dust; her impassive, white face

had become livid, and showing her teeth like my father,

she said in a terrible voice, "Close the door! . . .

Alexis ... go away!"

 

Thrusting me on one side, grandmother rushed to

the door crying:

 

"Friends ! Don't be frightened; don't interfere, but

go away, for the love of Christ. This is not cholera

but childbirth. ... I beg of you to go, good peo-

ple!"

 

I hid myself in a dark corner behind a box, and

thence I saw how my mother writhed upon the floor,

panting and gnashing her teeth; and grandmother,

kneeling beside her, talked lovingly and hopefully.

 

"In the name of the Father and of the Son . . . !

Be patient, Varusha! Holy Mother of God! . . .

Our Defense ... !"

 

I was terrified. They crept about on the floor close

to my father, touching him, groaning and shrieking,

and he remained unmoved and actually smiling. This

creeping about on the floor lasted a long time; several

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 7

 

times my mother stood up, only to fall down again,

and grandmother rolled in and out of the room like a

large, black, soft ball. All of a sudden a child cried.

 

"Thank God!" said grandmother. "It is a boy!"

And she lighted a candle.

 

I must have fallen asleep in the corner, for I remem-

ber nothing more.

 

The next impression which my memory retains is a

deserted corner in a cemetery on a rainy day. I am

standing by a slippery mound of sticky earth and

looking into the pit wherein they have thrown the coffin

of my father. At the bottom there is a quantity of

water, and there are also frogs, two of which have even

jumped on to the yellow lid of the coffin.

 

At the graveside were myself, grandmother, a

drenched sexton, and two cross gravediggers with

shovels.

 

We were all soaked with the warm rain which fell

in fine drops like glass beads.

 

"Fill in the grave," commanded the sexton, moving

away.

 

Grandmother began to cry, covering her face with

a corner of the shawl which she wore for a head-cov-

ering. The gravediggers, bending nearly double, be-

gan to fling the lumps of earth on the coffin rapidly,

striking the frogs, which were leaping against the sides

of the pit, down to the bottom.

 

 

 

8 MY CHILDHOOD

 

"Come along, Lenia," said grandmother, taking hold

of my shoulder; but having no desire to depart, I

wriggled out of her hands.

 

"What next, O Lord 1 ?" grumbled grandmother,

partly to me, and partly to God, and she remained for

some time silent, with her head drooping dejectedly.

 

The grave was filled in, yet still she stood there,

till the gravediggers threw their shovels to the ground

with a resounding clangor, and a breeze suddenly

arose and died away, scattering the raindrops ; then she

took me by the hand and led me to a church some dis-

tance away, by a path which lay between a number of

dark crosses.

 

"Why don't you cry*?" she asked, as we came away

from the burial-ground. "You ought to cry."

 

"I don't want to," was my reply.

 

"Well, if you don't want to, you need not," she said

gently.

 

This greatly surprised me, because I seldom cried,

and when I did it was more from anger than sorrow;

moreover, my father used to laugh at my tears, while

my mother would exclaim, "Don't you dare to cry!"

 

After this we rode in a droshky through a broad but

squalid street, between rows of houses which were

painted dark red.

 

As we went along, I asked grandmother, "Will those

frogs ever be able to get out*?"

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 9

 

"Never!" she answered. "God bless them!"

I reflected that my father and my mother never

spoke so often or so familiarly of God.

 

 

 

A few days later my mother and grandmother

took me aboard a steamboat, where we had a tiny

cabin.

 

My little brother Maxim was dead, and lay on a

table in the corner, wrapped in white and wound about

with red tape. Climbing on to the bundles and trunks

I looked out of the porthole, which seemed to me ex-

actly like the eye of a horse. Muddy, frothy water

streamed unceasingly down the pane. Once it

dashed against the glass with such violence that it

splashed me, and I involuntarily jumped back to the

floor.

 

"Don't be afraid," said grandmother, and lifting

me lightly in her kind arms, restored me to my place

on the bundles.

 

A gray, moist fog brooded over the water; from

time to time a shadowy land was visible in the distance,

only to be obscured again by the fog and the foam.

Everything about us seemed to vibrate, except my

mother who, with her hands folded behind her head,

leaned against the wall fixed and still, with a face that

was grim and hard as iron, and as expressionless.

Standing thus, mute, with closed eyes, she appeared to

 

 

 

10 MY CHILDHOOD

 

me as an absolute stranger. Her very frock was un

familiar to me.

 

More than once grandmother said to her softly

"Varia, won't you have something to eat*?"

 

My mother neither broke the silence nor stirrec

from her position.

 

Grandmother spoke to me in whispers, but to rm

mother she spoke aloud, and at the same time cau

tiously and timidly, and very seldom. I thought sh<

was afraid of her, which was quite intelligible, am

seemed to draw us closer together.

 

"Saratov !" loudly and fiercely exclaimed my mothe

with startling suddenness. "Where is the sailor?"

 

Strange, new words to me! Saratov? Sailor?

 

A broad-shouldered, gray-headed individual dressec

in blue now entered, carrying a small box which grand

mother took from him, and in which she proceeded t(

place the body of my brother. Having done this sh<

bore the box and its burden to the door on her out

stretched hands; but, alas! being so stout she coulc

only get through the narrow doorway of the cabir

sideways, and now halted before it in ludicrous uncer

tainty.

 

"Really, Mama!" exclaimed my mother impa

tiently, taking the tiny coffin from her. Then the]

both disappeared, while I stayed behind in the cabii

regarding the man in blue.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 11

 

"Well, mate, so the little brother has gone*?" he

said, bending down to me.

 

"Who are you?"

 

"I am a sailor."

 

"And who is Saratov?"

 

"Saratov is a town. Look out of the window.

There it is!"

 

Observed from the window, the land seemed to

oscillate; and revealing itself obscurely and in a frag-

mentary fashion, as it lay steaming in the fog, it re-

minded me of a large piece of bread just cut off a hot

loaf.

 

"Where has grandmother gone to?"

 

"To bury her little grandson."

 

"Are they going to bury him in the ground?"

 

"Yes, of course they are."

 

I then told the sailor about the live frogs that had

been buried with my father.

 

He lifted me up, and hugging and kissing me, cried,

"Oh, my poor little fellow, you don't understand. It

is not the frogs who are to be pitied, but your mother.

Think how she is bowed down by her sorrow."

 

Then came a resounding howl overhead. Having

already learned that it was the steamer which made

this noise, I was not afraid; but the sailor hastily set

me down on the floor and darted away, exclaiming,

"I must run!"

 

 

 

12 MY CHILDHOOD

 

The desire to escape seized me. I ventured out of

the door. The dark, narrow space outside was empty,

and not far away shone the brass on the steps of the

staircase. Glancing upwards, I saw people with wal-

lets and bundles in their hands, evidently going off the

boat. This meant that I must go off too.

 

But when I appeared in front of the gangway,

amidst the crowd of peasants, they all began to yell

at me.

 

"Who does he belong to*? Who do you belong

to?'

 

No one knew.

 

For a long time they jostled and shook and poked

me about, until the gray-haired sailor appeared and

seized me, with the explanation:

 

"It is the Astrakhan boy from the cabin."

 

And he ran off with me to the cabin, deposited me

on the bundles and went away, shaking his finger at

me, as he threatened, "I '11 give you something!"

 

The noise overhead became less and less. The boat

had ceased to vibrate, or to be agitated by the motion

of the water. The window of the cabin was shut in

by damp walls; within it was dark, and the air was

stifling. It seemed to me that the very bundles grew

larger and began to press upon me; it was all horrible,

and I began to wonder if I was going to be left alone

forever in that empty boat.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 13

 

I went to the door, but it would not open ; the brass

handle refused to turn, so I took a bottle of milk and

with all my force struck at it. The only result was

that the bottle broke and the milk spilled over my

legs, and trickled into my boots. Crushed by this fail-

ure, I threw myself on the bundles crying softly, and

so fell asleep.

 

When I awoke the boat was again in motion, and

the window of the cabin shone like the sun.

 

Grandmother, sitting near me, was combing her

hair and muttering something with knitted brow.

She had an extraordinary amount of hair which fell

over her shoulders and breast to her knees, and even

touched the floor. It was blue-black. Lifting it up

from the floor with one hand and holding it with diffi-

culty, she introduced an almost toothless wooden comb

into its thick strands. Her lips were twisted, her dark

eyes sparkled fiercely, while her face, encircled in that

mass of hair, looked comically small. Her expression

was almost malignant, but when I asked her why she

had such long hair she answered in her usual mellow,

tender voice:

 

"Surely God gave it to me as a punishment. . . .

Even when it is combed, just look at it! . . . When

I was young I was proud of my mane, but now I am

old I curse it. But you go to sleep. It is quite early.

The sun has only just risen."

 

 

 

14 MY CHILDHOOD

 

"But I don't want to go to sleep again."

 

"Very well, then don't go to sleep," she agreed at

once, plaiting her hair and glancing at the berth on

which my mother lay rigid, with upturned face.

"How did you smash that bottle last evening? Tell

me about it quietly."

 

So she always talked, using such peculiarly harmo-

nious words that they took root in my memory like

fragrant, bright, everlasting flowers. When she smiled

the pupils of her dark, luscious eyes dilated and

beamed with an inexpressible charm, and her strong

white teeth gleamed cheerfully. Apart from her mul-

titudinous wrinkles and her swarthy complexion, she

had a youthful and brilliant appearance. What

spoiled her was her bulbous nose, with its distended

nostrils, and red lips, caused by her habit of taking

pinches of snuff from her black snuff-box mounted with

silver, and by her fondness for drink. Everything

about her was dark, but within she was luminous with

an inextinguishable, joyful and ardent flame, which

revealed itself in her eyes. Although she was bent,

almost humpbacked, in fact, she moved lightly and

softly, for all the world like a huge cat, and was just

as gentle as that caressing animal.

 

Until she came into my life I seemed to have been

asleep, and hidden away in obscurity; but when she

appeared she woke me and led me to the light of day.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 15

 

Connecting all my impressions by a single thread, she

wove them into a pattern of many colors, thus making

herself my friend for life, the being nearest my heart,

the dearest and best known of all; while her disinter-

ested love for all creation enriched me, and built up

the strength needful for a hard life.

 

Forty years ago boats traveled slowly; we were

a long time getting to Nijni, and I shall never forget

those days almost overladen with beauty.

 

Good weather had set in. From morning till night

I was on the deck with grandmother, under a clear sky,

gliding between the autumn-gilded shores of the Volga,

without hurry, lazily; and, with many resounding

groans, as she rose and fell on the gray-blue water, a

barge attached by a long rope was being drawn along

by the bright red steamer. The barge was gray, and

reminded me of a wood-louse.

 

Unperceived, the sun floated over the Volga.

Every hour we were in the midst of fresh scenes; the

green hills rose up like rich folds on earth's sumptuous

vesture; on the shore stood towns and villages; the

golden autumn leaves floated on the water.

 

"Look how beautiful it all is!" grandmother ex-

claimed every minute, going from one side of the boat

to the other, with a radiant face, and eyes wide with

joy. Very often, gazing at the shore, she would for-

 

 

 

16 MY CHILDHOOD

 

get me ; she would stand on the deck, her hands folded

on her breast, smiling and in silence, with her eyes full

of tears. I would tug at her skirt of dark, sprigged

linen.

 

"Ah!" she would exclaim, starting. "I must have

fallen asleep, and begun to dream."

 

"But why are you crying?"

 

"For joy and for old age, my dear," she would reply,

smiling. "I am getting old, you know sixty years

have passed over my head."

 

And taking a pinch of snuff, she would begin to tell

me some wonderful stories about kind-hearted brig-

ands, holy people, and all sorts of wild animals and

evil spirits.

 

She would tell me these stories softly, mysteriously,

with her face close to mine, fixing me with her dilated

eyes, thus actually infusing into me the strength which

was growing within me. The longer she spoke, or

rather sang, the more melodiously flowed her words.

It was inexpressibly pleasant to listen to her.

 

I would listen and beg for another, and this is what

I got:

 

"In the stove there lives an old goblin; once he got

a splinter into his paw, and rocked to and fro whim-

pering, 'Oh, little mice, it hurts very much; oh, little

mice, I can't bear it!' "

 

Raising her foot, she took it in her hands and

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD . 17

 

wagged it from side to side, wrinkling up her face

so funnily, just as if she herself had been hurt.

 

The sailors who stood round bearded, good-natured

men listening and laughing, and praising the stories,

would say:

 

"Now, Grandmother, give us another."

 

Afterwards they would say:

 

"Come and have supper with us."

 

At supper they regaled her with vodka, and me

with water-melon; this they did secretly, for there

went to and fro on the boat a man who forbade the

eating of fruit, and used to take it away and throw

it in the river. He was dressed like an official, and

was always drunk; people kept out of his sight.

 

On rare occasions my mother came on deck, and

stood on the side farthest from us. She was always

silent. Her large, well-formed body, her grim face,

her heavy crown of plaited, shining hair all about

her was compact and solid, and she appeared to me as

if she were enveloped in a fog or a transparent cloud,

out of which she looked unamiably with her gray

eyes, which were as large as grandmother's.

 

Once she exclaimed sternly:

 

"People are laughing at you, Mama!"

 

"God bless them!" answered grandmother, quite

unconcerned. "Let them laugh, and good luck to

'em."

 

 

 

i8 MY CHILDHOOD

 

I remember the childish joy grandmother showed at

the sight of Nijni. Taking my hand, she dragged me

to the side, crying:

 

"Look! Look how beautiful it is! That's Nijni,

that is ! There 's something heavenly about it. Look

at the church too. Does n't it seem to have wings'?"

And she turned to my mother, nearly weeping. "Var-

usha, look, won't you? Come here! You seem to

have forgotten all about it. Can't you show a little

gladness?"

 

My mother, with a frown, smiled bitterly.

 

When the boat arrived outside the beautiful town

between two rivers blocked by vessels, and bristling

with hundreds of slender masts, a large boat containing

many people was drawn alongside it. Catching the

boat-hook in the gangway, one after another the pas-

sengers came on board. A short, wizened man, dressed

in black, with a red-gold beard, a bird-like nose, and

green eyes, pushed his way in front of the others.

 

"Papa !" my mother cried in a hoarse, loud voice, as

she threw herself into his arms ; but he, taking her face

in his little red hands and hastily patting her cheeks,

cried :

 

"Now, silly! What's the matter with you? . . ."

 

Grandmother embraced and kissed them all at once,

turning round and round like a peg-top ; she pushed me

towards them, saying quickly:

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 19

 

"Now make haste! This is Uncle Michael, this

is Jaakov, this is Aunt Natalia, these are two brothers

both called Sascha, and their sister Katerina. This

is all our family. Is n't it a large one*?"

 

Grandfather said to her:

 

"Are you quite well, Mother?" and they kissed each

other three times.

 

He then drew me from the dense mass of people, and

laying his hand on my head, asked:

 

"And who may you be*?"

 

"I am the Astrakhan boy from the cabin."

 

"What on earth is he talking about?" Grandfather

turned to my mother, but without waiting for an an-

swer, shook me and said : "You are a chip of the old

block. Get into the boat."

 

Having landed, the crowd of people wended its way

up the hill by a road paved with rough cobblestones

between two steep slopes covered with trampled

grass.

 

Grandfather and mother went in front of us all.

He was a head shorter than she was, and walked with

little hurried steps; while she, looking down on him

from her superior height, appeared literally to float

beside him. After them walked dark, sleek-haired

Uncle Michael, wizened like grandfather, bright and

curly-headed Jaakov, some fat women in brightly col-

ored dresses, and six children, all older than myself

 

 

 

20 MY CHILDHOOD

 

and all very, quiet. I was with grandmother and little

Aunt Natalia. Pale, blue-eyed and stout, she fre-

quently stood still, panting and whispering:

 

"Oh, I can't go any farther!"

 

"Why did they trouble you to come?" grumbled

grandmother angrily. "They are a silly lot !"

 

I did not like either the grown-up people nor the

children; I felt myself to be a stranger in their midst

even grandmother had somehow become estranged

and distant.

 

Most of all I disliked my uncle; I felt at once that

he was my enemy, and I was conscious of a certain feel-

ing of cautious curiosity towards him.

 

We had now arrived at the end of our journey.

 

At the very top, perched on the right slope, stood the

first building in the street a squat, one-storied house,

decorated with dirty pink paint, with a narrow over-

hanging roof and bow-windows. Looked at from the

street it appeared to be a large house, but the interior,

with its gloomy, tiny rooms, was cramped. Every-

where, as on the landing-stage, angry people strove

together, and a vile smell pervaded the whole place.

 

I went out into the yard. That also was unpleas-

ant. It was strewn with large, wet cloths and lum-

bered with tubs, all containing muddy water, of the

same hue, in which other cloths lay soaking. In the

corner of a half-tumbled-down shed the logs burned

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 21

 

brightly in a stove, upon which something was boiling

or baking, and an unseen person uttered these strange

words:

 

"Santaline, fuchsin, vitriol!"

 

 

 

CHAPTER II

 

THEN began and flowed on with astonishing

rapidity an intense, varied, inexpressibly strange

life. It reminded me of a crude story, well told by a

good-natured but irritatingly truthful genius. Now,

in recalling the past, I myself find it difficult to believe,

at this distance of time, that things really were as they

were, and I have longed to dispute or reject the facts

the cruelty of the drab existence of an unwelcome rela-

tion is too painful to contemplate. But truth is

stronger than pity, and besides, I am writing not about

myself but about that narrow, stifling environment of

unpleasant impressions in which lived aye, and to this

day lives the average Russian of this class.

 

My grandfather's house simply seethed with mutual

hostility; all the grown people were infected and even

the children were inoculated with it. I had learned,

from overhearing grandmother's conversation, that my

mother arrived upon the very day when her brothers

demanded the distribution of the property from their

father. Her unexpected return made their desire for

this all the keener and stronger, because they were

afraid that my mother would claim the dowry intended

 

22

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 23

 

for her, but withheld by my grandfather because she

had married secretly and against his wish. My uncles

considered that this dowry ought to be divided amongst

them all. Added to this, they had been quarreling

violently for a long time among themselves as to who

should open a workshop in the town, or on the Oka

in the village of Kunavin.

 

One day, very shortly after our arrival, a quarrel

broke out suddenly at dinner-time. My uncles started

to their feet and, leaning across the table, began to

shout and yell at grandfather, snarling and shaking

themselves like dogs; and grandfather, turning very

red, rapped on the table with a spoon and cried in a

piercing tone of voice, like the crowing of a cock: "I

will turn you out of doors !"

 

With her face painfully distorted, grandmother said :

"Give them what they ask, Father; then you will have

some peace."

 

"Be quiet, simpleton !" shouted my grandfather with

flashing eyes; and it was wonderful, seeing how small

he was, that he could yell with such deafening effect.

 

My mother rose from the table, and going calmly to

the window, turned her back upon us all.

 

Suddenly Uncle Michael struck his brother on the

face with the back of his hand. The latter, with a

howl of rage, grappled with him; both rolled on the

floor growling, gasping for breath and abusing each

 

 

 

24 MY CHILDHOOD

 

other. The children began to cry, and my Aunt

Natalia, who was with child, screamed wildly; my

mother seized her round the body and dragged her

somewhere out of the way; the lively little nursemaid,

Eugenia, drove the children out of the kitchen; chairs

were knocked down; the young, broad-shouldered fore-

man, Tsiganok, sat on Uncle Michael's back, while the

head of the works, Gregory Ivanovitch, a bald-headed,

bearded man with colored spectacles, calmly bound up

my uncle's hands with towels.

 

Turning his head and letting his thin, straggly,

black beard trail on the floor, Uncle Michael cursed

horribly, and grandfather, running round the table, ex-

claimed bitterly: "And these are brothers! . . .

Blood relations! . . . Shame on you!"

 

At the beginning of the quarrel I had jumped on to

the stove in terror; and thence, with painful amaze-

ment, I had watched grandmother as she washed Uncle

Jaakov's battered face in a small basin of water, while

he cried and stamped his feet, and she said in a sad

voice: "Wicked creatures! You are nothing better

than a family of wild beasts. When will you come

to your senses'?"

 

Grandfather, dragging his torn shirt over his shoul-

der, called out to her: "So you have brought wild

animals into the world, eh, old woman?"

 

When Uncle Jaakov went out, grandmother retired

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 25

 

to a corner and, quivering with grief, prayed : "Holy

Mother of God, bring my children to their senses."

 

Grandfather stood beside her, and, glancing at the

table, on which everything was upset or spilled, said

softly :

 

"When you think of them, Mother, and then of the

little one they pester Varia about . . . who has the

best nature?"

 

"Hold your tongue, for goodness* sake! Take off

that shirt and I will mend it. . . ." And laying the

palms of her hands on his head, grandmother kissed

his forehead; and he so small compared to her

pressing his face against her shoulder, said:

 

"We shall have to give them their shares, Mother,

that is plain."

 

"Yes, Father, it will have to be done."

 

Then they talked for a long time; amicably at first,

but it was not long before grandfather began to scrape

his feet on the floor like a cock before a fight, and

holding up a threatening finger to grandmother, said in

a fierce whisper :

 

"I know you ! You love them more than me. . . .

And what is your Mischka? a Jesuit ! And Jaaschka

a Freemason! And they live on me. . . .

Hangers-on ! That is all they are."

 

Uneasily turning on the stove, I knocked down an

iron, which fell with a crash like a thunder-clap.

 

 

 

26 MY CHILDHOOD

 

Grandfather jumped up on the step, dragged me

down, and stared at me as if he now saw me for the

first time.

 

"Who put you on the stove*? Your mother*?"

 

"I got up there by myself."

 

"You are lying!"

 

"No I 'm not. I did get up there by myself. I was

frightened."

 

He pushed me away from him, lightly striking me

on the head with the palm of his hand.

 

"Just like your father ! Get out of my sight !"

 

And I was only too glad to run out of the kitchen.

 

 

 

I was very well aware that grandfather's shrewd,

sharp green eyes followed me everywhere, and I was

afraid of him. I remember how I always wished to

hide myself from that fierce glance. It seemed to me

that grandfather was malevolent ; he spoke to every one

mockingly and offensively, and, being provocative, did

his best to put every one else out of temper.

 

"Ugh! Tou!" he exclaimed frequently.

 

The long-drawn-out sound "U-gh !" always reminds

me of a sensation of misery and chill. In the recrea-

tion hour, the time for evening tea, when he, my uncles

and the workmen came into the kitchen from the work-

shop weary, with their hands stained with santaline

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 27

 

and burnt by sulphuric acid, their hair bound with

linen bands, all looking like the dark-featured icon in

the corner of the kitchen in that hour of dread my

grandfather used to sit opposite to me, arousing the

envy of the other grandchildren by speaking to me

oftener than to them. Everything about him was

trenchant and to the point. His heavy satin waistcoat

embroidered with silk was old; his much-scrubbed shirt

of colored cotton was crumpled ; great patches flaunted

themselves on the knees of his trousers; and yet he

seemed to be dressed with more cleanliness and more

refinement than his sons, who wore false shirtfronts

and silk neckties.

 

Some days after our arrival he set me to learn the

prayers. All the other children were older than my-

self, and were already being taught to read and write

by the clerk of Uspenski Church. Timid Aunt Natalia

used to teach me softly. She was a woman with a

childlike countenance, and such transparent eyes that

it seemed to me that, looking into them, one might see

what was inside her head. I loved to look into those

eyes of hers without shifting my gaze and without

blinking; they used to twinkle as she turned her head

away and said very softly, almost in a whisper:

"That will do. ... Now please say 'Our Father,

which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. . . .' "

And if I asked, "What does 'hallowed be Thy name*

 

 

 

28 MY CHILDHOOD

 

mean*?" she would glance round timidly and admonish

me thus: "Don't ask questions. It is wrong. Just

say after me 'Our Father . . .' '

 

Her words troubled me. Why was it wrong to ask

questions'? The words "hallowed be Thy name" ac-

quired a mysterious significance in my mind, and I pur-

posely mixed them up in every possible way.

 

But my aunt, pale and almost exhausted, patiently

cleared her throat, which was always husky, and said,

"No, that is not right. Just say fallowed be Thy

name.' It is plain enough."

 

But my aunt, pale and almost exhausted, patiently

irritated me, and hindered me from remembering the

prayer.

 

One day my grandfather inquired:

 

"Well, Oleysha, what have you been doing to-day*? ,.

Playing*? The bruises on your forehead told me as

much. Bruises are got cheaply. And how about 'Our

Father 3 *? Have you learnt it 4 ?"

 

"He has a very bad memory," said my aunt softly.

 

Grandfather smiled as if he were glad, lifting his

sandy eyebrows. "And what of it? He must be

whipped ; that 's all."

 

And again he turned to me.

 

"Did your father ever whip you*?"

 

As I did not know what he was talking about, I was

silent, but my mother replied:

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 29

 

"No, Maxim never beat him, and what is more, for-

bade me to do so."

 

"And why, may I ask?"

 

"He said that beating is not education."

 

"He was a fool about everything that Maxim.

May God forgive me for speaking so of the dead!"

exclaimed grandfather distinctly and angrily. He

saw at once that these words enraged me. "What is

that sullen face for?' he asked. "Ugh! . . . Ton!

. . ." And smoothing down his reddish, silver-

streaked hair, he added:' "And this very Saturday I

am going to give Sascha a hiding."

 

"What is a hiding?" I asked.

 

They all laughed, and grandfather said: "Wait a

bit, and you shall see."

 

In secret I pondered over the word "hiding." Ap-

parently it had the same meaning as to whip and beat.

I had seen people beat horses, dogs and cats, and in

Astrakhan the soldiers used to beat the Persians; but

I had never before seen any one beat little children.

Yet here my uncles hit their own children over the

head and shoulders, and they bore it without resent-

ment, merely rubbing the injured part; and if I asked

them whether they were hurt, they always answered

bravely :

 

"No, not a bit."

 

Then there was the famous story of the thimble.

 

 

 

30 MY CHILDHOOD

 

In the evenings, from tea-time to supper-time, my

uncles and the head workman used to sew portions of

dyed material into one piece, to which they affixed

tickets. Wishing to play a trick on half-blind Greg-

ory, Uncle Michael had told his nine-year-old nephew

to make his thimble red-hot in the candle-flame.

Sascha heated the thimble in the snuffers, made it abso-

lutely red-hot, and contriving, without attracting at-

tention, to place it close to Gregory's hand, hid himself

by the stove; but as luck would have it, grandfather

himself came in at that very moment and, sitting down

to work, slipped his finger into the red-hot thimble.

 

Hearing the tumult, I ran into the kitchen, and I

shall never forget how funny grandfather looked nurs-

ing his burnt finger as he jumped about and shrieked:

 

"Where is the villain who played this trick*?"

 

Uncle Michael, doubled up under the table, snatched

up the thimble and blew upon it; Gregory uncon-

cernedly went on sewing, while the shadows played on

his enormous bald patch. Then Uncle Jaakov rushed

in, and, hiding himself in the corner by the stove, stood

there quietly laughing; grandmother busied herself

with grating up raw potatoes.

 

"Sascha Jaakov did it!" suddenly exclaimed Uncle

Michael.

 

"Liar!" cried Jaakov, darting out from behind the

stove.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 31

 

But his son, from one of the corners, wept and

wailed :

 

"Papa! don't believe him. He showed me how

to do it himself."

 

My uncles began to abuse each other, but grand-

father all at once grew calm, put a poultice of grated

potatoes on his finger, and silently went out, taking me

with him.

 

They all said that Uncle Michael was to blame. I

asked naturally if he would be whipped, or get a hid-

ing.

 

"He ought to," answered grandfather, with a side-

long glance at me.

 

Uncle Michael, striking his hand upon the table,

bawled at my mother : "Varvara, make your pup hold

his jaw before I knock his head off."

 

"Go on, then; try to lay your hands on him!" re-

plied my mother. And no one said another word.

 

She had a gift of pushing people out of her way,

brushing them aside as it were, and making them feel

very small by a few brief words like these. It was

perfectly clear to me that they were all afraid of her;

even grandfather spoke to her more quietly than he

spoke to the others. It gave me great satisfaction to

observe this, and in my pride I used to say openly to

my cousins : "My mother is a match for all of them."

And they did not deny it.

 

 

 

32 MY CHILDHOOD

 

But the events which happened on Saturday dimin-

ished my respect for my mother.

 

By Saturday I also had had time to get into trouble.

I was fascinated by the ease with which the grown-up

people changed the color of different materials; they

took something yellow, steeped it in black dye, and it

came out dark blue. They laid a piece of gray stuff in

reddish water and it was dyed mauve. It was quite

simple, yet to me it was inexplicable. I longed to dye

something myself, and I confided my desire to Sascha

Yaakovitch, a thoughtful boy, always in favor with

his elders, always good-natured, obliging, and ready to

wait upon every one.

 

The adults praised him highly for his obedience and

his cleverness, but grandfather looked on him with no

favorable eye, and used to say:

 

"An artful beggar that!"

 

Thin and dark, with prominent, watchful eyes,

Sascha Yaakov used to speak in a low, rapid voice, as

if his words were choking him, and all the while he

talked he glanced fearfully from side to side as if he

were ready to run away and hide himself on the slight-

est pretext. The pupils of his hazel eyes were sta-

tionary except when he was excited, and then they be-

came merged into the whites. I did not like him. I

much preferred the despised idler, Sascha Michail-

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 33

 

ovitch. He was a quiet boy, with sad eyes and a pleas-

ing smile, very like his kind mother. He had ugly,

protruding teeth, with a double row in the upper jaw;

and being very greatly concerned about this defect, he

constantly had his fingers in his mouth, trying to loosen

his back ones, very amiably allowing any one who

chose to inspect them. But that was the only inter-

esting thing about him. He lived a solitary life in a

house swarming with people, loving to sit in the dim

corners in the daytime, and at the window in the eve-

ning; quite happy if he could remain without speak-

ing, with his face pressed against the pane for hours

together, gazing at the flock of jackdaws which, now

rising high above it, now sinking swiftly earthwards, in

the red evening sky, circled round the dome of Uspen-

ski Church, and finally, obscured by an opaque black

cloud, disappeared somewhere, leaving a void behind

them. When he had seen this he had no desire to speak

of it, but a pleasant languor took possession of him.

 

Uncle Jaakov's Sascha, on the contrary, could talk

about everything fluently and with authority, like a

grown-up person. Hearing of my desire to learn the

process of dyeing, he advised me to take one of the best

white tablecloths from the cupboard and dye it blue.

 

"White always takes the color better, I know," he

said very seriously.

 

I dragged out a heavy tablecloth and ran with it to

 

 

 

34 MY CHILDHOOD

 

the yard, but I had no more than lowered the hem of

it into the vat of dark-blue dye when Tsiganok flew at

me from somewhere, rescued the cloth, and wringing it

out with his rough hands, cried to my cousin, who had

been looking on at my work from a safe place:

 

"Call your grandmother quickly."

 

And shaking his black, dishevelled head ominously,

he said to me:

 

"You '11 catch it for this."

 

Grandmother came running on to the scene, wailing,

and even weeping, at the sight, and scolded me in her

ludicrous fashion:

 

"Oh, you young pickle ! I hope you will be spanked

for this."

 

Afterwards, however, she said to Tsiganok: "You

need n't say anything about this to grandfather, Vanka.

I '11 manage to keep it from him. Let us hope that

something will happen to take up his attention."

 

Vanka replied in a preoccupied manner, drying his

hands on his multi-colored apron :

 

"Me*? I shan't tell: but you had better see that

that Sascha does n't go and tell tales."

 

"I will give him something to keep him quiet," said

grandmother, leading me into the house.

 

On Saturday, before vespers, I was called into the

kitchen, where it was all dark and still. I remember

the closely shut doors of the shed and of the room,

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 35

 

and the gray mist of an autumn evening, and the

heavy patter of rain. Sitting in front of the stove on

a narrow bench, looking cross and quite unlike him-

self, was Tsiganok; grandfather, standing in the chim-

ney corner, was taking long rods out of a pail of water,

measuring them, putting them together, and flourish-

ing them in the air with a shrill whistling sound.

Grandmother, somewhere in the shadows, was taking

snuff noisily and muttering:

 

"Now you are in your element, tyrant!"

 

Sascha Jaakov was sitting in a chair in the middle of

the kitchen, rubbing his eyes with his knuckles, and

whining like an old beggar in a voice quite unlike his

usual voice:

 

"Forgive me, for Christ's sake. . . . !"

 

Standing by the chair, shoulder to shoulder, like

wooden figures, stood the children of Uncle Michael,

brother and sister.

 

"When I have flogged you I will forgive you," said

grandfather, drawing a long, damp rod across his

knuckles.

 

"Now then . . . take down your breeches !"

 

He spoke very calmly, and neither the sound of his

voice nor the noise made by the boy as he moved on

the squeaky chair, nor the scraping of grandmother's

feet, broke the memorable stillness of that almost dark

kitchen, under the low, blackened ceiling.

 

 

 

36 MY CHILDHOOD

 

Sascha stood up, undid his trousers, letting them

down as far as his knees, then bending and holding

them up with his hands, he stumbled to the bench. It

was painful to look at him, and my legs also began to

tremble.

 

But worse was to come, when he submissively lay

down on the bench face downwards, and Vanka, tying

him to it by means of a wide towel placed under his

arms and round his neck, bent under him and with

black hands seized his legs by the ankles.

 

"Lexei!" called grandfather. "Come nearer!

Come! Don't you hear me speaking to you*? Look

and see what a flogging is. ... One !"

 

With a mild flourish he brought the rod down on the

naked flesh, and Sascha set up a howl.

 

"Rubbish!" said grandfather. "That's nothing!

. . . But here 's something to make you smart."

 

And he dealt such blows that the flesh was soon in

a state of inflammation and covered with great red

weals, and my cousin gave a prolonged howl.

 

"Is n't it nice?" asked grandfather, as his hand rose

and fell. "You don't like it? ... That's for the

thimble!"

 

When he raised his hand with a flourish my heart

seemed to rise too, and when he let his hand fall some-

thing within me seemed to sink.

 

"I won't do it again," squealed Sascha, in a dread-

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 37

 

fully thin, weak voice, unpleasant to hear. "Did n't

I tell didn't I tell about the tablecloth*?"

 

Grandfather answered calmly, as if he were reading

the "Psalter" :

 

"Tale-bearing is no justification. The informer

gets whipped first, so take that for the tablecloth."

 

Grandmother threw herself upon me and seized my

hand, crying: "I won't allow Lexei to be touched!

I won't allow it, you monster!" And she began to

kick the door, calling: "Varia! Varvara!"

 

Grandfather darted across to her, threw her down,

seized me and carried me to the bench. I struck at

him with my fists, pulled his sandy beard, and bit his

fingers. He bellowed and held me as in a vice. In

the end, throwing me down on the bench, he struck me

on the face.

 

I shall never forget his savage cry: "Tie him up!

I 'm going to kill him !" nor my mother's white face and

great eyes as she ran along up and down beside the

bench, shrieking:

 

"Father ! You must n't ! Let me have him !"

 

 

 

Grandfather flogged me till I lost consciousness, and

I was unwell for some days, tossing about, face down-

wards, on a wide, stuffy bed, in a little room with one

window and a lamp which was always kept burning

 

 

 

38 MY CHILDHOOD

 

before the case of icons in the corner. Those dark

days had been the greatest in my life. In the course

of them I had developed wonderfully, and I was con-

scious of a peculiar difference in myself. I began to

experience a new solicitude for others, and I became so

keenly alive to their sufferings and my own that it was

almost as if my heart had been lacerated, and thus

rendered sensitive.

 

For this reason the quarrel between my mother and

grandmother came as a great shock to me when grand-

mother, looking so dark and big in the narrow room,

flew into a rage, and pushing my mother into the corner

where the icons were, hissed :

 

"Why did n't you take him away?"

 

"I was afraid."

 

"A strong, healthy creature like you! You ought

to be ashamed of yourself, Varvara! I am an old

woman and I am not afraid. For shame !"

 

"Do leave off, Mother; I am sick of the whole busi-

ness."

 

"No, you don't love him! You have no pity for

the poor orphan!"

 

"I have been an orphan all my life," said my mother,

speaking loudly and sadly.

 

After that they both cried for a long time, seated

on a box in a corner, and then my mother said :

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 39

 

"If it were not for Alexei, I would leave this place

and go right away. I can't go on living in this hell,

Mother, I can't! I haven't the strength."

 

"Oh ! My own flesh and blood !" whispered grand-

mother.

 

I kept all this in my mind. Mother was weak, and,

like the others, she was afraid of grandfather, and I

was preventing her from leaving the house in which

she found it impossible to live. It was very unfor-

tunate. Before long my mother really did disappear

from the house, going somewhere on a visit.

 

Very soon after this, as suddenly as if he had fallen

from the ceiling, grandfather appeared, and sitting on

the bed, laid his ice-cold hands on my head.

 

"How do you do, young gentleman? Come! an-

swer me. Don't sulk! Well"? What have you to

say?"

 

I had a great mind to kick away his legs, but it hurt

me to move. His head, sandier than ever, shook from

side to side uneasily ; his bright eyes seemed to be look-

ing for something on the wall as he pulled out of his

pocket a gingerbread goat, a horn made of sugar, an

apple and a cluster of purple raisins, which he placed

on the pillow under my very nose.

 

"There you are ! There 's a present for you."

 

And he stooped and kissed me on the forehead.

 

 

 

40 MY CHILDHOOD

 

Then, stroking my head with those small, cruel hands,

yellow-stained about the crooked, claw-like nails, he

began to speak.

 

"I left my mark on you then, my friend. You were

very angry. You bit me and scratched me, and then

I lost my temper too. However, it will do you no

harm to have been punished more severely than you de-

served. It will go towards next time. You must

learn not to mind when people of your own family beat

you. It is part of your training. It would be differ-

ent if it came from an outsider, but from one of us it

does not count. You must not allow outsiders to lay

hands on you, but it is nothing coming from one of your

own family. I suppose you think I was never flogged?

Oleysha! I was flogged harder than you could ever

imagine even in a bad dream. I was flogged so cruelly

that God Himself might have shed tears to see it.

And what was the result? I an orphan, the son of a

poor mother have risen in my present position the

head of a guild, and a master workman."

 

Bending his withered, well-knit body towards me,

he began to tell me in vigorous and powerful language,

with a felicitous choice of words, about the days of his

childhood. His green eyes were very bright, and his

golden hair stood rakishly on end as, deflecting his

high-pitched voice, he breathed in my face.

 

"You traveled here by steamboat . . . steam will

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 41

 

take you anywhere now; but when I was young I had

to tow a barge up the Volga all by myself. The barge

was in the water and I ran barefoot on the bank, which

was strewn with sharp stones. . . . Thus I went from

early in the morning to sunset, with the sun beating

fiercely on the back of my neck, and my head throbbing

as if it were full of molten iron. And sometimes I

was overcome by three kinds of ill-luck . . . my poor

little bones ached, but I had to keep on, and I could

not see the way; and then my eyes brimmed over, and

I sobbed my heart out as the tears rolled down. Ah !

Oleysha ! it won't bear talking about.

 

"I went on and on till the towing-rope slipped from

me and I fell down on my face, and I was not sorry for

it either! I rose up all the stronger. If I had not

rested a minute I should have died.

 

"That is the way we used to live then in the sight

of God and of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. This is

the way I took the measure of Mother Volga three

times, from Simbirsk to Ribinsk, from there to Sara-

tov, as far as Astrakhan and Markarev, to the Fair

more than three thousand versts. And by the fourth

year I had become a free water-man. I had shown my

master what I was made of."

 

As he spoke he seemed to increase in size like a

cloud before my very eyes, being transformed from a

small, wizened old man to an individual of fabulous

 

 

 

42 MY CHILDHOOD

 

strength. Had he not pulled a great gray barge up the

river all by himself? Now and again he jumped up

from the bed and showed me how the barges traveled

with the towing-rope round them, and how they

pumped water, singing fragments of a song in a bass

voice; then, youthfully springing back on the bed, to

my ever-increasing astonishment, he would continue

hoarsely and impressively.

 

"Well, sometimes, Oleysha, on a summer's evening

when we arrived at Jigulak, or some such place at the

foot of the green hills, we used to sit about lazily cook-

ing our supper while the boatmen of the hill-country

used to sing sentimental songs, and as soon as they be-

gan the whole crew would strike up, sending a thrill

through one, and making the Volga seem as if it were

running very fast like a horse, and rising up as high

as the clouds; and all kinds of trouble seemed as noth-

ing more than dust blown about by the wind. They

sang till the porridge boiled over, for which the cook

had to be flicked with a cloth. 'Play as much as you

please, but don't forget your work,' we said."

 

Several times people put their heads in at the door

to call him, but each time I begged him not to go.

 

And he laughingly waved them away, saying, "Wait

a bit."

 

He stayed with me and told me stories until it was

almost dark, and when, after an affectionate farewell,

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 43

 

he left me, I had learned that he was neither malevo-

lent nor formidable. It brought the tears into my

eyes to remember that it was he who had so cruelly

beaten me, but I could not forget it.

 

This visit of my grandfather opened the door to

others, and from morning till night there was always

somebody sitting on my bed, trying to amuse me; I

remember that this was not always either cheering or

pleasant.

 

Oftener than any of them came my grandmother,

who slept in the same bed with me. But it was Tsig-

anok who left the clearest impression on me in those

days. He used to appear in the evenings square-

built, broad-chested, curly headed, dressed in his best

clothes a gold-embroidered shirt, plush breeches,

boots squeaking like a harmonium. His hair was

glossy, his squinting, merry eyes gleamed under his

thick eyebrows, and his white teeth under the shadow

of his young mustache ; his shirt glowed softly as if re-

flecting the red light of the image-lamp.

 

"Look here !" he said, turning up his sleeve and dis-

playing his bare arm to the elbow. It was covered

with red scars. "Look how swollen it is; and it was

worse yesterday it was very painful. When your

grandfather flew into a rage and I saw that he was go-

ing to flog you, I put my arm in the way, thinking

that the rod would break, and then while he was look-

 

 

 

44 MY CHILDHOOD

 

ing for another your grandmother or your mother could

take you away and hide you. I am an old bird at

the game, my child."

 

He laughed gently and kindly, and glancing again

at the swollen arm, went on :

 

"I was so sorry for you that I thought I should

choke. It seemed such a shame! . . . But he lashed

away at you!"

 

Snorting and tossing his head like a horse, he went

on speaking about the affair. This childish simplicity

seemed to draw him closer to me. I told him that I

loved him very much, and he answered with a sim-

plicity which always lives in my memory.

 

"And I love you too ! That is why I let myself be

hurt because I love you. Do you think I would have

done it for any one else"? I should be making a fool

of myself."

 

Later on he gave me whispered instructions, glancing

frequently at the door. "Next time he beats you don't

try to get away from him, and don't struggle. It

hurts twice as much if you resist. If you let yourself

go he will deal lightly with you. Be limp and soft,

and don't scowl at him. Try and remember this; it is

good advice."

 

"Surely he won't whip me again !" I exclaimed.

 

"Why, of course!" replied Tsiganok calmly. "Of

course he will whip you again, and often too!"

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 45

 

"But why?"

 

"Because grandfather is on the watch for you."

And again he cautiously advised me: "When he

whips you he brings the rod straight down. Well, if

you lie there quietly he may possibly hold the rod

lower so that it won't break your skin. . . . Now,

do you understand 1 ? Move your body towards him

and the rod, and it will be all the better for you."

 

Winking at me with his dark, squinting eyes, he

added: "I know more about such matters than a

policeman even. I have been beaten on my bare shoul-

ders till the skin came off, my boy !"

 

I looked at his bright face and remembered grand-

mother's story of Ivan-Czarevitch and Ivanoshka-dour-

achka.

 

 

 

CHAPTER III

 

WHEN I was well again I realized that Tsiganok

occupied an important position in the house-

hold. Grandfather did not storm at him as he did at

his sons, and would say behind his back, half -closing

his eyes and nodding his head :

 

"He is a good workman Tsiganok. Mark my

words, he will get on; he will make his fortune."

 

My uncles too were polite and friendly with Tsig-

anok, and never played practical jokes on him as they

did on the head workman, Gregory, who was the ob-

ject of some insulting and spiteful trick almost every

evening. Sometimes they made the handles of his

scissors red-hot, or put a nail with the point upwards

on the seat of his chair, or placed ready to his hand

pieces of material all of the same color, so that when

he, being half blind, had sewed them all into one piece,

grandfather should scold him for it.

 

One day when he had fallen asleep after dinner in

the kitchen, they painted his face with fuchsin, and he

had to go about for a long time a ludicrous and terrify-

ing spectacle, with two round, smeared eyeglasses look-

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 47

 

ing out dully from his gray beard, and his long, livid

nose drooping dejectedly, like a tongue.

 

They had an inexhaustible fund of such pranks, but

the head workman bore it all in silence, only quackling

softly, and taking care before he touched either the

iron, the scissors, the needlework or the thimble, to

moisten his fingers copiously with saliva. This became

a habit with him, and even at dinner-time before he

took up his knife and fork he slobbered over his fin-

gers, causing great amusement to the children. When

he was hurt, his large face broke into waves of wrinkles,

which curiously glided over his forehead, and, raising

his eyebrows, vanished mysteriously on his bald

cranium.

 

I do not remember how grandfather bore himself

with regard to his sons' amusements, but grandmother

used to shake her fist at them, crying :

 

"Shameless, ill-natured creatures!"

 

But my uncles spoke evil of Tsiganok too behind his

back; they made fun of him, found fault with his

work, and called him a thief and an idler.

 

I asked grandmother why they did this. She ex-

plained it to me without hesitation, and, as always,

made the matter quite clear to me. "You see, each

wants to take Vaniushka with him when he sets up in

business for himself; that is why they run him down

to each other. Say they, 'He 's a bad workman' ; but

 

 

 

48 MY CHILDHOOD

 

they don't mean it. It is their artfulness. In addi-

tion to this, they are afraid that Vaniushka will not go

with either of them, but will stay with grandfather,

who always gets his own way, and might set up a

third workshop with Ivanka, which would do your

uncles no good. Now do you understand*?" She

laughed softly. "They are crafty about everything,

setting God at naught; and grandfather, seeing their

artfulness, teases them by saying: 'I shall buy Ivan

a certificate of exemption so that they won't take him

for a soldier. I can't do without him.' This makes

them angry; it is just what they don't want; besides,

they grudge the money. Exemptions cost money."

 

I was living with grandmother again, as I had done

on the steamer, and every evening before I fell asleep

she used to tell me fairy stories, or tales about her life,

which were just like a story. But she spoke about

family affairs, such as the distribution of the property

amongst the children, and grandfather's purchase of a

new house, lightly, in the character of a stranger re-

garding the matter from a distance, or at the most that

of a neighbor, rather than that of the person next in

importance to the head of the house.

 

From her I learned that Tsiganok was a foundling;

he had been found one wet night in early spring, on a

bench in the porch.

 

"There he lay," said grandmother pensively and

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 49

 

mysteriously, "hardly able to cry, for he was nearly

numb with cold."

 

"But why do people abandon children?"

 

"It is because the mother has no milk, or anything

to feed her baby with. Then she hears that a child

which has been born somewhere lately is dead, and she

goes and leaves her own there."

 

She paused and scratched her head; then sighing

and gazing at the ceiling, she continued :

 

"Poverty is always the reason, Oleysha; and a kind

of poverty which must not be talked about, for an un-

married girl dare not admit that she has a child peo-

ple would cry shame upon her.

 

"Grandfather wanted to hand Vaniushka over to

the police, but I said 'No, we will keep him ourselves to

fill the place of our dead ones/ For I have had eight-

een children, you know. If they had all lived they

would have filled a street eighteen new families ! I

was married at eighteen, you see, and by this time I had

had fifteen children, but God so loved my flesh and

blood that He took all of them all my little babies to

the angels, and I was sorry and glad at the same time."

 

Sitting on the edge of the bed in her nightdress,

huge and dishevelled, with her black hair falling about

her, she looked like the bear which a bearded woodman

from Cergatch had led into our yard not long ago.

 

Making the sign of the cross on her spotless, snow-

 

 

 

50 MY CHILDHOOD

 

white breast, she laughed softly, always ready to make

light of everything.

 

"It was better for them to be taken, but hard for

me to be left desolate, so I was delighted to have Ivanka

but even now I feel the pain of my love for you, my

little ones! . . . Well, we kept him, and baptized

him, and he still lives happily with us. At first I used

to call him 'Beetle,' because he really did buzz some-

times, and went creeping and buzzing through the

rooms just like a beetle. You must love him. He is

a good soul."

 

I did love Ivan, and admired him inexpressibly.

On Saturday when, after punishing the children for

the transgressions of the week, grandfather went to

vespers, we had an indescribably happy time in the

kitchen.

 

Tsiganok would get some cockroaches from the

stove, make a harness of thread for them with great

rapidity, cut out a paper sledge, and soon two pairs

of black horses were prancing on the clean, smooth,

yellow table. Ivan drove them at a canter, with a

thin splinter of wood as a whip, and urged them on,

shouting :

 

"Now they have started for the Bishop's house."

 

Then he gummed a small piece of paper to the back

of one of the cockroaches and sent him to run behind

the sledge.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 51

 

"We forgot the bag," he explained. "The monk

drags it with him as he runs. Now then, gee-

up!"

 

He tied the feet of another cockroach together with

cotton, and as the insect hopped along, with its head

thrust forward, he cried, clapping his hands :

 

"This is the deacon coming out of the wineshop

to say vespers."

 

After this he showed us a mouse which stood up at

the word of command, and walked on his hind legs,

dragging his long tail behind him and blinking comi-

cally with his lively eyes, which were like black glass

beads.

 

He made friends of mice, and used to carry them

about in his bosom, and feed them with sugar and

kiss them.

 

"Mice are clever creatures," he used to say in a tone

of conviction. "The house-goblin is very fond of

them, and whoever feeds them will have all his wishes

granted by the old hob-goblin."

 

He could do conjuring tricks with cards and coins

too, and he used to shout louder than any of the chil-

dren; in fact, there was hardly any difference between

them and him. One day when they were playing cards

with him they made him "booby" several times in suc-

cession, and he was very much offended. He stuck

his lips out sulkily and refused to play any more, and

 

 

 

52 MY CHILDHOOD

 

he complained to me afterward, his nose twitching as

he spoke :

 

"It was a put-up job! They were signaling to one

another and passing the cards about under the table.

Do you call that playing the game*? If it comes to

trickery I 'm not so bad at it myself."

 

Yet he was nineteen years old and bigger than all

four of us put together.

 

I have special memories of him on holiday evenings,

when grandfather and Uncle Michael went out to see

their friends, and curly headed, untidy Uncle Jaakov

appeared with his guitar while grandmother prepared

tea with plenty of delicacies, and vodka in a square

bottle with red flowers cleverly molded in glass on its

lower part. Tsiganok shone bravely on these occa-

sions in his holiday attire. Creeping softly and side-

ways came Gregory, with his colored spectacles gleam-

ing; came Nyanya Eugenia pimply, red-faced and

fat like a Toby-jug, with cunning eyes and a piping

voice; came the hirsute deacon from Uspenski, and

other dark slimy people bearing a resemblance to pikes

and eels. They all ate and drank a lot, breathing hard

the while; and the children had wineglasses of sweet

syrup given them as a treat, and gradually there was

kindled a warm but strange gaiety.

 

Uncle Jaakov tuned his guitar amorously, and as he

did so he always uttered the same words :

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 53

 

"Well, now let us begin !"

 

Shaking his curly head, he bent over the guitar,

stretching out his neck like a goose; the expression on

his round, careless face became dreamy, his passionate,

elusive eyes were obscured in an unctuous mist, and

lightly touching the chords, he played something dis-

jointed, involuntarily rising to his feet as he played.

His music demanded an intense silence. It rushed like

a rapid torrent from somewhere far away, stirring one's

heart and penetrating it with an incomprehensible sen-

sation of sadness and uneasiness. Under the influence

of that music we all became melancholy, and the oldest

present felt themselves to be no more than children.

We sat perfectly still lost in a dreamy silence.

Sascha Michailov especially listened with all his might

as he sat upright beside our uncle, gazing at the guitar

open-mouthed, and slobbering with delight. And the

rest of us remained as if we had been frozen, or had

been put under a spell. The only sound besides was

the gentle murmur of the samovar which did not inter-

fere with the complaint of the guitar.

 

Two small square windows threw their light into

the darkness of the autumn night, and from time to

time some one tapped on them lightly. The yellow

lights of two tallow candles, pointed like spears, flick-

ered on the table.

 

Uncle Jaakov grew more and more rigid, as though

 

 

 

54 MY CHILDHOOD

 

he were in a deep sleep with his teeth clenched; but

his hands seemed to live with a separate existence.

The bent fingers of his right hand quivered indistinctly

over the dark keyboard, just like fluttering and strug-

gling birds, while his left passed up and down the

neck with elusive rapidity.

 

When he had been drinking he nearly always sang

through his teeth in an unpleasantly shrill voice, an end-

less song:

 

"If Jaakove were a dog

He 'd howl from morn to night.

Oie! I am a-weary!

Oie! Life is dreary!

In the streets the nuns walk,

On the fence the ravens talk.

Oie! I am a-weary!

The cricket chirps behind the stove

And sets the beetles on the move.

Oie! I am a-weary!

One beggar hangs his stockings up to dry,

The other steals it away on the sly.

Oie! I am a-weary!

Yes ! Life is very dreary !"

 

I could not bear this song, and when my uncle came

to the part about the beggars I used to weep in a

tempest of ungovernable misery.

 

The music had the same effect on Tsiganok as on

the others ; he listened to it, running his fingers through

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 55

 

his black, shaggy locks, and staring into a cornef, half-

asleep.

 

Sometimes he would exclaim unexpectedly in a com-

plaining tone, "Ah ! if I only had a voice. Lord ! how

I should sing."

 

And grandmother, with a sigh, would say: "Are

you going to break our hearts, Jaasha 1 ? . . . Suppose

you give us a dance, Vanyatka*?"

 

Her request was not always complied with at once,

but it did sometimes happen that the musician sud-

denly swept the chords with his hands, then, doubling

up his fists with a gesture as if he were noiselessly cast-

ing an invisible something from him to the floor, cried

sharply :

 

"Away, melancholy! Now, Vanka, stand up!"

 

Looking very smart, as he pulled his yellow blouse

straight, Tsiganok would advance to the middle of the

kitchen, very carefully, as if he were walking on nails,

and blushing all over his swarthy face and simpering

bashfully, would say entreatingly :

 

"Faster, please, Jaakov Vassilitch !"

 

The guitar jingled furiously, heels tapped spas-

modically on the floor, plates and dishes rattled on the

table and in the cupboard, while Tsiganok blazed

amidst the kitchen lights, swooping like a kite, waving

his arms like the sails of a windmill, and moving his

 

 

 

56 MY CHILDHOOD

 

feet so quickly that they seemed to be stationary; then

he stooped to the floor, and spun round and round like

a golden swallow, the splendor of his silk blouse shed-

ding an illumination all around, as it quivered and

rippled, as if he were alight and floating in the air.

He danced unweariedly, oblivious of everything, and

it seemed as though, if the door were to open, he would

have danced out, down the street, and through the town

and away . . . beyond our ken.

 

"Cross over!" cried Uncle Jaakov, stamping his

feet, and giving a piercing whistle ; then in an irritating

voice he shouted the old, quaint saying:

 

"Oh, my ! if I were not sorry to leave ray spade

I 'd from my wife and children a break have made."

 

The people sitting at table pawed at each other, and

from time to time shouted and yelled as if they were

being roasted alive. The bearded chief workman

slapped his bald head and joined in the uproar. Once

he bent towards me, brushing my shoulder with his

soft beard, and said in my ear, just as he might speak

to a grown-up person :

 

"If your father were here, Alexei Maximitch, he

would have added to the fun. A merry fellow he

was always cheerful. You remember him, don't

you?"

 

"No."

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 57

 

"You don't*? Well, once he and your grandmother

but wait a bit."

 

Tall and emaciated, somewhat resembling a con-

ventional icon, he stood up, and bowing to grand-

mother, entreated in an extraordinarily gruff voice:

 

"Akulina Ivanovna, will you be so kind as to dance

for us as you did once with Maxim Savatyevitch 1 ? It

would cheer us up."

 

"What are you talking about, my dear man*?

What do you mean, Gregory Ivanovitch*?" cried

grandmother, smiling and bridling. "Fancy me danc-

ing at my time of life! I should only make people

laugh."

 

But suddenly she jumped up with a youthful air,

arranged her skirts, and very upright, tossed her pon-

derous head and darted across the kitchen, crying :

 

"Well, laugh if you want to! And a lot of good

may it do you. Now, Jaasha, play up !"

 

My uncle let himself go, and, closing his eyes, went

on playing very slowly. Tsiganok stood still for a

moment, and then leaped over to where grandmother

was and encircled her, resting on his haunches, while

she skimmed the floor without a sound, as if she were

floating on air, her arms spread out, her eyebrows

raised, her dark eyes gazing into space. She appeared

very comical to me, and I made fun of her; but Gregory

held up his finger sternly, and all the grown-up peo-

 

 

 

58 MY CHILDHOOD

 

pie looked disapprovingly over to my side of the

room.

 

"Don't make a noise, Ivan," said Gregory, and Tsig-

anok obediently jumped to one side, and sat by the

door, while Nyanya Eugenia, thrusting out her Adam's

apple, began to sing in her low-pitched, pleasant voice :

 

"All the week till Saturday

She does earn what e'er she may,

Making lace from morn till night

Till she 's nearly lost her sight."

 

Grandmother seemed more as if she were telling a

story than dancing. She moved softly, dreamily;

swaying slightly, sometimes looking about her from

under her arms, the whole of her huge body wavering

uncertainly, her feet feeling their way carefully. Then

she stood still as if suddenly frightened by something;

her face quivered and became overcast . . . but di-

rectly after it was again illuminated by her pleasant,

cordial smile. Swinging to one side as if to make way

for some one, she appeared to be refusing to give her

hand, then letting her head droop seemed to die ; again,

she was listening to some one and smiling joyfully . . .

and suddenly she was whisked from her place and

turned round and round like a whirligig, her figure

seemed to become more elegant, she seemed to grow

taller, and we could not tear our eyes away from her

so triumphantly beautiful and altogether charming did

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 59

 

she appear in that moment of marvelous rejuvenation.

And Nyanya Eugenia piped :

 

"Then on Sundays after Mass

Till midnight dances the lass,

Leaving as late as she dare,

Holidays with her are rare."

 

When she had finished dancing, grandmother re-

turned to her place by the samovar. They all ap-

plauded her, and as she put her hair straight, she said :

 

"That is enough ! You have never seen real danc-

ing. At our home in Balakya, there was one young

girl I have forgotten her name now, with many

others but when you saw her dance you cried for joy.

To look at her was a treat. You didn't want

anything else. How I envied her sinner that I

was!"

 

"Singers and dancers are the greatest people in the

world," said Nyanya Eugenia gravely, and she began

to sing something about King David, while Uncle

Jaakov, embracing Tsiganok, said to him:

 

"You ought to dance in the wineshops. You would

turn people's heads."

 

"I wish I could sing!" complained Tsiganok. "If

God had given me a voice I should have been singing

ten years by now, and should have gone on singing if

only as a monk."

 

They all drank vodka, and Gregory drank an extra

 

 

 

60 MY CHILDHOOD

 

lot. As she poured out glass after glass for him, grand-

mother warned him :

 

"Take care, Grisha, or you '11 become quite blind."

 

"I don't care ! I 've no more use for my eyesight,"

he replied firmly.

 

He drank, but he did not get tipsy, only becoming

more loquacious every moment; and he spoke to me

about my father nearly all the time.

 

"A man with a large heart was my friend Maxim

Savatyevitch ..."

 

Grandmother sighed as she corroborated :

 

"Yes, indeed he was a true child of God."

 

All this was extremely interesting, and held me spell-

bound, and filled my heart with a tender, not unpleas-

ant sadness. For sadness and gladness live within us

side by side, almost inseparable ; the one succeeding the

other with an elusive, unappreciable swiftness.

 

Once Uncle Jaakov, being rather tipsy, began to

rend his shirt, and to clutch furiously at his curly hair,

his grizzled mustache, his nose and his pendulous lip.

 

"What am I*?" he howled, dissolved in tears.

"Why am I here?" And striking himself on the cheek,

forehead and chest, he sobbed: "Worthless, de-

graded creature ! Lost soul !"

 

"A ah ! You 're right !" growled Gregory.

 

But grandmother, who was also not quite sober, said

to her son, catching hold of his hand :

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 61

 

"That will do, Jaasha. God knows how to teach

us."

 

, When she had been drinking, she was even more

attractive; her eyes grew darker and smiled, shedding

the warmth of her heart upon every one. Brushing

aside the handkerchief which made her face too hot,

she would say in a tipsy voice:

 

"Lord! Lord! How good everything is! Don't

you see how good everything is*?"

 

And this was a cry from her heart the watchword

of her whole life.

 

I was much impressed by the tears and cries of my

happy-go-lucky uncle, and I asked grandmother why

he cried and scolded and beat himself so.

 

"You want to know everything!" she said reluc-

tantly, quite unlike her usual manner. "But wait a

bit. You will be enlightened about this affair quite

soon enough."

 

My curiosity was still more excited by this, and I

went to the workshop and attacked Ivan on the sub-

ject, but he would not answer me. He just laughed

quietly with a sidelong glance at Gregory, and hustled

me out, crying:

 

"Give over now, and run away. If you don't I '11

put you in the vat and dye you."

 

Gregory, standing before the broad, low stove, with

vats cemented to it, stirred them with a long black

 

 

 

62 MY CHILDHOOD

 

poker, lifting it up now and again to see the colored

drops fall from its end. The brightly burning flames

played on the skin-apron, multi-colored like the chas-

uble of a priest, which he wore. The dye simmered

in the vats; an acrid vapor extended in a thick cloud

to the door. Gregory glanced at me from under his

glasses, with his clouded, bloodshot eyes, and said

abruptly to Ivan:

 

"You are wanted in the yard. Can't you see 1 ?"

 

But when Tsiganok had gone into the yard, Gregory,

sitting on a sack of santaline, beckoned me to him.

 

"Come here!"

 

Drawing me on to his knee, and rubbing his warm,

soft beard against my cheek, he said in a tone of rem-

iniscence :

 

"Your uncle beat and tortured his wife to death,

and now his conscience pricks him. Do you under-

stand? You want to understand everything, you seej

and so you get muddled."

 

Gregory was as simple as grandmother, but his

words were disconcerting, and he seemed to look

through and through every one.

 

"How did he kill her?" he went on in a leisurely

tone. "Why, like this. He was lying in bed with

her, and he threw the counterpane over her head, and

held it down while he beat her. Why"? He doesn't

know himself why he did it."

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 63

 

And paying no attention to Ivan, who, having re-

turned with an armful of goods from the yard, was

squatting before the fire, warming his hands, the head

workman suggested:

 

"Perhaps it was because she was better than he was,

and he was envious of her. The Kashmirins do not

like good people, my boy. They are jealous of them.

They cannot stand them, and try to get them out of

the way. Ask your grandmother how they got rid of

your father. She will tell you everything; she hates

deceit, because she does not understand it. She may

be reckoned among the saints, although she drinks

wine and takes snuff. She is a splendid woman.

Keep hold of her, and never let her go."

 

He pushed me towards the door, and I went out into

the yard, depressed and scared. Vaniushka overtook

me at the entrance of the house, and whispered

softly :

 

"Don't be afraid of him. He is all right. Look

him straight in the eyes. That 's what he likes."

 

It was all very strange and distressing. I hardly

knew any other existence, but I remembered vaguely

that my father and mother used not to live like this;

they had a different way of speaking, and a different

idea of happiness. They always went about together

and sat close to each other. They laughed very fre-

quently and for a long time together, in the evenings,

 

 

 

64 MY CHILDHOOD

 

as they sat at the window and sang at the top of their

voices; and people gathered together in the street and

looked at them. The raised faces of these people as

they looked up reminded me comically of dirty plates

after dinner. But here people seldom laughed, and

when they did it was not always easy to guess what

they were laughing at. They often raged at one

another, and secretly muttered threats against each

other in the corners. The children were subdued and

neglected; beaten down to earth like the dust by the

rain. I felt myself a stranger in the house, and all

the circumstances of my existence in it were nothing

but a series of stabs, pricking me on to suspicion, and

compelling me to study what went on with the closest

attention.

 

My friendship with Tsiganok grew apace. Grand-

mother was occupied with household duties from sun-

rise till late at night, and I hung round Tsiganok

nearly the whole day. He still used to put his hand

under the rod whenever grandfather thrashed me, and

the next day, displaying his swollen fingers, he would

complain :

 

"There 's no sense in it ! It does not make it any

lighter for you, and look what it does to me. I won't

stand it any longer, so there !"

 

But the next time he put himself in the way of

being needlessly hurt just the same.

 

 

 

MY CHILDHOOD 65

 

"But I thought you did not mean to do it again?"