One morning, just as I was about to leave for my place of employment, Agrafena (my cook, laundress, and housekeeper all in one person) entered my room, and, to my great astonishment, started a conversation.
She was a quiet, simple-minded woman, who during the whole six years of her stay with me had never spoken more than two or three words daily, and that in reference to my dinner — at least, I had never heard her.
“I have come to you, sir,” she suddenly began, “about the renting out of the little spare room.”
“What spare room?”
“The one that is near the kitchen, of course; which should it be?”
“Why do people generally take lodgers? Because.”
“But who will take it?”
“Who will take it! A lodger, of course! Who should take it?”
“But there is hardly room in there, mother mine, for a bed; it will be too cramped. How can one live in it?”
“But why live in it! He only wants a place to sleep in; he will live on the window-seat.”
“How is that? What window-seat? As if you did not know! The one in the hall. He will sit on it and sew, or do something else. But maybe he will sit on a chair; he has a chair of his own — and a table also, and everything.”
“But who is he?”
“A nice, worldly-wise man. I will cook for him and will charge him only three rubles in silver a month for room and board —–”
At last, after long endeavor, I found out that some elderly man had talked Agrafena into taking him into the kitchen as lodger. When Agrafena once got a thing into her head that thing had to be; otherwise I knew I would have no peace. On those occasions when things did go against her wishes, she immediately fell into a sort of brooding, became exceedingly melancholy, and continued in that state for two or three weeks. During this time the food was invariably spoiled, the linen was missing, the floors unscrubbed; in a word, a lot of unpleasant things happened. I had long ago become aware of the fact that this woman of very few words was incapable of forming a decision, or of coming to any conclusion based on her own thoughts; and yet when it happened that by some means there had formed in her weak brain a sort of idea or wish to undertake a thing, to refuse her permission to carry out this idea or wish meant simply to kill her morally for some time. And so, acting in the sole interest of my peace of mind, I immediately agreed to this new proposition of hers.
“Has he at least the necessary papers, a passport, or anything of the kind?”
“How then? Of course he has. A fine man like him — who has seen the world — He promised to pay three rubles a month.”
On the very next day the new lodger appeared in my modest bachelor quarters; but I did not feel annoyed in the least — on the contrary, in a way I was glad of it. I live a very solitary, hermit-like life. I have almost no acquaintance and seldom go out. Having led the existence of a moor-cock for ten years, I was naturally used to solitude. But ten, fifteen years or more of the same seclusion in company with a person like Agrafena, and in the same bachelor dwelling, was indeed a joyless prospect. Therefore, the presence of another quiet, unobtrusive man in the house was, under these circumstances, a real blessing.
Agrafena had spoken the truth: the lodger was a man who had seen much in his life. From his passport it appeared that he was a retired soldier, which I noticed even before I looked at the passport.
As soon as I glanced at him, in fact.
Astafi Ivanich, my lodger, belonged to the better sort of soldiers, another thing I noticed as soon as I saw him. We liked each other from the first, and our life flowed on peacefully and comfortably. The best thing was that Astafi Ivanich could at times tell a good story, incidents of his own life. In the general tediousness of my humdrum existence, such a narrator was a veritable treasure. Once he told me a story which has made a lasting impression upon me; but first the incident which led to the story.
Once I happened to be left alone in the house, Astafi and Agrafena having gone out on business. Suddenly I heard some one enter, and I felt that it must be a stranger; I went out into the corridor and found a man of short stature, and notwithstanding the cold weather, dressed very thinly and without an overcoat.
“What is it you want?”
“The Government clerk Alexandrov? Does he live here?”
“There is no one here by that name, little brother; good day.”
“The porter told me he lived here,” said the visitor, cautiously retreating toward the door.
“Go on, go on, little brother; be off!”
Soon after dinner the next day, when Astafi brought in my coat, which he had repaired for me, I once more heard a strange step in the corridor. I opened the door.
The visitor of the day before, calmly and before my very eyes, took my short coat from the rack, put it under his arm, and ran out.
Agrafena, who had all the time been looking at him in open-mouthed surprise through the kitchen door, was seemingly unable to stir from her place and rescue the coat. But Astafi Ivanich rushed after the rascal, and, out of breath and panting, returned empty-handed. The man had vanished as if the earth had swallowed him.
“It is too bad, really, Astafi Ivanich,” I said. “It is well that I have my cloak left. Otherwise the scoundrel would have put me out of service altogether.”
But Astafi seemed so much affected by what had happened that as I gazed at him I forgot all about the theft. He could not regain his composure, and every once in a while threw down the work which occupied him, and began once more to recount how it had all happened, where he had been standing, while only two steps away my coat had been stolen before his very eyes, and how he could not even catch the thief. Then once more he resumed his work, only to throw it away again, and I saw him go down to the porter, tell him what had happened, and reproach him with not taking sufficient care of the house, that such a theft could be perpetrated in it. When he returned he began to upbraid Agrafena. Then he again resumed his work, muttering to himself for a long time — how this is the way it all was — how he stood here, and I there, and how before our very eyes, no farther than two steps away, the coat was taken off its hanger, and so on. In a word, Astafi Ivanich, though he knew how to do certain things, worried a great deal over trifles.
“We have been fooled, Astafi Ivanich,” I said to him that evening, handing him a glass of tea, and hoping from sheer ennui to call forth the story of the lost coat again, which by dint of much repetition had begun to sound extremely comical.
“Yes, we were fooled, sir. It angers me very much. though the loss is not mine, and I think there is nothing so despicably low in this world as a thief. They steal what you buy by working in the sweat of your brow — Your time and labor — The loathsome creature! It sickens me to talk of it — pfui! It makes me angry to think of it. How is it, sir, that you do not seem to be at all sorry about it?”
“To be sure, Astafi Ivanich, one would much sooner see his things burn up than see a thief take them. It is exasperating!”
“Yes, it is annoying to have anything stolen from you. But of course there are thieves and thieves — I, for instance, met an honest thief through an accident.”
“How is that? An honest thief? How can a thief be honest, Astafi Ivanich?”
“You speak truth, sir. A thief cannot be an honest man. There never was such. I only wanted to say that he was an honest man, it seems to me, even though he stole. I was very sorry for him.”
“And how did it happen, Astafi Ivanich?”
“It happened just two years ago. I was serving as house steward at the time, and the baron whom I served expected shortly to leave for his estate, so that I knew I would soon be out of a job, and then God only knew how I would be able to get along; and just then it was that I happened to meet in a tavern a poor forlorn creature, Emelian by name. Once upon a time he had served somewhere or other, but had been driven out of service on account of tippling. Such an unworthy creature as he was! He wore whatever came along. At times I even wondered if he wore a shirt under his shabby cloak; everything he could put his hands on was sold for drink. But he was not a rowdy. Oh, no; he was of a sweet, gentle nature, very kind and tender to everyone; he never asked for anything, was, if anything, too conscientious — Well, you could see without asking when the poor fellow was dying for a drink, and of course you treated him to one. Well, we became friendly, that is, he attached himself to me like a little dog — you go this way, he follows — and all this after our very first meeting.
“Of course, he remained with me that night; his passport was in order and the man seemed all right. On the second night also. On the third he did not leave the house, sitting on the window-seat of the corridor the whole day, and of course he remained over that night too. Well, I thought, just see how he has forced himself upon you. You have to give him to eat and to drink and to shelter him. All a poor man needs is some one to sponge upon him. I soon found out that once before he had attached himself to a man just as he had now attached himself to me; they drank together, but the other one soon died of some deep-seated sorrow. I thought and thought: What shall I do with him? Drive him out — my conscience would not allow it — I felt very sorry for him: he was such a wretched, forlorn creature, terrible! And so dumb he did not ask for anything, only sat quietly and looked you straight in the eyes, just like a faithful little dog. That is how drink can ruin a man. And I thought to myself: Well, suppose I say to him: ‘Get out of here, Emelian; you have nothing to do in here, you come to the wrong person; I will soon have nothing to eat myself, so how do you expect me to feed you? ‘ And I tried to imagine what he would do after I’d told him all this. And I could see how he would look at me for a long time after he had heard me, without understanding a word; how at last he would understand what I was driving at, and, rising from the window-seat, take his little bundle — I see it before me now — a red-checked little bundle full of holes, in which he kept God knows what, and which he carted along with him wherever he went; how he would brush and fix up his worn cloak a little, so that it would look a bit more decent and not show so much the holes and patches — he was a man of very fine feelings! How he would have opened the door afterward and would have gone forth with tears in his eyes.
“Well, should a man be allowed to perish altogether? I all at once felt heartily sorry for him; but at the same time I thought: And what about me? Am I any better off? And I said to myself: Well, Emelian, you will not feast overlong at my expense; soon I shall have to move from here myself, and then you will not find me again. Well, sir, my baron soon left for his estate with all his household, telling me before he went that he was very well satisfied with my services, and would gladly employ me again on his return to the capital. A fine man my baron was, but he died the same year.
“Well, after I had escorted my baron and his family a little way, I took my things and the little money I had saved up, and went to live with an old woman I knew, who rented out a corner of the room she occupied by herself. She used to be a nurse in some well-to-do family, and now, in her old age, they had pensioned her off. Well, I thought to myself, now it is good-by to you, Emelian, dear man, you will not find me now! And what do you think, sir? When I returned in the evening — I had paid a visit to an acquaintance of mine — whom should I see but Emelian sitting quietly upon my trunk with his red-checked bundle by his side. He was wrapped up in his poor little cloak, and was awaiting my home-coming. He must have been quite lonesome, because he had borrowed a prayer-book of the old woman and held it upside down. He had found me after all! My hands fell helplessly at my sides. Well, I thought, there is nothing to be done. Why did I not drive him away first off? And I only asked him: ‘Have you taken your passport along, Emelian?’ Then I sat down, sir, and began to turn the matter over in my mind: Well, could he, a roving man, be much in my way? And after I had considered it well, I decided that he would not, and besides, he would be of very little expense to me. Of course, he would have to be fed, but what does that amount to? Some bread in the morning and, to make it a little more appetizing, a little onion or so. For the midday meal again some bread and onion, and for the evening again onion and bread, and some kvass, and, if some cabbage-soup should happen to come our way, then we could both fill up to the throat. I ate little, and Emelian, who was a drinking man, surely ate almost nothing: all he wanted was vodka. He would be the undoing of me with his drinking; but at the same time I felt a curious feeling creep over me. It seemed as if life would be a burden to me if Emelian went away. And so I decided then and there to be his father-benefactor. I would put him on his legs, I thought, save him from perishing, and gradually wean him from drink. Just you wait, I thought. Stay with me, Emelian, but stand pat now. Obey the word of command!
“Well, I thought to myself, I will begin by teaching him some work, but not at once; let him first enjoy himself a bit, and I will in the meanwhile look around and discover what he finds easiest, and would be capable of doing, because you must know, sir, a man must have a calling and a capacity for a certain work to be able to do it properly. And I began stealthily to observe him. And a hard subject he was, that Emelian! At first I tried to get at him with a kind word. Thus and thus I would speak to him: ‘Emelian, you had better take more care of yourself and try to fix yourself up a little.
“‘Give up drinking. Just look at yourself, man, you are all ragged, your cloak looks more like a sieve than anything else. It is not nice. It is about time for you to come to your senses and know when you have had enough.’
“He listened to me, my Emelian did, with lowered head; he had already reached that state, poor fellow, when the drink affected his tongue and he could not utter a sensible word. You talk to him about cucumbers, and he answers beans. He listened, listened to me for a long time, and then he would sigh deeply.
“‘What are you sighing for, Emelian?’ I ask him.
“‘Oh, it is nothing, Astafi Ivanich, do not worry. Only what I saw to-day, Astafi Ivanich — two women fighting about a basket of huckleberries that one of them had upset by accident.
“‘Well, what of that?’
“‘And the woman whose berries were scattered snatched a like basket of huckleberries from the other woman’s hand, and not only threw them on the ground, but stamped all over them.’
“‘Well, but what of that, Emelian?’
“‘Ech!’ I think to myself, ‘Emelian! You have lost your poor wits through the cursed drink!’
“‘And again,’ Emelian says, ‘a baron lost a bill on the Gorokhova Street — or was it on the Sadova? A muzhik saw him drop it, and says, “My luck,” but here another one interfered and says, “No, it is my luck! I saw it first. . . .”‘
“‘And the two muzhiks started a fight, Astafi Ivanich, and the upshot was that a policeman came, picked up the money, handed it back to the baron, and threatened to put the muzhiks under lock for raising a disturbance.’
“‘But what of that? What is there wonderful or edifying in that, Emelian?’
“‘Well, nothing, but the people laughed, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘E-ch, Emelian! What have the people to do with it?’ I said. ‘You have sold your immortal soul for a copper. But do you know what I will tell you, Emelian?’
“‘What, Astafi Ivanich?’
“‘You’d better take up some work, really you should. I am telling you for the hundredth time that you should have pity on yourself!’
“‘But what shall I do, Astafi Ivanich? I do not know where to begin and no one would employ me, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘That is why they drove you out of service, Emelian; it is all on account of drink!’
“‘And to-day,’ said Emelian, ‘they called Vlass the barkeeper into the office.’
“‘What did they call him for, Emelian?’ I asked.
“‘I don’t know why, Astafi Ivanich. I suppose it was needed, so they called him.’
“‘Ech,’ I thought to myself, ‘no good will come of either of us, Emelian! It is for our sins that God is punishing us!’
“Well, what could a body do with such a man, sir!
“But he was sly, the fellow was, I tell you! He listened to me, listened, and at last it seems it began to tire him, and as quick as he would notice that I was growing angry he would take his cloak and slip out — and that was the last to be seen of him! He would not show up the whole day, and only in the evening would he return, as drunk as a lord. Who treated him to drinks, or where he got the money for it, God only knows; not from me, surely! . . .
“‘Well,’ I say to him, ‘Emelian, you will have to give up drink, do you hear? you will have to give it up! The next time you return tipsy, you will have to sleep on the stairs. I’ll not let you in!’
“After this Emelian kept to the house for two days; on the third he once more sneaked out. I wait and wait for him; he does not come! I must confess that I was kind of frightened; besides, I felt terribly sorry for him. What had I done to the poor devil! I thought. I must have frightened him off. Where could he have gone to now, the wretched creature? Great God, he may perish yet! The night passed and he did not return. In the morning I went out into the hall, and he was lying there with his head on the lower step, almost stiff with cold.
“‘What is the matter with you, Emelian? The Lord save you! Why are you here?’
“‘But you know, Astafi Ivanich,’ he replied, ‘you were angry with me the other day; I irritated you, and you promised to make me sleep in the hall, and I — so I — did not dare — to come in — and lay down here.’
“‘It would be better for you, Emelian,’ I said, filled with anger and pity, ‘to find a better employment than needlessly watching the stairs!’
“‘But what other employment, Astafi Ivanich?’
“‘Well, wretched creature that you are,’ here anger had flamed up in me, ‘if you would try to learn the tailoring art. Just look at the cloak you are wearing! Not only is it full of holes, but you are sweeping the stairs with it! You should at least take a needle and mend it a little, so it would look more decent. E-ch, a wretched tippler you are, and nothing more!’
“Well, sir! What do you think! He did take the needle — I had told him only for fun, and there he got scared and actually took the needle. He threw off his cloak and began to put the thread through; well, it is easy to see what would come of it; his eyes began to fill and reddened, his hands trembled! He pushed and pushed the thread — could not get it through: he wetted it, rolled it between his fingers, smoothed it out, but it would not — go! He flung it from him and looked at me.
“‘Well, Emelian!’ I said, ‘you served me right! If people had seen it I would have died with shame! I only told you all this for fun, and because I was angry with you. Never mind sewing; may the Lord keep you from sin! You need not do anything, only keep out of mischief, and do not sleep on the stairs and put me to shame thereby!’
“‘But what shall I do, Astafi Ivanich; I know myself that I am always tipsy and unfit for anything! I only make you, my be — benefactor, angry for nothing.’
“And suddenly his bluish lips began to tremble, and a tear rolled down his unshaven, pale cheek, then another and another one, and he broke into a very flood of tears, my Emelian. Father in Heaven! I felt as if some one had cut me over the heart with a knife.
“‘E-ch, you sensitive man; why, I never thought! And who could have thought such a thing! No, I’d better give you up altogether, Emelian; do as you please.’
“Well, sir, what else is there to tell! But the whole thing is so insignificant and unimportant, it is really not worth while wasting words about it; for instance, you, sir, would not give two broken groschen for it; but I, I would give much, if I had much, that this thing had never happened! I owned, sir, a pair of breeches, blue, in checks, a first-class article, the devil take them — a rich landowner who came here on business ordered them from me, but refused afterward to take them, saying that they were too tight, and left them with me.
“Well, I thought, the cloth is of first-rate quality! I can get five rubles for them in the old clothes market place, and, if not, I can cut a fine pair of pantaloons out of them for some St. Petersburg gent, and have a piece left over for a vest for myself. Everything counts with a poor man! And Emelian was at that time in sore straits. I saw that he had given up drinking, first one day, then a second, and a third, and looked so downhearted and sad.
“Well, I thought, it is either that the poor fellow lacks the necessary coin or maybe he has entered on the right path, and has at last listened to good sense.
“Well, to make a long story short, an important holiday came just at that time, and I went to vespers. When I came back I saw Emelian sitting on the window-seat as drunk as a lord. Eh! I thought, so that is what you are about! And I go to my trunk to get out something I needed. I look! The breeches are not there. I rummage about in this place and that place: gone! Well, after I had searched all over and saw that they were missing for fair, I felt as if something had gone through me! I went after the old woman — as to Emelian, though there was evidence against him in his being drunk, I somehow never thought of him!
“‘No,’ says my old woman; ‘the good Lord keep you, gentleman, what do I need breeches for! can I wear them? I myself missed a skirt the other day. I know nothing at all about it.’
“‘Well,’ I asked, ‘has anyone called here?’
“‘No one called,’ she said. ‘I was in all the time; your friend here went out for a short while and then came back; here he sits! Why don’t you ask him?’
“‘Did you happen, for some reason or other, Emelian, to take the breeches out of the trunk? The ones, you remember, which were made for the landowner?’
“‘No,’ he says, ‘I have not taken them, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘What could have happened to them?’ Again I began to search, but nothing came of it! And Emelian sat and swayed to and fro on the window-seat.
“I was on my knees before the open trunk, just in front of him. Suddenly I threw a sidelong glance at him. Ech, I thought, and felt very hot round the heart, and my face grew very red. Suddenly my eyes encountered Emelian’s.
“‘No,’ he says, ‘Astafi Ivanich. You perhaps think that I — you know what I mean — but I have not taken them.’
“‘But where have they gone, Emelian?’
“‘No,’ he says, ‘Astafi Ivanich, I have not seen them at all.’
“‘Well, then, you think they simply went and got lost by themselves, Emelian?’
“‘Maybe they did, Astafi Ivanich.’
“After this I would not waste another word on him. I rose from my knees, locked the trunk, and after I had lighted the lamp I sat down to work. I was remaking a vest for a government clerk, who lived on the floor below. But I was terribly rattled, just the same. It would have been much easier to bear, I thought, if all my wardrobe had burned to ashes. Emelian, it seems, felt that I was deeply angered. It is always so, sir, when a man is guilty; he always feels beforehand when trouble approaches, as a bird feels the coming storm.
“‘And do you know, Astafi Ivanich,’ he suddenly began, ‘the leech married the coachman’s widow today.’
“I just looked at him; but, it seems, looked at him so angrily that he understood: I saw him rise from his seat, approach the bed, and begin to rummage in it, continually repeating: ‘Where could they have gone? Vanished, as if the devil had taken them!’
“I waited to see what was coming; I saw that my Emelian had crawled under the bed. I could contain myself no longer.
“‘Look here,’ I said. ‘What makes you crawl under the bed?’
“‘I am looking for the breeches, Astafi Ivanich,’ said Emelian from under the bed. ‘Maybe they got here somehow or other.’
“‘But what makes you, sir (in my anger I addressed him as if he was — somebody), what makes you trouble yourself on account of such a plain man as I am; dirtying your knees for nothing!’
“‘But, Astafi Ivanich — I did not mean anything — I only thought maybe if we look for them here we may find them yet.’
“‘Mm! Just listen to me a moment, Emelian!’
“‘What, Astafi Ivanich?’
“‘Have you not simply stolen them from me like a rascally thief, serving me so for my bread and salt?’ I said to him, beside myself with wrath at the sight of him crawling under the bed for something he knew was not there.
“‘No, Astafi Ivanich.’ For a long time he remained lying flat under the bed. Suddenly he crawled out and stood before me — I seem to see him even now — as terrible a sight as sin itself.
“‘No,’ he says to me in a trembling voice, shivering through all his body and pointing to his breast with his finger, so that all at once I became scared and could not move from my seat on the window. ‘I have not taken your breeches, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘Well,’ I answered, ‘Emelian, forgive me if in my foolishness I have accused you wrongfully. As to the breeches, let them go hang; we will get along without them. We have our hands, thank God, we will not have to steal, and now, too, we will not have to sponge on another poor man; we will earn our living.’
“Emelian listened to me and remained standing before me for some time, then he sat down and sat motionless the whole evening; when I lay down to sleep, he was still sitting in the same place.
“In the morning, when I awoke, I found him sleeping on the bare floor, wrapped up in his cloak; he felt his humiliation so strongly that he had no heart to go and lie down on the bed.
“Well, sir, from that day on I conceived a terrible dislike for the man; that is, rather, I hated him the first few days, feeling as if, for instance, my own son had robbed me and given me deadly offense. Ech, I thought, Emelian, Emelian! And Emelian, my dear sir, had gone on a two weeks’ spree. Drunk to bestiality from morning till night. And during the whole two weeks he had not uttered a word. I suppose he was consumed the whole time by a deep-seated grief, or else he was trying in this way to make an end to himself. At last he gave up drinking. I suppose he had no longer the wherewithal to buy vodka — had drunk up every copeck — and he once more took up his old place on the window-seat. I remember that he sat there for three whole days without a word; suddenly I see him weep; sits there and cries, but what crying! The tears come from his eyes in showers, drip, drip, as if he did not know that he was shedding them. It is very painful, sir, to see a grown man weep, all the more when the man is of advanced years, like Emelian, and cries from grief and a sorrowful heart.
“‘What ails you, Emelian?’ I say to him.
“He starts and shivers. This was the first time I had spoken to him since that eventful day.
“‘It is nothing — Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘God keep you, Emelian; never you mind it all. Let bygones be bygones. Don’t take it to heart so, man!’ I felt very sorry for him.
“‘It is only that — that I would like to do something — some kind of work, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘But what kind of work, Emelian?’
“‘Oh, any kind. Maybe I will go into some kind of service, as before. I have already been at my former employer’s, asking. It will not do for me, Astafi Ivanich, to use you any longer. I, Astafi Ivanich, will perhaps obtain some employment, and then I will pay you for everything, food and all.’
“‘Don’t, Emelian, don’t. Well, let us say you committed a sin; well, it is all over! The devil take it all! Let us live as before — as if nothing had happened!’
“‘You, Astafi Ivanich, you are probably hinting about that . But I have not taken your breeches.’
“‘Well, just as you please, Emelian!’
“‘No, Astafi Ivanich, evidently I cannot live with you longer. You will excuse me, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘But God be with you, Emelian,’ I said to him; ‘who is it that is offending you or driving you out of the house? Is it I who am doing it?’
“‘No, but it is unseemly for me to misuse your hospitality any longer, Astafi Ivanich; ’twill be better to go.’
“I saw that he had in truth risen from his place and donned his ragged cloak — he felt offended, the man did, and had gotten it into his head to leave, and — basta .
“‘But where are you going, Emelian? Listen to sense: what are you? Where will you go?’
“‘No, it is best so, Astafi Ivanich, do not try to keep me back,’ and he once more broke into tears; ‘let me be, Astafi Ivanich, you are no longer what you used to be.’
“‘Why am I not? I am just the same. But you will perish when left alone — like a foolish little child, Emelian.’
“‘No, Astafi Ivanich. Lately, before you leave the house, you have taken to locking your trunk, and I, Astafi Ivanich, see it and weep — No, it is better you should let me go, Astafi Ivanich, and forgive me if I have offended you in any way during the time we have lived together.’
“Well, sir! And so he did go away. I waited a day and thought: Oh, he will be back toward evening. But a day passes, then another, and he does not return. On the third — he does not return. I grew frightened, and a terrible sadness gripped at my heart. I stopped eating and drinking, and lay whole nights without closing my eyes. The man had wholly disarmed me! On the fourth day I went to look for him; I looked in all the taverns and pot-houses in the vicinity, and asked if anyone had seen him. No, Emelian had wholly disappeared! Maybe he has done away with his miserable existence, I thought. Maybe, when in his cups, he has perished like a dog, somewhere under a fence. I came home half dead with fatigue and despair, and decided to go out the next day again to look for him, cursing myself bitterly for letting the foolish, helpless man go away from me. But at dawn of the fifth day (it was a holiday) I heard the door creak. And whom should I see but Emelian! But in what a state! His face was bluish and his hair was full of mud, as if he had slept in the street; and he had grown thin, the poor fellow had, as thin as a rail. He took off his poor cloak, sat down on my trunk, and began to look at me. Well, sir, I was overjoyed, but at the same time felt a greater sadness than ever pulling at my heart-strings. This is how it was, sir: I felt that if a thing like that had happened to me, that is — I would sooner have perished like a dog, but would not have returned. And Emelian did. Well, naturally, it is hard to see a man in such a state. I began to coddle and comfort him in every way.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘Emelian, I am very glad you have returned; if you had not come so soon, you would not have found me in, as I intended to go hunting for you. Have you had anything to eat?’
“‘I have eaten, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘I doubt it. Well, here is some cabbage soup — left over from yesterday; a nice soup with some meat in it — not the meagre kind. And here you have some bread and a little onion. Go ahead and eat; it will do you good.’
“I served it to him; and immediately realized that he must have been starving for the last three days — such an appetite as he showed! So it was hunger that had driven him back to me. Looking at the poor fellow, I was deeply touched, and decided to run into the nearby dram-shop. I will get him some vodka, I thought, to liven him up a bit and make peace with him. It is enough. I have nothing against the poor devil any longer. And so I brought the vodka and said to him: ‘Here, Emelian, let us drink to each other’s health in honor of the holiday. Come, take a drink. It will do you good.’
“He stretched out his hand, greedily stretched it out, you know, and stopped; then, after a while, he lifted the glass, carried it to his mouth, spilling the liquor on his sleeve; at last he did carry it to his mouth, but immediately put it back on the table.
“‘Well, why don’t you drink, Emelian?’
“‘But no, I’ll not, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘You’ll not drink it!’
“‘But I, Astafi Ivanich, I think — I’ll not drink any more, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘Is it for good you have decided to give it up, Emelian, or only for to-day?’
“He did not reply, and after a while I saw him lean his head on his hand, and I asked him: ‘Are you not feeling well, Emelian?’
“‘Yes, pretty well, Astafi Ivanich.’
“I made him go to bed, and saw that he was truly in a bad way. His head was burning hot and he was shivering with ague. I sat by him the whole day; toward evening he grew worse. I prepared a meal for him of kvass, butter, and some onion, and threw in it a few bits of bread, and said to him: “Go ahead and take some food; maybe you will feel better!’
“But he only shook his head: ‘No, Astafi Ivanich, I shall not have any dinner to-day.’
“I had some tea prepared for him, giving a lot of trouble to the poor old woman with whom I rented a part of the room — but he would not take even a little tea.
“Well, I thought to myself, it is a bad case. On the third morning I went to see the doctor, an acquaintance of mine, Dr. Kostopravov, who had treated me when I still lived in my last place. The doctor came, examined the poor fellow, and only said: ‘There was no need of sending for me; he is already too far gone; but you can give him some powders which I will prescribe.’
“Well, I didn’t give him the powders at all, as I understood that the doctor was only doing it for form’s sake; and in the meanwhile came the fifth day.
“He lay dying before me, sir. I sat on the window-seat with some work I had on hand lying on my lap. The old woman was raking the stove. We were all silent, and my heart was breaking over this poor, shiftless creature, as if he were my own son whom I was losing. I knew that Emelian was gazing at me all the time: I noticed from the earliest morning that he longed to tell me something, but seemingly dared not. At last I looked at him, and saw that he did not take his eyes from me, but that whenever his eyes met mine, he immediately lowered his own.
“‘What if my cloak should be carried over to the old clothes market, would they give much for it, Astafi Ivanich?’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I do not know for certain, but three rubles they would probably give for it, Emelian.’ I said it only to comfort the simple-minded creature; in reality they would have laughed in my face for even thinking to sell such a miserable, ragged thing.
“‘And I thought that they might give a little more, Astafi Ivanich. It is made of cloth, so how is it that they would not wish to pay more than three rubles for it?’
“‘Well, Emelian, if you wish to sell it, then of course you may ask more for it at first.’
“Emelian was silent for a moment, then he once more called to me.
“‘What is it, Emelian?’
“‘You will sell the cloak after I am gone; no need of burying me in it; I can well get along without it; it is worth something, and may come handy to you.’
“Here I felt such a painful gripping at my heart as I cannot even express, sir. I saw that the sadness of approaching death had already come upon the man. Again we were silent for some time. About an hour passed in this way. I looked at him again and saw that he was still gazing at me, and when his eyes met mine he immediately lowered his.
“‘Would you like a drink of cold water?’ I asked him.
“‘Give me some, and may God repay you, Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘Would you like anything else, Emelian?’
“‘No, Astafi Ivanich, I do not want anything, but I—-‘
“‘You know that—-‘
“‘What is it you want, Emelian?’
“‘The breeches — You know — It was I who took them — Astafi Ivanich.’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘the great God will forgive you, Emelian, poor, unfortunate fellow that you are! Depart in peace.’
“And I had to turn away my head for a moment because grief for the poor devil took my breath away and the tears came in torrents from my eyes.
“I looked at him, saw that he wished to tell me something more, tried to raise himself, and was moving his lips — He reddened and looked at me — Suddenly I saw that he began to grow paler and paler; in a moment he fell with his head thrown back, breathed once, and gave his soul into God’s keeping.”