One Autumn Evening by Maksim Gorky
One autumn evening I happened to be in a very inconvenient and
unpleasant situation. I found myself penniless and without a roof over
my head in the town where I had recently arrived and where I had not a
Having sold, during the first few days, every scrap of clothing
that I could do without, I left the town for the suburb called Ustye,
where the wharves were. During the season of navigation the place
seethed with activity, but now it was quiet and deserted--these were
the last days of October.
Shuffling along the wet sand and examining it closely in the hope
of finding some remains of food, I was roaming among the empty
buildings and stalls, thinking how good it is to have a full stomach.
In our present state of culture the hunger of the soul can be
satisfied more readily than that of the body. You wander through
streets, you are surrounded by structures with pleasing exteriors and,
you may be sure, agreeable interiors. This may start a trend of
comforting ideas regarding architecture, hygiene, and other wise and
sublime topics. You meet people suitably and warmly dressed--they are
civil, they get out of your way, tactfully preferring not to notice the
melancholy fact of your existence. Honestly, the soul of a hungry man
is always better nourished than the soul of a well-fed man, a fact from
which a very entertaining conclusion may be drawn in favor of the
Evening was drawing in, it was raining, and a gust of wind was
blowing from the north. It whistled through the empty stalls and shops,
thumped against the boarded-up windows of inns, and under its blows the
river foamed, its waves splashing noisily against the sandy shore,
tossing their white crests, rushing into the dim distance, one leaping
over the other. The river seemed to be feeling the approach of winter
and fleeing in fear from the icy fetters with which the north wind
could chain it that very night. The sky was heavy and lowering, and
steadily exuded a fine drizzle. Two battered, deformed willow trees,
and a boat turned upside down at their roots, stressed the elegiac
sadness of Nature around me.
A boat with a broken bottom, pitiful, aged trees rifled by the cold
windeverything was ruined, barren, dead, and the sky was shedding
incessant tears. Around me was but a gloomy waste. It seemed to me that
soon I would be the only living thing amidst this death, and that cold
death awaited me too.
And I was then only seventeen years old--a glorious age!
I kept on walking along the cold, wet sand, beating a tattoo with
my teeth in honor of cold and hunger. Suddenly, as in my vain search
for food, I rounded a stall, I noticed a crouching figure in woman's
clothes that were wet with rain and that clung to its bent shoulders.
Standing over her, I tried to see what she was doing. She was digging
in the sand with her hands, trying to get under one of the stalls.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked, crouching beside her.
She cried out softly and jumped to her feet. Now that she stood and
looked at me out of her wide-open gray eyes that were full of fear, I
saw that she was a girl of my own age, with a very attractive face
which was unfortunately embellished with three large bruises. This
spoiled it, although they were placed with remarkable symmetry: two of
equal size under the eyes, and one somewhat larger on the forehead
above the bridge of the nose. This symmetry evidenced the work of an
artist who had grown adept in the business of marring human faces.
The girl looked at me, and gradually the fear faded out of her
eyes.She shook the sand from her hands, adjusted the cotton kerchief on
her head, hunched her shoulders, and said:
"I suppose you want to eat, too?Go on digging. My hands are tired.
Over there--" she nodded in the direction of a stall--"there must be
bread.They're still doing business at that stall."
I began digging. After waiting awhile and watching me, she sat down
beside me and began to help me.
We worked in silence. I cannot say now whether at that time I had
in mind the criminal code, morality, the rights of property, and the
other things that, in the opinion of the well-informed, one must
remember every moment of one's life. To be as truthful as possible, I
must confess that I was so busy digging under the stall that I
completely forgot about everything except what could be found in the
With the advance of evening, the cold, damp, unwholesome darkness
was thickening around us. The noise of the waves seemed to be somewhat
muffled, but the rain thrummed against the boards of the stall more
loudly and heavily.The rattle of the night-watchman could already be
"Does it have a floor or not?" asked my helper in a low voice. I
did not understand what she was talking about, and I said nothing.
"I say, does the stall have a floor? If it does, we're working for
nothing. Suppose we do dig a pit and then we find heavy boards.How are
we going to pry them loose? It's better to break the lockit isn't much
of a lock."
Good ideas rarely enter women's heads, but, as you see, they do
enter sometimes. I have always prized good ideas and as far as possible
have tried to take advantage of them.
Having located the padlock, I pulled at it and wrenched it off
together with the rings. My accomplice immediately stooped and wriggled
like a snake into the square opening of the stall. From within came her
The smallest praise from a woman is dearer to me than a paean from
a man, even if he have the eloquence of all the ancient orators taken
together. But in those days I was less appreciative than I am now, and
without paying any attention to the girl's compliment I asked her
curtly and anxiously:
She began to enumerate her discoveries monotonously:
"A basket with bottles, empty sacks, an umbrella, an iron pail."
All this was not edible. I felt that my hopes were sinking.Suddenly
she cried excitedly:
"Aha! There it is!"
"Breada loafonly it's wettake it!"
A loaf rolled to my feet and after it herself, my valiant
accomplice. I had already broken off a piece, stuffed it into my mouth,
and was chewing it
"Give me some!And we must get out of here. Where shall we go?" She
peered into the wet, noisy darkness in every direction.
"There's a boat turned over, there. Shall we go to it?"
"Let's!" And we set off, tearing our booty to pieces as we went,
and stuffing them into our mouths.The rain was falling more heavily,
the river roared; a long-drawn-out, mocking whistle sounded from far
away, as though some fearless giant were hissing all earthly
institutions and this wretched autumn evening, and us, its two heroes.
The whistling made my heart ache; nevertheless I ate greedily, and so
did the girl, who walked to the left of me.
"What's your name?" I asked her, not knowing why.
"Natasha," she answered, chewing noisily.
I looked at her, and pain wrenched my heart. I looked into the dark
in front of me, and it seemed to me as though the ironic phiz of my
destiny were smiling at me enigmatically and coldly.
The rain drummed tirelessly on the boat, and its soft patter
brought on sad thoughts. The wind whistled as it drove through a hole
in the broken bottom, where a loose splinter was vibrating with a
disquieting, mournful sound. The waves splashed against the shore, and
their roar was monotonous and hopeless, as though they were relating
something intolerably tedious and depressing, something of which they
had grown utterly weary and which they were trying to escape, but about
which they must nevertheless keep on talking. The noise of the rain
blended with the splashing of the waves, and above the turned-over boat
there floated the long-drawn-out, heavy sigh of the earth, wearied and
outraged by the eternal succession of warm bright summer and cold,
damp, misty autumn. The wind moved over the deserted shore and the
foaming river, moved and sang mournful songs.
Our shelter under the boat was without any creature comforts: it
was cramped, damp, and through the hole in the bottom came fine, cold
drops of rain and gusts of wind. We sat silently and shivered with
cold. I remember I wanted to sleep. Natasha leaned her back against the
side of the boat, curled up into a little ball. Hugging her knees, and
resting her chin on them, she stared at the river with wide-open eyes.
On the pale patch of her face they seemed enormous, because of the
bruises below them. She did not stir, and her immobility and silence
gradually roused in me a kind of fear. I wanted to talk to her, but I
did not know how to start.
She was the first to speak.
"What a cursed life!" she declared, speaking distinctly,
deliberately, and with profound conviction.
It was not a complaint. There was too much indifference in her
tone. It was simply that she had thought it over and had arrived at a
certain conclusion, which she expressed aloud. As I could not deny it
without contradicting myself, I held my peace, and she continued to sit
there, motionless, as though not noticing me.
"If I could croak" Natasha began again, this time in a quiet,
reflective tone, and again there was no trace of complaint in her
voice. It was clear that, having thought about life, and having
considered her own case, she had calmly arrived at the conclusion that
to protect herself from life's mockery, she could do nothing better
than to "croak," as she put it.
The clarity of her thinking sickened me inexpressibly, and I felt
that if I continued to be silent I was sure to cry.And it would have
been all the more shameful to do it before this woman, especially since
she wasn't crying. I decided to engage her in conversation.
"Who beat you up?" I asked her, not having thought of anything
better to say.
"It's all Pashka." she answered in an even, resonant voice.
"Who is he?"
"My lover.A baker."
"Does he beat you often?"
"Every time he gets drunk he beats me up."
And suddenly, moving closer to me, she began telling me about
herself, Pashka, and the relations that existed between them. She was a
girl of the streets, and he, the baker, had a red mustache and played
the harmonica very well. He had visited the house, and she had liked
him very much because he was jovial and dressed neatly. He wore a
fifteen-ruble coat and accordion-pleated boots. For these reasons she
had fallen in love with him, and he had become her "man." And having
established himself in this position, he proceeded to take away from
her the money that other guests gave her for candy, and getting drunk
on it, would beat her up. What was worse was that he began to take up
with other girls before her very eyes.
"Doesn't that hurt me? I'm no worse than the others. He is simply
making a fool of me, the scoundrel. The day before yesterday I got
leave of the madam to go for a walk, I came to his place, and there was
Dunka sitting with him, drunk. And he, too, was soused. I says to him:
'You scoundrel, you crook, you!' He beat me up plenty. He kicked me and
pulled me by the hair, and more. I wouldn't have minded that so much,
but he tore my clothes. What can I do now? How can I show myself to the
madam? He ripped everythingmy dress, my jacket, and it was quite newand
he pulled the kerchief off my head.Lord! What will become of me now,"
she suddenly wailed in an anguished, broken voice.
The wind was howling, growing colder and sharper.Again my teeth
began to jig, and she too shrugged together with cold. She pressed so
close to me that I could see the gleam of her eyes through the
"What blackguards all you men are! I'd like to trample on you, I'd
like to maim you! If one of you was croaking, I'd spit in his mug
without any pity. Mean, nasty things! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag
your tails like nasty curs, but once we're fools enough to give
ourselves to you, it's all over with us! You step on us right away.You
She cursed richly, but her curses were without strength; she had
neither malice nor hatred toward these "mangy loafers," as far as I
could hear. The tone of her speech was out of keeping with its
substance, for she spoke calmly and there was no variation in her
voice. But it affected me more forcibly than the most eloquent and
convincing books and speeches of a pessimistic cast, of which I have
read and heard enough in my day. And that, you see, is because an
actual death-agony is always more natural and more affecting than the
most exact and artistic descriptions of death.
I felt wretched, undoubtedly more because of the cold than because
of my neighbor's words. I groaned softly and ground my teeth.
Almost instantly I felt two small cold hands upon me. One of them
touched my neck and the other was laid upon my face, and at the same
time I heard a gentle, anxious, affectionate voice:
"What's the matter?"
I was ready to believe that someone else was asking this question,
not Natasha, who had just declared that all men were scoundrels, and
who wanted to see them all destroyed. But already she spoke hurriedly.
"What's the matter, eh? Are you cold? Are you freezing? Oh, what a
queer one you are, you sit there as silent as an owl! Why didn't you
tell me that you were cold? Comelie downstretch out, and I'll lie down
tooso! Now put your arms round metighter! Well, now you ought to be
warm.And then we'll lie back to back.Somehow we'll get through the
night. See herehave you been drinking?Did they sack you?That's
She was comforting me.She was encouraging me.
May I be thrice damned! What irony there was in this for me! Think
of it! I was seriously occupied at that time with the destiny of
mankind; I dreamed of the reorganization of the social order, of
political upheavals; I read all manner of devilishly clever books,
whose profound depths were not to be fathomed even by their authors--in
those days I was trying my best to make of myself "an active,
significant force." And here a prostitute was warming me with her body,
a miserable, bruised, hunted creature, worthless, without any place in
life, whom I had never thought of helping until she helped me, and whom
I would hardly have been able to help even if the thought had occurred
to me. Oh! I was ready to believe that all this was happening to me in
a dream, in an absurd, oppressive dream.
But, alas! I couldn't make myself believe that, for cold drops of
rain were falling on me, a woman's breast was pressed to mine, I felt
her warm breath on my face, a breath smelling slightly of vodka, and
yet so vivifying.The wind howled and groaned, the rain beat against the
boat, the waves splashed, and both of us, pressed tightly together,
nevertheless shivered with cold. All this was utterly real, yet I am
sure that no one ever dreamed such an oppressive and ugly dream as that
Natasha kept on talking, with a tenderness and sympathy of which
only women are capable. Under the influence of her simple and friendly
words a little fire was gently kindled within me, and it melted
something in my heart.
Then tears poured from my eyes, washing my heart of much that was
evil, much that was foolish, much uneasiness and filth that had
accumulated long before that night. Natasha kept soothing me:
"There, there, darling, that's enough! Don't howl! That's enough!
With God's help you'll be all rightyou'll find another place."
And she kept on kissing me. She gave me countless, hot kisses.
Those were the first kisses from a woman that life had offered me,
and they were the best kisses, for all those that came after were
terribly costly and gave me almost nothing.
"Come, stop howling, you queer fellow! Tomorrow I'll help you, if
you have nowhere to go," I heard her gentle, persuasive whisper as
though in a dream.
Until dawn we lay in each other's arms.
And when day broke, we crawled out from under the boat and went to
town.There we said good-by to each other in a friendly fashion and
never met again, although for half a year I searched all the low dives
for that sweet Natasha with whom I had spent the autumn night I have
If she is already dead--and well for her if it is so--may she rest
in peace! And if she is living--peace be to her soul! And may she never
awaken to the consciousness of her fallfor that would be unnecessary
suffering, a pain that would not further life.