Cain and Artyom by Maksim Gorky
Cain was a nimble little Jew, with a head running up to a point,
and a lean, sallow face. Tufts of coarse red hair grew on his
cheek-bones and chin, giving his face the appearance of being set in a
frame of crumpled plush, the upper part of which was formed by the
visor of his dirty cap.
Under the visor could be seen two bright, little gray eyes,
ornamented with red eyebrows, which looked as if they had been plucked.
These eyes very rarely rested for any length of time on the same
object; they wandered with quick, furtive glances from one side to the
other, casting timid, obsequious smiles in all directions.
It was impossible to see these and not at once become aware that
the dominant feeling in the man who smiled that way was a fear of
everything and everybody, a fear which in a moment could grow to abject
Hence, all those who were not too lazy to do so, in creased this
tenseness of the Jew by cuffs and cruel jokes. Everything about him
seemed to participate in this feeling, from his nerves to the folds of
the canvas garment that hung loosely over his thin body, from shoulder
to heel, and which seemed continually quivering.
The Jew's name was Khaim Aaron Purvitz, but he was known as Cain.
It was a simpler and more familiar name than Khaim, and, added to this,
it was very insulting. Little as it suited his frail and timid figure,
everybody seemed to think that it exactly described the Jew, both in
body and soul, and that at the same time it was humiliating.
He lived in the midst of those who had suffered at the hands of
fate, and such as these always find pleasure in offering offense to
their neighbors, and, what is more, they always know how to do it--it
is the only means they have of avenging themselves. And it was an easy
thing with Cain; when they mocked him, he only gave a deprecating
smile, and at times, he even took part himself in their ridicule of
him, as if he wished to pay his tormentors in advance for the right to
live among them. He lived, of course, by trade. He went about the
streets with a wooden box before him, calling out in a thin, mawkish
voice: "Shoe polish! Matches! Pins! Needles! Haberdashery! Notions!"
He had another characteristic feature; he had very large ears,
which stood out from his head, and which were continually moving like
those of a sensitive horse.
He carried on his trade at Shikhan, the suburb where the poorest
and raggedest lived, all kinds of riffraff. Shikhan consisted of one
narrow street, lined with old, high, and repulsive-looking houses.
Among these were night-refuges, taverns, bakers' shops, groceries and
places where they sold old iron and various utensils. The population
consisted of thieves and receivers of stolen goods, small second-hand
dealers, and female costermongers. There was always plenty of shadow,
thanks to the height of the houses, and plenty of mud, and drunkards;
in summer the street continually reeked with the heavy smell of
decaying matter and brandy. The sun looked in only at early morning,
and then cautiously and for a very short time, as if fearing the
contact with the mud would soil its rays.
The street, which ran along the slope of the hill beside a large
river, was always full of dockyard workers, sailors on shore leave, and
stevedores. Here they got drunk and amused themselves in their own way,
and here, too, pickpockets lurked in convenient corners waiting their
opportunity when the drink should have done its work. Along the
foot-paths stood the earthenware pots, filled with little meat patties,
and here, too, were the trays belonging to the confectioners and the
liver-sellers. The workmen from the docks crowded round and eagerly
devoured the hot food; those among them who were tipsy sang in loud
coarse voices and reviled one another; the vendors cried their wares in
strident tones, puffing up their goods; carts rumbled along, with
difficulty making their way through the press of people who were either
bent on buying or selling, waiting for work, or watching an opportunity
for this or that. The chaos of sounds whirled through the street, which
was as narrow as a ditch, breaking against the filthy walls of the
houses which looked as though they were covered with sores, their
decaying plaster falling away everywhere in little bits.
In this ditch, reeking with its impurities, in the midst of the
deafening noise and the filthy language, children were always darting
about, children of every age, but all equally dirty, famished, and
degraded. They ran about there from morning till evening; depending for
their livelihood on the kindness of the vendors, and on the nimbleness
of their own little hands: at night they slept where they could, in the
shelter of doorways, under the counter used by a pastry-vendor, in the
embrasure of a cellar-window. No sooner had the dawn appeared, than
these emaciated victims of rickets and scrofula were again on their
feet, beginning their work of stealing what they could get hold of in
the way of choice bits, and of begging for those which were no longer
salable. To whom did these children belong? To everyone. It was here,
in this street, that Cain prowled about day after day, crying his
goods, which he sold to the women. They were in the habit of borrowing
twenty kopecks from him for a few hours, under obligation of paying
back twenty-two, and they never failed in their payments. Cain as a
rule did a big business in the street; he bought shirts, caps, boots,
and accordions from men on a spree, and from the women their
petticoats, bodices, and cheap ornaments; he then exchanged these
goods, or sold them at a profit of ten kopecks. And all the while he
was exposed to their ridicule and blows; at times they even stripped
him of his goods, but he never uttered a complaint; all he did was to
smile, with that smile so tragically gentle.
Again, it happened sometimes that two or three youths, driven to
excess by hunger and drink, would fall upon the Jew in one of the dark
recesses of the town, and either from fear or from their blows he would
fall to the ground, and lie there trembling at the feet of his
assailants, digging convulsively in his pockets, and crying in a
supplicating voice: "Sirs, good sirs, do not take all my kopecks--how
then can I carry on my trade?"
And his thin face would be quivering with his endless smiles.
"Well, leave off whining! Just give us thirty kopecks." These good
gentlemen quite understood that the cow must be allowed to keep her
udder if more milk is to be got from her. Sometimes Cain would rise and
walk amicably beside them down the street, joking and smiling, the
youths condescending so far as to exchange conversation with him and to
make fun of him; and it was all done as naturally and frankly as
Cain always looked a little thinner after an episode of this
kind--that was all.
He did not appear to be on good terms with the Jewish community. He
was but seldom seen walking with one of his coreligionists, and on
these rare occasions it was noticed that the latter treated Cain with
haughty contempt. There was even a rumor spread abroad that Cain was
under the ban, and at one time the women peddlers called him cursed.
This, however, was not very likely, although Cain showed
unmistakable signs of heresy; he did not observe Sabbath, and he ate
meat that was not kosher. He was besieged with questions; first one and
then another insisted or commanded that he should explain why he dared
to eat things which were forbidden by his religion. He shrank into
himself, smiled, and put off his questioners with some joking answer,
or got away somehow without giving them any information concerning the
beliefs and customs of the Jews.
Even the wretched children pursued him along the streets, throwing
handfuls of mud, melon rinds, or other dirty objects at his back or
into his box. He would try to stop them by speaking kindly to them, but
more often he would plunge into the thick of the crowd, whither they
dared not follow him, for fear of being trampled under foot.
And so Cain lived on from day to day; known to all and persecuted
by all, he carried on his trade, he trembled with fear, he smiled--and
then all at once fortune in her turn smiled on him.
There is no corner of the universe without its despot. At Shikhan
this part was played by the handsome Artyom, a colossal fellow, with a
round head covered by a forest of dark, curly hair, that fell in soft
wayward ringlets over his forehead down to the beautiful velvety
eyebrows, and the huge, dark, almond-shaped eyes which were always
veiled by a soft dew. The nose was straight, of a classic correctness
of form, the lips red and fresh, and surmounted by a large black
mustache; the pure oval of his somewhat swarthy face was of a marvelous
regularity and simple beauty of feature, and the eyes, with the misty
shadow over them, suited it exactly, seeming as it were to explain, as
well as to complete, its beauty. Broad-chested, tall and
well-proportioned, always wearing a smile of unconscious contentment,
he was a terror to the men of Shikhan, and an object of delight to the
women. He passed the best part of his day lying about, he did not care
where, provided that the spot was well in the sun, and there, massive
and indolent, he drank in short draughts of the fresh air and the
light, his powerful chest rising and falling with the regularity of his
strong, steady breathing.
He was twenty-five years of age, and had come into the town three
years previously with a crew of stevedores from Promzino;1 and the
shipping season once over, he stayed on through the winter, having
ascertained that, thanks to his strength and beauty, he could lead an
agreeable life without working. And so, from being a mere peasant and
stevedore, he became the favorite of the female peddlers of patties,
the shopkeepers and other women of Shikhan. This occupation provided
him with ample supplies of food, vodka, and tobacco, whenever he wanted
them, and he wanted nothing else, and so his days passed.
Women abused each other because of him, fought over him, and bore
tales to husbands of his doings with their wives, which resulted in
unmerciful beatings. Artyom remained perfectly indifferent to all this;
he lay, at full length, like a cat warming himself in the sun, waiting
until he was moved by one of the few desires which he was capable of
As a rule, he chose the hill on which the street abutted for his
couch. Right in front of him lay the river, beyond which he could see
the fields stretching away to the horizon, their smooth green surface
broken here and there by gray patches, which were villages. Down there,
in the midst of that verdant expanse, it was always cool and clear. By
turning his head to the left he could see down the whole length of the
street, overflowing with noisy life. If he looked attentively at this
dark, surging mass, he could distinguish the outlines of well-known
figures, he could hear the street's hungry roar, and possibly a thought
or two may have passed through his mind. Thick, high grasses grew up
all around the spot where he reclined; a few decayed-looking birch
trees stood in solitary wretchedness, with some uprooted elder-bushes.
Here the rowdies came to sleep themselves sober and to play cards, to
patch up their rags, and to rest themselves from work and tavern
Artyom enjoyed no good reputation among them. In the assurance of
his irresistible strength, he was often insolent towards them; and then
he earned his bread with far too little trouble. These things combined
awakened a spirit of envy; what was more, he very seldom shared his
booty with anyone else. Comradeship was not a sentiment highly
developed in him, and he was not fond of the society of his fellow-men.
If anyone came up to him and began to talk, he was quite willing to
answer, but he never was the one to begin a conversation; if money was
begged of him for drink he gave it, but never took the initiative in
standing treat, though among his friends it was the custom to eat and
drink every kopeck's worth in company.
It was there, as he lounged among the bushes, that Artyom received
the messengers of love, who appeared in the guise of a dirty
raggedly-dressed girl from the neighborhood, or of a boy in all
respects equally filthy. They were usually of tender age, from seven to
eight, rarely as old as ten, but they were nevertheless always
profoundly impressed with the importance of their mission; they spoke
in whispers, and there was an air of mystery on their ugly little
"Uncle Artyom, Aunt Marya has told me to let you know that her
husband has gone away, and that you are to hire a boat to take her into
"Oh!" Artyom would drawl, lazily, and a smile would appear in his
sleepy, beautiful eyes.
"You are to be sure and do this."
"Yes, I will come--but tell me now--what is she like--this Aunt
"Why, she is one of the shopkeepers in the town, of course,"
answered the messenger in a tone of reproach.
"Ah, yes! her shop is next the one where they sell old iron."
"No, the one beside that belongs to Anissa Nicolaevna."
"Yes, yes, I know, little brother. I only asked you in fun--as if I
could forget. I know Marya very well."
But the messenger does not feel thoroughly convinced of this, and,
anxious to execute his orders conscientiously, he insists on explaining
further to Artyom:
"Marya is the little red-cheeked woman next to the fish-shop."
"Quite so, the one next to the fish-shop. What a queer little
monkey you are. Did you think I should make a mistake? Well, run and
tell Marya that I am coming. Now be off!"
Then the messenger puts on his most beguiling expression, and says:
"Uncle Artyom, give me a kopeck."
"A kopeck! And suppose I have not got one?" says Artyom, at the
same time plunging his two hands into the pockets of his trousers. He
never fails to find some coin. With a merry laugh, the messenger runs
away at full speed to bring word to the amorous liver-seller that he
has carried out her orders, and to receive his reward. He knows the
value of money, and he has need of it, not only because he is hungry,
but because he smokes cigarettes, drinks brandy, and has also his own
little affairs of the heart. During a day following a scene of this
kind, Artyom is even more inaccessible than usual to all impressions
from the outside world, and even more splendid in the serene strength
of his rare animal beauty.
And so he carried on his surfeited existence, from day to day, in a
state, as it seemed, of almost dreamy unconsciousness, undisturbed by
the jealousy and envious hatred of the men and women around him, whom
he had made his enemies, but, above all, in perfect calmness, for he
knew himself to be under the protection of his own formidable fist.
But in spite of this, at times the brown eyes of the handsome young
man bore a dark, threatening expression, the velvet eyebrows became
contracted, and a deep line furrowed the swarthy forehead.
He would rise and leave his lair to go towards the street. The
nearer he approached its tumult, the rounder became the pupils of his
eyes, and the more frequently delicate nostrils quivered. A yellow vest
of coarse material hung over his left shoulder, the right one was
covered by his shirt, under which could be distinguished his powerful
shoulder. He did not like boots, and always wore bast shoes; the strips
of white linen, neatly wound crossways round his legs in place of
stockings, threw the muscles of his legs into relief. He walked forward
slowly, like a huge threatening cloud.
His habits were well known in the suburb, and everyone could tell
by the look on his face what to expect of him. A murmured warning would
be heard: "Artyom is coming!"
Everyone hastened to clear the way before the handsome youth. The
baskets and goods set out for sale, the portable stoves and the
earthenware pots full of hot meats, are drawn back, while flattering
smiles and greetings are showered upon him--the whole population,
meanwhile, standing in awe of him. Sulky and silent he strides along
amid these mingled signs of admiration for his person and fear of his
strength, like a huge beast of the forest in his wild beauty.
His foot catches in a basket laden with tripe, liver, and lungs,
and the contents are scattered over the muddy pavement. The owner cries
out and curses.
"And why do you get in my way then?" asks Artyom calmly but
"And does the road belong to you, you ox?" howls the huckster.
"And suppose I want to walk here."
The muscles over Artyom's cheek-bones swell, and his eyes look like
white-hot nails. The huckster takes note of these signs and murmurs:
"The street is not wide enough for you then!"
Artyom goes slowly forward. His victim turns into a public-house,
asks for hot water, washes his goods, and five minutes later is heard
crying at the top of his voice:
"Liver! Lungs! Hot heart! Come and buy, sailor! Cut you a slice of
tongue for five kopecks! Have some of this neck, Aunt! Who wants hot
heart? Liver? Lung?"
The indistinct sound of the mingled voices rises and falls in the
thick air laden with the odor of rotten stuff, brandy, sweat, fish,
tar, and onions. The people pass to and fro on the street, hindering
the passage of the vehicles, crying their wares, buying, selling, and
laughing. Above them winds a blue strip of sky, which shows dim behind
the cloud of dust and soot that rises from the street, where even the
shadows of the houses seem damp and saturated with mud.
"Haberdashery! Thread! Needles!" calls the shrill voice of the Jew
as he walks behind Artyom, who is an object of even greater terror to
him than to the others.
"Pear tarts sweet! Buy and eat!" sings out a little pastry-cook
"Onions, green onions!" squeaks another peddler.
"Kvass! Kvass!" croaks a hoarse voice belonging to a fat, little
old man with a red face, seated in the shade of his barrel.
Another man, known by the curious nickname of the Ragged
Bridegroom, is busy selling a shirt, dirty but whole, from his own
back, to one of the dockyard workers, shrieking at him in a tone of
"You blockhead! where would you get such a showpiece as that for
twenty kopecks? Why, with that on your back you could go and ask a rich
merchant's widow in marriage! A woman with millions, you devil!"
Suddenly the universal howling is pierced by the sound of a child's
clear, ringing voice:
"For Christ's sake, give a kopeck to a homeless child who has
neither father nor mother."
The name of Christ sounds strange and alien to the ears of the
crowd assembled in the street.
"Artyusha! Come here!" It is the affable voice of a soldier's grass
widow, the buxom Darya Gromova, who sells meat patties. "Where have you
been hiding? Have you forgotten us?"
"Has business been good?" Artyom asks her, quietly; and with a
touch of his foot he upsets her wares. The yellow, shining patties roll
steaming over the stones of the pavement, and Darya, ready to fight,
"Impudent wretch! Murderer! How can the earth bear you, you camel
Those around her laugh. They know that Artyom will have no
difficulty in obtaining pardon from her. And on he goes again, jostling
everybody out of his way, upsetting some, and treading on the toes of
And ever as he goes, the warning murmur glides along ahead like a
serpent: "Artyom is coming!"
Even he who hears these three words for the first time is aware of
the menace in them and makes room for Artyom, as he gazes with fear and
surprise at the powerful figure of the handsome youth.
Artyom comes across a loafer of his acquaintance. They greet one
another, and Artyom squeezes the hand of his friend in such fashion
that the latter cries out in pain and swears at him. Then Artyom grips
his shoulder with fingers of iron, or invents some other way of hurting
him, and looks quietly at the man as, half suffocated, he shrieks and
groans in the enemy's grasp, and with stifled voice cries:
"Let me go, you cursed hangman!"
But the hangman is as inexorable as a judge.
Cain had often fallen into the rough hands of the giant, who played
with him as an inquisitive child might play with a beetle.
This particular and inexplicable mode of behavior on the part of
the athlete was known in Shikhan as "Artyom's sortie." It earned him
many enemies, but in spite of their efforts, they could not break his
Thus, on one occasion seven husky fellows, with the approval of the
whole neighborhood, agreed to give Artyom a lesson which would keep him
quiet for a while.
Two of the number paid dearly for the affair; the others came off
lightly. On another occasion some shopkeepers, injured husbands, hired
a butcher from the town, known to have come off victorious several
times in matches with circus athletes. The butcher, in return for a
large reward, undertook to beat up Artyom within an inch of his life.
The two men were confronted, and Artyom, who was always ready to fight
"for the pleasure of it," dislocated the butcher's arm, and dealt him
such a blow under the heart that the butcher fell unconscious to the
ground. These deeds of prowess, while they increased Artyom's prestige,
naturally added to the number of his enemies. He continued his
"sorties" as before, crushing all and everything in his path. What
feelings did he thus express? Did the native of the woods and fields,
torn from his natural environment, seek thus perhaps to revenge himself
on the town and its manner of life? Perhaps he had some dim
consciousness that the town was gradually working his destruction, that
body and soul were being inoculated with its poison, and with this
feeling he fought, as his nature prompted him, against the deadly
forces that were enslaving him. His "sorties" came to an end sometimes
at the police station, where he was treated better than the other
inhabitants of Shikhan; the police were astonished at his fabulous
strength and drew amusement from it; they knew he was no thief--he was
not clever enough for that. It happened more often, however, that his
"sortie" being over, he turned into some low dive, and was there taken
under the wing of one of his lady-loves. He fell into moody fits after
these exploits. A certain look of wildness came into his eyes, and the
immobility of his face gave him the appearance of an idiot. Then one of
the shopkeepers, soaked with grease to her marrow, a robust female of
the age celebrated by Balzac, would assume airs of proprietorship over
this untamed beast, and take him under her care, not without a certain
feeling of fear.
"Shall I ask for another two glasses of beer, Artyusha? or a
liqueur? And won't you eat something? You are not up to the mark
"Leave me alone," Artyom would answer in a thick voice. For a few
minutes she would stop fussing over him and then again start plying him
with drinks, for she knew that when sober he was miserly with his
And now, it pleased fate, which is fond of playing tricks, to bring
Cain and Artyom together.
This is how it came to pass.
It was after one of his "sorties," which had been followed by a
heavy feast, that Artyom and his female companion made their way home,
with unsteady steps, to the latter's dwelling, which was situated in a
narrow alley in a lonely suburb. But there an ambush awaited him.
Several men threw themselves upon him and immediately knocked him down.
Weakened by drink, he was unable to defend himself; and then, for
nearly an hour, these men revenged themselves upon him for the
innumerable outrages to which he had subjected them.
Artyom's companion had fled; the night was dark, and the place a
deserted one. His assailants had all the leisure they could desire for
squaring their accounts with Artyom, and they worked without sparing
their strength. When at last, tired out, they ceased, two motionless
bodies were lying on the ground; one was Artyom, the other a man
familiarly known as Red Buck.
After consulting together as to what was the best way of disposing
of the bodies, the men decided that they would hide Artyom in an old
barge which had been damaged by the ice, and was lying keel upwards
beside the river; as to Red Buck, who was still groaning, they
determined to take him along with them.
The pain caused by being dragged towards the shore brought Artyom
to life again, but thinking that the best thing for him was to pretend
to be dead, he stifled the cry which had nearly escaped him. They
jostled him, they hurled invectives at him, and each boasted to the
others of the blows they had inflicted on the athlete. Artyom heard
Mishka Vavilov relating to his comrades how he had kept trying to kick
Artyom under the left shoulderblade, in order to burst his heart.
Sukhopluyev said that he had leveled his blows at the victim's belly,
for if the intestines are once injured, food, however great a quantity
a man may take, ceases to nourish him, and he loses his strength.
Lomakin also had, as he declared, leapt twice onto Artyom's belly. Not
one of them, in short, but what could boast of having distinguished
himself in an equally brilliant manner; their exploits continued to be
the subject of their conversation until they reached the barge, under
which they then pushed Artyom's body. He had missed nothing of their
talk, and he heard his assailants assuring themselves, as they walked
away, that undoubtedly Artyom would never get up again.
And now he was alone in the dark, on a wet heap of refuse cast up
under the barge when the river was in flood. It was a cool night in
May, and at intervals Artyom recovered consciousness, revived by the
freshness of the air. But when he tried to crawl down to the river
overcome by the terrible pain that shot through every fiber of his
body, he swooned afresh. He came to himself again, torn by pain, and
with an agony of thirst upon him. Close at hand he could hear the river
lapping against the shore as if in mockery of his powerlessness to
move. He lay thus the whole night through, fearing to groan or make the
At last, coming to himself once more, he was conscious that
something had been done to him that had brought him relief. He could
with great difficulty open one eye, and just move his torn and swollen
lips. It must be day-time, he thought, for the rays of the sun were
shining through the cracks of the barge, and making a twilight round
him where he lay. He managed to raise his hand to his face, and felt
that it was covered with wet rags. There were wet cloths, too, on his
chest and his abdomen. His clothes had all been taken off, and the cool
air assuaged his sufferings.
"Drink," he said, with a vague sense that there must be someone
near him. A trembling hand was passed over his head, and the neck of a
bottle put to his lips. The hand that held it shook so that the bottle
knocked against Artyom's teeth. Having drunk, Artyom was curious to
know who was there, but he turned so sick with the effort of moving his
head that he was obliged to lie still. Then, in a hoarse voice, he
began to stammer out a few words.
"Brandy--let me have a glass of it to drink--and rub my body with
it--perhaps then I shall be able to get up."
"To get up? You can't get up. Your whole body is as blue and
swollen as that of a drowned man. As to brandy, that is possible--there
is some brandy--I have a whole bottle."
The words were spoken quickly, in a soft timid voice. Artyom
recognized it, but could not remember to what woman it belonged.
"Give me some," he said.
Again someone, who apparently did not wish to be seen, handed him a
bottle over his head. As, with some difficulty, he was swallowing the
brandy, Artyom's eyes wandered round the dark moist bottom of the
barge, which was overgrown with fungi.
When he had drunk about a quarter of the contents of the bottle, he
gave a deep sigh of relief; then in a low, feeble voice, his chest
rattling the while, he said:
"They did nicely for me that time--but wait--I shall get over
it--and then--look out!"
There was no answer, but he detected a slight movement as if
someone was edging away from him, then all was silence; there was only
the lapping of the waves and somebody in the distance was singing
"Dubinushka," to the accompaniment of groans: apparently a heavy load
was being dragged along. Then came, cutting through the air, the shrill
whistle of a steamer, and a few seconds later he heard the melancholy
wail of the siren as if the boat were bidding farewell forever to the
Artyom lay a long time waiting for an answer to his remarks, but
the silence under the barge remained unbroken; the rotten, massive
hull, green with mildew, heaved up and down above his head, looking as
if at any moment it might fall over and mercilessly crush him to death.
Artyom was seized with pity for himself. He was suddenly conscious
of his almost childish helplessness, and at the same time he felt
aggrieved. He, so strong, so handsome, and they had thus maimed and
disfigured him! He raised his weak hands and began to feel the bruises
and swellings on his chest and on his face, and then he began to curse
bitterly and to cry.
He sobbed and sniffled, swore dully, and hardly able to move his
eyelids, he pressed out with them the tears that filled his eyes: they
rolled, large, hot tears, down his cheeks, and fell into his ears, and
he felt as if, thanks to them, something within him was being cleansed.
"Good--wait," he murmured through his sobs.
Then suddenly he heard sobs and stifled murmurs close beside him;
it was as if someone were mimicking him.
"Who is it?" he cried in a threatening tone of voice, although for
some reason or other he felt afraid.
No answer came to his question.
Then gathering all his strength together, Artyom turned on his
side, roared with pain like an animal, raised himself on his elbows,
and was then able to distinguish in the dark a little figure curled up
into a ball on the edge of the barge. It was a man, who pressed his
head against his knees, which he grasped tightly between his long
skinny hands, his shoulders the while trembling violently. To Artyom he
appeared to be a boy in his teens.
"Come here," he said.
But the other did not move; he continued to tremble as if shaken by
A look of pain and horror came into Artyom's eyes at the sight of
this figure, and he howled:
But the only answer was a hasty outpouring of trembling words.
"What harm have I done you? Why do you shout at me? Haven't I
washed you and given you drink? Didn't I give you brandy? Didn't I cry
when you cried? Didn't it hurt me when you were groaning? Oh, my God,
my Lord! Even the good I do brings me nothing but suffering in return.
What evil have I done either to your body or soul? How can I--I, harm
you in any way?"
He broke off sobbing, and said no more.
He was seated on the ground, he took his head in his hands and
began to sway from side to side.
"It's you, then, Cain, is it?"
"Well, what of it? It is I."
"You? So you did all that? Well, well! Come here, then. Come, you
queer creature, you!"
Artyom was quite overwhelmed with surprise, and conscious at the
same time of a feeling very nearly akin to joy. He even began to laugh
when he saw the Jew creeping timidly towards him on all fours, the
little eyes moving restlessly in the funny face that Artyom knew so
"Don't be afraid! I swear I will not touch you." He saw that it was
necessary to reassure the Jew.
Cain crawled up to him, stopped, and looked up with a pleading,
timorous smile, as if he had quite expected to have his fear-shrunken
little body trampled under foot.
"And so it is you, then! You have done all this for me! And who
sent you?Anfissa?" asked Artyom, who could hardly move his tongue.
"I came of my own accord."
"Of your own accord? You lie!"
"I am not lying! I speak the truth!" replied Cain in a rapid
whisper. "It was of my own accord. Please believe me. I will tell you
how it happened. I heard about the affair in Grabilovka. I was drinking
my tea, and I heard them say: 'Last night they did in Artyom.' I did
not believe it. Is it possible to do you in? I laughed to myself. 'What
fools they are,' I thought, 'that man is a Samson, and which of you
could overcome him?' But first one and then another came in repeating
the same thing. 'He's done for now! He's done for now!' They cursed you
and laughed--everyone was pleased--and at last I was obliged to believe
it true. Then I learnt that you were here. Some of them had already
been round to look at you, and reported that you were dead. I came
myself, and saw you.You were groaning as I stood near you. I said to
myself as I looked at you: 'And they have overcome him--the strongest
man in the world!--Such strength, such strength!' I felt pity for
you--forgive me for saying it! I thought your wounds ought to be
washed--and I did it--and the water revived you. I was so delighted to
see this--oh! so delighted. You do not believe me, I know. Why? Because
I am a Jew. Isn't it so? But no, do believe me. I will tell you why I
was so pleased, and all I thought at the time--I will tell you the
truth--you won't get angry with me?"
"See, I make the sign of the cross! May a thunderbolt kill me!"
swore the vanquished Artyom with energy.
Cain drew a little nearer to him and lowered his voice even
"You know what a fine life I lead--you know it, don't you? Haven't
I--forgive me--endured blows from you? Haven't you often laughed at the
dirty Jew? What? Isn't it true? You will forgive me if I speak the
truth, you have sworn to do so. Do not get angry--I only say that you,
like others, have persecuted the Jew. And why? Is not the Jew the son
of your God, and was not my soul given to me by the same God as gave
you yours?" Cain spoke rapidly, putting question after question without
pausing for an answer. Words rose rapidly to his lips, as, with the
remembrance of all the insults and outrages that had been heaped upon
him, his heart all at once overflowed in a burning torrent of speech.
Artyom began to feel ill at ease.
"Listen, Cain," he said, "let all that be! Curse me if I ever touch
you with a finger--and if anyone else harms you, I will tear him to
pieces! Do you understand?"
"Ah!" exclaimed Cain in triumph, and even clicked his tongue.
"There! You are guilty before me--forgive me! Do not get angry, because
of the fact that you know that you are guilty before me. But still I
know, yes, I am certain of it, that you are less guilty than the
others! I understand it! And the others, they do nothing but cover me
with their dirty spit. You spit at me too, but then you also spit at
them. You dealt more cruelly with others than with me, and then I have
thought to myself: 'This strong man insults and beats me, not because I
am a Jew, but because I am like the others, no better than they are,
and because I live among them.' AndI have always loved you, but my love
was mixed with fear. I used to look at you and think that you could
have torn open the lion's mouth and slain the Philistines. I saw you
beating the others, and I admired the way you set about it, and I
wanted to be strong too, but I am only like a flea."
Artyom gave a hoarse laugh.
"True--you are like a flea!"
He did not follow all that Cain was saying, but it was pleasant to
see the Jew's little figure beside him. And as Cain wandered on in his
excited whisper, many thoughts passed slowly through Artyom's mind.
"I wonder what time it is--about midday, I should think. And not
one of them has come to see her sweet-heart. But the Jew--he came--and
he gave me help and says he loves me--and yet I have beaten and
insulted him, how many times! And he praises my strength! Will that
strength return to me? My God, if only it does!"
Artyom heaved a deep sigh. He pictured his enemies after he had
given them a beating, lying swollen as he was now. And they, too, would
be lying helpless somewhere, but it would be their own, their comrades
who would come and look after them, not the Jew.
Artyom looked at Cain, and it seemed to him that his thoughts had
brought a kind of bitterness into his mouth and throat.
He spat, and sighed heavily.
And Cain, his face contorted with excitement, and his whole body
quivering, went on talking:
"And when you criedI cried tooout of pity for your lost strength."
"And I thought someone was mimicking me," said Artyom with a gloomy
"I always loved your strength, and I prayed to God: 'Our God,
eternal in the heavens and on earth, let it come about that this strong
man shall need me! Let me be of service to him, and let his strength
become a protection to me! Let his strength stand between me and the
continual persecution I suffer, and let my enemies perish by that
strength!' That was my prayer, and I went on praying for a long, long
time, asking God to turn my greatest enemy into my protector, as He had
given Mordecai a defender in the person of the king, the conqueror of
the nations. And just then you began to cry, and I cried too, but
suddenly you shouted at me, and all my prayers vanished."
"Well, how should I know, you queer fellow," said Artyom, with a
guilty smile on his face.
But Cain hardly heard his words. He swayed backwards and forwards,
waving his hands, and continued to whisper. It was a low, passionate
whisper, which vibrated with joy and hope, with worship of the strength
of the maimed man, with fear and anguish.
"My day has come at last--and I am here along with you.All of them
have forsaken you--but I--I came.You will get well, Artyom, won't you?
There is nothing seriously the matter with you, is there? And your
strength will come back?"
"I shall be all right again, do not fear!And in return for your
goodness, I will take care of you as I should of a little child."
By degrees Artyom began to feel better; the pains in his head
seemed less severe, and his mind grew clearer. "I must take Cain's
part," he said to himself. "Why not? He is so kind and frank, so
straightforward in his talk." As this thought passed through his mind
he suddenly smiled; he had been conscious for a long time of some vague
longing within him, and now he knew what it was he wanted.
"I am hungry! Can you find me something to eat, Cain?"
Cain leapt up so quickly that he nearly knocked himself against the
beams of the barge. His face was positively transformed. There was upon
it an expression of energy, and at the same time of something na•ve and
childlike. Artyom, this famous athlete, had asked him--Cain--for
something to eat!
"I'll do everything for you, everything. It is all ready here in
the corner. I've prepared it. I knowwhen people are ill they ought to
eat--I know that--and so on my way here I spent a whole ruble on food."
"We will settle our accounts later on. I will pay you back ten
rubles. I shall be able to do it--the money is not mine, but I have
only to say 'Give!' and I get as much as I want."
He laughed good-naturedly, and, hearing him, Cain beamed with
happiness and grew merry himself.
"I know all about it! Now tell me what you want. I will do anything
in the world for you--anything!"
"Good! Well, then, begin by rubbing me down with vodka. Don't give
me any food. First rub me down. Can you do it?"
"Why can't I? You will see, I shall do it as well as the best
"Go ahead! Rub me, and then I shall get up."
"Get up? No, I don't think you will be able to do that."
"You don't think so? Well, wait and see. Do you think I am going to
spend the night here? What a queer little body you are! Give me my
rubbing first, and then go into the suburb to Mokevna, the baker-woman,
and tell her I am moving into her shed, and she should put some straw
down in it. There I shall get well. You shall be well paid for your
pains, have no fear."
"I believe you," replied Cain, pouring some vodka onto Artyom's
chest. "I believe you more than I do myself. Oh, I know you!"
"Oh! Oh! Rub, rub! It doesn't matter that it hurts. Keep on
rubbing. Oh! Oh! Here! Here!There!Oh! Oh!" roared Artyom.
"I would throw myself into the water to please you," said Cain,
continuing his protestations.
"That's right! Now on the shoulder! Harder! Cursed devils! They
gave it to me! And all because of a woman. If there had been no woman,
I should have been sober, and when I am sober just try and touch me."
"Women!" responded Cain, who had now quite taken up his r™le as a
servant, "they are the sin of the world. We Jews--we have even a daily
prayer which runs, 'Blessed be Thou, God eternal, Ruler of the
universe, that Thou didst not create me a woman.' "
"Is that true?" exclaimed Artyom, laughing. "You really have a
prayer like that? What singular people you are! Well, a woman, after
all, what is she? Foolish, no mistake about it, and yet one cannot live
without her--but to pray like that--that's going too far, it is an
insult to her. Do you think that women have no feelings?"
Artyom, huge, helpless, looking more enormous than ever from the
swellings on his body, lay stretched upon the ground, while Cain, frail
and thin, breathless with exertion, rubbed his sides, his chest, and
his stomach, coughing the while from the smell of the vodka. They could
hear the footsteps of people continually passing along beside the
river, and caught scraps of conversation. The barge lay at the bottom
of a sandy ravine that was over seven feet deep. It could only be seen
from above if one stood at the very edge of the ravine. A narrow strip
of sand, covered with splinters of wood and rubbish, separated it from
the river. The place, as a rule, was quite deserted, but today the
barge appeared to be an object of exceptional interest to the
passers-by. Cain and Artyom saw them one after the other walk up to it
and seat themselves on the upturned hull, kicking the sides the while.
Cain grew rather uneasy; he left off talking, and creeping quietly up
to Artyom he said with a frightened, piteous little smile on his face:
"Do you hear that?"
"I hear," said the athlete, laughing contentedly. "I know what they
are up to. They want to find out whether I shall be about again soon;
and why they want to know this, is in order to get their ribs ready.
Ha! Ha! The devils! I suppose they're sorry that I haven't croaked!
Their little piece of work came to nothing after all."
"I tell you what--" Cain whispered in his ear, with a grimace of
terror and warning on his face--"I tell you what, suppose I leave you,
and you remain all alonethen they will come to you andand"
Artyom opened his mouth to give vent to a whole volley of hoarse
"Why, you little imp you! do you imagine for a moment they are
afraid of you? Of you?"
"Ah! But I can serve as a witness."
"They will give you a rap on the head. Ha! Ha! Ha! Then you can go
and bear witness--in the next world."
His laughter drove away Cain's fear. A feeling of delightful
security took possession of his shrunken and depressed heart.
His life henceforth would assume quite another complexion, for
there would be a strong hand to ward off the blows and injustice which
had hitherto been inflicted upon him with impunity.
Nearly a month passed.
One day towards noon, the hour when life in Shikhan grows more
intense and agitated, and reaches the highest pitch of activity, the
hour when the vendors of food are surrounded by a swarm of men just up
from the docks and landing-stages, all with empty stomachs and craving
food, the hour when the whole street is rank with the hot smell of
cooked, spoiled meat, at that hour someone called out in a low voice,
"Artyom is coming!"
Some beggars prowling idly about the street in their rags, on the
lookout for any opportunity that might offer of doing a little
profitable business of some kind, quickly disappeared, no one knew
where. On all sides the inhabitants of Shikhan were seen to turn their
eyes in the direction whence the warning had come, with mingled
expressions of curiosity and uneasiness.
Artyom's advent had been looked forward to with keen expectation
for some time past, and there had been hot discussions as to how he
would first appear on the scene.
As formerly, Artyom took possession of the middle of the road,
walking with his customary slow gait, which was that of a well-fed man
taking a stroll. There was nothing new in his appearance. As usual, his
yellow vest was hanging over his shoulder, his cap stuck on the side of
his head, and his black curls were falling over his forehead. His
right-hand thumb was stuck in his belt, his left hand thrust far down
into his trousers pocket, and his athletic chest thrown out.
Only one change was noticeable, that his handsome face, as is
always the case after an illness, seemed to have gained an expression
of increased intelligence. He strolled along, responding to the
greetings and congratulations with a careless nod of the head.
He was followed by all the eyes in the street, and by low murmurs
of astonishment and admiration at the indestructible strength which had
stood the beating so well. Many of the inhabitants of the suburb spoke
regretfully of Artyom's recovery, and hurled scorn and insult on those
who had failed to injure his lungs and break his ribs. There was no man
alive whom it was impossible to do in! Others, again, took delight in
picturing the way in which Artyom would settle his score with Red Buck
and his gang. But the greater the strength, the greater its power of
fascination, and the majority of his fellow-townsmen were under the
spell of Artyom's strength.
Meanwhile, Artyom had entered Grabilovka, a tavern which was the
club of Shikhan.
There were only a few people in the long, low brick-vaulted room as
his tall, powerful figure crossed the threshold. One or two uttered an
exclamation of surprise at the sight of him. There was a hasty
scuffling of feet, and someone threw himself precipitately into a
distant corner of the cellar-like room, which reeked with the fumes of
bad tobacco, dirt, and damp.
Artyom, without appearing to notice anybody, let his eyes travel
slowly round the room, and in answer to the obsequious greetings of the
tavern-keeper, Savka Khlebnikov, he asked:
"Has Cain been here?"
"He soon will be. He generally comes about this time."
Artyom took his seat near one of the iron-barred windows, ordered
tea, and with his immense hands resting on the table, began to examine
the company with an air of indifference.
There were about ten men in the room, all roughs; they had
congregated together round two tables, and there sat watching Artyom.
As their eyes met his, they all smiled in a constrained sort of way, as
if anxious to secure his favor. They were evidently wishing to enter
into conversation with him, but Artyom gave them only dark and surly
looks in return. So they all held their tongues, unable to make up
their minds who should first address him. Khlebnikov, busy at the bar,
hummed behind his mustache; while his foxy eyes glanced furtively
The stupefying noise from the street penetrated through the window;
abusive language, oaths, and vendors' cries could be heard, together
with nearer sounds of bottles falling and breaking to pieces on the
stones. Artyom began to be bored in this malodorous and airless den.
"You men there," he cried out suddenly in a loud, deliberate voice,
"you wolves, why have you suddenly become so meek?Have you nothing
better to do than stare and keep mum?"
"We would gladly talk, most high and terrible one!" answered the
Ragged Bridegroom, rising and going towards Artyom.
He was a thin, bald-headed man, with a pointed beard and small, red
eyes that had a malicious way of blinking. He wore a canvas blouse and
a pair of soldier's trousers.
"You have been ill, I hear," he said, seating himself opposite to
"And what of that?"
"Nothing.But we have not seen you for a long time.And whenever we
asked after you, we were told: 'Artyom has been pleased to fall ill.' "
"Well, let's proceed. What was the matter with you?"
"You don't know?"
"Was I treating you?"
"You are lying the whole time, you dog," said Artyom, laughing.
"And why do you tell lies? You know well enough what happened."
"Yes, I know," answered the Bridegroom, laughing too.
"Well, then, why do you tell lies?"
"Because it is smarter."
"Smarter! You think so, you candle-end!"
"Yes. If I had spoken the truth, you would probably have been
"I spit on you."
"Thank you! And you don't offer to treat us with a little vodka in
honor of your recovery?"
"Order what you like."
The Ragged Bridegroom ordered half a bottle of vodka, and his
spirits began to rise.
"You've got an easy time of it, Artyom. You are never in want of
"Well, what else?"
"Nothing. It is the women--devil take them--who get you out of
"And they won't even look at you, is that it?"
"What can we do? We haven't the feet to walk your beat," sighed the
"No, it is because a woman likes a healthy man. And what are you? I
am a clean man--there you have it."
This was the tone Artyom had adopted when he conversed with roughs.
His slow, calm, and indifferent manner of speaking added a peculiar
emphasis to his words, which never failed to be rude and wounding.
Possibly he felt that the men of this class were worse than himself in
many ways, but at all times, and as regarded all matters, more
Cain now appeared, carrying his peddler's box on his chest, and
with a yellow cotton dress over his left arm. Unable to throw off his
habitual feeling of fear, he stood a moment on the threshold, craning
his neck, and looking into the room with an uneasy smile, but on
catching sight of Artyom, his face beamed with joy. Artyom looked at
him, and gave him a broad smile.
"Come here and sit with me," he called to Cain; and then, turning
to the Bridegroom, said in a mocking tone of command:
"And you, clear out. Make room for a man."
The Bridegroom's ugly face, with its bristles of red hair, became
for an instant petrified with astonishment and disgust. He rose slowly,
looked towards his comrades, who were not less taken by surprise, then
towards Cain, who was walking noiselessly and cautiously up to the
table; then he suddenly spat upon the floor and exclaimed angrily,
He went slowly and silently back to his own table, and immediately
there arose a muffled murmur of voices, amid which could be clearly
distinguished tones of fury and sarcasm.
Cain continued to smile, in joyful confusion, but at the same time
he shot anxious glances across to where the Bridegroom and his
companions were sitting.
Then Artyom addressed him good-humoredly.
"Well, let's have tea, you merchant. Let us get some patties; will
you eat some? Why do you look that way? Spit at them, don't be afraid.
Wait a moment! I'll read them a lesson."
He rose, threw his waistcoat to the ground with a movement of his
shoulder, and walked up to the table where the malcontents were. Tall
and powerful, his chest thrown out, his shoulders squared for a fight,
he stood before them in all the arrogance of his strength, a mocking
smile on his lips; and they, on their guard, sat in watchful attitudes,
not speaking a word, ready to flee before him.
"Well," said Artyom, "what are you grumbling about?"
He would have liked to say something very strong, but the words
would not come, and he paused.
"Out with it," said the Ragged Bridegroom, with a grimace and a
wave of his hand, "or else you had better leave us in peace and go--I
don't care where, you club of God!"
"Be quiet," commanded Artyom, frowning. "You are angry and put out
because I am the Jew's friend and chased you away; but I tell you all
that the Jew there is a better man than any one of you. He has a
feeling of kindness towards his fellow-men which you have not. He has
been a martyr from the beginning, and now I take him under my
protection; and if one of your lot, it does not matter which, dares to
injure him, let him beware. I'm telling you straight, I will beat him,
I will torture him." His eyes glittered savagely, the veins in his
throat swelled, and his nostrils quivered.
"That some of them got the better of me while I was drunk--that I
care nothing about. They have not lessened my strength, only made my
heart a little harder than it was. But understand, I'll stand up for
Cain, and if anyone insults him with a single word, he will not rise
again after the thrashing I shall give him. Tell this to everybody."
He heaved a profound sigh as if ridding himself of a heavy burden,
and turning his back upon them, returned to his seat.
"Well spoken!" exclaimed the Ragged Bridegroom in a low voice; and
as he saw Artyom take his place opposite Cain, he made a mournful
Cain, pale with emotion, still seated at the table, never took his
eyes off Artyom, and as he gazed, they grew larger and were full of an
"Did you hear that?" Artyom asked him in a stern voice. "You
understand, then, that if anyone touches you, you only have to run and
tell me. I will come and break his bones for him."
The Jew muttered something--he was either praying to God or
thanking the man. The Ragged Bridegroom and his gang whispered
together, and then one by one they went out. The Bridegroom hummed as
he passed in front of Artyom's table:
If I had as much money
As I have wit,
I could drink gaily
And never once quit;
and then looking straight at Artyom, he suddenly wound up his song
with words of his own, making a wry face the while, and beating time
with his foot:
I would buy up all the fools there be
And drown them all in the Black Sea;
and turning quickly to the door, he disappeared.
Artyom swore and looked round the room--only three people were left
in the dim, smoky, ill-smelling place--himself, Cain, and Savka at the
Savka's foxy eyes met Artyom's gloomy look, and his long face
assumed an expression of mawkish piety.
"You have done an excellent and magnificent thing, Artyom
Mikhailovich!" he said, stroking his beard. "You have acted according
to the gospel precepts, quite like the good Samaritan. Cain was covered
with sores--and you turned not away from him."
Artyom took no notice of the words, but he heard their echo, and
this echo, reflected by the vaulted ceiling, went floating through the
foul air, and crawled into his ears. Artyom was silent and kept gently
shaking his head, as if to drive the sound away from him. But the words
still lingered on the air, penetrated his ears, irritating him. A heavy
gloom fell upon him, and some strange weight seemed to crush his heart.
He stared at Cain, who found his tea too hot and was blowing on it
in the saucer. The Jew, bending over the table, drank with avidity,
holding the saucer with trembling hands. Now and again Artyom caught
Cain looking furtively at him, and as the athlete felt the Jew's gaze
upon him, he grew more depressed still. A dull feeling of discontent,
for which he could assign no cause, more and more took possession of
him; a deeper gloom settled in his eyes, and he looked wildly about
him. Unspoken thoughts were turning round and round in his head like
mill-stones. Formerly his thoughts had never troubled him, but they had
come to him during his illness, and he could not shake them off.
The windows resembled those of a prison, being provided with iron
bars, and through them came the deafening noise of the street. Overhead
were the heavy damp stones of the arched vault; the brick floor was
slippery with mud and covered with refuse; and there was the little
scared figure all in rags.He sat, trembled, and said nothing.And out
there in the country it would soon be time for mowing. Already, on the
farther side of the river, in the fields facing the town, the grass
came up to a man's waist, and when a breeze floated over from them, it
carried such tempting odors.
"Why do you never speak, Cain?" asked Artyom, with a look of
annoyance on his face. "Are you still afraid of me? What a man you
Cain lifted his head and started shaking it strangely, showing a
face full of piteous discomfiture.
"And what am I to say? With what tongue can I speak to you?With
this?" And the Jew put out the tip of his tongue and pointed to
it."With this, the same that I use in speaking to everyone else? Ought
I not to be ashamed to speak to you with this tongue? Do you think I do
not understand that you are ashamed to be seated here beside me? What
am I, and what are you? Think of all that, you great-souled
Artyom--you, the equal of Judas Maccabeus! What would you do if you
knew the purpose for which God had created you? Ah, no one knows the
great secrets of the Creator, and no one can guess why life has been
given to him. You cannot imagine during how many days and nights of my
existence I have asked myself: 'Of what good is life to me? Of what use
my soul and mind? What am I to other men? I am but as a spittoon for
their envenomed spit! And what are other men to me?Vermin who wound me,
body and soul, in every possible way.Why am I on earth at all? And why
should I have known nothing but unhappiness? And why is there not a
single ray of light for me?' "
He spoke in a passionate half-whisper, and as usual when the spirit
that had been overwrought with suffering was aroused, his whole face
Artyom did not understand what he was saying, but he heard and saw
that Cain was complaining of something. As a result, Artyom's feeling
of dullness and weariness grew more acute.
"Now, look here! You are at it again!" and he gave an irritable
shake to his head. "I have told you, have I not, that I will protect
Cain laughed quietly and bitterly.
"How will you intercede for me before the face of my God? It is He
who pursues me."
"Of course, I can't go against God," said Artyom, na•vely
acquiescent; and then, in a compassionate tone, he advised the Jew:
"Have patience, there is no way of going against God."
Cain looked at his protector and smiled--it was his turn now to
feel pity. First the strong had pitied the intelligent, and now the
intelligent pitied the strong, and a breath of something passed between
the speakers which drew them a little closer to one another.
"Are you married?" asked Artyom.
"Yes, I have a large family, too large for my feeble strength."
Cain sighed heavily.
"Really!" exclaimed the athlete. It was difficult for him to
picture the woman who could love the Jew, and he looked with renewed
curiosity at this sickly and diminutive, dirty and timid man.
"I have had five children, but only four are left--my little Khaia
was always coughing--and then she died. My God!My Lord!And my wife is
ill too--she keeps on coughing."
"You have a hard time," said Artyom, and he grew thoughtful.
Cain, his head sunk on his breast, also fell into a reverie.
Old-clothesmen were now coming into the tavern. They went up to the
bar, where they entered into a whispered conversation with Savka. The
latter mysteriously communicated something to them, accompanying his
words by significant glances in the direction of Cain and Artyom, which
led his listeners to stare at them also with looks of mingled
astonishment and ridicule. Cain had quickly taken note of these
glances, and he grew alert. But Artyom was looking away again towards
the fields beyond the river. He heard the whistling of the scythe and
the soft rustle made by the grass as it fell.
"You had better go, Artyom; or if you want to stay, I will go. Some
people have come in," whispered Cain, "and they are laughing at you on
"Who is laughing?" roared Artyom, aroused from his dreams, as his
eyes darted fiercely round the room.
But everyone present appeared perfectly serious and absorbed in his
own affairs. Artyom did not catch a single glance turned in his
direction. He frowned sternly, saying to the Jew:
"You are telling lies.There is nothing to complain about.But take
care, that is not playing fair. Wait till you have been ill-treated
before you complain to me. Or perhaps you were testing me? You said it
Cain gave a sickly smile, but said nothing. For some minutes
neither spoke. Then Cain rose, and hanging his box round his neck,
prepared to go. Artyom held out his hand to him.
"You are going? Well, be off, and get on with your trading. I shall
stay on here."
With his two tiny hands Cain shook his protector's immense paw, and
left hurriedly. Having reached the street, he chose a corner where he
could stand and see what was going on around him. It commanded a view
of the tavern door, and he had not to wait long, for Artyom soon
appeared upon the threshold. His eyebrows were knotted, and he had the
look of one who dreads to see something which he wishes to avoid.
He stood examining the groups of men and the passers-by for some
time, then his face recovered its habitual expression of idle
indifference, and he went on through the crowd towards the end of the
street that abutted on the hill; he was evidently on the way to his
Cain followed him with mournful eyes, and then, covering his face
with his hands, he leant his forehead against the iron door of the
storehouse near which he had stationed himself.
Artyom's weighty threat had produced its effect; the people were
afraid, and stopped tormenting the Jew.
Cain became aware that there were now fewer thorns along the path
of suffering he was treading to the grave. Indeed, it was as though
people had ceased to notice his existence. As formerly, he went in and
out among the crowd crying his goods, but nobody now tried to tread
upon his toes, nor did anyone hit him over his thin flanks or spit into
his box. But, on the other hand, formerly he had not been greeted by
looks of such coldness and hostility as now met him on all sides.
Sensitive to everything that related to him, he became conscious of
this altered attitude towards him, and asked himself what it could
mean, and what it portended. He thought over the matter a great deal,
but failed to understand why he was so treated. And then, again, he
remembered that formerly, although on very rare occasions, someone
would exchange a friendly word with him, and ask him how he was getting
on, and sometimes even joke with him without any unkind intention.Cain
grew very thoughtful. For it is invariably the case that men love to
recall the least particle of happiness they may have had in the past,
although at the time it was hardly noticeable.
And so he became very pensive, listening with attentive ears and
watching with vigilant eyes. One day he got wind of a new song composed
by the Ragged Bridegroom, the troubadour of the street. This man earned
his living by music and song; eight wooden soup-spoons served him for
an instrument; he held them between his fingers, struck them together,
or else executed roulades on his chest or on his inflated cheeks, thus
obtaining all the accompaniment he needed for the jingles that he
himself composed. If the music was scarcely pleasing, it nevertheless
demanded a conjurer's deftness on the part of the performer, and skill
of any kind was held in high estimation by the inhabitants of the
On one occasion Cain happened to come across a group of men
assembled round the Bridegroom, who, armed with his spoons, was
addressing them in a lively style:
"Honored sirs! Convicts to me! Here is a new song from me; you will
get it steaming hot from the pot! I charge a kopeck a head; those who
have mugs will pay two instead! I begin:
When the sun comes in at the window
Folks are glad.
But if I who let myself in
"We all know that old song!" called out one of the crowd.
"No doubt you have heard it before, but I don't give the patty
gratis before the bread," was Bridegroom's answer, as he clacked his
spoons one against the other and then went on singing:
My life is bitter, I've had no luck,
My dad and my brother had to choke,
But when they tried to string me up,
It wasn't my neck, but the cord that broke.
"That was a pity!" the public declared.
But people threw the Bridegroom their kopecks, for they knew him to
be a conscientious man, and that if he had promised them a new song, he
would not fail to produce it.
"Here is a new one," he said, and there was a brilliant outburst of
An ox made friends with a spider,
A Jew made friends with a fool.
The ox trots the spider on his tail,
The Jew sells the fool to the girls.
"Stop! Mister Cain, our greetings! May you have many beatings. Have
you deigned, Mister Merchant, to listen to my song? It is not for your
ears.Pass on, if you please!"
Cain smiled at the artist, and went on his way sighing, his heart
oppressed with a presentiment of evil.
He prized these days, and he feared for them. Every morning he
appeared on the street, sure that no one would dare to rob him of his
kopecks. His eyes had grown a little brighter and less restless. He saw
Artyom every day, but he did not go near the athlete unless the latter
spoke to him.
Artyom did not often notice him; when he did, it was always to ask
him how he was getting on.
"Oh! I am getting on, thanks to you," Cain would answer, his eyes
sparkling with joy.
"They don't touch you?"
"As if they would dare, knowing that you are my protector!" the Jew
"That's all right! But mind, if anything happens, tell me."
And then Artyom would look sullenly at the little figure of the
Jew, and give him his dismissal.
"Now go--and look after your business."
And Cain would walk quickly away, catching sight, as he passed
along, of the mocking and malicious glances of the onlookers, which had
not ceased to fill him with alarm.
Things went on like this for another month. And then one evening,
as Cain was preparing to return home, he met Artyom. The handsome giant
nodding to him, beckoned him with his finger. Cain ran up to him; he
saw that Artyom was in a morose and gloomy frame of mind, looking like
an autumnal cloud.
"You have finished your day's work?" he asked.
"Yes, I was just going home."
"Wait. Come with me a little way. I have something to say to you,"
said Artyom in a smothered voice.
Huge and heavy, he began walking on in front, while Cain followed
at his heels.
They left the street, and took the path that led to the river, and
Artyom soon found a suitable spot at the bottom of the ravine, close to
the water's edge.
"Sit down," he said to Cain.
The Jew sat down, casting a sidelong, timid glance towards his
protector. Artyom lowered himself to the ground, and then began slowly
rolling a cigarette, while Cain looked first at the sky, and then at
the forest of masts on the farther side of the river, and at the quiet
waves, which seemed almost as if petrified amid the evening silence;
and all the while he was wondering what Artyom could have to say to
"Well," said Artyom, "you're getting on?"
"Oh, yes, all goes well. I am not afraid of anything now."
"That's as it should be."
"I have you to thank for it."
"Wait!" said Artyom.
But a long time elapsed before he spoke; he sat puffing at his
cigarette and breathing hard, while the Jew, full of cruel
presentiments, sat waiting his words.
"And so they have left off hurting and insulting you?"
"Yes, they are afraid of you. They are like so many dogs, while
you--you are like a lion. And I, now--"
"What is it? What have you got to say to me?" asked Cain,
"What have I got to say to you? It is not so simple."
"What is it, then?"
"Well, let us speak openly--say all that there is to be said--and
get it over."
"Get what over?"
"I must tell you that I can no longer--"
"What is it that you can no longer? How?"
"I cannot go on with it. It disgusts me. It is not the right kind
of thing for me," said Artyom, sighing.
"But I do not understand. What thing?"
"The whole business--you, and everything. I do not wish to know you
any longer, simply because--it doesn't do for me."
Cain shrank back as if someone had struck him.
"And if anyone harms you, do not come and complain to me. I cannot
help you any longer. You must not look upon me in future as your
protector. Do you understand? I can't do it."
Cain sat silent as death.
Having thus spoken, Artyom gave a sigh of relief; then he continued
to speak more clearly and connectedly:
"You took pity on me then; I can pay you for that. How much do you
want? Tell me, and you will get it. But I can't be sorry for you. It
isn't in me. I have tried all along to believe that I pitied you, but
it was just pretense. I said to myself: 'I am sorry for him,' but it
was a lie. There is no feeling of pity in me."
"Is it because I am a Jew?" Cain asked him gently. Artyom looked
sideways at him, and answered simply, with one of those speeches which
come direct from the heart:
"What's a Jew? Why, we are all Jews in the Lord's sight."
"Then why is it?" asked Cain quietly.
"Because I can't. Understand? I have no pity for you--or for
anyone. Try to understand this. I wouldn't have said this to another. I
would just have knocked him on the noodle.But I am saying it to you."
" 'Who will rise up to defend me from the wicked ones? Who will
deliver me from mine enemies?' " asked the Jew, in a sad, low voice,
quoting the Psalmist's words.
"Ican't," Artyom replied, shaking his head. "It isn't because they
laugh. I don't care a rap, let them laugh.But I'm not sorry for you.But
in return for what you did for me, I should like to give you some
And Cain, bent double in anguish, cried out in imploring accents:
"Oh! Almighty God! Oh! Eternal One! God of vengeance! Arise, and
let Thy light go forth, O Judge of the earth!"
The summer evening was warm and peaceful. The soft, sad rays of the
setting sun were reflected in the river; the shadow from the gorge fell
over Artyom and Cain.
"Think for a moment," began Artyom again, in a melancholy and
persuasive voice, "what a task I have before me. You don't understand
this! But I--I must revenge myself. They beat me up without mercy--you
He grew agitated and ground his teeth together; then he lay back on
the sand, his feet stretched out towards the water, his hands clasped
behind his head.
"I have found out the names of all of them."
"All of them?" asked Cain, in a dejected voice.
"All. Now I am going to begin to settle accounts with them. And you
are in my way."
"How can I be in your way?" exclaimed the Jew.
"It is not that you are in my way, butit's like this: I am bitter
against everybody. Am I worse than they are? That's what it is.Well,
then, I don't need you now. Do you understand?"
"No," answered Cain meekly, shaking his head.
"You don't understand? You really are too queer. One should be
sorry for you, isn't that so? Well, I can't be sorry for anybody now. I
haven't any pity for anyone," and poking the Jew in the ribs, he added:
"I haven't any! Understand?"
There was a long silence. The murmur of the splashing waters
floated towards the two men through the warm and scented air; it seemed
like the distant sighing and moaning of the dark, sleeping river.
"What is to become of me now?" asked Cain at last; but he received
no response, for Artyom had dozed off or, perhaps, had fallen into a
"How am I to live without you?" continued the Jew in a louder
voice. Artyom, gazing up at the sky, made answer:
"It is for you to decide what you will do."
"My God, my God!"
"One cannot tell other people offhand how to live," Artyom said,
Having said everything he had to say, all at once he grew serene
"I knew it would end like this. I knew it when I first went to help
you, when you were lying nearly dead. I knew that you could not
continue to be my protector for any length of time."
He threw a supplicating look towards Artyom, but the latter was
lying with his eyes closed.
"Perhaps you are doing this because they laugh at you on my
account?" Cain put his question cautiously, and almost in a whisper.
"They? What do I care about them?" Artyom smiled, opening his eyes.
"If I had wished to do so, I would have carried you through the streets
on my shoulders. Let them laugh.But all this leads to nothing. One must
act according to one's true feelings, according to the dictates of
one's own soul. What's not there, just isn't. And I, brother, I
confess--it disgusts me that you are as you are! And that is the whole
"Ah! That's true! What about me, now? Shall I go?"
"Yes, go while it is still daylight--no one will touch you for the
moment. No one has overheard our conversation."
"No! And you will say nothing about it to anyone?" asked Cain.
"Of course not! But remember not to come near me too often."
"Very well!" The Jew agreed quietly and mournfully, and rose to his
"If you take my advice, you will go away from here altogether, and
carry on your trade elsewhere," said Artyom, in a nonchalant tone of
voice. "Life is very hard here, and everyone is trying to injure his
neighbor in some way or other."
"But where can I go?"
"That's for you to find out."
And without rising, Artyom stretched out his large hand, and
squeezed the skinny fingers of the Jew.
"Good-by, don't feel hurt."
"I won't," sighed the Jew, dejectedly.
"Good, then! it will be much better so: when you have time to think
it over, you will see that I am right. You are not my equal, and you
can be no companion to me. Am I to live only for you? It won't do!"
Cain went off, walking beside the river with stooping shoulders and
Artyom looked after him for a few seconds, and then, resuming his
former attitude, he lay face upwards, while the sky above him grew dark
with approaching night.
Curious sounds came and went in the still air. There was the
regular splash of the river breaking against the shore.
Cain turned back, went up to the massive figure stretched upon the
sand, and standing beside him, said in a low, deferential voice:
"Perhaps you have changed your mind?"
But Artyom remained silent.
"Artyom," Cain called again, and waited patiently for a reply.
"Artyom, perhaps you only said all that to me in jest?" said Cain,
again, in a trembling voice. "Artyom, remember that night--when I came
and looked after you. No one came but me."
The only answer was a faint snore.
Cain remained for a long time standing over the athlete, staring at
his vapidly handsome face, softened by sleep. The powerful chest rose
and fell at regular intervals, and the black mustache, as it was parted
by his breath, displayed the man's strong shining teeth. He seemed to
With a profound sigh, and bending his head yet lower, the Jew once
more turned and began walking along the river. He advanced cautiously;
life was now full of terror for him, and he trembled; where the path
was lit by the moon he walked more slowly, gliding swiftly along when
he came to the darker stretches.
He was like a mouse, like a small, cowardly animal, returning to
its hole, amidst many dangers threatening him on all sides. Night had
already fallen, and the shore lay deserted.
1 Promzino, a village in the province of Simbirsk, which supplies
the best, i.e., the strongest, stevedores employed on the Volga.