The Servant by
S. T. Semyonov
Gerasim returned to Moscow just at a time when it was hardest to find
work, a short while before Christmas, when a man sticks even to a poor
job in the expectation of a present. For three weeks the peasant lad
had been going about in vain seeking a position.
He stayed with relatives and friends from his village, and although he
had not yet suffered great want, it disheartened him that he, a strong
young man, should go without work.
Gerasim had lived in Moscow from early boyhood. When still a mere
child, he had gone to work in a brewery as bottle-washer, and later as
a lower servant in a house. In the last two years he had been in a
merchant's employ, and would still have held that position, had he not
been summoned back to his village for military duty. However, he had
not been drafted. It seemed dull to him in the village, he was not
used to the country life, so he decided he would rather count the
stones in Moscow than stay there.
Every minute it was getting to be more and more irk-some for him to be
tramping the streets in idleness. Not a stone did he leave unturned in
his efforts to secure any sort of work. He plagued all of his
acquaintances, he even held up people on the street and asked them if
they knew of a situation—all in vain.
Finally Gerasim could no longer bear being a burden on his people.
Some of them were annoyed by his coming to them; and others had
suffered unpleasantness from their masters on his account. He was
altogether at a loss what to do. Sometimes he would go a whole day
One day Gerasim betook himself to a friend from his village, who lived
at the extreme outer edge of Moscow, near Sokolnik. The man was
coachman to a merchant by the name of Sharov, in whose service he had
been for many years. He had ingratiated himself with his master, so
that Sharov trusted him absolutely and gave every sign of holding him
in high favour. It was the man's glib tongue, chiefly, that had gained
him his master's confidence. He told on all the servants, and Sharov
valued him for it.
Gerasim approached and greeted him. The coachman gave his guest a
proper reception, served him with tea and something to eat, and asked
him how he was doing.
"Very badly, Yegor Danilych," said Gerasim. "I've been without a job
"Didn't you ask your old employer to take you back?"
"He wouldn't take you again?"
"The position was filled already."
"That's it. That's the way you young fellows are. You serve your
employers so-so, and when you leave your jobs, you usually have
muddied up the way back to them. You ought to serve your masters so
that they will think a lot of you, and when you come again, they will
not refuse you, but rather dismiss the man who has taken your place."
"How can a man do that? In these days there aren't any employers like
that, and we aren't exactly angels, either."
"What's the use of wasting words? I just want to tell you about
myself. If for some reason or other I should ever have to leave this
place and go home, not only would Mr. Sharov, if I came back, take me
on again without a word, but he would be glad to, too."
Gerasim sat there downcast. He saw his friend was boasting, and it
occurred to him to gratify him.
"I know it," he said. "But it's hard to find men like you, Yegor
Danilych. If you were a poor worker, your master would not have kept
you twelve years."
Yegor smiled. He liked the praise.
"That's it," he said. "If you were to live and serve as I do, you
wouldn't be out of work for months and months."
Gerasim made no reply.
Yegor was summoned to his master.
"Wait a moment," he said to Gerasim. "I'll be right back."
Yegor came back and reported that inside of half an hour he would have
to have the horses harnessed, ready to drive his master to town. He
lighted his pipe and took several turns in the room. Then he came to a
halt in front of Gerasim.
"Listen, my boy," he said, "if you want, I'll ask my master to take
you as a servant here."
"Does he need a man?"
"We have one, but he's not much good. He's getting old, and it's very
hard for him to do the work. It's lucky for us that the neighbourhood
isn't a lively one and the police don't make a fuss about things being
kept just so, else the old man couldn't manage to keep the place clean
enough for them."
"Oh, if you can, then please do say a word for me, Yegor Danilych.
I'll pray for you all my life. I can't stand being without work any
"All right, I'll speak for you. Come again to-morrow, and in the
meantime take this ten-kopek piece. It may come in handy."
"Thanks, Yegor Danilych. Then you will try for me? Please do me the
"All right. I'll try for you."
Gerasim left, and Yegor harnessed up his horses. Then he put on his
coachman's habit, and drove up to the front door. Mr. Sharov stepped
out of the house, seated himself in the sleigh, and the horses
galloped off. He attended to his business in town and returned home.
Yegor, observing that his master was in a good humour, said to him:
"Yegor Fiodorych, I have a favour to ask of you."
"What is it?"
"There's a young man from my village here, a good boy He's without a
"Wouldn't you take him?"
"What do I want him for?"
"Use him as man of all work round the place."
"How about Polikarpych?"
"What good is he? It's about time you dismissed him."
"That wouldn't be fair. He has been with me so many years. I can't let
him go just so, without any cause."
"Supposing he has worked for you for years. He didn't work for
nothing. He got paid for it. He's certainly saved up a few dollars for
his old age."
"Saved up! How could he? From what? He's not alone in the world. He
has a wife to support, and she has to eat and drink also."
"His wife earns money, too, at day's work as charwoman."
"A lot she could have made! Enough for kvas."
"Why should you care about Polikarpych and his wife? To tell you the
truth, he's a very poor servant. Why should you throw your money away
on him? He never shovels the snow away on time, or does anything
right. And when it comes his turn to be night watchman, he slips away
at least ten times a night. It's too cold for him. You'll see, some
day, because of him, you will have trouble with the police. The
quarterly inspector will descend on us, and it won't be so agreeable
for you to be responsible for Polikarpych."
"Still, it's pretty rough. He's been with me fifteen years. And to
treat him that way in his old age—it would be a sin."
"A sin! Why, what harm would you be doing him? He won't starve. He'll
go to the almshouse. It will be better for him, too, to be quiet in
his old age."
"All right," he said finally. "Bring your friend here. I'll see what I
"Do take him, sir. I'm so sorry for him. He's a good boy, and he's
been without work for such a long time. I know he'll do his work well
and serve you faithfully. On account of having to report for military
duty, he lost his last position. If it hadn't been for that, his
master would never have let him go."
The next evening Gerasim came again and asked:
"Well, could you do anything for me?"
"Something, I believe. First let's have some tea. Then we'll go see my
Even tea had no allurements for Gerasim. He was eager for a decision;
but under the compulsion of politeness to his host, he gulped down two
glasses of tea, and then they betook themselves to Sharov.
Sharov asked Gerasim where he had lived before end what work he could
do. Then he told him he was prepared to engage him as man of all work,
and he should come back the next day ready to take the place.
Gerasim was fairly stunned by the great stroke of fortune. So
overwhelming was his joy that his legs would scarcely carry him. He
went to the coachman's room, and Yegor said to him:
"Well, my lad, see to it that you do your work right, so that I shan't
have to be ashamed of you. You know what masters are like. If you go
wrong once, they'll be at you forever after with their fault-finding,
and never give you peace."
"Don't worry about that, Yegor Danilych."
Gerasim took leave, crossing the yard to go out by the gate.
Polikarpych's rooms gave on the yard, and a broad beam of light from
the window fell across Gerasim's way. He was curio as to get a glimpse
of his future home, but the panes were all frosted over, and it was
impossible to peep through. However, he could hear what the people
inside were saying.
"What will we do now?" was said in a woman's voice.
"I don't know, I don't know," a man, undoubtedly Polikarpych, replied.
"Go begging, I suppose."
"That's all we can do. There's nothing else left," said the woman.
"Oh, we poor people, what a miserable life we lead. We work and work
from early morning till late at night, day after day, and when we get
old, then it's, 'Away with you!'"
"What can we do? Our master is not one of us. It wouldn't be worth the
while to say much to him about it. He cares only for his own
"All the masters are so mean. They don't think of any one but
themselves. It doesn't occur to them that we work for them honestly
and faithfully for years, and use up our best strength in their
service. They're afraid to keep us a year longer, even though we've
got all the strength we need to do their work. If we weren't strong
enough, we'd go of our own accord."
"The master's not so much to blame as his coachman. Yegor Danilych
wants to get a good position for his friend."
"Yes, he's a serpent. He knows how to wag his tongue. You wait, you
foul-mouthed beast, I'll get even with you. I'll go straight to the
master and tell him how the fellow deceives him, how he steals the hay
and fodder. I'll put it down in writing, and he can convince himself
how the fellow lies about us all."
"Don't, old woman. Don't sin."
"Sin? Isn't what I said all true? I know to a dot what I'm saying, and
I mean to tell it straight out to the master. He should see with his
own eyes. Why not? What can we do now anyhow? Where shall we go? He's
ruined us, ruined us."
The old woman burst out sobbing.
Gerasim heard all that, and it stabbed him like a dagger. He realised
what misfortune he would be bringing the old people, and it made him
sick at heart. He stood there a long while, saddened, lost in thought,
then he turned and went back into the coachman's room.
"Ah, you forgot something?"
"No, Yegor Danilych." Gerasim stammered out, "I've come—listen—I
want to thank you ever and ever so much—for the way you received
me—and—and all the trouble you took for me—but—I can't take the
"What! What does that mean?"
"Nothing. I don't want the place. I will look for another one for
Yegor flew into a rage.
"Did you mean to make a fool of me, did you, you idiot? You come here
so meek—'Try for me, do try for me'—and then you refuse to take the
place. You rascal, you have disgraced me!"
Gerasim found nothing to say in reply. He reddened, and lowered his
eyes. Yegor turned his back scornfully and said nothing more.
Then Gerasim quietly picked up his cap and left the coachman's room.
He crossed the yard rapidly, went out by the gate, and hurried off
down the street. He felt happy and lighthearted.