Storyteller Maxim tells us about his meeting with a certain Konovalov, and the reason for the story was a newspaper article stating that the philistine of the city of Murom, Alexander Ivanovich Konovalov, who had been arrested for vagrancy, hanged himself in a prison cell because of melancholy. Maxim his story decided to clarify somewhat more clearly the reason for the suicide of this “glorious little” …
Maxim was eighteen when he met Konovalov. Then Maxim lived in a small Privolzhsky city and worked as an assistant baker, a soldier from the “musical team” and a drunken drunkard. When the owner of the bakery made him suggestions for spoiled or delayed pastries, he scolded the owner and always pointed to his musical talent: “I’m a musician!”
And so the soldier drank, the owner gnashed his teeth, and Maxim had to work for two. But one day the owner calculated the same soldier, but with such a recommendation that he hardly would have found any work in this city. In his place the owner took his former assistant, a skilful baker, but also a drunkard. True, unlike a soldier, he drank with drinking-bouts: he worked for three or four months as a bear, worked and sang… And then he decided to drink and drink until he got sick or got drunk on the nail…
The new baker, whom the owner introduced as Sasha Konovalov, was a tall, broad-shouldered man of about thirty. By appearance – a typical tramp, in the face – a real Slav. His light brown hair was tangled, his brown beard curled his chest like a fan. Oblong, pale, exhausted face was illuminated by large blue gentle eyes. His beautiful lips smiled slightly guilty under his fair mustache. His hand, stretched out for a handshake, was long, with a broad brush.
The owner, after presenting the new baker, left, and Maxim and Konovalov
Then they returned to the bakery and started to work. Having hung up one mountain of dough, kneading the other, they sat down to drink tea, and Konovalov suddenly asked: “Do you know how to read?” Read the letter, “and handed Maxim a crumpled sheet of paper-a letter. It was a letter from Capitolina, a former merchant’s daughter, and now a prostitute, with whom Konovalov had a relationship and promised to marry her, but he did not keep his promise: he drank and suddenly found himself in Astrakhan. At the request of Konovalov, Maxim wrote a reciprocal touching message. The message to Konovalov was not pleasant, and Maxim had to rewrite, letting a tear into the letter. Konovalov approved the letter, but later admitted in a conversation that he would not marry Kapitolin, although he would send money for her to “switch off” from a brothel.
Konovalov generally had many women, many different specialties and jobs, he could live well, even securely. But only occasionally she suddenly found such a longing for him, “that at that time one can not live at all.” As if he were one person in the whole world. And now with this anguish, from this “planet” or “illness” Konovalov began to drink. With the same anguish he left Vera, the owner of the circus, to whom he was strongly attached. Vera often read different stories to Konovalov out loud, and at parting, she bit him by the hand, that there was a scar.
Maxim usually did not really believe such stories: every tramp has a mythical “merchant” or “lady” in the past. But in Konovalov’s story of Vera there was something truthful, unusual, at last his sad and soft tone when remembering the “merchant” – the tone is exceptional. A true tramp likes to show that for him on earth there is no such thing that he would not dare to scold.
“You believe me…” Konovalov finished his story. – Although our brother is a tramp fairy tale telling a master. But if a person does not have anything good in life, he will not hurt if he himself invents a fairy tale for himself… Without love, one can not live a person: then the soul is given to him so that he can love…
A week later, Maxim and Konovalov were already friends. Konovalov worked artistically. It was necessary to see how he managed with the test, rolling it with mighty hands. He could bake three ovens and none of the one hundred and twenty lush, rosy caravans had an “affix”. He loved to work, was fond of business, was discouraged when the oven baked badly or the dough slowly rose, and was childishly cheerful and pleased if the breads went out properly round, high, with a crispy crust. It was nice to look at this gigantic child who put his whole soul into work – as this should be done to every person in any work…
One day Maxim asked Konovalov to sing. Konovalov refused, said that when he got sick, then he would start singing; and if he just sings, he’ll get sick, and then he’ll get stoned. And it’s better not to sing with him, not to tease him. Maxim agreed, but sometimes whistled or hummed to himself, and then Konovalov cut him off…
One day Maxim took out a book and, sitting down at the window, began to read. Konovalov asked him to read it aloud. Maxim read, and sometimes through the book looked into Konovalov’s face and met with his eyes – wide open, tense, full of deep attention. Maxim tried to read as clearly as possible and more imaginative, but soon he was tired and closed the book. Konovalov begged him to read to the end. Maxim read, Konovalov listened attentively and eagerly when they broke off to work, then they worked with feverish speed and almost silently to get back to reading faster. By morning Maxim finished his book. Konovalov sat on a sack of flour and looked at Maxim with strange eyes: “Who wrote this? Did they give him a reward or whatever?” When Maxim explained that nothing had been given, Konovalov sighed sadly:
“How wise it all is!” A man wrote a book… Wrote and… died. And the book is left, and it is read. A writer without a reward died.
Maxim got angry with Kononov’s incomprehensibility and told about the fatal role of the pub in the life of the Russian writer, than he shocked naive Konovalov:
– Do such people drink? What do they… after they write books, drink? Of course after. They live, they look into life, absorb the grief of others. They must have eyes. special… And the heart too… Look at life and grieve… And pour sadness into books… This does not help, because the heart is touched… It remains – with vodka to pour it… For this it follows they are different because they understand more than others and point to disorders. Here I am, for example, – a tramp, a drunkard and a touched man. Why do I live on earth and to whom do I need it? No corner of her, no wife, no children, and there is no such thing as hunting. I live, long for… Why? Unknown. I do not have an inner path… I do not have a hard time in my soul… strength, or what? I’m looking for this spark and yearning for it, and what it is is unknown… Now if any writer looked at me,
Maxim thought that he himself was able to explain to him his life. He heatedly began to prove that Konovalov was not to blame for what he was. He is a sad victim of conditions, a being that is equal in rights, historical injustice reduced to the degree of social zero. Konovalov, listening to this, was silent, and a good, bright smile arose in his eyes:
“How are you, brother, easy to tell!” How do you know all these things? For the first time I have such a speech. Everybody blames each other, and you – all your life. It turns out, in your opinion, that a person is not guilty of anything, and it is written to him on the line to be a tramp – that’s why he is a tramp. How pitifully all this is with you! You are weak, evidently, with your heart! … But here I am – a special article… Who is to blame, what do I drink? Pavel, my brother, does not drink – he has his own bakery in Perm. And here I work better than him – but a tramp and a drunkard. And after all we one mother children! It turns out – in me there is something wrong… And I’m not alone – many of us like that. We will be special people… we are not included in any order. We need a special account… and special laws… very strict laws – to root us out of life! Therefore, there is no use for us, but we occupy a place in it and we stand with others on the path… We ourselves are to blame for ourselves…
Maxim was stunned by such self-abasement, unprecedented in the footman, in the mass of his being, from all that was torn off, hostile to everything and ready to try the power of his embittered skepticism. But the more persistent Maxim tried to prove to Konovalov that he was a “victim of the environment,” the more persistently Konovalov convicted Maxim of his guilt to himself for his share. It was original, but it infuriated Maxim. And Konovalov felt pleasure whipping himself… And the heated argument did not lead to anything, everyone remained at his own opinion.
The next morning Konovalov again asked to read aloud, and then promised to give Maxim half of his salary, so that he bought books. Maxim began to read “Stunt Razin’s Riot” Kostomarov. At first Konovalov did not like the book, but as Stepan Razin’s figure was becoming clearer, Konovalov was reborn. Now his eyes burned greedily and severely from under his brow-brow; everything soft and childish disappeared in him, something lion and fire appeared in him. One could have thought that Konovalov, and not Frolka, Razin’s brother, was so piercingly worried about Stenkin’s anguish and resentment of captivity. When the story reached the torture scene of Razin, Konovalov cried, and since he was ashamed of tears, he somehow growled so as not to cry. He was particularly impressed by the scene when Stenka gritted his teeth so hard that he spat them out with blood, to the floor…
And he spent the whole day at Maxim and Konovalov in a strange fog: they all talked about Razin, remembered his life, songs about him, tortures. They have become even closer from this day…
Maxim then read Konovalov several times, “Riot Stenka Razin”, then “Taras Bulba”, “Poor People”. Taras also liked Konovalov very much, but he could not obscure Kostomarov’s book. “Poor people” Konovalov did not understand, he rejected and Pugacheva: “Ah, the stigma of stigma, – you are! You have covered yourself with a royal name and are troubled…”
He generally did not understand the time, and in his view all the heroes he loved were together. When Maxim explained this question, Konovalov was truly upset.
On holidays, Maxim and Konovalov went to the river, to the meadows. They took a little vodka, bread, a book and went out in the morning “to free air,” as Konovalov called these excursions. They especially liked being in the “glass factory”. So for some reason, it was called a dilapidated building, standing near the city. Greenish gray, as if lowered, it looked at the city with the dark hollows of the windows and seemed to be crippled, offended by fate, perhaps because it gave shelter to various dark and homeless people. Maxim and Konovalov were there welcome guests, because they brought “bread to the glass people”, as Konovalov called them, bread, vodka and “hot” – liver, heart, scar.
“Glass people” paid for food with stories in which a terrible, terrific soul was fantastically mistaken for the most naive lie. Maxim often read them different books, and almost always they listened attentively and thoughtfully to reading. And Maxim listened to their stories as carefully, and Konovalov listened to again resume the previous argument:
“You’re not right about reasoning… you tell me that you have to understand that your whole life was not you, but the sharbers did.” And where were you at this time? We ourselves must build life! And how do we build it, if we do not know how and our life failed? And it turns out that all the support – it’s us! Well, we know that this is us…
They objected to him, but Konovalov insisted on repeating his words. Often, such disputes started at noon, ended around midnight, and Maxim and Konovalov returned from the “glass people” in the darkness and knee-deep in the mud.
When I did not want to philosophize, they went to meadows, to small lakes, lit a fire, read a book or talked about life. And sometimes they looked up into the sky… Konovalov loved nature with deep, wordless love, he was always imbued with some kind of peace-loving mood, which further increased his resemblance to the child.
Two months have passed. Maxim talked a lot with Konovalov, read a lot. “Stunt Razin’s revolt” he read so often that he almost knew by heart. But Kapitolina, whose letter Maxim read the first day of his acquaintance with Konovalov, was hardly mentioned during all this time. Konovalov, as promised, sent her money, but there was no answer.
And one evening a round-faced pretty woman in a white kerchief entered the bakery and asked “Konovalov’s baker”. Konovalov suddenly and very noisily rejoiced at her, approached, hugged, and then led the visitor from the bakery… Maxim remained alone and did not expect Konovalov before the morning, but, to his great amazement, about three hours later he appeared sour, boring and weary:
– Here it is, Capitolina, which line is bent: “I want, he says, with you to live like a wife.” And I have booze, I’m a tramp, I can not live in one place… And she began to threaten, then swear, and then cry… Well, what now with her? Go to her, tell her…
And he spread his hands with such perplexity and fright that it was clear that he had nowhere to put off his wife! In it, apparently, the instinct of the vagabond began to speak, the feeling of an eternal desire for freedom, to which an attempt was made:
– Maksim! Aida to the Kuban?! he suddenly suggested.
This Maxim did not expect. He had great “literary and pedagogical intentions” in relation to Konovalov. Konovalov himself gave his word all summer not to move, and suddenly…
Maxim began to explain to Konovalov how to deal with Kapitolina. And late at night a huge cobblestone suddenly broke the glass of the bakery – it was Capitolina in the company of some drunken peasant. Capitolina, too, was drunk, disheveled, her white handkerchief was knocked aside, the bosom of the bodice torn. She swung, scolded foully, hysterically squealing:
“Sasha, you’ve ruined me… Damn you!” You laughed at me! … Sasha, can you kill me? Utopi me!
Then the whistle of the night watchman intervened, and Capitolina and her gentleman were taken to the police station.
Suppressed by this scene, Maxim and Konovalov for a long time could not come to their senses. Konovalov was scared and ashamed: “Tell me, what happened?” he asked.
And Maxim said that you need to understand what you want to do, and in the beginning of the case you need to imagine its possible end. Konovalov did not understand this, and now it’s all to blame. Maxim did not spare his friend: the screams of Capitolina were still in his ears.
Konovalov, however, listened with fright and amazement, with the expression of a purely childlike sincerity of the consciousness of his guilt in front of this girl. Then he firmly put on his cap and went to the police to “get a hold of her.”
When Maxim woke up in the morning, Konovalov was not there yet. He appeared only in the evening – gloomy, disheveled, with sharp creases on his forehead and with some kind of fog in his blue eyes. He was silent all day, only by necessity throwing brief words related to the work, walked around the bakery in a dull voice. Something went out in him; he worked slowly and sluggishly, connected with his thoughts.
Only in the evening he asked to read about Stenka. But he listened sullenly, staring unblinking in the vaults of the ceiling. Then he briefly told about Kapitolin:
– Again, I got to my point and no more… Everything is the same as before. Only before she did not drink, and now she began to drink…
They went to bed, but Maxim could not sleep. Suddenly he saw Konovalov silently approach the shelf, took Kostomarov’s book, and held it to his eyes. He pensively moved his finger along the lines, shook his head. Something strange, tense and inquiring was in his pensive and sagging face. Suddenly he noticed that Maxim was watching him, and asked:
– Is there any book about the order of life? Actions need to be explained to me, which are harmful, which – wow… I see, I embarrass myself with actions… Which at the beginning seems to me good, at the end it turns out bad. That’s just about the Cap…
Then he returned to his matting, postlannoy directly to the floor, several times got up, smoked, again went to bed. Maxim fell asleep, and when he woke up, Konovalov was no longer in the bakery, and again he appeared only in the evening – he went to see the Capitolin:
“I am a contagious person… I do not share my life in the world… A poisonous spirit comes from me,” he said, looking at the floor.
Maxim began to dissuade him, but Konovalov only became stronger in his unfitness to life…
He quickly and sharply changed. He became thoughtful, languid, lost interest in books, worked no longer with the same vehemence, taciturn, non-cooperative. In his spare time, he lay down on the floor and looked at the ceiling vaults. His face was drained, his eyes lost their clear children’s shine – he started drinking…
Maxim noticed that Konovalov seemed to be alienating him. Once, after listening to his first hundred times project of reorganizing life, he even became angry: “It’s not in the life of the matter, but in man.” “Teach him to find his path…”
Once he left in the evening and did not come at night to work, nor the next day. Instead, the host appeared with a worried face and announced that Konovalov was in the “Wall”.
“The wall” was called a tavern, cunningly arranged in a stone fence, it was, in fact, a pit dug in the ground and covered with tesos. Its regulars were the darkest people who spent the whole day sticking out there, waiting for the clerk of the artisan to nap it.
Maxim went to the “Wall” and found Konovalov sitting at a large table surrounded by six gentlemen in fantastically torn suits, with the physiognomy of the heroes of Hoffmann. They drank beer and vodka, they ate with boiled meat, similar more to dry clods of clay.
In Konovalov was visible the determination to get drunk definitively. He was not yet drunk, only his blue eyes sparkled with excitement. The shirt collar was unbuttoned, small droplets of sweat glittered on the white forehead, and the hand stretched beyond the glass of beer shook. On Maxim’s entreaties he answered loudly:
“I’ll drink it all and… coven!” I do not want to work any more and do not want to live here. If you had come ten years earlier, maybe everything would have been different… I feel everything, I feel everything, every movement of life… but I can not understand anything and I do not know my way… I feel and drink, because I have nothing more to do…
The tramps that surrounded him looked at Maxim hostilely, feared that he would take away the food they had been waiting for, maybe a whole week. And Konovalov was drinking beer with vodka, wishing to stun himself as soon as possible with this mixture. When Maxim refused to drink with him, he bellowed: “Get away from me!” – and his eyes gleamed brutally.
Maxim left, but three hours later returned – Konovalov was still in the “Wall”. He sang sorrowfully, leaning his elbows on the table and looking at the sky through a hole in the ceiling. It seemed that they feasted alive buried in the crypt and one of them sings for the last time before his death, bidding farewell to the sky. Hopeless sadness, despair, melancholy sounded in Konovalov’s song.
Maxim left them in the bakery, and after him a clumsy drunken song was moaning and groaning for a long time in the night. Two days later Konovalov disappeared somewhere from the city…
It is necessary to be born in a cultural society in order to find the patience to live all life among the conventions, legalized little lies. Maxim was born outside of this society, and from time to time he had a need to get out of his framework. That’s why he plunged into the slums of cities, and sometimes just walked around the fields and roads of the homeland.
Five years later, after taking such a walk, Maxim got to Feodosia, where they built a pier. He ascended the mountain and looked from there to work as a picture: to the boundless, mighty, eternal sea and tiny people, obsessed with the eternal desire to build, the desire that creates miracles, but does not give people shelter and bread. The whole rocky shore in front of the bay was dug, people rushed through it like ants, who blew up the mountain with dynamite and cleared the area for the railway. On the scraps of planks were moving strings of people bent over wheelbarrows loaded with stone, next to it worked a koper, who hammered piles.
From all over Russia, hunger drove thousands of people to the construction, and they all tried to keep their countryman to their countryman, and only cosmopolitan tramps stood out at once – an independent view, costume and a special vocabulary. Most of them gathered at the copra – work is easier compared to working on wheelbarrows and with a pickaxe.
Maxim approached them to find out who to contact to “get to work.” And then he heard a familiar voice, saw a familiar broad-shouldered figure with an oval face and large blue eyes. Konovalov? But Konovalov did not have a scar from his right temple to the nose, Konovalov’s hair was lighter and did not curl with small curls; Konovalov had a beautiful broad beard, this shaved and wore a mustache with the ends down, like a crest. When they stopped beating the pile, Maxim called to the man:
– Maksim! – flashed that happy and kind smile. “And I, my brother, have been walking in the light from the very beginning.” I thought of making my way with my comrades across the Romanian border, to see how it was in Romania. Then I was a soldier and went to the head… And the curls were screwed after typhus. They put me in prison in Chisinau, and got sick there. And would die if it were not for the nurse. She read to me sometimes. Once I read about an English sailor who escaped from a shipwreck on a deserted island and made his life on him… Yes, that’s what: today I’m no longer working! I have money, come to us… We are not in the barracks, but here in the mountain… there is a hole there, very convenient. Together we flat out in it, but the friend is sick – the fever has twisted it.
He was all new, lively, calm-confident and strong. And in about two hours Maxim was already lying in the “hole” – a small niche formed during the development of the stone. Above the entrance to the “hole” a block of stone was dangerously hanging. They were placed like this: legs and trunk were thrust into the hole, where it was cool, and the heads were left in the sun. And the sick man was out in the sun, his teeth chattering with fever. It was a dry and long crest of “Piltava”.
Konovalov tried to welcome the dear guest as cordially as possible. Maxim told about his life, Konovalov in response offered to abandon the city and go with him to wander to Tashkent or the Amur…
When the sun set, Konovalov set up a fire, put a kettle in it and, embracing his knees, looked thoughtfully at the fire. The Ukrainian, like a huge lizard, crept up to him.
“They need cities for the winter,” Konovalov said suddenly, “but big cities do not need anything.” All the same people can not get along with each other. In general, neither in the city, nor in the steppe, nowhere does a person have a place. But it’s better not to think about such things… you can not invent anything, but you’ll tear up your soul…
Maxim thought that Konovalov had changed from a wandering life. But the tone of his last phrase showed that he was still the same man who was looking for his “point”. The same rust of bewilderment before life and the poison of her thoughts eroded a powerful figure, born, to her misfortune, with a sensitive heart. Such “pondered” people are many in Russian life, and they are all more unhappy than anyone, because the heaviness of their thoughts is increased by the blindness of their minds. In confirmation of this Konovalov sadly exclaimed:
– I remembered our life… How much after that I emanated the earth, how many saw… There is nothing convenient for me on earth! I did not find a place for myself! Why can not I be at peace? Why do I feel sick?
The fire is exhausted. Maxim and Konovalov climbed into the “hole” and lay down, sticking their heads out into the air. Maxim looked at the dying fire and thought: “So we all… Let’s get brighter!”.
Three days later he said goodbye to Konovalov. Maxim went to the Kuban, and Konovalov did not want to. But both parted in the certainty that they would meet.
Did not have to…