Radish was not practical, and was not at all good at forming an
estimate; he took more work than he could get through, and when
calculating he was agitated, lost his head, and so was almost
always out of pocket over his jobs. He undertook painting,
glazing, paperhanging, and even tiling roofs, and I can remember
his running about for three days to find tilers for the sake of
a paltry job. He was a first-rate workman; he sometimes earned
as much as ten roubles a day; and if it had not been for the
desire at all costs to be a master, and to be called a
contractor, he would probably have had plenty of money.
He was paid by the job, but he paid me and the other workmen by
the day, from one and twopence to two shillings a day. When it
was fine and dry we did all kinds of outside work, chiefly
painting roofs. When I was new to the work it made my feet burn
as though I were walking on hot bricks, and when I put on felt
boots they were hotter than ever. But this was only at first;
later on I got used to it, and everything went swimmingly. I was
living now among people to whom labour was obligatory,
inevitable, and who worked like cart-horses, often with no idea
of the moral significance of labour, and, indeed, never using
the word "labour" in conversation at all. Beside them I, too,
felt like a cart-horse, growing more and more imbued with the
feeling of the obligatory and inevitable character of what I was
doing, and this made my life easier, setting me free from all
doubt and uncertainty.
At first everything interested me, everything was new, as though
I had been born again. I could sleep on the ground and go about
barefoot, and that was extremely pleasant; I could stand in a
crowd of the common people and be no constraint to anyone, and
when a cab horse fell down in the street I ran to help it up
without being afraid of soiling my clothes. And the best of it
all was, I was living on my own account and no burden to anyone!
Painting roofs, especially with our own oil and colours, was
regarded as a particularly profitable job, and so this rough,
dull work was not disdained, even by such good workmen as
Radish. In short breeches, and wasted, purple-looking legs, he
used to go about the roofs, looking like a stork, and I used to
hear him, as he plied his brush, breathing heavily and saying:
"Woe, woe to us sinners!"
He walked about the roofs as freely as though he were upon the
ground. In spite of his being ill and pale as a corpse, his
agility was extraordinary: he used to paint the domes and
cupolas of the churches without scaffolding, like a young man,
with only the help of a ladder and a rope, and it was rather
horrible when standing on a height far from the earth; he would
draw himself up erect, and for some unknown reason pronounce:
"Lice consume grass, rust consumes iron, and lying the soul!"
Or, thinking about something, would answer his thoughts aloud:
"Anything may happen! Anything may happen!"
When I went home from my work, all the people who were sitting
on benches by the gates, all the shopmen and boys and their
employers, made sneering and spiteful remarks after me, and this
upset me at first and seemed to be simply monstrous.
"Better-than-nothing!" I heard on all sides. "House painter!
And none behaved so ungraciously to me as those who had only
lately been humble people themselves, and had earned their bread
by hard manual labour. In the streets full of shops I was once
passing an ironmonger's when water was thrown over me as though
by accident, and on one occasion someone darted out with a stick
at me, while a fishmonger, a grey-headed old man, barred my way
and said, looking at me angrily:
"I am not sorry for you, you fool! It's your father I am sorry
And my acquaintances were for some reason overcome with
embarrassment when they met me. Some of them looked upon me as a
queer fish and a comic fool; others were sorry for me; others
did not know what attitude to take up to me, and it was
difficult to make them out. One day I met Anyuta Blagovo in a
side street near Great Dvoryansky Street. I was going to work,
and was carrying two long brushes and a pail of paint.
Recognizing me Anyuta flushed crimson.
"Please do not bow to me in the street," she said nervously,
harshly, and in a shaking voice, without offering me her hand,
and tears suddenly gleamed in her eyes. "If to your mind all
this is necessary, so be it . . . so be it, but I beg you not to
I no longer lived in Great Dvoryansky Street, but in the suburb
with my old nurse Karpovna, a good-natured but gloomy old woman,
who always foreboded some harm, was afraid of all dreams, and
even in the bees and wasps that flew into her room saw omens of
evil, and the fact that I had become a workman, to her thinking,
boded nothing good.
"Your life is ruined," she would say, mournfully shaking her
Her adopted son Prokofy, a huge, uncouth, red-headed fellow of
thirty, with bristling moustaches, a butcher by trade, lived in
the little house with her. When he met me in the passage he
would make way for me in respectful silence, and if he was drunk
he would salute me with all five fingers at once. He used to
have supper in the evening, and through the partition wall of
boards I could hear him clear his throat and sigh as he drank
off glass after glass.
"Mamma," he would call in an undertone.
"Well," Karpovna, who was passionately devoted to her adopted
son, would respond: "What is it, sonny?"
"I can show you a testimony of my affection, mamma. All this
earthly life I will cherish you in your declining years in this
vale of tears, and when you die I will bury you at my expense; I
have said it, and you can believe it."
I got up every morning before sunrise, and went to bed early. We
house painters ate a great deal and slept soundly; the only
thing amiss was that my heart used to beat violently at night. I
did not quarrel with my mates. Violent abuse, desperate oaths,
and wishes such as, "Blast your eyes," or "Cholera take you,"
never ceased all day, but, nevertheless, we lived on very
friendly terms. The other fellows suspected me of being some
sort of religious sectary, and made good-natured jokes at my
expense, saying that even my own father had disowned me, and
thereupon would add that they rarely went into the temple of God
themselves, and that many of them had not been to confession for
ten years. They justified this laxity on their part by saying
that a painter among men was like a jackdaw among birds.
The men had a good opinion of me, and treated me with respect;
it was evident that my not drinking, not smoking, but leading a
quiet, steady life pleased them very much. It was only an
unpleasant shock to them that I took no hand in stealing oil and
did not go with them to ask for tips from people on whose
property we were working. Stealing oil and paints from those who
employed them was a house painter's custom, and was not regarded
as theft, and it was remarkable that even so upright a man as
Radish would always carry away a little white lead and oil as he
went home from work. And even the most respectable old fellows,
who owned the houses in which they lived in the suburb, were not
ashamed to ask for a tip, and it made me feel vexed and ashamed
to see the men go in a body to congratulate some nonentity on
the commencement or the completion of the job, and thank him
with degrading servility when they had received a few coppers.
With people on whose work they were engaged they behaved like
wily courtiers, and almost every day I was reminded of
"I fancy it is going to rain," the man whose house was being
painted would say, looking at the sky.
"It is, there is not a doubt it is," the painters would agree.
"I don't think it is a rain-cloud, though. Perhaps it won't rain
"No, it won't, your honour! I am sure it won't."
But their attitude to their patrons behind their backs was
usually one of irony, and when they saw, for instance, a
gentleman sitting in the verandah reading a newspaper, they
"He reads the paper, but I daresay he has nothing to eat."
I never went home to see my own people. When I came back from
work I often found waiting for me little notes, brief and
anxious, in which my sister wrote to me about my father; that he
had been particularly preoccupied at dinner and had eaten
nothing, or that he had been giddy and staggering, or that he
had locked himself in his room and had not come out for a long
time. Such items of news troubled me; I could not sleep, and at
times even walked up and down Great Dvoryansky Street at night
by our house, looking in at the dark windows and trying to guess
whether everything was well at home. On Sundays my sister came
to see me, but came in secret, as though it were not to see me
but our nurse. And if she came in to see me she was very pale,
with tear-stained eyes, and she began crying at once.
"Our father will never live through this," she would say. "If
anything should happen to him -- God grant it may not -- your
conscience will torment you all your life. It's awful, Misail;
for our mother's sake I beseech you: reform your ways."
"My darling sister," I would say, "how can I reform my ways if I
am convinced that I am acting in accordance with my conscience?
"I know you are acting on your conscience, but perhaps it could
be done differently, somehow, so as not to wound anybody."
"Ah, holy Saints!" the old woman sighed through the door. "Your
life is ruined! There will be trouble, my dears, there will be