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FEDOR MIHAILOVICH SMOKOVNIKOV, the president of the local Income Tax
Department, a man of unswerving honesty--and proud of it, too--a
gloomy Liberal, a free-thinker, and an enemy to every manifestation of
religious feeling, which he thought a relic of superstition, came home
from his office feeling very much annoyed. The Governor of the province
had sent him an extraordinarily stupid minute, almost assuming that his
dealings had been dishonest.
Fedor Mihailovich felt embittered, and wrote at once a sharp answer. On
his return home everything seemed to go contrary to his wishes.
It was five minutes to five, and he expected the dinner to be served at
once, but he was told it was not ready. He banged the door and went to
his study. Somebody knocked at the door. "Who the devil is that?" he
thought; and shouted,--"Who is there?"
The door opened and a boy of fifteen came in, the son of Fedor
Mihailovich, a pupil of the fifth class of the local school.
"What do you want?"
"It is the first of the month to-day, father."
"Well! You want your money?"
It had been arranged that the father should pay his son a monthly
allowance of three roubles as pocket money. Fedor Mihailovich frowned,
took out of his pocket-book a coupon of two roubles fifty kopeks which
he found among the bank-notes, and added to it fifty kopeks in silver
out of the loose change in his purse. The boy kept silent, and did not
take the money his father proffered him.
"Father, please give me some more in advance."
"I would not ask for it, but I have borrowed a small sum from a friend,
and promised upon my word of honour to pay it off. My honour is dear to
me, and that is why I want another three roubles. I don't like asking
you; but, please, father, give me another three roubles."
"I have told you--"
"I know, father, but just for once."
"You have an allowance of three roubles and you ought to be content. I
had not fifty kopeks when I was your age."
"Now, all my comrades have much more. Petrov and Ivanitsky have fifty
roubles a month."
"And I tell you that if you behave like them you will be a scoundrel.
"What is there to mind? You never understand my position. I shall be
disgraced if I don't pay my debt. It is all very well for you to speak
as you do."
"Be off, you silly boy! Be off!"
Fedor Mihailovich jumped from his seat and pounced upon his son. "Be
off, I say!" he shouted. "You deserve a good thrashing, all you boys!"
His son was at once frightened and embittered. The bitterness was even
greater than the fright. With his head bent down he hastily turned to
the door. Fedor Mihailovich did not intend to strike him, but he was
glad to vent his wrath, and went on shouting and abusing the boy till he
had closed the door.
When the maid came in to announce that dinner was ready, Fedor
"At last!" he said. "I don't feel hungry any longer."
He went to the dining-room with a sullen face. At table his wife made
some remark, but he gave her such a short and angry answer that she
abstained from further speech. The son also did not lift his eyes from
his plate, and was silent all the time. The trio finished their dinner
in silence, rose from the table and separated, without a word.
After dinner the boy went to his room, took the coupon and the change
out of his pocket, and threw the money on the table. After that he took
off his uniform and put on a jacket.
He sat down to work, and began to study Latin grammar out of a
dog's-eared book. After a while he rose, closed and bolted the door,
shifted the money into a drawer, took out some cigarette papers, rolled
one up, stuffed it with cotton wool, and began to smoke.
He spent nearly two hours over his grammar and writing books without
understanding a word of what he saw before him; then he rose and began
to stamp up and down the room, trying to recollect all that his father
had said to him. All the abuse showered upon him, and worst of all his
father's angry face, were as fresh in his memory as if he saw and heard
them all over again. "Silly boy! You ought to get a good thrashing!" And
the more he thought of it the angrier he grew. He remembered also how
his father said: "I see what a scoundrel you will turn out. I know you
will. You are sure to become a cheat, if you go on like that." He had
certainly forgotten how he felt when he was young! "What crime have I
committed, I wonder? I wanted to go to the theatre, and having no money
borrowed some from Petia Grouchetsky. Was that so very wicked of me?
Another father would have been sorry for me; would have asked how it all
happened; whereas he just called me names. He never thinks of anything
but himself. When it is he who has not got something he wants--that is a
different matter! Then all the house is upset by his shouts. And I--I am
a scoundrel, a cheat, he says. No, I don't love him, although he is my
father. It may be wrong, but I hate him."
There was a knock at the door. The servant brought a letter--a message
from his friend. "They want an answer," said the servant.
The letter ran as follows: "I ask you now for the third time to pay me
back the six roubles you have borrowed; you are trying to avoid me. That
is not the way an honest man ought to behave. Will you please send the
amount by my messenger? I am myself in a frightful fix. Can you not get
the money somewhere?--Yours, according to whether you send the money or
not, with scorn, or love, Grouchetsky."
"There we have it! Such a pig! Could he not wait a while? I will have
Mitia went to his mother. This was his last hope. His mother was very
kind, and hardly ever refused him anything. She would probably have
helped him this time also out of his trouble, but she was in great
anxiety: her younger child, Petia, a boy of two, had fallen ill. She got
angry with Mitia for rushing so noisily into the nursery, and refused
him almost without listening to what he had to say. Mitia muttered
something to himself and turned to go. The mother felt sorry for him.
"Wait, Mitia," she said; "I have not got the money you want now, but I
will get it for you to-morrow."
But Mitia was still raging against his father.
"What is the use of having it to-morrow, when I want it to-day? I am
going to see a friend. That is all I have got to say."
He went out, banging the door. . . .
"Nothing else is left to me. He will tell me how to pawn my watch," he
thought, touching his watch in his pocket.
Mitia went to his room, took the coupon and the watch from the drawer,
put on his coat, and went to Mahin.
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