Sergey Terentyevich Semyonov: The Servant
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 irksome 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 without eating.
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 for weeks."
"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 longer."
"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 favour."
"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 job."
"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 Poiikarpych 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."