Kind sir, be so good as to notice a poor, hungry man. I have not tasted food for three days. I have not a five-kopeck piece for a nights lodging. I swear by God! For five years I was a village schoolmaster and lost my post through the intrigues of the Zemstvo. I was the victim of false witness. I have been out of a place for a year now.
Skvortsov, a Petersburg lawyer, looked at the speakers tattered dark blue overcoat, at his muddy, drunken eyes, at the red patches on his cheeks, and it seemed to him that he had seen the man before.
And now I am offered a post in the Kaluga province, the beggar continued, but I have not the means for the journey there. Graciously help me! I am ashamed to ask, but I am compelled by circumstances.
Skvortsov looked at his goloshes, of which one was shallow like a shoe, while the other came high up the leg like a boot, and suddenly remembered.
Listen, the day before yesterday I met you in Sadovoy Street, he said, and then you told me, not that you were a village schoolmaster, but that you were a student who had been expelled. Do you remember?
N-o. No, that cannot be so! the beggar muttered in confusion. I am a village schoolmaster, and if you wish it I can show you documents to prove it.
Thats enough lies! You called yourself a student, and even told me what you were expelled for. Do you remember?
Skvortsov flushed, and with a look of disgust on his face turned away from the ragged figure.
Its contemptible, sir! he cried angrily. Its a swindle! Ill hand you over to the police, damn you! You are poor and hungry, but that does not give you the right to lie so shamelessly!
The ragged figure took hold of the door-handle and, like a bird in a snare, looked round the hall desperately.
I I am not lying, he muttered. I can show documents.
Who can believe you? Skvortsov went on, still indignant. To exploit the sympathy of the public for village schoolmasters and studentsits so low, so mean, so dirty! Its revolting!
Skvortsov flew into a rage and gave the beggar a merciless scolding. The ragged fellows insolent lying aroused his disgust and aversion, was an offence against what he, Skvortsov, loved and prized in himself: kindliness, a feeling heart, sympathy for the unhappy. By his lying, by his treacherous assault upon compassion, the individual had, as it were, defiled the charity which he liked to give to the poor with no misgivings in his heart. The beggar at first defended himself, protested with oaths, then he sank into silence and hung his head, overcome with shame.
Sir! he said, laying his hand on his heart, I really was lying! I am not a student and not a village schoolmaster. All thats mere invention! I used to be in the Russian choir, and I was turned out of it for drunkenness. But what can I do? Believe me, in Gods name, I cant get on without lyingwhen I tell the truth no one will give me anything. With the truth one may die of hunger and freeze without a nights lodging! What you say is true, I understand that, but what am I to do?
What are you to do? You ask what are you to do? cried Skvortsov, going close up to him. Workthats what you must do! You must work!
Work. I know that myself, but where can I get work?
Nonsense. You are young, strong, and healthy, and could always find work if you wanted to. But you know you are lazy, pampered, drunken! You reek of vodka like a pothouse! You have become false and corrupt to the marrow of your bones and fit for nothing but begging and lying! If you do graciously
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