Ignat begins as a water pumper, but, by the time he is forty years old, he is a rich owner of barges and tugs and a determined and a ruthless trader. At times, however, he is subject to fits of depression, and he carouses with the dregs of the city; sometimes, he exults fiercely when one of his barges burns. He is a huge man with boundless energy. His greatest disappointment is that he has no son; his wife bears only daughters who die in infancy. When he is forty-three years old, his wife suddenly dies, and, within six months, he finds a young bride. Natalya is tall and handsome, dutiful but mysterious. Although ordinarily submissive, she has strength of character that makes boisterous Ignat afraid to beat her. She dies after the birth of Foma, Ignat’s long-desired son.
Until he is six years old, Foma is reared in his godfather Mayakin’s house. Under the watchful, stupid eye of a female relative, he plays unimaginatively with Liuboff, Mayakin’s daughter. Ignat then takes back his son, and Foma’s Aunt Anfisa looks after him. Anfisa tells him many fanciful tales that whet the young boy’s imagination.
At the age of eight, Foma discusses the family business with Ignat and is disappointed that his father is only a river merchant instead of a pirate. To clear up his misapprehensions, Ignat takes the boy on a business trip down the river. Foma gets along well with the peasants until he tells his father how one worker was uncomplimentary to the capitalistic class. Ignat strikes the worker. This incident always seems brutal to the boy.
At school, Foma makes two friends: Smolin, a fat, rich boy, and Ezhoff, a quick-thinking poor boy. Foma progresses well in his classes because Ezhoff helps him study and prompts him during recitations. In and out of school pranks, Foma is a daring leader. His courage is due in part to his father’s wealth, but he is also truly honest and fearless. As he grows up, Liuboff is the only girl he knows. Mayakin hopes that they will marry and unite the two family fortunes.
When Foma is not yet twenty, Ignat puts him in charge of a trading expedition and tells the tug captain to keep an eye on the young man. Foma quickly establishes his superiority over the older captain and takes complete command. He does quite well, except that he is often too generous in giving grain to the peasants. He notices on deck one night a peasant woman with attractive eyes. Although she is older than he, Foma desires to meet her, and the captain arranges to have her come to Foma’s cabin at night. The woman is thirty years old, delightfully mature to the naïve Foma. He leaves her with regret when Mayakin sends a message requiring him to come home as soon as possible....
(The entire section is 1112 words.)