Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Duel
Author: Kuprin, A. I. (Aleksandr Ivanovich), 1870-1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Duel" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



                                THE DUEL

                        [Illustration: colophon]



                           BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE


 Alexander Kuprin was born in 1870. He passed through the Cadet School
and Military College at Moscow, entered the Army as lieutenant in 1890,
    and resigned after seven years to devote himself to literature.



                                THE DUEL

                             _By_ A. KUPRIN

                    [Illustration: text decoration]

                                LONDON:
                       GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD.
                  RUSKIN HOUSE 40 MUSEUM STREET, W.C.

                       _First published in 1916_

          [_An abridged version was published under the title
                      "In Honour's Name" in 1907_]

                        (_All rights reserved_)



                                THE DUEL



I


The 6th Company's afternoon drill was nearly over, and the junior
officers looked with increasing frequency at their watches, and with
growing impatience. The rank and file of the new regiment were being
instructed in garrison duty. Along the whole of the extensive
parade-ground the soldiers stood in scattered groups: by the poplars
that bordered the causeway, by the gymnastic apparatus, by the door of
the company's school, and in the neighbourhood of the butts. All these
places were to represent during the drill the most important buildings
in the garrison--the commander's residence, the headquarters, the powder
magazine, the administration department, etc. Sentries were posted and
relieved; patrols marched here and there, shouting at and saluting each
other in military fashion; harsh non-commissioned officers visited and
examined the sentries on duty, trying, sometimes by a trick, sometimes
by pretended threats, to fool the soldiers into infringing the rules,
e.g. to quit their posts, give up their rifles, to take charge of
contraband articles, etc. The older men, who had had previous experience
of such practical jokes, were very seldom taken in, but answered rudely,
"The Tsar alone gives orders here," etc., etc. The young recruits, on
the other hand, often enough fell into the snare set for them.

"Khliabnikov!" a stout little "non-com." cried angrily in a voice which
betrayed a passion for ruling. "What did I tell you just now, simpleton?
Did I put you under arrest? What are you sticking there for, then? Why
don't you answer?"

In the third platoon a tragi-comic scene took place. Moukhamedjinov, a
young soldier, Tartar by birth, was not yet versed in the Russian
language. He got more and more confused under the commander's irritating
and insidious questions. At last he lost his head entirely, brought his
rifle to the charge, and threatened all the bystanders with the bayonet.

"Stop, you madman!" roared Sergeant Bobuilev. "Can't you recognize your
own commander, your own captain?"

"Another step and you are a dead man!" shouted the Tartar, in a furious
rage. His eyes were bloodshot, and he nervously repelled with his
bayonet all who approached him. Round about him, but at a respectful
distance, a crowd of soldiers flocked together, accepting with joy and
gratitude this interesting little interlude in the wearisome drill.

Sliva, the captain of the company, approached to see what was going on.
While he was on the opposite side of the parade-ground, where, with bent
back and dragging steps, he tottered slowly backwards and forwards, a
few young officers assembled in a small group to smoke and chatter. They
were three, all told: Lieutenant Viätkin, a bald, moustached man of
thirty-three, a jovial fellow, chatterbox, singer, and particularly fond
of his glass; Sub-Lieutenant Romashov, who had hardly served two years
in the regiment; and, lastly, Sub-Ensign Lbov, a lively, well-shaped
young man, with an expression of shrewd geniality in his pale eyes and
an eternal smile on his thick, innocent lips. He passed for a
peripatetic storehouse of anecdotes, specially crammed with old and
worn-out officers' stories.

"This is an out-and-out scandal," said Viätkin, as he looked at his
dainty little watch, the case of which he angrily closed with a little
click. "What the devil does he mean by keeping the company all this
time?"

"You should ask him that question, Pavel Pavlich," replied Lbov, with a
sly look.

"Oh, go to the devil! Go and ask him yourself. But the point which I
want to emphasize is that the whole business is utterly futile; there is
always this fuss before the review, and every time they overdo it. The
soldiers are so worried and badgered, that at the review they stand like
blockheads. Do you know that story about the two captains who made a
pretty heavy bet as to which of them had in his company the best
trencher-man? When one of the 'champions' had consumed seven pounds of
bread he was obliged to acknowledge himself beaten. His Captain, furious
with indignation, sent for his sergeant-major, and said: 'What made you
send me a creature like that? After his seventh pound he had to give up,
and I've lost my wager!' The poor sergeant-major stared at his superior.
'I don't know what could have happened to him, your Excellency. This
very morning I rehearsed with him, and then he ate _eight_ pounds
without any ado.' It's the same case here, gentlemen. We rehearse
without mercy and common-sense up to the very last, and thus, when the
tug-of-war comes, the soldier drops down from sheer weariness."

"Last night," began Lbov, who could hardly get his words out for
laughing--"last night, when the drill was over, I went to my quarters.
It was past eight, and quite dark then. As I was approaching the
barracks of the 11th Company I heard some ear-piercing music from there.
I go there and am told that the men are being taught our horn signals.
All the recruits were obliged to sing in chorus. It was a hideous
concert, and I asked Lieutenant Andrusevich how any one could put up
with such a row so late at night. He answered laughingly, 'Why shouldn't
we now and then, like the dogs, howl at the moon?'"

"Now I can't stand this any longer," interrupted Viätkin, with a yawn.
"But who's that riding down there? It looks like Biek."

"Yes, it's Biek-Agamalov," replied sharp-sighted Lbov. "Look how
beautifully he rides."

"Yes, he does," chimed in Romashov. "To my thinking, he rides better
than any other of our cavalrymen. But just look at his horse dancing.
Biek is showing off."

An officer, wearing an Adjutant's uniform and white gloves, was riding
quietly along the causeway. He was sitting on a high, slim-built horse
with a gold-coloured and short-clipped tail, after the English fashion.
The spirited animal pirouetted under his rider, and impatiently shook
its branch-bit by the violent tossings of its long and nobly formed
neck.

"Pavel Pavlich, is it a fact that Biek is a Circassian by birth?" asked
Romashov.

"Yes, I think so," answered Viätkin. "Armenians pretend sometimes that
they are Circassians or Lezghins,[1] but nobody can be deceived with
regard to Biek. Only look how he carries himself on horseback."

"Wait, I'll call him," said Lbov.

Lbov put his hands to his mouth, and tried to form out of them a sort of
speaking-tube, and shouted in a suppressed voice, so as not to be heard
by the Commander--

"Lieutenant Biek-Agamalov!"

The officer on horseback pulled the reins, stopped for a second, and
swung in the saddle towards the right. Then he also turned his horse to
the right, bent slightly forward, and, with a springy and energetic
movement, jumped the ditch, and rode in a short gallop up to the
officers.

He was a man somewhat below the medium height, lean, muscular, and very
powerful. His countenance, with its receding forehead, delicate,
aquiline nose, and strong, resolute lines about the mouth, was manly and
handsome, and had not yet got the pale and sickly hue that is so
characteristic of the Oriental when he is getting on in years.

"Good-day, Biek," was Viätkin's greeting. "Who was the girl for whom you
were exercising your arts of seduction down there, you lady-killer?"

Biek-Agamalov shook hands with the officers, whilst with an easy and
graceful movement he bent slightly forward in the saddle. He smiled, and
his gleaming white and even row of teeth cast a sort of lustre over the
lower part of his face, with its black and splendidly cultivated
moustache.

"Two or three little Jewess girls were there, but what is that to do
with me? I took no notice of them."

"Ah! we know well enough how you play the game with ladies," said
Viätkin jestingly.

"I say!" interrupted Lbov, with a laugh; "have you heard what General
Dokturov[2] remarked about the Adjutants in the infantry? It ought to
interest you, Biek. He said they were the most dare-devil riders in the
whole world."

"No lies, now, ensign," replied Biek, as he gave his horse the reins and
assumed an expression as if he intended to ride down the joker.

"It's true, by God it is! 'They ride,' said he, 'the most wretched
"crocks" in the world--spavined "roarers"--and yet, only give the order,
and off they fly at the maddest speed over stocks and stones, hedges and
ditches--reins loose, stirrups dropped, cap flying, ah!--veritable
cantaurs.'"

"What news, Biek?" asked Viätkin.

"What news? None. Ah! stay. A little while ago the Commander of the
regiment ran across Lieutenant-Colonel Liekh at mess. Liekh, as drunk as
a lord, was wobbling against the wall with his hands behind him, and
hardly able to stammer out a syllable. Shulgovich rushed at him like an
infuriated bull, and bellowed in such a way that it might be heard over
the whole market-place: 'Please remove your hands from the small of your
back when you stand in the presence of your commanding officer.' And all
the servants witnessed this edifying scene."

"Ah! that is detestable," chimed in Viätkin, laughing. "Yesterday, when
he favoured the 4th Company with a visit, he shouted: 'Who dares to
thrust the regulations in my face? I am your regulations. Not a word
more. Here I'm your Tsar and your God.'"

Lbov was again laughing at his own thoughts.

"Gentlemen, have you heard what happened to the Adjutant of the 4th
Regiment?"

"Keep your eternal stories to yourself, Lbov," exclaimed Viätkin,
interrupting him in a severe tone. "To-day you're worse than usual."

"I have some more news to tell," Biek-Agamalov went on to say, as he
again facetiously threatened Lbov with his horse, which, snorting and
shaking its head, beslavered all around it with foam. "The Commander has
taken it into his head that the officers of all the companies are to
practise sabre-cutting at a dummy. He has aroused a fearful animosity
against himself in the 9th Company. Epifanov was arrested for having
neglected to sharpen his sabre. But what are you frightened of, Lbov? He
isn't dangerous, and you must teach yourself to make friends with these
noble animals. It may, you know, some day fall to your lot to be
Adjutant; but then, I suppose, you will sit your horse as securely as a
roast sparrow on a dish."

"_Retro, Satanas!_" cried Lbov, who had some difficulty in protecting
himself against the horse's froth-covered muzzle. "You've heard, I
suppose, what happened to an Adjutant of the 4th Regiment who bought
himself a circus-horse? At the review itself, right before the eyes of
the inspecting General, the well-trained beast began to exhibit its
proficiency in the 'Spanish walk.' You know, I suppose, what that is? At
every step the horse's legs are swung high in the air from one side to
the other. At last, both horse and rider alighted in the thick of the
company. Shrieks, oaths, universal confusion, and a General, half-dead
with rage, who at last, by a supreme effort, managed to hiss out:
'Lieutenant and Adjutant, for this exhibition of your skill in riding
you have twenty-one days' arrest. March!'"

"What rot!" interrupted Viätkin in an indignant tone. "I say, Biek, the
news of the sabre-cutting was by no means a surprise to us. It means
that we do not get any free time at all. Turn round and see what an
abortion some one brought here yesterday."

He concluded his sentence by a significant gesture towards the middle of
the parade-ground, where a monstrously ugly figure of raw clay, lacking
both arms and legs, had been erected.

"Ha! look there--already. Well, have you tried it?" asked Biek, his
interest excited. "Have you had a go at it yet, Romashov?"

"Not yet."

"Don't you think I've something better to do than occupy myself with
rubbish of that sort?" exclaimed Viätkin angrily. "When am I to find
time for that? From nine in the morning to six at night I have to be
here, there, and everywhere, and hardly manage to get a bite or sup.
Besides, thank God! I've still my wits about me."

"What silly talk! An officer ought to be able to handle his sabre."

"Why? if I may ask. You surely know that in warfare, with the firearms
now in use, one never gets within a range of a hundred paces of the
enemy. What the devil's the use of a sabre to me? I'm not a cavalryman.
When it comes to the point, I shall seize hold of a rifle and--bang! So
the matter's simple enough. People may say what they please; the bullet
is, after all, the safest."

"Possibly so; but, even in time of peace, there are still many occasions
when the sabre may come in useful--for instance, if one is attacked in
street riots, tumults, etc."

"And you think I should condescend to exchange cuts with the tag-rag of
the streets? No, thank you, my good friend. In such a case I prefer to
give the command, 'Aim, fire'--and all's said and done."

Biek-Agamalov's face darkened.

"You are talking nonsense, Pavel Pavlich. Now answer me this: Suppose,
when you are taking a walk, or are at a theatre or restaurant, some
coxcomb insults you or a civilian boxes your ears. What will you do
then?"

Viätkin shrugged his shoulders and protruded his under lip
contemptuously.

"In the first place, that kind of man only attacks those who show that
they are afraid of him, and, in the second, I have my--revolver."

"But suppose the revolver were left at home?" remarked Lbov.

"Then, naturally, I should have to go home and fetch it. What stupid
questions! You seem to have clean forgotten the incident of a certain
cornet who was insulted at a music-hall by two civilians. He drove home
for his revolver, returned to the music-hall, and cheerfully shot down
the pair who had insulted him--simple enough."

Biek-Agamalov made an indignant gesture. "We know--we have heard all
that, but in telling the story you forget that the cornet in question
was convicted of deliberate murder. Truly a very pretty business. If I
had found myself in a similar situation, I should have----"

He did not finish his sentence, but the little, well-formed hand in
which he held the reins was clenched so hard that it trembled. Lbov was
seized with one of his usual paroxysms of laughter.

"Ah! you're at it again," Viätkin remarked severely.

"Pardon me, gentlemen, but I really couldn't--ha, ha, ha! I happened to
think of a tragi-comic scene that was enacted in the 17th Regiment.
Sub-Ensign Krause on one occasion had a row with some one in an
aristocratic club. The steward, to prevent further mischief, seized him
so violently by the shoulder-knot that the latter was torn off,
whereupon Krause drew his revolver and put a bullet through the
steward's skull. A little lawyer who incautiously mixed himself up in
the game shared the same fate. The rest of the party rushed out of the
room like so many frightened hens. But Krause quietly proceeded to the
camp, and was then challenged by the sentry. 'Who goes there?' shouted
the sentry. 'Sub-Ensign Krause, who is coming to die by the colours of
his regiment'; whereupon he walked straight up to the colours, laid
himself down on the ground, and fired a bullet through his left arm. The
court afterwards acquitted him."

"That was a fine fellow," exclaimed Biek-Agamalov.

Then began the young officers' usual favourite conversation on duels,
fights, and other sanguinary scenes, whereupon it was stated with great
satisfaction that such transgressions of law and municipal order always
went unpunished. Then, for instance, a story was told about how a
drunken, beardless cornet had drawn his sword at random on a small crowd
of Jews who were returning from keeping the Passover; how a
sub-lieutenant in the infantry had, at a dancing-hall, stabbed to death
an undergraduate who happened to elbow him at the buffet, how an officer
at St. Petersburg or Moscow shot down like a dog a civilian who dared to
make the impertinent observation that decent people were not in the
habit of accosting ladies with whom they are not acquainted.

Romashov, who, up to now, had been a silent listener to these piquant
stories, now joined in the conversation; but he did so with every sign
of reluctance and embarrassment. He cleared his throat, slowly adjusted
his eyeglass, though that was not absolutely necessary then, and
finally, in an uncertain voice, spoke as follows--

"Gentlemen, allow me to submit to you this question: In a dispute of
that sort it might happen, you know, that the civilian chanced to be a
respectable man, even perhaps a person of noble birth. Might it not, in
that case, be more correct to demand of him an explanation or
satisfaction? We should both belong to the cultured class, so to speak."

"You're talking nonsense, Romashov," interrupted Viätkin. "If you want
satisfaction from such scum you'll most certainly get the following
answer, which is little gratifying: 'Ah, well, my good sir, I do not
give satisfaction. That is contrary to my principles. I loathe duels and
bloodshed--and besides, you can have recourse, you know, to the Justice
of the Peace, in the event of your feeling yourself wronged.' And then,
for the whole of your life, you must carry the delightful recollection
of an unavenged box on the ears from a civilian."

Biek-Agamalov smiled in approbation, and with more than his usual
generosity showed his whole row of gleaming white teeth. "Hark you,
Viätkin, you ought really to take some interest in this sabre-cutting.
With us at our home in the Caucasus we practise it from childhood--on
bundles of wattles, on water-spouts, the bodies of sheep."

"And men's bodies," remarked Lbov.

"And on men's bodies," repeated Agamalov with unruffled calm. "And such
strokes, too! In a twinkling they cleave a fellow from his shoulder to
the hip."

"Biek, can you perform a test of strength like that?"

Biek-Agamalov sighed regretfully.

"No, alas! A sheep, or a calf; I can say I could cleave to the neck by a
single stroke, but to cut a full-grown man down to the waist is beyond
my power. To my father it would be a trifle."

"Come, gentlemen, and let us try our strength and sabres on that
scarecrow," said Lbov, in a determined tone and with flashing eyes.
"Biek, my dear boy, come with us."

The officers went up to the clay figure that had been erected a little
way off. Viätkin was the first to attack it. After endeavouring to
impart to his innocent, prosaic face an expression of wild-beast
ferocity, he struck the clay man with all his might and with an
unnecessarily big flourish of his sabre. At the same time he uttered the
characteristic sound "Khryass!" which a butcher makes when he is cutting
up beef. The weapon entered about a quarter of an inch into the clay,
and Viätkin had some trouble to extricate his brave sabre.

"Wretchedly done," exclaimed Agamalov, shaking his head. "Now, Romashov,
it's your turn."

Romashov drew his sabre from its sheath, and adjusted his eyeglass with
a hesitating movement. He was of medium height, lean, and fairly strong
in proportion to his build, but through constitutional timidity and lack
of interest not much accustomed to handling the weapon. Even as a pupil
at the Military Academy he was a bad swordsman, and after a year and a
half's service in the regiment he had almost completely forgotten the
art.

He raised his sabre high above his head, but stretched out,
simultaneously and instinctively, his left arm and hand.

"Mind your hand!" shouted Agamalov.

But it was too late then. The point of the sabre only made a slight
scratch on the clay, and Romashov, to his astonishment, who had
mis-reckoned on a strong resistance to the steel entering the clay, lost
his balance and stumbled forward, whereupon the blade of the sabre
caught his outstretched hand and tore off a portion of skin at the lower
part of his little finger, so that the blood oozed.

"There! See what you've done!" cried Biek angrily as he dismounted from
his charger. "How can any one handle a sabre so badly? You very nearly
cut off your hand, you know. Well, that wound is a mere trifle, but
you'd better bind it up with your handkerchief. Ensign, hold my horse.
And now, gentlemen, bear this in mind. The force or effect of a stroke
is not generated either in the shoulder or the elbow, but _here_, in the
wrist." He made, as quick as lightning, a few rotary movements of his
right hand, whereupon the point of his sabre described a scintillating
circle above his head. "Now look, I put my left hand behind my back.
When the stroke itself is to be delivered it must not be done by a
violent and clumsily directed blow, but by a vigorous cut, in which the
arm and sabre are jerked slightly backwards. Do you understand?
Moreover, it is absolutely necessary that the plane of the sabre exactly
coincides with the direction of the stroke. Look, here goes!"

Biek took two steps backwards from the manikin, to which he seemed, as
it were, to fasten himself tightly by a sharp, penetrating glance.
Suddenly the sabre flashed in the air, and a fearful stroke, delivered
with a rapidity that the eye could not follow, struck like lightning the
clay figure, the upper part of which rolled, softly but heavily, down to
the ground. The cut made by the sabre was as smooth and even as if it
had been polished.

"The deuce, that was something like a cut!" cried the enthusiastic Lbov
in wild delight. "Biek, my dear fellow, of your charity do that over
again."

"Yes, do, Biek," chimed in Viätkin.

But Agamalov, who was evidently afraid of destroying the effect he had
produced, smiled as he replaced the sabre in its scabbard. He breathed
heavily, and at that moment, by his bloodthirsty, wildly staring eyes,
his hawk's nose, and set mouth, he put one in mind of a proud, cruel,
malignant bird of prey.

"That was really nothing remarkable," he exclaimed in a tone of assumed
contempt. "At home in the Caucasus my old father, although he is over
sixty-six, could cut off a horse's head in a trice. You see, my
children, everything can be acquired by practice and perseverance. At my
home we practise on bundles of fagots tightly twisted together, or we
try to cut through a water-spout without the least splash being
noticeable. Well, Lbov, it's your turn now."

At that very moment, however, Bobuilev, the "non-com.," rushed up to
Viätkin, with terror depicted on every feature.

"Your Honour! The Commander of the regiment is here."

"Attention!" cried Captain Sliva's sharp voice from the other side of
the parade-ground. The officers hastily made their way to their
respective detachments.

A large open carriage slowly approached the avenue and stopped at the
parade-ground. Out of it stepped the Commander with great trouble and
agony amidst a loud moaning and groaning from the side of the poor
carriage. The Commander was followed by his Adjutant, Staff-Captain
Federovski, a tall, slim officer of smart appearance.

"Good day, 7th Company," was his greeting in a careless, indistinct
voice. An ear-splitting chorus of soldiers, dispersed over the whole
extent of the ground, replied instantly: "God preserve your Excellency!"

The officers touched their caps.

"Proceed with the drill," ordered the Commander, as he went up to the
nearest platoon.

Colonel Shulgovich was evidently not in a good humour. He wandered about
the platoons, growling and swearing, all the while repeatedly trying to
worry the life out of the unhappy recruits by catch-questions from the
"Military Regulations." Time after time he was heard to reel out the
most awful strings of insults and threats, and in this he displayed an
inventive power and mastery that could hardly be surpassed. The soldiers
stood before him, transfixed with terror, stiff, motionless, scarcely
daring to breathe, and, as it were, hypnotized by the incessant,
steadfast glances, as hard as marble, from those senile, colourless,
severe eyes. Colonel Shulgovich, although much troubled with fatness and
advanced in years, nevertheless still contrived to carry his huge,
imposing figure. His broad, fleshy face, with its bloated cheeks and
deeply receding forehead, was surrounded below by a thick, silvery,
pointed beard, whereby the great head came very closely to resemble an
awe-inspiring rhomboid. The eyebrows were grey, bushy, and threatening.
He always spoke in a subdued tone, but his powerful voice--to which
alone he owed his comparatively rapid promotion--was heard all the same
as far as the most distant point of the parade-ground, nay! even out on
the highroad.

"Who are you?" asked the Colonel, suddenly halting in front of a young
soldier named Sharafutdinov, who was on sentry duty near the gymnastic
apparatus.

"Recruit in the 6th Company, Sharafutdinov, your Excellency," the Tartar
answered in a strained and hoarse voice.

"Fool! I mean, of course, what post are you supposed to occupy?"

The soldier, who was frightened by his Commander's angry tone, was
silent: he could only produce one or two nervous twitchings of the
eyebrows.

"Well?" Shulgovich raised his voice.

"I--am--standing--on guard," the Tartar at last spluttered out, chancing
it. "I cannot--understand, your Excellency," he went on to say, but he
relapsed into silence again, and stood motionless.

The Colonel's face assumed a dark brick colour, a shade with a touch of
blue about it, and his bushy eyebrows began to pucker in an alarming
way. Beside himself with fury, he turned round and said in a sharp
tone--

"Who is the youngest officer here?"

Romashov stepped forward and touched his cap.

"I am, Colonel."

"Ha--Sub-lieutenant Romashov, you evidently train your men well. Stand
at attention and stretch your legs," bawled Shulgovich suddenly, his
eyes rolling. "Don't you know how to stand in the presence of your
commanding officer? Captain Sliva, I beg to inform you that your
subaltern officer has been lacking in the respect due to his chief. And
you, you miserable cur," he now turned towards the unhappy
Sharafutdinov, "tell me the name of your Commander."

"I don't know," replied Sharafutdinov quickly, but in a firm tone in
which, nevertheless, a melancholy resignation might be detected.

"Oh, _I_ ask you the name of your Colonel. Do you know who I am?
I--I--I!" and Shulgovich drummed with the flat of his hand several times
on his broad chest.

"I don't know."

The Colonel delivered himself of a string of about twenty words of
cynical abuse. "Captain Sliva, I order you at once to exhibit this son
of a sea-cook, so that all may see him, with rifle and heavy
accoutrements, and let him stand there till he rots. And as for you,
Sub-lieutenant, I know well enough that loose women and flirtation
interest you more than the service does. In waltzing and reading Paul de
Kock you're said to be an authority, but as to performing your duties,
instructing your men--that, of course, is beneath your dignity. Just
look at this creature" (he gave Sharafutdinov a sound slap on the
mouth)--"is this a Russian soldier? No, he's a brute beast, who does not
even recognize his own commanding officer. You ought to be ashamed of
yourself."

Romashov stared speechlessly at his chief's red and rage-distorted
countenance. He felt his heart threatening to burst with shame and
indignation. Suddenly, almost unconsciously, he burst out in a hollow
voice--

"Colonel, this fellow is a Tartar and does not understand a word of our
language, and besides...."

But he did not finish his sentence. Shulgovich's features had that very
instant undergone a ghastly change. His whole countenance was as white
as a corpse's, his withered cheeks were transfused with sharp, nervous
puckers, and his eyes assumed a terrible expression.

"Wh-at!" roared he in a voice so unnatural and awe-inspiring that a
little crowd of Jew boys, who, some distance from the causeway, were
sitting on the fence on which they had swarmed, were scattered like
sparrows--"you answer back? Silence! A raw young ensign permits himself
to---- Lieutenant Federovski, enter in my day-book that I have ordered
Sub-lieutenant Romashov four days' arrest in his room for breach of
discipline. And Captain Sliva is to be severely rebuked for neglecting
to instil into his junior officers 'a true military spirit.'"

The Adjutant saluted respectfully without any sign of fear. Captain
Sliva stood the whole time bending slightly forward, with his hand to
his cap, and quivering with emotion, though without altering a feature
of his wooden face.

"I cannot help being surprised at you, Captain Sliva," again grunted
Shulgovich, who had now to some extent regained his self-control. "How
is it possible that you, who are one of the best officers in the
regiment, and, moreover, old in the service, can let your youngsters run
so wild? They want breaking in. It is no use to treat them like young
ladies and being afraid of hurting them."

With these words he turned his back on the Captain, and, followed by the
Adjutant, proceeded to the carriage awaiting him. Whilst he was getting
into the carriage, and till the latter had turned round behind the
corner of the regimental school, a dull, painful silence reigned in the
parade-ground.

"Ah! you dear old ducky," exclaimed Captain Sliva in a dry tone and with
deep contempt, when the officers had, some minutes later, separated.
"Now, gentlemen, I suppose I, too, ought to say a couple of loving words
to you. Learn to stand at attention and hold your jaw even if the sky
falls--etc. To-day I've had a wigging for you before the whole of my
company. Who saddled me with you? Who asked for your services? Not I, at
any rate. You are, for me and my company, about as necessary as a fifth
leg is to a dog. Go to the deuce, and return to your feeding-bottle."

He finished his bitter lecture with a weary, contemptuous movement of
his hand, and dragged himself slowly away in the direction of his dark,
dirty, cheerless bachelor quarters. Romashov cast a long glance at him,
and gazing at the tall, thin figure, already bent with age, as well as
by the affront just endured, he felt a deep pity for this lonely,
embittered man whom nobody loved, who had only two interests in the
whole world--correct "dressing" of the 6th Company when marching at a
review, and the dear little schnapps bottle which was his trusty and
sole companion till bedtime.

And whereas Romashov also had the absurd, silly habit, which is often
peculiar to young people, viz. in his introspection to think of himself
as a third party, and then weave his noble personality into a
sentimental and stilted phrase from novelettes, our soft-hearted
lieutenant now expressed his opinion of himself in the following
touching manner--

"And over his kindly, expressive eyes fell the shadow of grief."



II


The soldiers marched home to their quarters in platoon order. The square
was deserted. Romashov stood hesitating for a moment at the causeway. It
was not the first time during the year and a half he had been in the
service he had experienced that painful feeling of loneliness, of being
lost among strangers either hostile or indifferent, or that distressful
hesitation as to where one shall spend the evening. To go home or spend
the evening at the officers' mess was equally distasteful to him. At the
latter place, at that time of day, there was hardly a soul, at most a
couple of ensigns who, whilst they drank ale and smoked to excess and
indulged in as many oaths and unseemly words as possible, played
pyramids in the wretched little narrow billiard-room; in addition to all
this, the horrible smell of food pervading all the rooms.

"I shall go down to the railway-station," said Romashov at last. "That
will be something to do."

In the poor little town, the population of which mainly consisted of
Jews, the only decent restaurant was that at the railway-station. There
were certainly two clubs--one for officers, the other for the civilian
"big-wigs" of the community. They were both, however, in a sorry plight,
and on these grounds the railway restaurant had become the only place
where the inhabitants assembled to shake off the dust of everyday life,
and to get a drink or a game at cards. Even the ladies of the place
accompanied their male protectors there, chiefly, however, to witness
the arrival of the trains and scrutinize the passengers, which always
offered a little change in the dreary monotony of provincial life.

Romashov liked to go down to the railway-station of an evening at the
time when the express arrived, which made its last stop before reaching
the Prussian frontier. With a curious feeling of excitement and tension,
he awaited the moment when the train flashed round a sharp curve of the
line, the locomotive's fiery, threatening eye grew rapidly in size and
intensity, and, at the next second, thundered past him a whole row of
palatial carriages. "Like a monstrously huge giant that suddenly checks
himself in the middle of a furious leap," he thought, the train came to
an abrupt stop before the platform. From the dazzling, illuminated
carriages, that resembled a fairy palace, stepped beautiful and elegant
ladies in wonderful hats, gentlemen dressed according to the latest
Paris fashion, who, in perfect French or German, greeted one another
with compliments or pointed witticisms. None of the passengers took the
slightest notice of Romashov, who saw in them a striking little sample
of that envied and unattainable world where life is a single,
uninterrupted, triumphal feast.

After an interval of eight minutes a bell would ring, the engine would
whistle, and the _train de luxe_ would flit away into the darkness. The
station would be soon deserted after this, and the lights lowered in the
buffet and on the platform, where Romashov would remain gazing with
melancholy eyes, after the lurid gleam of the red lamp of the rear
coach, until it disappeared in the gloom like an extinguished spark.

"I shall go to the station for a while," Romashov repeated to himself
once more, but when he cast a glance at his big, clumsy goloshes,
bespattered with clay and filth, he experienced a keen sense of shame.
All the other officers in the regiment wore the same kind of goloshes.
Then he noticed the worn buttonholes of his shabby cloak, its many
stains, and the fearfully torn lower border that almost degenerated into
a sort of fringe at the knees, and he sighed. One day in the previous
week he had, as usual, been promenading the platform, looking with
curiosity at the express train that had just arrived, when he noticed a
tall, extraordinarily handsome lady standing at the open door of a
first-class carriage. She was bare-headed, and Romashov managed to
distinguish a little, straight, piquant nose, two charming, pouting
lips, and a splendid, gleaming black head of hair which, parted in the
middle of her forehead, stole down to her coquettish little ears. Behind
her, and looking over her shoulder, stood a gigantic young man in a
light suit, with a scornful look, and moustaches after the style
affected by Kaiser Wilhelm. In fact, he bore a certain resemblance to
Wilhelm. The lady looked at Romashov, it seemed to him with an
expression of interest, and he said to himself: "The fair unknown's eyes
rested with pleasure on the young warrior's tall, well-formed figure."
But when, after walking on a few steps, he turned round to catch the
lady's eyes again, he saw that both she and her companion were looking
after him and laughing. In that moment he saw himself from outside, as
it were--his awful goloshes, his cloak, pale face, stiff, angular
figure--and experienced a feeling of shame and indignation at the
thought of the bombastic, romantic phrase he had just applied to
himself. Ah! even at this moment, when he was walking along the road in
the gloomy spring evening, he flushed at that torturing recollection.

"No, I shall not go to the station," he whispered to himself with bitter
hopelessness. "I'll take a little stroll and then go straight home."

It was in the beginning of April. The dusk was deepening into night. The
poplars that bordered the road, the small white houses with their
red-tiled roofs, the few wanderers one met in the street at this
hour--all grew darker, lost colour and perspective. All objects were
changed into black shadow, the lines of which, however, still showed
distinctly against the dark sky. Far away westwards, outside the town,
the sunset still gleamed fiery red. Vast dark-blue clouds melted slowly
down into a glowing crater of streaming, flaming gold, and then assumed
a blood-red hue with rays of violet and amber. But above the volcano,
like a dome of varying green, turquoise and beryl, arose the boundless
sky of a luminous spring night.

Romashov looked steadily at this enchanting picture whilst he slowly and
laboriously dragged himself and his goloshes along the causeway. As he
always did, even from childhood, he even now indulged in fancies of a
mysterious, marvellous world that waited for and beckoned to him in the
far distance, beyond the sunset. Just there--there behind the clouds and
the horizon--is hidden a wonderfully beautiful city lighted up by the
beams of a sun invisible from here, and protected against our eyes by
heavy, inexorable, threatening clouds. There the human eye is blinded by
streets paved with gold; there, to a dazzling height, the dome-capped
towers rise above the purple-hued roofs, where the palace windows
shimmer in the sun like innumerable gems, where countless flags and
banners resplendent with colour sway in the breeze. And in this fairy
city throng bands of rejoicing people, whose whole life is nothing but
an endless, intoxicating feast, a chord of harmony and bliss vibrating
for ever and ever. In paradisaical parks and gardens, amidst fountains
and flowers, stroll godlike men and women fair as the day, who have
never yet known an unfulfilled desire, who have never yet experienced
sorrow and struggle and shame.

Romashov suddenly called to mind the painful scene in the parade-ground,
the Commander's coarse invectives and that outrageous insult in the
presence of his comrades and subordinates. Ah! what affected him most
bitterly of all was that a person had railed at him before the soldiers
in the same rough and ruthless way as he himself, alas! had only too
often done to his subordinates. This he felt almost as a degradation,
nay, even as a debasement of his dignity as a human being.

Then awoke within him, exactly as was the case in his early youth--alas!
in many respects he still much resembled a big child--feelings at once
revengeful, fantastic, and intoxicating. "Stuff and nonsense!" he
shouted out to himself. "All my life is before me." And, as it were, in
keeping with his thoughts, he took firmer strides, and breathed more
deeply. "To-morrow to spite them all I shall rise with the sun, stick to
my books, and force an entrance into the Military Academy. Hard work? I
can work hard if I like. I must take myself in hand, that is all. I'll
read and cram like fury, early and late, and then, some fine day, to
every one's astonishment, I shall pass a brilliant examination. And
then, of course, every one will say: 'This was nothing unexpected, we
might have foretold that long ago. Such an energetic, talented young
man!'"

And our Romashov already saw himself in his mind's eye with a snug Staff
appointment and unlimited possibilities in the future. His name stood
engraved on the golden tablet of the Military Academy. The professors
had predicted a brilliant career for him, tried to retain him as a
lecturer at the Academy, etc. etc.--but in vain. All his tastes were for
the practical side, for troop service. He had also first to perform his
duties as company officer, and as a matter of course--yes, _as a matter
of course_--in his old regiment. He would, therefore, have to make
another appearance here--in this disgusting little out-of-the-way
hole--as a Staff officer uncommonly learned and all-accomplished, in
every respect unsurpassable, well-bred and elegant, inexorably severe to
himself, but benevolently condescending towards others, a pattern for
all, envied by all, etc. etc. He had seen at the manoeuvres in the
previous year a similar prodigy, who stood millions of miles above the
rest of mankind, and who, therefore, kept himself far apart from his
comrades at the officers' mess. Cards, dice, heavy drinking and noisy
buffoonery were not in his line; he had higher views. Besides, he had
only honoured with a short visit that miserable place, which for him was
only a stage, a step-ladder on the road to honour--and decorations.

And Romashov pursued his fancies. The grand manoeuvres have begun, and
the battalion is busy. Colonel Shulgovich, who never managed to make out
the strategical or tactical situation, gets more and more muddled in his
orders, commands and countermands, marches his men aimlessly here and
there, and has already got two orderlies at him, bringing severe
reprimands from the Commander of the corps. "Look here, Captain," says
Shulgovich, turning to his former sub-lieutenant, "help me out of this.
We are old and good friends, you know--well, we did have a little
difference on one occasion. Now tell me what I ought to do." His face is
red with anxiety and vexation; but Romashov sits straight in the saddle,
salutes stiffly, and in a respectful but freezing tone replies: "Pardon,
Colonel. _Your_ duty is to advance your regiment in accordance with the
Commander's order; _mine_ is only to receive your instructions and to
carry them out to the best of my ability." In the same moment a third
orderly from the Commander approaches at a furious gallop.

Romashov, the brilliant Staff officer, rises higher and higher towards
the pinnacles of power and glory. A dangerous strike has taken place at
a steel manufactory. Romashov's company is charged with the difficult
and hazardous task of restoring peace and order amongst the rioters.
Night and gloom, incendiarism, a flaming sea of fire, an innumerable,
hooting, bloodthirsty mob, a shower of stones. A stately young officer
steps in front of the company, his name is Romashov. "Brothers," cries
he, in a strong but melodious voice, "for the third and last time I
beseech you to disperse, otherwise--I shall fire." Wild shouts, derisive
laughter, whistling. A stone hits Romashov on the shoulder, but his
frank, handsome countenance maintains its unalterable calm. Slowly he
turns towards his soldiers, whose eyes scintillate with rage at the
insolent outrage that some one had dared to commit on their idolized
Captain. A few brief, energetic words of command are heard, "Line and
aim--fire!" A crashing report of rifles, immediately followed by a roar
of rage and despair from the crowd. A few score dead and wounded lie
where they have fallen; the rest flee in disorder or beg for mercy and
are taken prisoners. The riot is quelled, and Romashov awaits a gracious
token of the Tsar's gratitude and favour, together with a special reward
for the heroism he displayed.

Then comes the longed-for war. Nay, even before the war he is sent by
the War Office to Germany as a spy on the enemy's military power near
the frontier. Perfectly familiar with the German language, he enters
upon his hazardous career. How delightful is such an adventure to a
brave and patriotic man! Absolutely alone, with a German passport in his
pocket and a street organ on his back, he wanders from town to town,
from village to village, grinds out tunes, collects coppers, plays the
part of a simple lout, and meanwhile obtains, in all secrecy, plans and
sketches of fortresses, stores, barracks, camps, etc., etc. Foes and
perils lie in wait for him every minute. His own Government has left him
helpless and unprotected. He is virtually an outlaw. If he succeeds in
his purpose, honours and rewards of all kinds await him. Should he be
unmasked, he will be condemned straight off to be shot or hanged. He
sees himself standing in the dark and gloomy trench, confronted by his
executioners. Out of compassion they fasten a white cloth before his
eyes; but he tears it away and throws it to the ground with the proud
words, "Do you not think an officer can face death?" An old Colonel
replies, in a quivering voice: "Listen, my young friend. I have a son of
the same age as you. I will spare you. Tell us your name--tell us, at
any rate, your nationality, and the death sentence will be commuted to
imprisonment." "I thank you, Colonel; but it is useless. Do your duty."
Then he turns to the soldiers, and says to them in a firm voice in
German: "Comrades, there is only one favour I would crave: spare my
face, aim at my heart." The officer in command, deeply moved, raises his
white pocket-handkerchief--a crashing report--and Romashov's story is
ended.

This picture made such a lively impression on his imagination that
Romashov, who was already very excited and striding along the road,
suddenly stopped short, trembling all over. His heart beat violently,
and he clenched his hands convulsively. He gained, however, command over
himself immediately, and smiling compassionately at himself, he
continued on his way in the darkness.

But it was not long before he began to conjure up fresh pictures in his
imagination. The cruel war with Prussia and Austria, long expected and
prepared for, had come. An enormous battlefield, corpses everywhere,
havoc, annihilation, blood, and death. It was the chief battle, on the
issue of which the whole war depended. The decisive moment had arrived.
The last reserves had been brought up, and one was waiting anxiously for
the Russian flanking column to arrive in time to attack the enemy in the
rear. At any cost the enemy's frantic attack must be met without
flinching. The most important and threatened position on the field was
occupied by the Kerenski regiment, which was being decimated by the
concentrated fire of the enemy. The soldiers fight like lions without
yielding an inch, although the whole line is being mowed down by a
murderous fire of shells. Every one feels that he is passing through an
historical moment. A few more seconds of heroic endurance and victory
will be snatched out of the enemy's hands. But Colonel Shulgovich
wavers. He is a brave man--that must be admitted--but the perils of a
fight like this are too much for his nerves. He turns pale and trembles.
The next moment he signals to the bugler to sound the retreat, and the
latter has already put the bugle to his lips, when, that very moment,
Colonel Romashov, chief of the Staff, comes dashing from behind the hill
on his foaming Arab steed. "Colonel, we dare not retreat. The fate of
Russia will be decided here." Shulgovich begins blustering. "Colonel
Romashov, it is I who am in command and must answer to God and the Tsar.
The regiment must retire--blow the bugle." But Romashov snatches the
bugle from the bugler's hand and hurls it to the ground. "Forward, my
children!" he shouts; "the eyes of your Emperor and your
fellow-countrymen are fixed on you." "Hurrah!" With a deafening shout of
joy the soldiers, led by Romashov, rush at the foe. Everything
disappears in a chasm of fire and smoke. The enemy wavers, and soon his
lines are broken; but behind him gleam the Russian bayonets. "The
victory is ours! Hurrah, comrades"----

Romashov, who no longer walked but ran, gesticulating wildly, at last
stopped and gradually became himself again. It seemed to him as if some
one with fingers cold as ice had suddenly passed them over his back,
arms, and legs, his hair bristled, and his strong excitement had brought
tears to his eyes. He had no notion how he suddenly found himself near
his quarters, and, as he recovered from his mad fancies, he gazed with
astonishment at the street door he knew so well, at the neglected
fruit-garden within which stood the little whitewashed wing where he
lodged.

"How does all this nonsense get into my head?" said he, with a sense of
shame and a shrug of his shoulders in self-contempt.



III


When Romashov reached his room he threw himself, just as he was, with
cap and sabre, on his bed, and for a long time he lay there motionless,
staring up at the ceiling. His head burned, his back ached; and he
suffered from a vacuum within him as profound as if his mind was
incapable of harbouring a feeling, a memory, or a thought. He felt
neither irritation nor sadness, but he was sensible of a suffocating
weight on his heart, of darkness and indifference.

The shades of a balmy April night fell. He heard his servant quietly
occupied with some metal object in the hall.

"Curiously enough," said he to himself, "I have read somewhere or other
that one cannot live a single second without thinking. But here I lie
and think about absolutely nothing. Isn't that so? Perhaps it is just
this: I am thinking that _I am thinking about nothing_. It even seems as
if a tiny wheel in my brain is in motion. And see here a new reflection,
an objective introspection--I am also thinking of----"

He lay so long and tortured himself with such forced mental images that
returned in an eternal circle that it finally became physically
repulsive to him. It was just as if a great loathsome spider, from which
he could not extricate himself, was softly groping about _under his
brain_. At last he raised his head from the pillows and called out--

"Hainán."

At that very moment was heard a tremendous crash of something falling
and rolling on the floor. It was probably the funnel belonging to the
samovar which had dropped. The door was opened hastily and shut again
with a loud bang. The servant burst into the room, making as much noise
in opening and shutting the door as if we were running away from some
one.

"It is I, your Honour," shrieked Hainán in a fear-stricken voice.

"Has there been any message from Lieutenant Nikoläiev?"

"No, your Excellency," replied Hainán in the same shrieking tone.

Between the officer and his servant there existed a certain simple,
sincere, affectionately familiar relationship. When the question only
required the usual stereotyped, official answer, e.g. "Yes, your
Excellency," "No, your Excellency," etc., then Hainán shrieked the words
in the same wooden, soulless, and unnatural way as soldiers always do in
the case of their officers, and which, from their first days in the
recruit school, becomes ineradicably ingrained in them as long as they
live.

Hainán was by birth a Circassian, and by religion an idolater. This
latter circumstance gave great satisfaction to Romashov, because among
the young officers of the regiment the silly and boyish custom prevailed
of training their respective servants to be something unique, or of
teaching them certain semi-idiotic answers and phrases.

For instance, when his friends paid him a visit, Viätkin used to say to
his orderly, a Moldavian, "Busioskul, have we any champagne in the
cellar?" And Busioskul would answer with imperturbable gravity, "No,
your Excellency. Last night you were pleased to drink up the last
dozen." Another officer, Sub-lieutenant Epifanov, amused himself by
putting to his servant learned and difficult questions which he himself
could hardly answer. "Listen, my friend, what are your views on the
restoration of the monarchy in France at the present day?" The servant
answers, "Your Honour, it will, I think, succeed." Lieutenant Bobetinski
had written down a whole catechism for his flunkey, and the latter
trained genius replied frankly and unhesitatingly to the most absurd
questions, e.g. "Why is this important for the third?" Answer--"For the
third this is not important." "What is Holy Church's opinion about it?"
Answer--"Holy Church has no opinion about it." The same servant would
declaim, with the quaintest, semi-tragical gestures, Pinen's rôle in
"Boris-Gudunov." It was also usual and much appreciated to make him
express himself in French: "Bong shure, musseur. Bon nuite, moussier.
Vulley vous du tay, musseur?" etc. etc., in that style. All these
follies naturally arose from the dullness of that little garrison town,
and the narrowness of a life from which all interests were excluded
except those belonging to the service.

Romashov often talked to Hainán about his gods--about whom the
Circassian had only dim and meagre ideas; but it amused him greatly to
make Hainán tell the story of how he took the oath of allegiance to the
Tsar and Russia--a story well worth hearing now and then. At that time
the oath of allegiance was, for the Orthodox, administered by a priest
of the Greek Church; for Catholics, by the _ksends_[3]; for
Protestants, when a Lutheran pastor was not available, by Staff-Captain
Ditz; and for Mohammedans, by Lieutenant Biek-Agamalov. For Hainán and
two of his fellow-countrymen a particular and highly original form had
been authorized. The three soldiers were ordered to march in turn up to
the Adjutant of the regiment, and from the point of the sabre held
towards them they were required to bite off, with deep reverence, a
piece of bread that had been dipped in salt. Under no circumstances was
the bread to be touched by their hands. The symbolism of this curious
ceremony was as follows: When the Circassian had eaten his lord's--the
Tsar's--bread and salt in this peculiar way he was ruthlessly condemned
to die by the sword if he ever failed in loyalty and obedience. Hainán
was evidently very proud of having thus taken his oath of allegiance to
the Tsar, and he never got tired of relating the circumstance; but as
every time he told his story he adorned it with fresh inventions and
absurdities, it became at last a veritable Münchausen affair, which was
always received with Homeric laughter by Romashov and his guests.

Hainán now thought that his master would start his usual questions about
gods and Adjutants, and stood ready to begin with a cunning smile on his
face, when Romashov said--

"That will do; you can go."

"Shall I not lay out your Honour's new uniform?" asked the
ever-attentive Hainán.

Romashov was silent and pondered. First he would say "Yes," then "No,"
and again "Yes." At last, after a long, deep sigh, uttered in the
descending scale, he replied in a tone of resignation--

"No, Hainán, never mind about that--get the samovar ready and then run
off to the mess for my supper."

"I will stay away to-day," whispered he to himself. "It doesn't do to
bore people to death by calling on them like that every day. And,
besides, it is plain I am not a man people long for."

His resolution to stay at home that evening seemed fixed enough, and yet
an inner voice told him that even to-day, as on most other days during
the past three months, he would go to the Nikoläievs'. Every time he
bade these friends of his good-bye at midnight, he had, with shame and
indignation at his own weakness and lack of character, sworn to himself
on his honour that he would not pay another call there for two or three
weeks. Nay, he had even made up his mind to give up altogether these
uncalled-for visits. And all the while he was on his way home, whilst he
was undressing, ah! even up to the moment he fell asleep, he believed it
would be an easy matter for him to keep his resolution. The night went
by, the morning dawned, and the day dragged on slowly and unwillingly,
evening came, and once more an irresistible force drew him to this
handsome and elegant abode, with its warm, well-lighted, comfortable
rooms, where peace, harmony, cheerful and confidential conversation,
and, above all, the delightful enchantment of feminine beauty awaited
him.

Romashov sat on the edge of his bed. It was already dark, but he could,
nevertheless, easily discern the various objects in his room. Oh, how he
loathed day by day his mean, gloomy dwelling, with its trumpery,
tasteless furniture! His lamp, with its ugly shade that resembled a
night-cap, on the inconvenient, rickety writing-table, looked haughtily
down on the nerve-torturing alarm-clock and the dirty, vulgar inkstand
that had the shape of a badly modelled pug-dog. Over his head something
intended to represent a wall decoration--a piece of felt on which had
been embroidered a terrible tiger and a still more terrible Arab riding
on horseback, armed with a spear. In one corner a tumbledown bookstand,
in the other the fantastic silhouette of a hideous violoncello case.
Over the only window the room could boast a curtain of plaited straw
rolled up into a tube. Behind the door a clothes-stand concealed by a
sheet that had been white in prehistoric times. Every unmarried
subaltern officer had the same articles about him, with the exception of
the violoncello which Romashov had borrowed from the band attached to
the regiment--in which it was completely unnecessary--with the intention
of developing on it his musical talent. But as soon as he had tried in
vain to teach himself the C major scale, he tired of the thing
altogether, and the 'cello had now stood for more than a year, dusty and
forgotten, in its dark corner.

More than a year ago Romashov, who had just left the military college,
had taken both pride and joy in furnishing his modest lodgings. To have
a room of his own, his own things, to choose and buy household furniture
according to his own liking, to arrange everything according to his own
consummate taste--all that highly flattered the _amour propre_ of that
young man of two-and-twenty. It seemed only yesterday that he sat on the
school form, or marched in rank and file with his comrades off to the
general mess-room to eat, at the word of command, his frugal breakfast.
To-day he was his own master. And how many hopes and plans sprang into
his brain in the course of those never-to-be-forgotten days when he
furnished and "adorned" his new home! What a severe programme he
composed for his future! The first two years were to be devoted chiefly
to a thorough study of classical literature, French and German, and also
music. After that, a serious preparation for entering the Staff College
was to follow. It was necessary to study sociology and society life, and
to be abreast of modern science and literature. Romashov therefore felt
himself bound at least to subscribe to a newspaper and to take in a
popular monthly magazine. The bookstand was adorned with Wundt's
_Psychology_, Lewes's _Physiology_, and Smiles's _Self-Help_, etc., etc.

But for nine long months have the books lain undisturbed on their
shelves, forgotten by Hainán, whose business it is to dust them. Heaps
of newspapers, not even stripped of their wrappers, lie cast in a pile
beneath the writing-table, and the æsthetic magazine to which we just
referred has ceased to reach Romashov on account of repeated
"irregularities" with regard to the half-yearly payment. Sub-Lieutenant
Romashov drinks a good deal of vodka at mess; he has a tedious and
loathsome liaison with a married woman belonging to the regiment, whose
consumptive and jealous husband he deceives in strict accordance with
all the rules of art; he plays _schtoss_,[4] and more and more
frequently comes into unpleasant collisions both in the service and also
in the circles of his friends and acquaintances.

"Pardon me, your Honour," shouted his servant, entering the room
noisily. Then he added in a friendly, simple, good-natured tone: "I
forgot to mention that a letter has come from Mrs. Peterson. The
orderly who brought it is waiting for an answer."

Romashov frowned, took the letter, tore open a long, slender,
rose-coloured envelope, in a corner of which fluttered a dove with a
letter in its beak.

"Light the lamp, Hainán," said he to his servant.

     MY DEAR DARLING IRRESISTIBLE LITTLE GEORGI (read Romashov in the
     sloping, crooked lines he knew so well),--For a whole week you have
     not been to see me, and yesterday I was so miserable without you
     that I lay and wept the whole night. Remember that if you fool me
     or deceive me I shall not survive it. One single drop of poison and
     I shall be freed from my tortures for ever; but, as for you,
     conscience shall gnaw you for ever and ever. You must--must come to
     me to-night at half-past seven. _He_ is not at home, he is
     somewhere--on tactical duty or whatever it is called. Do come! I
     kiss you a thousand thousand times.

Yours always,
RAISA.

     P.S.--

    Have you forgotten the river fast rushing,
      Under the willow-boughs wending its way,
    Kisses you gave me, dear, burning and crushing,
      When in your strong arms I tremblingly lay?

     P.SS.--You must absolutely attend the soirée next Saturday at the
     officers' mess. I will give you the third quadrille. You
     understand.

A long way down on the fourth page lay written--

    I have kissed
       here.

This delightful epistle wafted the familiar perfume of Persian lilac,
and drops of that essence had, here and there, left yellow stains behind
them on the letter, in which the characters had run apart in different
directions. This stale scent, combined with the tasteless, absurdly
sentimental tone throughout this letter from a little, immoral,
red-haired woman, excited in Romashov an intolerable feeling of disgust.
With a sort of grim delight he first tore the letter into two parts,
laid them carefully together, tore them up again, laid the bits of paper
once more together, and tore them again into little bits till his
fingers got numb, and then, with clenched teeth and a broad, cynical
grin, threw the fragments under his writing-table. At the same time,
according to his old habit, he had time to think of himself in the third
person--

"And he burst out into a bitter, contemptuous laugh."

A moment later he realized that he would have to go that evening to the
Nikoläievs'. "But this is the last time." After he had tried to deceive
himself by these words, he felt for once happy and calm.

"Hainán, my clothes."

He made his toilet hastily and impatiently, put on his elegant new
tunic, and sprinkled a few drops of eau-de-Cologne on a clean
handkerchief; but when he was dressed, and ready to go, he was stopped
suddenly by Hainán.

"Your Honour," said the Circassian, in an unusually meek and
supplicating tone, as he began to execute a most curious sort of dance
before his master. Whilst he was performing a kind of "march on the
spot" he lifted his knees right up, one after the other, rocking his
shoulders, nodding his head, and making a series of convulsive movements
in the air with his arms and fingers. Hainán was in the habit of giving
vent to his excited feelings by curious gestures of that sort.

"What do you want now?"

"Your Honour," stammered Hainán, "I want to ask you something; please
give me the white gentleman."

"The white gentleman? What white gentleman?"

"The one you ordered me to throw away--the one standing in that corner."

Hainán pointed with his fingers to the stove-corner, where a bust of
Pushkin was standing on the floor. This bust, which Romashov had
obtained from a wandering pedlar, really did not represent the famous
poet, but merely reproduced the forbidding features of an old Jew
broker. Badly modelled, so covered with dust and fly dirt as to be
unrecognizable, the stone image aroused Romashov's aversion to such an
extent that he had at last made up his mind to order Hainán to throw it
into the yard.

"What do you want with it?" asked Romashov, laughing. "But take it by
all means, take it, I am only too pleased. I don't want it, only I
should like to know what you are going to do with it."

Hainán smiled and changed from one foot to the other.

"Well, take him, then; I wish you joy of it. By the way, do you know who
it is?"

Hainán smiled in an embarrassed way, and infused still more energy into
his caperings.

"No--don't know." Hainán rubbed his lips with his coat sleeve.

"So you don't know. Well, listen. This is Pushkin--Alexander Sergievich
Pushkin. Did you understand me? Now repeat--'Alexander Sergievich----'"

"Besiäev," repeated Hainán in a determined tone.

"Besiäev? Well, call him Besiäev if you like. Now I am off. Should any
message come from Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, say I'm not at home, and you
don't know where I have gone. Do you understand? But if any one wants me
in the way of business connected with the regiment, run down at once for
me at Lieutenant Nikoläiev's. You may fetch my supper from the mess and
eat it yourself. Good-bye, old fellow."

Romashov gave his servant a friendly smack on his shoulder, which was
answered by a broad, happy, familiar smile.



IV


When Romashov reached the yard it was quite dark. He stumbled like a
blind man into the street, his huge goloshes sank deep into the thick,
stiff mud, and every step he took was accompanied by a smacking noise.
Now and again one golosh stuck so fast in the mud of the road that it
remained there, and he had all the difficulty in the world, whilst
balancing himself wildly on his other foot, to recover his treasure.

The little town seemed to him to be absolutely dead. Not a sound was
heard, even the dogs were silent. Here and there a gleam of light
streamed from the small, low-pitched, white house, against which the
window-sills sharply depicted their shapes in the yellowish-brown mire.
From the wet and sticky palings along which Romashov slowly worked his
way, from the raw, moist bark of the poplars, from the dirty road
itself, there arose a strong, refreshing scent of spring, which aroused
a certain unconscious sense of joy and comfort. Nay, even with the
tormenting gale which swept violently through the streets seemed mingled
a youthful, reawakened desire of life, and the gusts of wind chased one
another like boisterous and sportive children in a "merry-go-round."

When Romashov reached the house where the Nikoläievs dwelt, he stopped,
despondent and perplexed. The close, cinnamon-coloured curtains were
let down, but behind them one could, nevertheless, distinguish the
clear, even glow of a lamp. On one side the curtain curved inwards and
formed a long, small chink against the window-sill. Romashov pressed his
face cautiously against the window, and hardly dared to breathe for fear
of betraying his presence.

He could distinguish Alexandra Petrovna's head and shoulders. She was
sitting in a stooping attitude on that green rep divan that he knew so
well. From her bowed head and slight movements he concluded that she was
occupied with some needlework. Suddenly she straightened herself up,
raised her head, and drew a long breath. Her lips moved.

"What is she saying?" thought Romashov. "And look! now she's smiling.
How strange to see through a window a person talking, and not to be able
to catch a word of what she says."

The smile, however, suddenly disappeared from Alexandra Petrovna's face;
her forehead puckered, and her lips moved rapidly and vehemently.
Directly afterwards she smiled again, but wickedly and maliciously, and
with her head made a slow gesture of disapproval.

"Perhaps they are talking about me," thought Romashov, not without a
certain disagreeable anxiety; but he knew how something pure, chaste,
agreeably soothing and benevolent beamed on him from this young woman
who, at that moment, made the same impression on him as a charming
canvas, the lovely picture of which reminded him of happy, innocent days
of long ago. "Shurochka," whispered Romashov tenderly.

At that moment Alexandra Petrovna lifted her face from her work and cast
a rapid, searching, despondent glance at the window. Romashov thought
she was looking him straight in the face. It felt as if a cold hand had
seized his heart, and in his fright he hid himself behind a projection
of the wall. Again he was irresolute and ill at ease, and he was just
about to return home, when, by a violent effort of the will, he overcame
his pusillanimity and walked through a little back-door into the
kitchen.

The Nikoläievs' servant relieved him of his muddy goloshes, and wiped
down his boots with a kitchen rag. When Romashov pulled out his
pocket-handkerchief to remove the mist from his eyeglass he heard
Alexandra Petrovna's musical voice from the drawing-room.

"Stepan, have they brought the orders of the day yet?"

"She said that with an object," thought Romashov to himself. "She knows
well enough that I'm in the habit of coming about this time."

"No, it is I, Alexandra Petrovna," he answered aloud, but in an
uncertain voice, through the open drawing-room door.

"Oh, it's you, Romashov. Well, come in, come in. What are you doing at
the side entrance? Volodya, Romashov is here."

Romashov stepped in, made an awkward bow, and began, so as to hide his
embarrassment, to wipe his hands with his handkerchief.

"I am afraid I bore you, Alexandra Petrovna."

He tried to say this in an easy and jocose tone, but the words came out
awkwardly, and as it seemed to him, with a forced ring about them.

"What nonsense you talk!" exclaimed Alexandra Petrovna. "Sit down,
please, and let us have some tea."

Looking him straight in the face with her clear, piercing eyes, she
squeezed as usual his cold fingers with her little soft, warm hand.

Nikoläiev sat with his back to them at the table that was almost hidden
by piles of books, drawings, and maps. Before the year was out he had to
make another attempt to get admitted to the Staff College, and for many
months he had been preparing with unremitting industry for this stiff
examination in which he had already twice failed. Staring hard at the
open book before him, he stretched his arm over his shoulder to Romashov
without turning round, and said, in a calm, husky voice--

"How do you do, Yuri[5] Alexievich? Is there any news? Shurochka, give
him some tea. Excuse me, but I am, as you see, hard at work."

"What a fool I am!" cried poor Romashov to himself. "What business had I
here?" Then he added out loud: "Bad news. There are ugly reports
circulating at mess with regard to Lieutenant-Colonel Liech. He is said
to have been as tight as a drum. The resentment in the regiment is
widespread, and a very searching inquiry is demanded. Epifanov has been
arrested."

"Oh!" remarked Nikoläiev in an absent tone. "But excuse my interruption.
You don't say so!"

"I, too, have been rewarded with four days. But that is stale news."

Romashov thought at that moment that his voice sounded peculiar and
unnatural, as if he were being throttled. "What a wretched creature I am
in their eyes!" thought he, but in the next moment consoled himself by
the help of that forced special pleading to which weak and timid persons
usually have recourse in similar predicaments. "Such you always are;
something goes wrong; you feel confused, embarrassed, and at once you
fondly imagine that others notice it, though only you yourself can be
clearly conscious of it," etc., etc.

He sat down on a chair near Shurochka, whose quick crochet needle was in
full swing again. She never sat idle, and all the table-covers,
lamp-shades, and lace curtains were the product of her busy fingers.
Romashov cautiously took up the long crochet threads hanging from the
ball, and said--

"What do you call this sort of work?"

"Guipure. This is the tenth time you have asked me that."

Shurochka glanced quickly at him, and then let her eyes fall on her
work; but before long she looked up again and laughed.

"Now then, now then, Yuri Alexievich, don't sit there pouting.
'Straighten your back!' and 'Head up!' Isn't that how you give your
commands?"

But Romashov only sighed and looked out of the corner of his eye at
Nikoläiev's brawny neck, the whiteness of which was thrown into strong
relief by the grey collar of his old coat.

"By Jove! Vladimir Yefimovich is a lucky dog. Next summer he's going to
St. Petersburg, and will rise to the heights of the Academy."

"Oh, that remains to be seen," remarked Shurochka, somewhat tartly,
looking in her husband's direction. "He has twice been plucked at his
examination, and with rather poor credit to himself has had to return to
his regiment. This will be his last chance."

Nikoläiev turned round suddenly; his handsome, soldierly, moustached
face flushed deeply, and his big dark eyes glittered with rage.

"Don't talk rubbish, Shurochka. When I say I shall pass my examination,
I shall pass it, and that's enough about it." He struck the side of his
outstretched hand violently on the table. "You are always croaking. I
said I should--"

"Yes, '_I said I should_,'" his wife repeated after him, whilst she
struck her knee with her little brown hand. "But it would be far better
if you could answer the following question: 'What are the requisites for
a good line of battle?' Perhaps you don't know" (she turned with a
roguish glance towards Romashov) "that I am considerably better up in
tactics than he. Well, Volodya--Staff-General that is to be--answer the
question now."

"Look here, Shurochka, stop it," growled Nikoläiev in a bad temper. But
suddenly he turned round again on his chair towards his wife, and in his
wide-open, handsome, but rather stupid eyes might be read an amusing
helplessness, nay, even a certain terror.

"Wait a bit, my little woman, and I will try to remember. 'Good fighting
order'? A good fighting order _must_ be arranged so that one does not
expose oneself too much to the enemy's fire; that one can easily issue
orders, that--that--wait a minute."

"That waiting will be costly work for you in the future, I think," said
Shurochka, interrupting him, in a serious tone. Then, with head down and
her body rocking, she began, like a regular schoolgirl, to rattle off
the following lesson without stumbling over a single word--

"'The requisites of "good fighting order" are simplicity, mobility,
flexibility, and the ability to accommodate itself to the ground. It
ought to be easy to be inspected and led. It must, as far as possible,
be out of reach of the enemy's fire, easy to pass from one formation to
another, and able to be quickly changed from fighting to marching
order.' Done!"

She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, and, as she turned her lively,
smiling countenance to Romashov, said--

"Was that all right?"

"What a memory!" exclaimed Nikoläiev enviously, as he once more plunged
into his books.

"We study together like two comrades," explained Shurochka. "I could
pass this examination at any time. The main thing"--she made an
energetic motion in the air with her crochet needle--"the main thing is
to work systematically or according to a fixed plan. Our system is
entirely my own invention, and I say so with pride. Every day we go
through a certain amount of mathematics and the science of war--I may
remark, by the way, that artillery is not my _forte_; the formulæ of
projectiles are to me specially distasteful--besides a bit out of the
Drill and Army Regulations Book. Moreover, every other day we study
languages, and on the days we do not study the latter we study history
and geography."

"And Russian too?" asked Romashov politely.

"Russian, do you say? Yes, that does not give us much trouble; we have
already mastered Groth's _Orthography_, and so far as the essays are
concerned, year after year they are after the eternal stereotyped
pattern: _Para pacem, para bellum_; characteristics of Onyägin and his
epoch, etc., etc."

Suddenly she became silent, and snatched by a quick movement the
distracting crochet needle from Romashov's fingers. She evidently wanted
to monopolize the whole of his attention to what she now intended to
say. After this she began to speak with passionate earnestness of what
was at present the goal of all her thoughts and aims.

"Romochka, please, try to understand me. I cannot--cannot stand this any
longer. To remain here is to deteriorate. To become a 'lady of the
regiment,' to attend your rowdy _soirées_, to talk scandal and intrigue,
to get into tempers every day, and wear out one's nerves over the
housekeeping, money and carriage bills, to serve in turn, according to
precedency, on ladies' committees and benevolent associations, to play
whist, to--no, enough of this. You say that our home is comfortable and
charming. But just examine this _bourgeois_ happiness. These eternal
embroideries and laces; these dreadful clothes which I have altered and
modernized God knows how often; this vulgar, 'loud'-coloured sofa rug
composed of rags from every spot on earth--all this has been hateful and
intolerable to me. Don't you understand, my dear Romochka, that it is
society--real society--that I want, with brilliant drawing-rooms, witty
conversation, music, flirtation, homage. As you are well aware, our good
Volodya is not one to set the Thames on fire, but he is a brave,
honourable, and industrious fellow. If he can only gain admission to the
Staff College I swear to procure him a brilliant career. I am a good
linguist; I can hold my own in any society whatever; I possess--I don't
know how to express it--a certain flexibility of mind or spirit that
helps me to hold my own, to adapt myself everywhere. Finally, Romochka,
look at me, gaze at me carefully. Am I, as a human being, so
uninteresting? Am I, as a woman, so devoid of all charms that I deserve
to be doomed to stay and be soured in this hateful place, in this awful
hole which has no place on the map?"

She suddenly covered her face with her handkerchief, and burst into
tears of self-pity and wounded pride.

Nikoläiev sprang from his chair and hastened, troubled and distracted,
to his wife; but Shurochka had already succeeded in regaining her
self-control and took her handkerchief away from her face. There were no
tears in her eyes now, but the glint of wrath and passion had not yet
died out of them.

"It is all right, Volodya. Dear, it is nothing." She pushed him
nervously away. Immediately afterwards she turned with a little laugh to
Romashov, and whilst she was again snatching the thread from him, she
said to him coquettishly: "Answer me candidly, you clumsy thing, am I
pretty or not? Remember, though, it is the height of impoliteness not to
pay a woman the compliment she wants."

"Shurochka, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" exclaimed Nikoläiev
reprovingly, from his seat at the writing-table.

Romashov smiled with a martyr's air of resignation. Suddenly he replied,
in a melancholy and quavering voice--

"You are very beautiful."

Shurochka looked at him roguishly from her half-closed eyes, and a
turbulent curl got loose and fell over her forehead.

"Romochka, how funny you are!" she twittered in a rather thin, girlish
voice. The sub-lieutenant blushed and thought according to his wont--

"And his heart was cruelly lacerated."

Nobody said a word. Shurochka went on diligently crocheting. Vladimir
Yefimovich, who was bravely struggling with a German translation, now
and then mumbled out some German words. One heard the flame softly
sputtering and fizzing in the lamp, which displayed a great yellow silk
shade in the form of a tent. Romochka had again managed to possess
himself of the crochet-cotton, which, almost without thinking about it,
he softly and caressingly drew through the young woman's fingers, and it
afforded him a delightful pleasure to feel how Shurochka unconsciously
resisted his mischievous little pulls. It seemed to him as if
mysterious, magnetic currents, now and again, rushed backwards and
forwards through the delicate white threads.

Whilst he was steadily gazing at her bent head, he whispered to himself,
without moving his lips, as if he were carrying on a tender and
impassioned conversation--

"How boldly you said to me, 'Am I pretty?' Ah, you are most beautiful!
Here I sit looking at you. What happiness! Now listen. I am going to
tell you how you look--how lovely you are. But listen carefully. Thy
face is as dark as the night, yet pale. It is a face full of passion.
Thy lips are red and warm and good to kiss, and thine eyes surrounded by
a light yellowish shadow. When thy glance is directed straight before
thee, the white of thine eyes acquires a bluish shade, and amidst it all
there beams on me a great dark blue mysteriously gleaming pupil. A
brunette thou art not; but thou recallest something of the gipsy. But
thy hair is silky and soft, and braided at the back in a knot so neat
and simple that one finds a difficulty in refraining from stroking it.
You little ethereal creature, I could lift you like a little child in my
arms; but you are supple and strong, your bosom is as firm as a young
girl's, and in all thy being there is something quick, passionate,
compelling. A good way down on your left ear sits a charming little
birthmark that is like the hardly distinguishable scar after a ring has
been removed. What charm----"

"Have you read in the newspapers about the duel between two officers?"
asked Shurochka suddenly.

Romashov started as he awoke from his dreams, but he found it hard to
remove his gaze from her.

"No, I've not read about it, but I have heard talk of it. What about
it?"

"As usual, of course, you read nothing. Truly, Yuri Alexeitch, you are
deteriorating. In my opinion the proceedings were ridiculous. I quite
understand that duels between officers are as necessary as they are
proper."

Shurochka pressed her crochet to her bosom with a gesture of conviction.

"But why all this unnecessary and stupid cruelty? Just listen. A
lieutenant had insulted another officer. The insult was gross, and the
Court of Honour considered a duel necessary. Now, there would have been
nothing to say about it, unless the conditions themselves of the duel
had been so fixed that the latter resembled an ordinary execution:
fifteen paces distance, and the fight to last till one of the duellists
was _hors de combat_. This is only on a par with ordinary slaughter, is
it not? But hear what followed. On the duelling-ground stood all the
officers of the regiment, many of them with ladies; nay, they had even
put a photographer behind the bushes! How disgusting! The unfortunate
sub-lieutenant or ensign--as Volodya usually says--a man of your
youthful age, moreover the party insulted, and not the one who offered
the insult--received, after the third shot, a fearful wound in the
stomach, and died some hours afterwards in great torture. By his
deathbed stood his aged mother and sister, who kept house for him. Now
tell me why a duel should be turned into such a disgusting spectacle.
Of course the immediate consequence" (Shurochka almost shrieked these
words) "was that all those sentimental opponents of duelling--eugh, how
I despise these 'liberal' weaklings and poltroons!--at once began making
a noise and fuss about 'barbarism,' 'fratricide,' how 'duels are a
disgrace to our times,' and more nonsense of that sort."

"Good God! I could never believe that you were so bloodthirsty,
Alexandra Petrovna," exclaimed Romashov, interrupting her.

"I am by no means bloodthirsty," replied Shurochka, sharply. "On the
contrary, I am very tender-hearted. If a beetle crawls on to my neck I
remove it with the greatest caution so as not to inflict any hurt on
it--but try and understand me, Romashov. This is my simple process of
reasoning: 'Why have we officers?' Answer: 'For the sake of war.' 'What
are the most necessary qualities of an officer in time of war?' Answer:
'Courage and a contempt of death.' 'How are these qualities best
acquired in time of peace?' Answer: 'By means of duels.' How can that be
proved? Duels are not required to be obligatory in the French Army, for
a sense of honour is innate in the French officer; he knows what respect
is due to himself and to others. Neither is duelling obligatory in the
German Army, with its highly developed and inflexible discipline. But
with us--us, as long as among our officers are to be found notorious
card-sharpers such as, for instance, Artschakovski; or hopeless sots, as
our own Nasanski, when, in the officers' mess or on duty, violent scenes
are of almost daily occurrence--then, such being the case, duels are
both necessary and salutary. An officer must be a pattern of
correctness; he is bound to weigh every word he utters. And, moreover,
this delicate squeamishness, the fear of a shot! Your vocation is to
risk your life--which is precisely the point."

All at once she brought her long speech to a close, and with redoubled
energy resumed her work.

"Shurochka, what is 'rival' in German?" asked Nikoläiev, lifting his
head from the book.

"Rival?" Shurochka stuck her crochet-needle in her soft locks. "Read out
the whole sentence."

"It runs--wait--directly--directly--ah! it runs: 'Our rival abroad.'"

"_Unser ausländischer Nebenbuhler_" translated Shurochka straight off.

"_Unser_," repeated Romashov in a whisper as he gazed dreamily at the
flame of the lamp. "When she is moved," thought he, "her words come like
a torrent of hail falling on a silver tray. _Unser_--what a funny word!
_Unser--unser--unser._"

"What are you mumbling to yourself about, Romashov?" asked Alexandra
Petrovna severely. "Don't dare to sit and build castles in the air
whilst I am present."

He smiled at her with a somewhat embarrassed air.

"I was not building castles in the air, but repeating to myself
'_Unser--unser._' Isn't it a funny word?"

"What rubbish you are talking! _Unser._ Why is it funny?"

"You see" (he made a slight pause as if he really intended to think
about what he meant to say), "if one repeats the same word for long, and
at the same time concentrates on it all his faculty of thought, the word
itself suddenly loses all its meaning and becomes--how can I put it?"

"I know, I know!" she interrupted delightedly. "But it is not easy to
do it now. When I was a child, now--how we used to love doing it!"

"Yes--yes--it belongs to childhood--yes."

"How well I remember it! I remember the word 'perhaps' particularly
struck me. I could sit for a long time with eyes shut, rocking my body
to and fro, whilst I was repeatedly saying over and over again,
'Perhaps, perhaps.' And suddenly I quite forgot what the word itself
meant. I tried to remember, but it was no use. I saw only a little
round, reddish blotch with two tiny tails. Are you attending?" Romashov
looked tenderly at her.

"How wonderful that we should think the same thoughts!" he exclaimed in
a dreamy tone. "But let us return to our _unser_. Does not this word
suggest the idea of something long, thin, lanky, and having a sting--a
long, twisting insect, poisonous and repulsive?"

"_Unser_, did you say?" Shurochka lifted up her head, blinked her eyes,
and stared obstinately at the darkest corner of the room. She was
evidently striving to improve on Romashov's fanciful ideas.

"No, wait. _Unser_ is something green and sharp. Well, we'll suppose it
is an insect--a grasshopper, for instance--but big, disgusting, and
poisonous. But how stupid we are, Romochka!"

"There's another thing I do sometimes, only it was much easier when I
was a child," resumed Romashov in a mysterious tone. "I used to take a
word and pronounce it slowly, extremely slowly. Every letter was drawn
out and emphasized interminably. All of a sudden I was seized by a
strangely inexpressible feeling: all--everything near me sank into an
abyss, and I alone remained, marvelling that I lived, thought, and
spoke."

"I, too, have had a similar sensation," interrupted Shurochka gaily,
"yet not exactly the same. Sometimes I made violent efforts to hold my
breath all the time I was thinking. 'I am not breathing, and I won't
breathe again till, till'--then all at once I felt as if time was
running past me. No, time no longer existed; it was as if--oh, I can't
explain!"

Romashov gazed into her enthusiastic eyes, and repeated in a low tone,
thrilling with happiness--

"No, you can't explain it. It is strange--inexplicable."

Nikoläiev got up from the table where he had been working. His back
ached, and his legs had gone dead from long sitting in the same
uncomfortable position. The arteries of his strong, muscular body
throbbed when, with arms raised high, he stretched himself to his full
length.

"Look here, my learned psychologists, or whatever I should call you, it
is supper-time."

A cold collation had been laid in the comfortable little dining-room,
where, suspended from the ceiling, a china lamp with frosted glass shed
its clear light. Nikoläiev never touched spirits, but a little decanter
of schnapps had been put on the table for Romashov. Shurochka,
contorting her pretty face by a contemptuous grimace, said, in the
careless tone she so often adopted--

"Of course, you can't do without that poison?"

Romashov smiled guiltily, and in his confusion the schnapps went the
wrong way, and set him coughing.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" scolded his young hostess. "You can't
even drink it without choking over it. I can forgive it in your adored
Nasanski, who is a notorious drunkard, but for you, a handsome,
promising young man, not to be able to sit down to table without vodka,
it is really melancholy. But that is Nasanski's doing too!"

Her husband, who was glancing through the regimental orders that had
just come in, suddenly called out--

"Just listen! 'Lieutenant Nasanski has received a month's leave from the
regiment to attend to his private affairs.' Tut, tut! What does that
mean? He has been tippling again? You, Yuri Alexievich, are said, you
know, to visit him. Is it a fact that he has begun to drink heavily?"

Romashov looked embarrassed and lowered his gaze.

"No, I have not observed it, but he certainly does drink a little now
and again, you know."

"Your Nasanski is offensive to me," remarked Shurochka in a low voice,
trembling with suppressed bitterness. "If it were in my power I would
have a creature like that shot as if he were a mad dog. Such officers
are a disgrace to their regiment."

Almost directly after supper was over, Nikoläiev, who in eating had
displayed no less energy than he had just done at his writing-table,
began to gape, and at last said quite plainly--

"Do you know, I think I'll just take a little nap. Or if one were to go
straight off to the Land of Nod, as they used to express it in our good
old novels----"

"A good idea, Vladimir Yefimovich," said Romashov, interrupting him in,
as he thought, a careless, dreamy tone, but as he rose from table he
thought sadly, "They don't stand on ceremony with me here. Why on earth
do I come?"

It seemed to him that it afforded Nikoläiev a particular pleasure to
turn him out of the house; but just as he was purposely saying good-bye
to his host first, he was already dreaming of the delightful moment
when, in taking leave of Shurochka, he would feel at the same time the
strong yet caressing pressure of a beloved one's hand. When this
longed-for moment at length arrived he found himself in such a state of
happiness that he did not hear Shurochka say to him--

"Don't quite forget us. You know you are always welcome. Besides, it is
far more healthy for you to spend your evenings with us than to sit
drinking with that dreadful Nasanski. Also, don't forget we stand on no
ceremony with you."

He heard her last words as it were in a dream, but he did not realize
their meaning till he reached the street.

"Yes, that is true indeed; they don't stand on ceremony with me,"
whispered he to himself with the painful bitterness in which young and
conceited persons of his age are so prone to indulge.



V


Romashov was still standing on the doorstep. The night was rather warm,
but very dark. He began to grope his way cautiously with his hand on the
palings whilst waiting until his eyes got accustomed to the darkness.
Suddenly the kitchendoor of Nikoläiev's dwelling was thrown open, and a
broad stream of misty yellow light escaped. Heavy steps sounded in the
muddy street, the next moment Romashov heard Stepan's, the Nikoläievs'
servant's, angry voice--

"He comes here every blessed day, and the deuce knows what he comes
for."

Another soldier, whose voice Romashov did not recognize, answered
indifferently with a lazy, long-drawn yawn--

"What business can it be of yours, my dear fellow? Good-night, Stepan."

"Good-night to you, Baúlin; look in when you like."

Romashov's hands suddenly clung to the palings. An unendurable feeling
of shame made him blush, in spite of the darkness. All his body broke
out into a perspiration, and, in his back and the soles of his feet, he
felt the sting of a thousand red-hot, pointed nails. "This chapter's
closed; even the soldiers laugh at me," thought he with indescribable
pain. Directly afterwards it flashed on his mind that that very evening,
in many expressions used, in the tones of the replies, in glances
exchanged between man and wife, he had seen a number of trifles that he
had hitherto not noticed, but which he now thought testified only to
contempt of him, and ridicule, impatience and indignation at the
persistent visits of that insufferable guest.

"What a disgrace and scandal this is to me!" he whispered without
stirring from the spot. "Things have reached such a pitch that it is as
much as the Nikoläievs can do to endure my company."

The lights in their drawing-room were now extinguished. "They are in
their bedroom now," thought Romashov, and at once he began fancying that
Nikoläiev and Shurochka were then talking about him whilst making their
toilet for the night with the indifference and absence of bashfulness at
each other's presence that is characteristic of married couples. The
wife is sitting in her petticoat in front of the mirror, combing her
hair. Vladimir Yefimovitch is sitting in his night-shirt at the edge of
the bed, and saying in a sleepy but angry tone, whilst flushed with the
exertion of taking off his boots: "Hark you, Shurochka, that infernal
bore, your dear Romashov, will be the death of me with his insufferable
visits. And I really can't understand how you can tolerate him." Then to
this frank and candid speech Shurochka replies, without turning round,
and with her mouth full of hairpins: "Be good enough to remember, sir,
he is not _my_ Romochka, but _yours_."

Another five minutes elapsed before Romashov, still tortured by these
bitter and painful thoughts, made up his mind to continue his journey.
Along the whole extent of the palings belonging to the Nikoläievs' house
he walked with stealthy steps, cautiously and gently dragging his feet
from the mire, as if he feared he might be discovered and arrested as a
common vagrant. To go straight home was not to his liking at all. Nay,
he dared not even think of his gloomy, low-pitched, cramped room with
its single window and repulsive furniture. "By Jove! why shouldn't I
look up Nasanski, just to annoy _her_?" thought he all of a sudden,
whereupon he experienced the delightful satisfaction of revenge.

"She reproached me for my friendship with Nasanski. Well, I shall just
for that very reason pay him a visit."

He raised eyes to heaven, and said to himself passionately, as he
pressed his hands against his heart--

"I swear--I swear that to-day I have visited them for the last time. I
will no longer endure this mortification."

And immediately afterwards he added mentally, as was his ingrained
habit--

"His expressive black eyes glistened with resolution and contempt."

But Romashov's eyes, unfortunately, were neither "black" nor
"expressive," but of a very common colour, slightly varying between
yellow and green.

Nasanski tenanted a room in a comrade's--Lieutenant Siégerscht's--house.
This Siégerscht was most certainly the oldest lieutenant in the whole
Russian Army. Notwithstanding his unimpeachable conduct as an officer
and the fact of his having served in the war with Turkey, through some
unaccountable disposition of fate, his military career seemed closed,
and every hope of further advancement was apparently lost. He was a
widower, with four little children and forty-eight roubles a month, on
which sum, strangely enough, he managed to get along. It was his
practice to hire large flats which he afterwards, in turn, let out to
his brother officers. He took in boarders, fattened and sold fowls and
turkeys, and no one understood better than he how to purchase wood and
other necessaries cheap and at the right time. He bathed his children
himself in a common trough, prescribed for them from his little
medicine-chest when they were ill, and, with his sewing-machine, made
them tiny shirts, under-vests, and drawers. Like many other officers,
Siégerscht had, in his bachelor days, interested himself in woman's
work, and acquired a readiness with his needle that proved very useful
in hard times. Malicious tongues went so far as to assert that he
secretly and stealthily sold his handiwork.

Notwithstanding all his economy and closeness, his life was full of
troubles. Epidemic diseases ravaged his fowl-house, his numerous rooms
stood unlet for long periods; his boarders grumbled at their bad food
and refused to pay. The consequence of this was that, three or four
times a year, Siégerscht--tall, thin, and unshaven, with cheerless
countenance and a forehead dripping with cold sweat--might be seen on
his way to the town to borrow some small sum. And all recognized the
low, regimental cap that resembled a pancake, always with its peak
askew, as well as the antiquated cloak, modelled on those worn in the
time of the Emperor Nicholas, which waved in the breeze like a couple of
huge wings.

A light was burning in Siégerscht's flat, and as Romashov approached the
window, he saw him sitting by a round table under a hanging-lamp. The
bald head, with its gentle, worn features, was bent low over a little
piece of red cloth which was probably destined to form an integral part
of a Little Russian _roubashka_.[6] Romashov went up and tapped at the
window. Siégerscht started up, laid aside his work, rose from the table,
and went up to the window.

"It is I, Adam Ivanich--open the window a moment."

Siégerscht opened a little pane and looked out.

"Well, it's you, Sub-Lieutenant Romashov. What's up?"

"Is Nasanski at home?"

"Of course he's at home--where else should he be? Ah! your friend
Nasanski cheats me nicely, I can tell you. For two months I have kept
him in food, but, as for his paying for it, as yet I've only had grand
promises. When he moved here, I asked him most particularly that, to
avoid unpleasantness and misunderstandings, he should----"

"Yes, yes, we know all about that," interrupted Romashov; "but tell me
now how he is. Will he see me?"

"Yes, certainly, that he will; he does nothing but walk up and down his
room." Siégerscht stopped and listened for a second. "You yourself can
hear him tramping about. You see, I said to him, 'To prevent
unpleasantness and misunderstandings, it will be best for----'"

"Excuse me, Adam Ivanich; but we'll talk of that another time. I'm in a
bit of a hurry," said Romashov, interrupting him for the second time,
and meanwhile continuing his way round the corner. A light was burning
in one of Nasanski's windows; the other was wide open. Nasanski himself
was walking, in his shirt sleeves and without a collar, backwards and
forwards with rapid steps. Romashov crept nearer the wall and called him
by name.

"Who's there?" asked Nasanski in a careless tone, leaning out of the
window. "Oh, it's you, Georgie Alexievich. Come in through the window.
It's a long and dark way round through that door. Hold out your hand and
I'll help you."

Nasanski's dwelling was if possible more wretched that Romashov's. Along
the wall by the window stood a low, narrow, uncomfortable bed, the
bulging, broken bottom of which was covered by a coarse cotton coverlet;
on the other wall one saw a plain unpainted table with two common chairs
without backs. High up in one corner of the room was a little cupboard
fixed to the wall. A brown leather trunk, plastered all over with
address labels and railway numbers, lay in state. There was not a single
thing in the room except these articles and the lamp.

"Good-evening, my friend," said Nasanski, with a hearty hand-shake and a
warm glance from his beautiful, deep blue eyes. "Please sit down on this
bed. As you've already heard, I have handed in my sick-report."

"Yes, I heard it just now from Nikoläiev."

Again Romashov called to mind Stepan's insulting remark, the painful
memory of which was reflected in his face.

"Oh, you come from the Nikoläievs," cried Nasanski and with visible
interest. "Do you often visit them?"

The unusual tone of the question made Romashov uneasy and suspicious,
and he instinctively uttered a falsehood. He answered carelessly--

"No, certainly not often. I just happened to look them up."

Nasanski, who had been walking up and down the room during the
conversation, now stopped before the little cupboard, the door of which
he opened. On one of its shelves stood a bottle of vodka, and beside it
lay an apple cut up into thin, even slices. Standing with his back to
his guest, Nasanski poured out for himself a glass, and quickly drained
it. Romashov noticed how Nasanski's back, under its thin linen shirt,
quivered convulsively.

"Would you like anything?" asked Nasanski, with a gesture towards the
cupboard. "My larder is, as you see, poor enough; but if you are hungry
one can always try and procure an omelette. Anyhow, that's more than our
father Adam had to offer."

"Thanks, not now. Perhaps later on."

Nasanski stuck his hands in his pockets, and walked about the room.
After pacing up and down twice he began talking as though resuming an
interrupted conversation.

"Yes, I am always walking up and down and thinking. But I am quite
happy. To-morrow, of course, they will say as usual in the regiment,
'He's a drunkard.' And that is true in a sense, but it is not the whole
truth. All the same, at this moment, I'm happy; I feel neither pain nor
ailments. It is different, alas! in ordinary circumstances. My mind and
will-power are paralysed; I shall again become a cowardly and despicably
mean creature, vain, shabby, hypocritical--a curse to myself and every
one else. I loathe my profession, but, nevertheless, I remain in it. And
why? Ah! the devil himself could not explain that. Because I had it
knocked into me in my childhood, and have lived since in a set where it
is held that the most important thing in life is to serve the State, to
be free from anxiety as to one's clothes and daily bread. And
philosophy, people say, is mere rubbish, good enough for one who has
nothing else to do or who has come into a goodly heritage from his dear
mamma.

"Thus I, too, occupy myself with things in which I don't take the
slightest interest, or issue orders that seem to me both harsh and
unmeaning. My daily life is as monotonous and cheerless as an old deal
board, as rough and hard as a soldier's regulation cap. I dare scarcely
think of, far less talk of, love, beauty, my place in the scheme of
creation, of freedom and happiness, of poetry and God. They would only
laugh ha! ha! ha! at me, and say: 'Oh, damn it! That, you know, is
philosophy. It is not only ridiculous but even dangerous for an officer
to show he holds any high views,' and at best the officer escapes with
being dubbed a harmless, hopeless ass."

"And yet it is this that alone gives life any value," sighed Romashov.

"And now the happy hour is drawing nigh about which they tattle so
heartlessly and with so much contempt," Nasanski went on to say without
listening to Romashov's words. He walked incessantly backwards and
forwards, and interpolated his speech, every now and then, with striking
gestures, which were not, however, addressed to Romashov, but were
always directed to the two corners of the room which he visited in turn.
"Now comes my turn of freedom, Romashov--freedom for soul, thought, and
will. Then I shall certainly live a peculiar, but nevertheless rich,
inner life. All that I have seen, heard, and read will then gain a
deeper meaning, will appear in a clear and more distinct light, and
receive a deep, infinite significance. My memory will then be like a
museum of rare curiosities. I shall be a very Rothschild. I take the
first object within my reach, gaze at it long, closely, and with
rapture. Persons, events, characters, books, women, love--nay, first and
last, women and love--all this is interwoven in my imagination. Now and
then I think of the heroes and geniuses of history, of the countless
martyrs of religion and science. I don't believe in God, Romashov, but
sometimes I think of the saints and martyrs and call to mind the Holy
Scriptures and canticles."

Romashov got up quietly from his seat at the edge of the bed and walked
away to the open window, and then he sat down with his back resting
against the sill. From that spot, from the lighted room, the night
seemed to him still darker and more fraught with mystery. Tepid breezes
whispered just beneath the window, amongst the dark foliage of the
shrubs. And in this mild air, charged with the sharp, aromatic perfume
of spring, under those gleaming stars, in this dead silence of the
universe, one might fancy he felt the hot breath of reviving,
generating, voluptuous Nature.

Nasanski continued all along his eternal wandering, and indulged in
building castles in the air, without looking at Romashov, as if he were
talking to the walls.

"In these moments my thoughts--seething, motley, original--chase one
another. My senses acquire an unnatural acuteness; my imagination
becomes an overwhelming flood. Persons and things, living or dead, which
are evoked by me stand before me in high relief and also in an
extraordinarily intense light, as if I saw them in a _camera obscura_. I
know, I know now, that all that is merely a super-excitation of the
senses, an emanation of the soul flaming up like lightning, but in the
next instant flickering out, being produced by the physiological
influence of alcohol on the nervous system. In the beginning I thought
such psychic phenomena implied an elevation of my inner, spiritual Ego,
and that even I might have moments of inspiration. But no; there was
nothing permanent or of any value in this, nothing creative or
fructifying. Altogether it was only a morbid, physiological process, a
river wave that at every ebb that occurs sucks away with it and destroys
the beach. Yes, this, alas! is a fact. But it is also equally
indisputable that these wild imaginings procured me moments of ineffable
happiness. And besides, let the devil keep for his share your
much-vaunted high morality, your hypocrisy, and your insufferable rules
of health. I don't want to become one of your pillar-saints nor do I
wish to live a hundred years so as to figure as a physiological miracle
in the advertisement columns of the newspapers. I am happy, and that
suffices."

Nasanski again went up to the little cupboard, poured out and swallowed
a "nip," after which he shut the cupboard door with much ceremony and an
expression on his face as if he had fulfilled a religious duty. Romashov
walked listlessly up from the window to the cupboard, the life-giving
contents of which he sampled with a gloomy and _blasé_ air. This done,
he returned to his seat on the window-bench.

"What were you thinking about just before I came, Vasili Nilich?" asked
Romashov, as he made himself as comfortable as possible.

Nasanski, however, did not hear his question. "How sweet it is to dream
of women!" he exclaimed with a grand and eloquent gesture. "But away
with all unclean thoughts! And why? Ah! because no one has any right,
even in imagination, to make a human being a culprit in what is low,
sinful, and impure. How often I think of chaste, tender, loving women,
of their bright tears and gracious smiles; of young, devoted,
self-sacrificing mothers, of all those who have faced death for love; of
proud, bewitching maidens with souls as pure as snow, knowing all, yet
afraid of nothing. But such women do not exist--yet I am wrong,
Romashov; such women do exist although neither you nor I have seen them.
This may possibly be vouchsafed you; but to me--never!"

He was now standing right in front of Romashov and staring him straight
in the face, but by the far-off expression in his eyes, by the
enigmatical smile that played on his lips, any one could observe that he
did not even see to whom he was talking. Never had Nasanski's
countenance--even in his better and sober moments--seemed to Romashov so
attractive and interesting as at this instant. His golden hair fell in
luxuriant curls around his pure and lofty brow; his blond, closely
clipped beard was curled in light waves, and his strong, handsome head
on his bare, classically shaped neck reminded one of the sages and
heroes of Greece, whose busts Romashov had seen in engravings and at
museums. Nasanski's bright, clever blue eyes glistened with moisture,
and his well-formed features were rendered still more engaging by the
fresh colour of his complexion, although a keen eye could not, I
daresay, avoid noticing a certain flabbiness--the infallible mark of
every person addicted to drink.

"Love--what an abyss of mystery is contained in the word, and what bliss
lies hidden in its tortures!" Nasanski went on to say in an enraptured
voice. In his violent excitement he caught hold of his hair with both
hands, and took two hasty strides towards the other end of the room, but
suddenly stopped, and turned round sharply to Romashov with a merry
laugh. The latter observed him with great interest, but likewise not
without a certain uneasiness.

"Just this moment I remember an amusing story" (Nasanski now dropped
into his usual good-tempered tone), "but, ugh! how my wits go
wool-gathering--now here, now there. Once upon a time I sat waiting for
the train at Ryasan, and wait I did--I suppose half a day, for it was
right in the middle of the spring floods, and the train had met with
real obstacles. Well, you must know, I built myself a little nest in the
waiting-room. Behind the counter stood a girl of eighteen--not pretty,
being pockmarked, but brisk and pleasant. She had black eyes and a
charming smile. In fact, she was a very nice girl. We were three, all
told, at the station: she, I, and a little telegraphist with white
eyebrows and eyelashes. Ah! excuse me, there was another person
there--the girl's father, a fat, red-faced, grey-haired brute, who put
me in mind of a rough old mastiff. But this attractive figure kept
itself, as a rule, behind the scenes. Only rarely and for a few minutes
did he put in an appearance behind the counter, to yawn, scratch himself
under his waistcoat, and immediately afterwards disappear for a longish
time. He spent his life in bed, and his eyes were glued together by
eternally sleeping. The little telegraphist paid frequent and regular
visits to the waiting-room, laid his elbows on the counter, but was, for
the most part, as mute as the grave. She, too, was silent and looked
dreamily out of the window at the floods. All of a sudden our youngster
began humming--

    "'Love--love.
     What is love?
     Something celestial
     That drives us wild.'

"After this, again silence. A pause of five minutes, she begins, in her
turn--

    "'Love--love.
     What is love?' etc.

"Both the sentimental words as well as the melody were taken from some
musty old operetta that had perhaps been performed in the town, and had
become a pleasant recollection to both the young people. Then again the
same wistful song and significant silence. At last she steals softly a
couple of paces to the window, all the while keeping one hand on the
counter. Our Celadon quietly lays hold of the delicate fingers, one by
one, and with visible trepidation gazes at them in profound devotion.
And again the _motif_ of that hackneyed operetta is heard from his lips.
It was spring with all its yearning. Then all this cloying 'love' only
awoke in me nausea and disgust, but, since then, I have often thought
with deep emotion of the vast amount of happiness this innocent
love-making could bestow, and how it was most certainly the only ray of
light in the dreary lives of these two human beings--lives, very likely,
even more empty and barren than my own. But, I beg your pardon,
Romashov; why should I bore you with my silly, long-winded stories?"

Nasanski again betook himself to the little cupboard, but he did not
fetch out the schnapps bottle, but stood motionless with his back turned
to Romashov. He scratched his forehead, pressed his right hand lightly
to his temple, and maintained this position for a considerable while,
evidently a prey to conflicting thoughts.

"You were speaking of women, love, abysses, mystery, and joy," remarked
Romashov, by way of reminder.

"Yes, love," cried Nasanski in a jubilant voice. He now took out the
bottle, poured some of its contents out, and drained the glass quickly,
as he turned round with a fierce glance, and wiped his mouth with his
shirt sleeve. "Love! who do you suppose understands the infinite meaning
of this holy word? And yet--from it men have derived subjects for
filthy, rubbishy operettas; for lewd pictures and statues, shameless
stories and disgusting 'rhymes.' That is what we officers do. Yesterday
I had a visit from Ditz. He sat where you are sitting now. He toyed with
his gold pince-nez and talked about women. Romashov, my friend, I tell
you that if an animal, a dog, for instance, possessed the faculty of
understanding human speech, and had happened to hear what Ditz said
yesterday, it would have fled from the room ashamed. Ditz, as you know,
Romashov, is a 'good fellow,' and even the others are 'good,' for really
bad people do not exist; but for fear of forfeiting his reputation as a
cynic, 'man about town,' and 'lady-killer,' he dares not express himself
about women otherwise than he does. Amongst our young men there is a
universal confusion of ideas that often finds expression in bragging
contempt, and the cause of this is that the great majority seek in the
possession of women only coarse, sensual, brutish enjoyment, and that
is the reason why love becomes to them only something contemptible,
wanton--well, I don't know, damn it! how to express exactly what I
mean--and, when the animal instincts are satisfied, coldness, disgust,
and enmity are the natural result. The man of culture has said
good-night to love, just as he has done to robbery and murder, and seems
to regard it only as a sort of snare set by Nature for the destruction
of humanity."

"That is the truth about it," agreed Romashov quietly and sadly.

"No, that is _not_ true!" shouted Nasanski in a voice of thunder. "Yes,
I say it once more--it is a lie. In this, as in everything else, Nature
has revealed her wisdom and ingenuity. The fact is merely that whereas
Lieutenant Ditz finds in love only brutal enjoyment, disgust, and
surfeit, Dante finds in it beauty, felicity, and harmony. True love is
the heritage of the elect, and to understand this let us take another
simile. All mankind has an ear for music, but, in the case of millions,
this is developed about as much as in stock-fish or Staff-Captain
Vasilichenko. Only one individual in all these millions is a Beethoven.
And the same is the case in everything--in art, science, poetry. And so
far as love is concerned, I tell you that even this has its peaks which
only one out of millions is able to climb."

He walked to the window, and leaned his forehead against the sill where
Romashov sat gazing out on the warm, dark, spring night. At last he said
in a voice low, but vibrating with strong inward excitement--

"Oh, if we could see and grasp Love's innermost being, its supernatural
beauty and charm--we gross, blind earth-worms! How many know and feel
what happiness, what delightful tortures exist in an undying, hopeless
love? I remember, when I was a youth, how all my yearning took form and
shape in this single dream: to fall in love with an ideally beautiful
and noble woman far beyond my reach, and standing so high above me that
every thought of possessing her I might harbour was mad and criminal; to
consecrate to her all my life, all my thoughts, without her even
suspecting it, and to carry my delightful, torturing secret with me to
the grave; to be her slave, her lackey, her protector, or to employ a
thousand arts just to see her once a year, to come close to her,
and--oh, maddening rapture!--to touch the hem of her garment or kiss the
ground on which she had walked----"

"And to wind up in a mad-house," exclaimed Romashov in a gloomy tone.

"Oh, my dear fellow, what does that matter?" cried Nasanski
passionately. "Perhaps--who knows?--one might then attain to that state
of bliss one reads of in stories. Which is best--to lose your wits
through a love which can never be realized, or, like Ditz, to go stark
mad from shameful, incurable diseases or slow paralysis? Just think what
felicity--to stand all night in front of her window on the other side of
the street. Look, there's a shadow visible behind the drawn curtain--can
it be _she_? What's she doing? What's she thinking of? The light is
lowered--sleep, my beloved, sleep in peace, for Love is keeping vigil.
Days, months, years pass away; the moment at last arrives when Chance,
perhaps, bestows on you her glove, handkerchief, the concert programme
she has thrown away. She is not acquainted with you, does not even know
that you exist. Her glance passes over you without seeing you; but
there you stand with the same unchangeable, idolatrous adoration, ready
to sacrifice yourself for her--nay, even for her slightest whim, for her
husband, lover, her pet dog, to sacrifice life, honour, and all that you
hold dear. Romashov, a bliss such as this can never fall to the lot of
our Don Juans and lady-killers."

"Ah, how true this is! how splendidly you speak!" cried Romashov,
carried away by Nasanski's passionate words and gestures. Long before
this he had got up from the window, and now he was walking, like his
eccentric host, up and down the long, narrow room, pacing the floor with
long, quick strides. "Listen, Nasanski. I will tell you something--about
myself. Once upon a time I fell in love with a woman--oh, not here; no,
in Moscow. I was then a mere stripling. Ah, well, she had no inkling of
it, and it was enough for me to be allowed to sit near her when she
sewed, and to draw quietly and imperceptibly, the threads towards me.
That was all, and she noticed nothing; but it was enough to turn my head
with joy."

"Ah, yes, how well I understand this!" replied Nasanski with a friendly
smile, nodding his head all the time. "A delicate white thread charged
with electrical currents. What a store of poetry is enshrined in that!
My dear fellow, life is so beautiful!"

Nasanski, absorbed in profound reverie, grew silent, and his blue eyes
were bright with tears. Romashov also felt touched, and there was
something nervous, hysterical, and spontaneous about this melancholy of
his, but these expressions of pity were not only for Nasanski, but
himself.

"Vasili Nilich, I admire you," cried he as he grasped and warmly pressed
both Nasanski's hands. "But how can so gifted, far-sighted, and
wide-awake a man as you rush, with his eyes open, to his own
destruction? But I am the last person on earth who ought to read you a
lesson on morals. Only one more question: supposing in the course of
your life you happened to meet a woman worthy of you, and capable of
appreciating you, would you then----? I've thought of this so often."

Nasanski stopped and stared for a long time through the open window.

"A woman----" he uttered the word slowly and dreamily. "I'll tell you a
story," he continued suddenly and in an energetic tone. "Once in my life
I met an exceptional--ah! wonderful--woman, a young girl, but as Heine
somewhere says: 'She was worthy of being loved, and he loved her; but he
was not worthy, and she did not love him.' Her love waned because I
drank, or perhaps it was I drank because she did not love me. _She_--by
the way, it was not here that this happened. It was a long time ago, and
you possibly know that I first served in the infantry for three years,
after that for four years with the reserves, and for a second time,
three years ago, I came here. Well, to continue, between her and me
there was no romance whatever. We met and had five or six chats
together--that was all. But have you ever thought what an irresistible,
bewitching might there is in the past, in our recollections? The memory
of these few insignificant episodes of my life constitutes the whole of
my wealth. I love her even to this very day. Wait, Romashov, you deserve
to hear it--I will read out to you the first and only letter I ever
received from her." He crouched down before the old trunk, opened it,
and began rummaging impatiently among a mass of old papers, during
which he kept on talking. "I know she never loved any one but herself.
There was a depth of pride, imperiousness, even cruelty about her, yet,
at the same time, she was so good, so genuinely womanly, so infinitely
pleasant and lovable. She had two natures--the one egoistical and
calculating, the other all heart and passionate tenderness. See here, I
have it. Read it now, Romashov. The beginning will not interest you
much" (Nasanski turned over a few lines of the letter), "but read from
here; read it all."

Romashov felt as if some one had struck him a stunning blow on the head,
and the whole room seemed to dance before his eyes, for the letter was
written in a large but nervous and compressed hand, that could only
belong to Alexandra Petrovna--quaint, irregular, but by no means
unsympathetic. Romashov, who had often received cards from her with
invitations to small dinners and card parties, recognized this hand at
once.

"It is a bitter and hard task for me to write this," read Romashov under
Nasanski's hand; "but only you yourself are to blame for our
acquaintance coming to this tragic end. Lying I abominate more than
anything else in life. It always springs from cowardice and weakness,
and this is the reason why I shall also tell you the whole truth. I
loved you up to now; yes, I love you even now, and I know it will prove
very hard for me to master this feeling. But I also know that, in the
end, I shall gain the victory. What do you suppose our lot would be if I
acted otherwise? I confess I lack the energy and self-denial requisite
for becoming the housekeeper, nurse-girl, or sister of mercy to a
weakling with no will of his own. I loathe above everything
self-sacrifice and pity for others, and I shall let neither you nor any
one else excite these feelings in me. I will not have a husband who
would only be a dog at my feet, incessantly craving alms or proofs of
affection. And you would never be anything else, in spite of your
extraordinary talents and noble qualities. Tell me now, with your hand
upon your heart, if you are capable of it. Alas! my dear Vasili Nilich,
if you could. All my heart, all my life yearns for you. I love you. What
is the obstacle, then? No one but yourself. For a person one loves, one
can, you know, sacrifice the whole world, and now I ask of you only this
one thing; but can you? No, you cannot, and now I bid you good-bye for
ever. In thought I kiss you on your forehead as one kisses a corpse, and
you are dead to me--for ever. I advise you to destroy this letter, not
that I blush for or fear its contents, but because I think it will be a
source to you of tormenting recollections. I repeat once more----"

"The rest is of little interest to you," said Nasanski abruptly, as he
took the letter from Romashov's hand. "This, as I have just told you,
was her only letter to me."

"What happened afterwards?" stammered Romashov awkwardly.

"Afterwards? We never saw one another afterwards. She went her way and
is reported to have married an engineer. That, however, is another
matter."

"And you never visit Alexandra Petrovna?"

Romashov uttered these words in a whisper, but both officers started at
the sound of them, and gazed at each other a long time without speaking.
During these few seconds all the barriers raised by human guile and
hypocrisy fell away, and the two men read each other's soul as an open
book. Hundreds of things that had hitherto been for them a profound
secret stood before them that moment in dazzling light, and the whole of
the conversation that evening suddenly took a peculiar, deep, nay,
almost tragic, significance.

"What? you too?" exclaimed Nasanski at last, with an expression
bordering on fear in his eyes, but he quickly regained his composure and
exclaimed with a laugh, "Ugh! what a misunderstanding! We were
discussing something quite different. That letter which you have just
read was written hundreds of years ago, and the woman in question lived
in Transcaucasia. But where was it we left off?"

"It is late, Vasili Nilich, and time to say good-night," replied
Romashov, rising.

Nasanski did not try to keep him. They separated neither in a cold or
unfriendly way, but they were, as it seemed, ashamed of each other.
Romashov was now more convinced than ever that the letter was from
Shurochka. During the whole of his way home he thought of nothing except
this letter, but he could not make out what feelings it aroused in him.
They were a mingling of jealousy of Nasanski--jealousy on account of
what had been--but also a certain exultant pity for Nasanski, and in
himself there awoke new hopes, dim and indefinite, but delicious and
alluring. It was as if this letter had put into his hand a mysterious,
invisible clue that was leading him into the future.

The breeze had subsided. The tepid night's intense darkness and silence
reminded one of soft, warm velvet. One felt, as it were, life's mystic
creative force in the never-slumbering air, in the dumb stillness of the
invisible trees, in the smell of the earth. Romashov walked without
seeing which way he went, and it seemed to him as if he felt the hot
breath of something strong and powerful, but, at the same time, sweet
and caressing. His thoughts went back with dull, harrowing pain to
bygone happy springs that would never more return--to the blissful,
innocent days of his childhood.

When he reached home he found on the table another letter from Raisa
Alexandrovna Peterson. In her usual bad taste she complained, in turgid,
extravagant terms, of his "deceitful conduct" towards her. She "now
understood everything," and the "injured woman" within her invoked on
him all the perils of hatred and revenge.

     Now I know what I have to do (the letter ran). If I survive the
     sorrow and pain of your abominable conduct, you may be quite
     certain I shall cruelly avenge this insult. You seem to think that
     nobody knows where you are in the habit of spending your evenings.
     You are watched! and even walls have ears. Every step you take is
     known to me. But all the same, you will never get anything _there_
     with all your soft, pretty speeches, unless N. flings you
     downstairs like a puppy. So far as I am concerned, you will be wise
     not to lull yourself into fancied security. I am not one of those
     women who let themselves be insulted with impunity.

    A Caucasian woman am I
    Who knows how to handle a knife.

   --Once yours, now nobody's,

RAISA.

     PS.--I command you to meet me at the soirée on Saturday and explain
     your conduct. The third quadrille will be kept for you; but mind,
     there is no special importance _now_ in that.

R. P.

To Romashov this ill-spelled, ungrammatical letter was a breath of the
stupidity, meanness, and spiteful tittle-tattle of a provincial town. He
felt for ever soiled from head to foot by this disgusting _liaison_,
scarcely of six months' standing, with a woman he had never loved. He
threw himself on his bed with an indescribable feeling of depression. He
even felt as if he were torn to tatters by the events of the day, and he
involuntarily called to mind Nasanski's words that very night: "his
thoughts were as grey as a soldier's cloak."

He soon fell into a deep, heavy sleep. As he had always done of late,
when he had had bitter moments, he saw himself, even now in his dreams,
as a little child. There were no impure impulses in him, no sense of
something lacking, no weariness of life; his body was light and healthy,
and his soul was luminous and full of joy and hope; and in this world of
radiance and happiness he saw dear old Moscow's streets in the dazzling
brightness that is presented to the eyes in dreamland. But far away by
the horizon, at the very verge of this sky that was saturated with
light, there arose quickly and threateningly a dark, ill-boding wall of
cloud, behind which was hidden a horrible provincial hole of a place
with cruel and unbearable slavery, drills, recruit schools, drinking,
false friends, and utterly corrupt women. His life was nothing but joy
and gladness, but the dark cloud was waiting patiently for the moment
when it was to fold him in its deadly embrace. And it so happened that
little Romashov, amidst his childish babble and innocent dreams,
bewailed in silence the fate of his "double."

He awoke in the middle of the night, and noticed that his pillow was wet
with tears. Then he wept afresh, and the warm tears again ran down his
cheeks in rapid streams.



VI


With the exception of a few ambitious men bent on making a career for
themselves, all the officers regarded the service as an intolerable
slavery to which they must needs submit. The younger of them behaved
like veritable schoolboys; they came late to the drills, and wriggled
away from them as soon as possible, provided that could be done without
risk of serious consequences to themselves afterwards. The captains,
who, as a rule, were burdened with large families, were immersed in
household cares, scandals, money troubles, and were worried the whole
year through with loans, promissory notes, and other methods of raising
the wind. Many ventured--often at the instigation of their
wives--secretly to divert to their own purposes the moneys belonging to
the regiment and the soldiers' pay--nay, they even went so far as
"officially" to withhold their men's private letters when the latter
were found to contain money. Some lived by gambling--vint, schtoss,
lansquenet--and certain rather ugly stories were told in connection with
this--stories which high authorities had a good deal of trouble to
suppress. In addition to all this, heavy drinking, both at mess and in
their own homes, was widespread amongst the officers.

With regard to the officers' sense of duty, that, too, was, as a rule,
altogether lacking. The non-commissioned officers did all the work; the
pay-sergeants set in motion and regulated the inner mechanism of the
company, and were held responsible for the despatch of it; hence very
soon, and quite imperceptibly, the commander became a mere marionette in
the coarse, experienced hands of his subordinates. The senior officers,
moreover, regarded the exercises of the troops with the same aversion as
did their junior comrades, and if at any time they displayed their zeal
by punishing an ensign, they only did it to gain prestige or--which was
more seldom the case--to satisfy their lust of power or desire for
revenge.

Captains of brigades and battalions had, as a rule, absolutely nothing
to do in the winter. During the summer it was their duty to inspect the
exercises of the battalion, to assist at those of the regiment and
division, and to undergo the hardships of the field-manoeuvres. During
their long freedom from duty they used to sit continually in their
mess-room, eagerly studying the _Russki Invalid_,[7] and savagely
criticizing all new appointments; but cards were, however, their alpha
and omega, and they most readily permitted their juniors to be their
hosts, though they but very rarely exercised a cautious hospitality in
their own homes, and then only with the object of getting their numerous
daughters married.

But when the time for the great review approached, it was quite another
tune. All, from the highest to the lowest, were seized by a sort of
madness. There was no talk of peace and quiet then; every one tried, by
additional hours of drill and an almost maniacal activity, to make up
for previous negligence. The soldiers were treated with the most
heartless cruelty, and overtaxed to the last degree of sheer exhaustion.
Every one was tyrant over some wretch; the company commanders, with
endless curses, threatened their "incompetent" subalterns, and the
latter, in turn, poured the vials of their wrath over the "non-coms.,"
and the "non-coms.," hoarse with shouting orders, oaths, and the most
frightful insults, struck and misused the soldiers in the most ferocious
manner. The whole camp and parade-ground were changed into a hell, and
Sundays, with their indispensable rest and peace, loomed like a heavenly
paradise in the eyes of the poor tortured recruits.

This spring the regiment was preparing for the great May parade. It was
at this time common knowledge that the review was to take place before
the commander of the corps--a strict old veteran, known throughout
military literature by his works on the Carlist War and the
Franco-German Campaign of 1870, in which he took part as a volunteer.
Besides, he was known throughout the kingdom for his eccentric general
orders and manifestoes that were invariably couched in a lapidary style
à la Savóroff. The reckless, sharp, and coarse sarcasm he always infused
into his criticism was feared by the officers more than even the
severest disciplinary punishment.

It was not to be wondered at that for a fortnight the whole regiment
worked with feverish energy, and Sunday was no less longed for by the
utterly worn-out officers than by the men, who were well-nigh tortured
to death.

But to Romashov, who sat idle under arrest, Sunday brought neither joy
nor repose. As he had tried in vain to sleep during the night, he got up
early, dressed slowly and unwillingly, drank his tea with undisguised
repugnance, and refreshed himself at last by hurling a few insults at
Hainán, who did not heed them in the least, but continued to stalk about
the room as happy, active, and clumsy as a puppy.

Romashov sauntered up and down his narrow room in his unbuttoned,
carelessly donned undress uniform. Now he bumped his knee against the
foot of the bed, now his elbow against the rickety bookcase. It was the
first time now for half a year--thanks to a somewhat unpleasant
accident--that he found himself alone in his own abode. He had always
been occupied with drill, sentry duty, card-playing, and libations to
Bacchus, dancing attendance on the Peterson woman, and evening calls on
the Nikoläievs. Sometimes, if he happened to be free and had nothing
particular in view, Romashov might, if worried by moping and laziness,
and as if he feared his own company, rush aimlessly off to the club, or
some acquaintance, or simply to the street, in hopes of finding some
bachelor comrade--a meeting which infallibly ended with a drinking-bout
in the mess-room. Now he contemplated with dread the long, unendurable
day of loneliness and boredom before him, and a crowd of stupid,
extraordinary fancies and projects buzzed in his brain.

The bells in the town were ringing for High Mass. Through the inner
window, which had not been removed since the winter began, forced their
way into the room these trembling tones that were produced, as it were,
one from the other, and in the melancholy clang of which, on this
sentimental spring morning, there lay a peculiar power of charm.
Immediately outside Romashov's window lay a garden in which many
cherry-trees grew in rich abundance, all white with blooms, and all
soft and round as a flock of snow-white sheep whose wool was fine.
Between them, here and there, arose slim but gigantic poplars that
stretched their boughs beseechingly towards heaven, and ancient,
venerable chestnut-trees with their dome-like crests. The trees were
still bare, with black, naked boughs, but on these, though the eye could
hardly discern them, the first yellowish verdure, fresh as the dew,
began to be visible. In the pure, moisture-laden air of the
newly-awakened spring day, the trees rocked softly here and there before
the cool, sportive breezes that murmured from time to time among the
flowers, and bowed them to the ground with a roguish kiss.

From the windows one could discern, on the left, through a gateway, a
part of the dirty street, which on one side was fenced off. People
passed alongside of the fence from time to time, walking slowly as they
picked out a dry place for their next step. "Lucky people," thought
Romashov, as he enviously followed them with his eyes, "they need not
hurry. They have the whole of the long day before them--ah! a whole,
free, glorious day."

And suddenly there came over him a longing for freedom so intense and
passionate that tears rushed to his eyes, and he had great difficulty in
restraining himself from running out of the house. Now, however, it was
not the mess-room that attracted him, but only the yard, the street,
fresh air. It was as if he had never understood before what freedom was,
and he was astonished at the amount of happiness that is comprised in
the simple fact that one may go where one pleases, turn into this or
that street, stop in the middle of the square, peep into a half-opened
church door, etc., etc., all at one's own sweet will and without having
to fear the consequences. The right to do, and the possibility of doing,
all this would be enough to fill a man's heart with an exultant sense of
joy and bliss.

He remembered in connection with this how, in his earliest youth, long
before he entered the Cadet School, his mother used to punish him by
tying him tightly to the foot of the bed with fine thread, after which
she left him by himself; and little Romashov sat for whole hours
submissively still. But never for an instant did it occur to him to flee
from the house, although, under ordinary circumstances, he never stood
on ceremony--for instance, to slide down the water-pipe from other
storys to the street; to dangle, without permission, after a military
band or a funeral procession as far as the outskirts of Moscow; or to
steal from his mother lumps of sugar, jam, and cigarettes for older
playfellows, etc. But this brittle thread exercised a remarkable
hypnotizing influence on his mind as a child. He was even afraid of
breaking it by some sudden, incautious movement. In that case he was
influenced by no fear whatsoever of punishment, neither by a sense of
duty, nor by regret, but by pure hypnosis, a superstitious dread of the
unfathomable power and superiority of grown-up or older persons, which
reminds one of the savage who, paralysed by fright, dares not take a
step beyond the magic circle that the conjurer has drawn.

"And here I am sitting now like a schoolboy, like a little helpless,
mischievous brat tied by the leg," thought Romashov as he slouched
backwards and forwards in his room. "The door is open, I can go when I
please, can do what I please, can talk and laugh--but I am kept back by
a thread. _I_ sit here; _I_ and nobody else. Some one has ordered me to
sit here, and I shall sit here; but who has authorized him to order
this? Certainly not _I_.

"I"--Romashov stood in the middle of the room with his legs straddling
and his head hanging down, thinking deeply. "_I, I, I!_" he shouted in a
loud voice, in which there lay a certain note of astonishment, as if he
now was first beginning to comprehend the meaning of this short word.
"Who is standing here and gaping at that black crack in the floor?--Is
it really I? How curious--I"--he paused slowly and with emphasis on the
monosyllable, just as if it were only by such means that he could grasp
its significance.

He smiled unnaturally; but, in the next instant, he frowned, and turned
pale with emotion and strain of thought. Such small crises had not
infrequently happened to him during the last five or six years, as is
nearly always the case with young people during that period of life when
the mind is in course of development. A simple truth, a saying, a common
phrase, with the meaning of which he has long ago been familiar,
suddenly, by some mysterious impulse from within, stands in a new light,
and so receives a particular philosophical meaning. Romashov could still
remember the first time this happened to him. It was at school during a
catechism lesson, when the priest tried to explain the parable of the
labourers who carried away stones. One of them began with the light
stones, and afterwards took the heavier ones, but when at last he came
to the very heaviest of all his strength was exhausted. The other worked
according to a diametrically different plan, and luckily fulfilled his
duty. To Romashov was opened the whole abyss of practical wisdom that
lay hidden in this simple picture that he had known and understood ever
since he could read a book. Likewise with the old saying: "Seven times
shalt thou measure, once shalt thou cut." In a happy moment he suddenly
perceived the full, deep import of this maxim; wisdom, understanding,
wise economy, calculation. A tremendous experience of life lay concealed
in these few words. Such was the case now. All his mental individuality
stood suddenly before him with the distinctness of a lightning flash.

"My Ego," thought Romashov, "is only that which is within me, the very
kernel of my being; all the rest is the non-Ego--that is, only secondary
things. This room, street, trees, sky, the commander of my regiment,
Lieutenant Andrusevich, the service, the standard, the soldiers--all
this is non-Ego. No, no, this is non-Ego--my hands and feet." Romashov
lifted up his hands to the level of his face, and looked at them with
wonder and curiosity, as if he saw them now for the first time in his
life. "No, all this is non-Ego. But look--I pinch my arm--that is the
Ego. I see my arm, I lift it up--_this_ is the Ego. And what I am
thinking now is also Ego. If I now want to go my way, that is the Ego.
And even if I stop, that is the Ego.

"Oh, how wonderful, how mysterious is this. And so simple too. Is it
true that all individuals possess a similar Ego? Perhaps it is only I
who have it? Or perhaps nobody has it. Down there hundreds of soldiers
stand drawn up in front of me. I give the order: 'Eyes to the right,' to
hundreds of human beings who has each his own Ego, and who see in me
something foreign, distant, i.e. non-Ego--then turn their heads at once
to the right. But I do not distinguish one from the other; they are to
me merely a mass. And to Colonel Schulgovich both I and Viätkin and
Lbov, and all the captains and lieutenants, are likewise perhaps merely
a 'mass,' viz., he does not distinguish one of us from the other, or, in
other words, we are entirely outside his ken as individuals to him."

The door was opened, and Hainán stole into the room. He began at once
his usual dance, threw up his legs into the air, rocked his shoulders,
and shouted--

"Your Honour, I got no cigarettes. They said that Lieutenant Skriabin
gave orders that you were not to have any more on credit."

"Oh, damn! You can go, Hainán. What am I to do without cigarettes?
However, it is of no consequence. You can go, Hainán."

"What was it I was thinking of?" Romashov asked himself, when he was
once more alone. He had lost the threads, and, unaccustomed as he was to
think, he could not pick them up again at once. "What was I thinking of
just now? It was something important and interesting. Well, let us turn
back and take the questions in order. Also, I am under arrest; out in
the street I see people at large; my mother tied me up with a
thread--_me, me_. Yes, so it was. The soldier perhaps has an Ego,
perhaps even Colonel Shulgovich. Ha, he! now I remember; go on. Here I
am sitting in my room. I am arrested, but my door is open. I want to go
out, but I dare not. Why do I not dare? Have I committed any
crime--theft--murder? No. All I did was merely omitting to keep my heels
together when I was talking to another man. Possibly I was wrong. Yet,
why? Is it anything important? Is it the chief thing in life? In about
twenty or thirty years--a second in eternity--my life, my Ego, will go
out like a lamp does when one turns the wick down. They will light
life--the lamp--afresh, over and over again; but my Ego is gone for
ever. Likewise this room, this sky, the regiment, the whole army, all
stars, this dirty globe, my hands and feet--all, all--shall be
annihilated for ever. Yes, yes; that is so. Well, all right--but wait a
bit. I must not be in too much of a hurry. I shall not be in existence.
Ah, wait. I found myself in infinite darkness. Somebody came and lighted
my life's lamp, but almost immediately he blew it out again, and once
more I was in darkness, in the eternity of eternities. What did I do?
What did I utter during this short moment of my existence? I held my
thumb on the seam of my trousers and my heels together. I shrieked as
loud as I could: 'Shoulder arms!' and immediately afterwards I thundered
'Use your butt ends, you donkeys!' I trembled before a hundred tyrants,
now miserable ghosts in eternity like my own remarkable, lofty Ego. But
why did I tremble before those ghosts and why could they compel me to do
such a lot of unnecessary, idiotic, unpleasant things? How could they
venture to annoy and insult my Ego--these miserable spectres?"

Romashov sat down by the table, put his elbows on it, and leaned his
head on his hands. It was hard work for him to keep in check these wild
thoughts which raced through his mind.

"H'm!--my friend Romashov, what a lot you have forgotten--your
fatherland, the ashes of your sire, the altar of honour, the warrior's
oath and discipline. Who shall preserve the land of your sires when the
foe rushes over its boundaries? Ah! when I am dead there will be no
more fatherland, no enemy, no honour. They will disappear at the same
time as my consciousness. But if all this be buried and brought to
naught--country, enemies, honour, and all the other big words--what has
all this to do with _my Ego_? I am more important than all these phrases
about duty, honour, love, etc. Assume that I am a soldier and my Ego
suddenly says, 'I won't fight,' and not only _my own_ Ego, but millions
of other Egos that constitute the whole of the army, the whole of
Russia, the entire world; all these say, 'We won't!' Then it will be all
over so far as war is concerned, and never again will any one have to
hear such absurdities as 'Open order,' 'Shoulder arms,' and all the rest
of that nonsense.

"Well, well, well. It must be so some day," shouted an exultant voice in
Romashov. "All that talk about 'warlike deeds,' 'discipline,' 'honour of
the uniform,' 'respect for superiors,' and, first and last, the whole
science of war exists only because humanity will not, or cannot, or dare
not, say, 'I won't.'"

"What do you suppose all this cunningly reared edifice that is called
the profession of arms really is? Nothing, humbug, a house hanging in
midair, which will tumble down directly mankind pronounces three short
words: 'I will not.' My Ego will never say, 'I will not eat,' 'I will
not breathe,' 'I will not see,' But if any one proposes to my Ego that
it shall die, it infallibly replies: 'I will not.' What, then, is war
with all its hecatombs of dead and the science of war, which teaches us
the best methods of murdering? Why, a universal madness, an illusion.
But wait. Perhaps I am mistaken. No, I cannot be mistaken, for this 'I
will not' is so simple, so natural, that everybody must, in the end, say
it. Let us, however, examine the matter more closely. Let us suppose
that this thought is pronounced this very moment by all Russians,
Germans, Englishmen, and Japanese. Ah, well, what would be the
consequence? Why, that war would cease for ever, and the officers and
soldiers would go, every man, to his home. And what would happen after
that? I know: Shulgovich would answer; Shulgovich would immediately get
querulous and say: 'Now we are done for; they can attack us now whenever
they please, take away our hearths and homes, trample down our fields,
and carry off our wives and sisters.' And what about rioters,
socialists, revolutionaries? But when the whole of mankind without
exception has shouted: 'We will no longer tolerate bloodshed,' who will
then dare to assail us? No one! All enemies would be reconciled, submit
to each other, forgive everything, and justly divide among themselves
the abundance of the earth. Gracious God, when shall this dream be
fulfilled?"

Whilst Romashov was indulging in these fancies, he failed to notice that
Hainán had quietly stolen in behind his back and suddenly stretched his
arm over his shoulder. Romashov started in terror, and roared out
angrily--

"What the devil do you want?"

Hainán laid before him on the table a cinnamon-coloured packet. "This is
for you," he replied in a friendly, familiar tone, and Romashov felt
behind him his servant's jovial smile. "They are cigarettes; smoke now."

Romashov looked at the packet. On it was printed, "The Trumpeter,
First-class Cigarettes. Price 3 kopecks for 20."

"What does this mean?" he asked in astonishment. "Where did this come
from?"

"I saw that you had no cigarettes, so I bought these with my own money.
Please smoke them. It is nothing. Just a little present."

After this, to conceal his confusion, Hainán ran headlong to the door,
which he slammed after him with a deafening bang. Romashov lighted a
cigarette, and the room was soon filled with a perfume that strongly
reminded one of melted sealing-wax and burnt feathers.

"Oh, you dear!" thought Romashov, deeply moved. "I get cross with you
and scold you and make you pull off my muddy boots every evening, and
yet you go and buy me cigarettes with your few last coppers. 'Please
smoke them.' What made you do it?"

Again he got up and walked up and down the room with his hands behind
him.

"Our company consists of at least a hundred men, and each of them is a
creature with thoughts, feelings, experience of life, personal
sympathies and antipathies. Do I know anything about them? No, nothing,
except their faces. I see them before me as they stand in line every
day, drawn up from right to left: Sóltyss, Riaboschápka, Yégoroff,
Yaschtschischin, etc., etc.--mere sorry, grey figures. What have I done
to bring my soul nearer to their souls, my Ego to theirs? Nothing."

He involuntarily called to mind a rough night at the end of autumn, when
(as was his custom) he was sitting drinking in the mess-room with a few
comrades. Suddenly the pay-sergeant Goumeniuk, of the 9th Company,
rushed into the room, and breathlessly called to his commander--

"Your Excellency, the recruits are here."

Yes, there they stood in the rain, in the barrack-yard, driven together
like a herd of frightened animals without any will of their own, which
with cowed, suspicious glances gazed at their tormentors. "Each
individual," thought Romashov, as he slowly and carefully inspected
their appearance, "has his own characteristic expression of countenance.
This one, for instance, is most certainly a smith; that is, doubtless, a
jolly chap who plays his accordion with some talent; that one with the
shrewd features can both read and write, and looks as if he were a
_polevói_."[8] And one felt that these poor recruits who, a few days
ago, had been violently seized whilst their wives and children were
crying and lamenting, had tried, with tears in their voices, to join in
the coarse songs of their wild, drunken brothers in misfortune. But a
year later they stood like soldiers in long rigid rows--grey, sluggish,
apathetic figures, all cast, as it were, in the same mould. But they
never left their homes of their own free will. Their Ego resented it.
And yet they went. Why all this inconsistency? How can one not help
thinking of that old and well-known story about the cock who fought
desperately with his wings and resisted to the uttermost when his beak
was pressed against a table, but who stood motionless, hypnotized, when
some one drew a thick line with a piece of chalk across the table from
the tip of his beak.

Romashov threw himself on the bed.

"What is there left for you to do under the circumstances?" he asked
himself in bitter mockery. "Do you think of resigning? But, in that
case, where do you think of going? What does the sum of knowledge amount
to that you have learnt at the infants' school, the Cadet School, at
the Military Academy, at mess? Have you tried the struggle and
seriousness of life? No, you have been looked after and your wants
supplied, as if you were a little child, and you think perhaps, like a
certain schoolgirl, that rolls grow on trees. Go out into the world and
try. At the very first step you would slip and fall; people would
trample you in the dust, and you would drown your misery in drink. And
besides, have you ever heard of an officer leaving the service of his
own free will? No, never. Just because he is unfit for anything he will
not give up his meagre bread-and-butter. And if any one is forced into
doing this, you will soon see him wearing a greasy old regimental cap,
and accepting alms from people in the street. I am a Russian officer of
gentle birth, _comprenez-vous_? Alas, where shall I go--what will become
of me?"

"Prisoner, prisoner!" cried a clear female voice beneath the window.

Romashov jumped up from his bed and rushed to the window. Opposite him
stood Shurochka. She was protecting her eyes from the sun with the palm
of her hand, and pressing her rosy face against the window pane,
exclaiming in a mocking tone:--

"Oh, give a poor beggar a copper!" Romashov fumbled at the window-catch
in wild eagerness to open it, but he remembered in the same moment that
the inner window had not been removed. With joyous resolution he seized
the window-frame with both hands, and dragged it to him with a
tremendous tug. A loud noise was heard, and the whole window fell into
the room, besprinkling Romashov with bits of lime and pieces of dried
putty. The outer window flew up, and a stream of fresh air, charged
with joy and the perfume of flowers, forced its way into the room.

"Ha, at last! Now I'll go out, cost what it may," shouted Romashov in a
jubilant voice.

"Romashov, you mad creature! what are you doing?"

He caught her outstretched hand through the window; it was closely
covered by a cinnamon-coloured glove, and he began boldly to kiss it,
first upwards and downwards, and after that from the finger-tips to the
wrist. Last of all, he kissed the hole in the glove just below the
buttons. He was astonished at his boldness; never before had he ventured
to do this. Shurochka submitted as though unconscious to this passionate
burst of affection, and smilingly accepted his kisses whilst gazing at
him in shy wonderment.

"Alexandra Petrovna, you are an angel. How shall I ever be able to thank
you?"

"Gracious, Romochka! what has come to you? And why are you so happy?"
she asked laughingly as she eyed Romashov with persistent curiosity.
"But wait, my poor prisoner, I have brought you from home a splendid
_kalátsch_ and the most delicious apple puffs."

"Stepan, bring the basket here."

He looked at her with devotion in his eyes, and without letting go her
hand, which she allowed to remain unresistingly in his, he said
hurriedly--

"Oh, if you knew all I have been thinking about this morning--if you
only knew! But of this, later on.

"Yes, later on. Look, here comes my lord and master. Let go my hand. How
strange you look to-day! I even think you have grown handsome."

Nikoläiev now came up to the window. He frowned, and greeted Romashov
in a rather cool and reserved way.

"Come, Shurochka," he said to his wife, "what in the world are you
thinking about? You must both be mad. Only think, if the Commander were
to see us. Good-bye, Romashov; come and see us."

"Yes, come and see us, Yuri Alexievich," repeated Shurochka. She left
the window, but returned almost at once and whispered rapidly to
Romashov. "Don't forget us. You are the only man here whom I can
associate with--as a friend--do you hear? And another thing. Once for
all I forbid you to look at me with such sheep's eyes, remember that.
Besides, you have no right to imagine anything. You are not a coxcomb
yet, you know."



VII


At 3.30 p.m. Lieutenant Federovski, the Adjutant of the regiment, drove
up to Romashov's house. He was a tall, stately, and (as the ladies of
the regiment used to say) presentable young man, with freezingly cold
eyes and an enormous moustache that almost grazed his shoulder. Towards
the younger officers he was always excessively polite, but, at the same
time, officially correct in his conduct. He was not familiar with any
one, and had a very high opinion of himself and his position. Nearly all
the captains flattered and paid court to him.

As he entered the door, he rapidly scanned with his blinking eyes the
whole of the scanty furniture in Romashov's room. The latter, who lay
resting on his bed, jumped off, and, blushing, began to button up his
undress tunic.

"I am here by orders of the commander, who wishes to speak to you," said
Federovski in a dry tone. "Be good enough to dress and accompany me as
soon as possible."

"I shall be ready at once. Shall I put on undress or parade uniform?"

"Don't, please, stand on ceremony. A frock-coat, if you like, that would
be quite sufficient. Meanwhile, with your permission, I will take a
seat."

"Oh, I beg your pardon--will you have some tea?" said Romashov fussily.

"No, thanks. My time is short, and I must ask you to be as quick as
possible about changing your clothes."

And without taking off his cloak or gloves, he sat down whilst Romashov
changed his clothes in nervous haste and with painful glances at his not
particularly clean shirt. Federovski sat the whole time with his hands
resting on the hilt of his sabre, as motionless as a stone image.

"I suppose you do not happen to know why I am sent for?"

The Adjutant shrugged his shoulders.

"A singular question! How should I know? You ought to know the reason
better than I. But if I may give you a bit of friendly advice, put the
sabre-belt under--not over--the shoulder strap. The Colonel is, as you
are aware, particular about such matters. And now, if you please, we
will start."

Before the steps stood a common _calèche_, attached to which were a
couple of high, lean army horses. Romashov was polite enough to encroach
as little as possible on the narrow seat, so as not to cause his
attendant any discomfort, but the latter did not, so it seemed, take the
slightest notice of that. On the way they met Viätkin; the latter
exchanged a chilly and correct salute with the Adjutant, but honoured
Romashov, who for a second turned round, with a comic but enigmatical
gesture that might probably mean: "Ah, poor fellow, you are on your way
to Pontius Pilate." They met other officers, some of whom regarded
Romashov with a sort of solemn interest, others with unfeigned
astonishment, and some bestowed on him only a derisive smile. Romashov
tried to avoid their glances and felt himself shrinking beneath them.

The Colonel did not receive him at once. He had some one in his private
room. Romashov had to wait in a half-dark hall that smelt of apples,
naphtha, newly-polished furniture and, besides that, of something which
not at all unpleasantly reminded him of the odour which seems
particularly inseparable from clothes and furniture in well-to-do German
families that are pedantically careful about their goods and chattels.

As he walked slowly up and down the hall, he glanced at himself several
times in a mirror in a light ashwood frame which was fixed to the wall;
and each time he looked his face struck him as being unhealthily pale,
ugly, and queer. His uniform, too, was shabby, and his epaulettes
soiled.

Out in the hall might be heard the incessant rumbling of the Colonel's
deep bass voice. The words themselves could not be distinguished, but
the ferocious tone told the tale clearly enough that Colonel Shulgovich
was scolding some one with implacable and sustained rage. This went on
for about five minutes; after which Schulgovich suddenly became silent,
a trembling, supplicating voice succeeded his, and, after a moment's
pause, Romashov clearly heard the following frightful tirade uttered
with a terrible accent of pride, indignation, and contempt:

"What nonsense is it that you dare to talk about your wife and your
children? What the devil have I to do with them? Before you brought your
children into the world you ought to have considered how you could
manage to feed them. What? So now you are trying to throw the blame on
your Colonel, are you? But it has nothing to do with him. You know too
well, Captain, that if I do not deliver you into the hands of justice I
shall fail in my duty as your commander. Be good enough not to
interrupt me. Here there is no question of an offence against
discipline, but a glaring crime, and _your_ place henceforward will
certainly not be in the regiment, but you yourself best know _where_."
Again he heard that miserable, beseeching voice, so pitiful that it did
not sound human.

"Good Lord! what is it all about?" thought Romashov, who, as if he were
glued to the looking-glass, gazed at his pale face without seeing it,
and felt his heart throbbing painfully. "Good Lord! how horrible!"

The plaintive, beseeching voice again replied, and spoke at some length.
When it ceased, the Colonel's deep bass began thundering, but now
evidently a trifle more calmly and gently than before, as if his rage
had spent itself, and his desire to witness the humiliation of another
were satisfied.

Shulgovich said abruptly: "Engrave it for ever on your red nose. All
right! But this is the last time. Remember now! The last time! Do you
hear? If it ever comes to my ears that you have been drunk,
the--silence!--I know what you intend to say, but I won't hear any more
of your promises. In a week's time I shall inspect your company. You
understand? And as to the troops' pay, that matter must be settled
to-morrow. You hear? _To-morrow._ And now I shall not detain you longer,
Captain. I have the honour----"

The last words were interrupted by a scraping on the floor, and a few
tottering steps towards the door; but, suddenly, the Colonel's voice was
again heard, though this time its wrathful and violent tone did not
sound quite natural.

"Wait a moment! Come here, you devil's pepper-box! Where are you off
to? To the Jews, of course--to get a bill signed. Ah, you fool--you
blockhead! Here you are! One, two, three, four--three hundred. I can't
do more. Take them and be off with you. Pay me back when you can. What a
mess you have made of things, Captain! Now be off with you! Go to the
devil--your servant, sir!"

The door sprang open, and into the hall staggered little Captain
Sviatovidov, red and perspiring, with harassed, nay, ravaged, features.
His right hand grasped convulsively his new, rustling bundle of
banknotes. He made a sort of pirouette directly he recognized Romashov,
tried, but failed miserably in the attempt, to assume a sportive,
free-and-easy look, and clutched tight hold of Romashov's fingers with
his hot, moist, trembling hand. His wandering, furtive glances rested at
last on Romashov as if he would ask the question: "Have you heard
anything or have you not?"

"He's a tiger, a bloodhound!" he whispered, pointing to the door of the
Colonel's room; "but what the deuce does it matter?" Sviatovidov twice
crossed himself quickly. "The Lord be praised! the Lord be praised!"

"Bon-da-ren-ko!" roared Shulgovich from his room, and his powerful voice
that moment filled every nook and corner of the house. "Bondarenko, who
is out there still? Bring him in."

"Hold your own, my young lion," whispered Sviatovidov with a false
smile. "_Au revoir_, Lieutenant. Hope you'll have a good time."

Bondarenko glided through the door. He was a typical Colonel's servant,
with an impudently condescending look, hair pomaded and parted in the
middle, dandified, with white gloves. He addressed Romashov in a
respectful tone, but eyed him, at the same time, in a very bold way.

"His Excellency begs your Honour to step in."

He opened the door and stepped aside. Romashov walked in.

Colonel Shulgovich sat at a table in a corner of the room, to the left
of the door. He was wearing his fatigue tunic, under which appeared his
gleaming white shirt. His red, sinewy hands rested on the arm of his
easy chair. His unnaturally big, old face, with short tufts of hair on
the top of his head, and the white pointed beard, gave an impression of
a certain hardness and coldness. The bright colourless eyes gleamed
almost aggressively at the visitor, whose salutation was returned with a
brief nod. Romashov at that moment noticed a crescent-shaped ring in the
Colonel's ear, and thought to himself: "Strange that I never saw that
ring before."

"This is very serious," began Shulgovich, in a gruff bass that seemed to
proceed from the depths of his diaphragm, after which he made a long
pause. "Shame on you!" he continued in a raised voice. "Because you've
served a year all but one week you begin to put on airs. Besides this, I
have many other reasons to be annoyed with you. For instance: I come to
the parade-ground and make a justifiable remark about you. At once you
are ready to answer your commanding officer in a silly, insolent manner.
Can that be called military tact and discipline? No. Such a thing is
incredible, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself." The latter words
were roared by Shulgovich with such deafening violence that his victim
felt a tremor under his knee-cap.

Romashov looked gloomily away, and no power in the world, thought he,
should induce him to look at the Colonel straight in his basilisk face.

"Where's my _Ego_ now?" he asked himself ironically. "Here the only
thing to do is to suffer, keep silent, and stand at attention."

"It does not matter now how I obtained my information about you. It is
quite sufficient I know all your sins. _You drink._ You, a mere boy--a
callow creature that has but lately left school--swig schnapps like a
cobbler's apprentice. Hold your tongue, don't try to defend yourself, I
know everything--and much more than you think. Well, God forbid!--if you
are bent on going down the broad path you are welcome to do it, so far
as I'm concerned. Still, I'll give you a warning: drink has made more
than one of your sort acquainted with the inside of a prison. Lay these
words of mine to heart. My long-suffering is great, but even an angel's
patience can be exhausted. The officers of a regiment are mutually
related as members of one family; but don't forget that an unworthy
member who tarnishes the honour of the family is ruthlessly cast out."

"Here I stand paralysed with fright, and my tongue is numbed," thought
Romashov, as he stared, as though hypnotized, at the little silver ring
in the Colonel's ear. "At this moment I ought to tell him straight out
that I do not in the least degree value the honour of belonging to this
worthy family, and that I shall be delighted to leave it to enter the
reserves; but have I the courage to say so?" His lips moved, he found a
difficulty in swallowing, but he stood still, as he had throughout the
interview.

"But let us," continued Shulgovich in the same harsh tone, "examine more
closely your conduct in the past. In the previous year--practically as
soon as you entered the service, you requested leave on account of your
mother's illness, nay, you even produced a sort of letter about it.
Well, in such cases an officer cannot, you know, openly express his
doubts as to the truth of a comrade's word. But I take this opportunity
of telling you in private that I had my own opinion then about that
story. You understand?"

Romashov had for a long time felt a tremor in his right knee. This
tremor was at first very slight, in fact scarcely noticeable, but it
very soon assumed alarming proportions, and finally extended over the
whole of his body. This feeling grew very painful at the thought that
Shulgovich might possibly regard his nervousness as proceeding from
fear; but when his mother's name was mentioned, a consuming heat coursed
through Romashov's veins, and his intense nervous tremor ceased
immediately. For the first time during all this painful scene he raised
his eyes to his torturer and looked him defiantly straight in the face.
And in this look glittered a hatred, menace, and imperious lust of
vengeance from the insulted man, so intense and void of all fear that
the illimitable distance between the omnipotent commander and the
insignificant sub-lieutenant, who had no rights at all, was absolutely
annihilated. A mist arose before Romashov's eyes, the various objects in
the room lost their shape, and the Colonel's gruff voice sounded to him
as if from a deep abyss. Then there suddenly came a moment of darkness
and ominous silence, devoid of thoughts, will, or external perception,
nay, even without consciousness. He experienced only a horrible
certainty that, in another moment, something terrible and maniacal,
something irretrievably disastrous, would happen. A strange, unfamiliar
voice whispered in his ear: "Next moment I will kill him," and Romashov
was slowly but irresistibly forced to fix his eyes on the Colonel's bald
head.

Afterwards, as if in a dream, he became aware, although he could not
understand the reason, of a curious change in his enemy's eyes, which,
in rapid succession, reflected wonder, dread, helplessness, and pity.
The wave of destruction that had just whelmed through Romashov's soul,
by the violence of natural force, subsided, sank, and disappeared in
space. He tottered, and now everything appeared to him commonplace and
uninteresting. Shulgovich, in nervous haste, placed a chair before him,
and said, with unexpected but somewhat rough kindness--

"The Devil take you! what a touchy fellow you are! Sit down and be
damned to you! But you are all alike. You look at me as if I were a wild
beast. 'The old fossil goes for us without rhyme or reason.' And all the
time God knows I love you as if you were my own children. Do you think I
have nothing to put up with, either? Ah, gentlemen, how little you know
me! It is true I scold you occasionally, but, damn it all! an old fellow
has a right to be angry sometimes. Oh, you youngsters! Well, let us make
peace. Give me your hand and come to dinner."

Romashov bowed without uttering a syllable, and pressed the coarse,
cold, hairy hand. His recollection of the past insult to some extent
faded, but his heart was none the lighter for this. He remembered his
proud, inflated fancies of that very morning, and he now felt like a
little pale, pitiful schoolboy, like a shy, abandoned, scarcely
tolerated brat, and he thought of all this with shame and
mortification. Also, whilst accompanying Shulgovich to the dining-room,
he could not help addressing himself, as his habit was, in the third
person--

"And a shadow rested on his brow."

Shulgovich was childless. In the dining-room, his wife--a fat, coarse,
self-important, and silent woman--awaited him. She had not a vestige of
neck, but displayed a whole row of chins. Notwithstanding her
_pince-nez_ and her scornful mien, there was a certain air of vulgarity
about her countenance, which gave the impression of its being formed, at
the last minute, hurriedly and negligently, out of dough, with raisins
or currants instead of eyes. Behind her waddled, dragging her feet, the
Colonel's old mother--a little deaf, but still an active, domineering,
venomous old hag. While she closely and rudely examined Romashov over
her spectacles, she clawed hold of his fingers and coolly pressed to his
lips her black, shrivelled, bony hand, that reminded one most of an
anatomical specimen. This done, she turned to the Colonel and asked him,
just as if they had been absolutely alone in the dining-room--

"Who is this? I don't remember seeing him here before?"

Shulgovich formed his hands into a sort of speaking-tube, and bawled
into the old woman's ear:

"Sub-lieutenant Romashov, mamma. A capital officer, a smart fellow, and
an ornament to his regiment--comes from the Cadet School. By the way,
Sub-lieutenant," he exclaimed abruptly, "we are certainly from the same
province. Aren't you from Pevsa?"[9]

"Yes, Colonel, I was born in Pevsa."

"To be sure, to be sure; now I remember. You are from the Narovtschátski
district?"

"Quite right, Colonel."

"Ah, yes--how could I have forgotten it! Mamma," he again trumpeted into
his mother's ear, "mamma, Sub-lieutenant Romashov is from our province;
he's from Narovtschátski."

"Ah, ah," and the old woman raised her eyebrows as a sign that she
understood. "Well, then, you're, of course, a son of Sergei Petrovich
Shishkin?"

"No, dear mother," roared the Colonel, "you are wrong. His name is
Romashov, not Shishkin."

"Yes, didn't I say so? I never knew Sergei Petrovich except by hearsay;
but I often met Peter Petrovich. He was a charming young man. We were
near neighbours, and I congratulate you, my young friend, on your
relationship."

"Well, as you will have it, you old deaf-as-a-post," exclaimed the
Colonel, interrupting her with good-humoured cynicism." But now, let's
sit down; please take a seat, Sub-lieutenant. Lieutenant Federovski," he
shrieked towards the door, "stop your work and come and have a
schnapps." The Adjutant, who, according to the custom in many regiments,
dined every day with his chief, hurriedly entered the dining-room. He
clicked his spurs softly and discreetly, walked straight up to the
little majolica table with the _sakuska_,[10] calmly helped himself to a
schnapps, and ate with extreme calmness and enjoyment. Romashov noticed
all that with an absurd, envious feeling of admiration.

"You'll take one, won't you?" said Shulgovich to Romashov. "You're no
teetotaller, you know."

"No, thank you very much," replied Romashov hoarsely; and, with a slight
cough, "I do not usually----"

"Bravo, my young friend. Stick to that in future."

They sat down to table. The dinner was good and abundant. Any one could
observe that, in this childless family, both host and hostess had an
innocent little weakness for good living. Dinner consisted of chicken
soup with vegetables, roast bream with _kascha_,[11] a splendid fat duck
and asparagus. On the table stood three remarkable decanters containing
red wine, white wine, and madeira, resplendent with embossed silver
stoppers bearing elegant foreign marks. The Colonel, whose violent
explosion of wrath but a short time previously had evidently given him
an excellent appetite, ate with an elegance and taste that struck the
spectator with pleasure and surprise. He joked all the time with a
certain rough humour. When the asparagus was put on the table, he
crammed a corner of his dazzlingly white serviette well down under his
chin, and exclaimed in a lively way--

"If I were the Tsar, I would eat asparagus every day of my life."

Only once, at the fish course, he fell into his usual domineering tone,
and shouted almost harshly to Romashov--

"Sub-lieutenant, be good enough to put your knife down. Fish and cutlets
are eaten only with a fork. An officer must know how to eat properly; he
may, at any time, you know, be invited to the palace. Don't forget
that."

Romashov was uncomfortable and constrained the whole time. He did not
know what to do with his hands, which, for the most part, he kept under
the table plaiting the fringe of the tablecloth. He had long got out of
the habit of observing what was regarded as "good form" in an elegant
and wealthy house. And, during the whole time he was at table, one sole
thought tortured him: "How disagreeable this is, and what weakness and
cowardice on my part not to have the courage to refuse this humiliating
invitation to dinner. Now I shall not stand this any longer. I'll get up
and bow to the company, and go my way. They may think what they please
about it. They can hardly eat me up for that--nor rob me of my soul, my
thoughts, my consciousness. Shall I go?" And again he was obliged to
acknowledge to himself, with a heart overflowing with pain and
indignation, that he lacked the moral courage necessary to assert his
individuality and self-respect.

Twilight was falling when at last coffee was served. The red, slanting
beams of the setting sun filtered in through the window blinds, and
sportively cast little copper-coloured spots or rays on the dark
furniture, on the white tablecloth, and the clothes and countenances of
those present. Conversation gradually languished. All sat silent, as
though hypnotized by the mystic mood of the dying day.

"When I was an ensign," said Shulgovich, breaking the silence, "we had
for the chief of our brigade a General named Fofanov. He was just one of
those gentle and simple old fogies who had risen from the ranks during a
time of war, and, as I believe, belonged at the start to what we call
Kantonists.[12] I remember how at reviews he always went straight up to
the big drum--he was insanely enamoured of that instrument--and said to
the drummer, 'Come, come, my friend, play me something really
melancholy.' This same General had also the habit of going to bed
directly the clock struck eleven. When the clock was just on the stroke
of the hour, he invariably said to his guests, 'Well, well, gentlemen,
eat, drink, and enjoy yourselves, but I'm going to throw myself into the
arms of Neptune.' Somebody once remarked, 'Your Excellency, you mean the
arms of Morpheus?' 'Oh, that's the same thing. They both belong to the
same mineralogy.' Well, that's just what I am going to do, gentlemen."

Shulgovich got up and placed his serviette on the arm of his chair. "I,
too, am going to throw myself into the arms of Neptune. I release you,
gentlemen."

Both officers got up and stretched themselves. "A bitter, ironical smile
played on his thin lips," thought Romashov about himself--only
_thought_, however, for at that moment his countenance was pale,
wretched, and by no means prepossessing to look at.

Once more Romashov was on his way home, and once more he felt himself
lonely, abandoned, and helpless in this gloomy and hostile place. Once
more the sun flamed in the west, amidst heavy, dark blue thunder-clouds,
and once more before Romashov's eyes, in the distance, behind houses and
fields, at the verge of the horizon, there loomed a fantastic fairy city
beckoning to him with promises of marvellous beauty and happiness.

The darkness fell suddenly between the rows of houses. A few little
Jewish children ran, squealing, along the path. Here and there in
doorways, in the embrasures of windows, and in the dusk of gardens there
were sounds of women's laughter, provocative and unintermittent, and
with a quiver of warm animalistic gladness which is heard only when
spring is near. With the deep yet calm melancholy that now lay heavy on
Romashov's heart there were mingled strange, dim memories of a bliss
miraged but never enjoyed in youth's still lovelier spring, and there
arose in his heart a delicious presentiment of a strong, invincible love
that at last gained its object.

When Romashov reached his abode he found Hainán in his dark and dirty
cupboard in front of Pushkin's bust. The great bard was smeared all over
with grease, and before him burning candles cast bright blurs on the
statue's nose, its thick lips and muscular neck. Hainán sat, in the
Turkish style, cross-legged on the three boards that constituted his
bed, rocked his body to and fro, and mumbled out in a sing-song tone
something weird, melancholy, and monotonous.

"Hainán," shouted Romashov.

The servant started, jumped up, and stood at attention. Fear and
embarrassment were displayed on his countenance.

"Allah?" asked Romashov in the most friendly way.

The Circassian's shaven boyish mouth expanded in a broad grin which
showed his beautiful white teeth in the candle-light.

"Allah, your Honour."

"It is all the same, Hainán. Allah is in you. Allah is in me. There is
one Allah for us all."

"My excellent Hainán," thought Romashov to himself as he went into his
room. "And I dare not shake hands with him. Dare not! Damn it all! from
to-day I will dress and undress myself. It's a disgrace that some one
else should do it for me."

That evening he did not go to the mess-room, but stayed at home and
brought out of a drawer a thick, ruled book, nearly entirely filled with
elegant, irregular handwriting. He wrote far into the night. It was the
third in order of Romashov's novels, and its title ran: _A Fatal
Beginning_.

But our lieutenant blushed furiously at his literary efforts, and he
would not have been induced for anything in the world to acknowledge his
authorship.



VIII


Barracks had just begun to be built for the garrison troops on what was
called the "Cattle Square," outside the town, on the other side of the
railway. Meanwhile the companies were quartered here and there in the
town. The officers' mess-room was situated in a rather small house. The
drawing-room and ballroom had their windows over the street. The other
rooms, the windows of which overlooked a dark, dirty backyard, were set
apart for kitchen, dining-room, billiard-room, guest-chamber, and
ladies'-room. A long narrow corridor with doors to all the rooms in the
house ran the whole length of the building. In the rooms that were
seldom used, and not often cleaned or aired, a musty, sour smell greeted
the visitor as he entered.

Romashov reached the mess at 9 p.m. Five or six unmarried officers had
already assembled for the appointed soirée, but the ladies had not yet
arrived. For some time past there had been a keen rivalry amongst the
latter to display their acquaintance with the demands of fashion,
according to which it was incumbent on a lady with pretensions to
elegance scrupulously to avoid being among the first to reach the
ballroom. The musicians were already in their places in a sort of
gallery that was connected with the room by means of a large window
composed of many panes of glass. Three-branched candelabra on the
pillars between the windows shed their radiance, and lamps were
suspended from the roof. The bright illumination on the scanty
furniture, consisting only of Viennese chairs, the bare walls, and the
common white muslin window-curtains, gave the somewhat spacious room a
very empty and deserted air.

In the billiard-room the two Adjutants of the battalion, Biek-Agamalov
and Olisár--the only count in the regiment--were engaged in a game of
"Carolina." The stakes were only ale. Olisár--tall, gaunt, sleek, and
pomaded--an "old, young man" with wrinkled face and bald crown,
scattered freely billiard-room jests and slang. Biek-Agamalov lost both
his game and his temper in consequence. In the seat by the window sat
Staff-Captain Lieschtschenko--a melancholy individual of forty-five, an
altogether miserable figure, the mere sight of which could bore people
to death--watching the game. His whole appearance gave the impression of
hopeless melancholy. Everything about him was limp: his long, fleshy,
wrinkled red nose; his dim, dark-brown thread-like moustache that
reached down below his chin. His eyebrows, which grew a good way down to
the bridge of his nose, made his eyes look as if he were just about to
weep, and his thin, lean body with his sunken chest and sloping
shoulders looked like a clothes-horse in its worn and shiny uniform.
Lieschtschenko neither smoked, drank, nor played; but he found a strange
pleasure in looking at the cards from behind the players' backs, and in
following the movements of the balls in the billiard-room. He likewise
delighted in listening, huddled up in a dining-room window, to the row
and vulgarities of the wildest drinking-bouts. He could thus sit, for
hours at a time, motionless as a stone statue, and without uttering a
single word. All the officers were so accustomed to this that they
almost regarded the silent Lieschtschenko as one of the inevitable
fixtures of a normal gambling or drinking bout.

After saluting the three officers, Romashov sat down by Lieschtschenko,
who courteously made room for him, as with a deep sigh he fixed his
sorrowful and friendly, dog-like eyes on him.

"How is Maria Viktorovna?" asked Romashov in the careless and
intentionally loud voice which is generally employed in conversation
with deaf or rather stupid people, and which all the regiment (including
the ensigns) used when they happened to address Lieschtschenko.

"Quite well, thanks," replied Lieschtschenko with a still deeper sigh.
"You understand--her nerves; but, you know, at this time of year----"

"But why did she not come with you? But perhaps Maria Viktorovna is not
coming to the soirée to-night?"

"What do you mean? of course she's coming; but you see, my dear fellow,
there was no room for me in the cab. She and Raisa Peterson took a trap
between them, and as you'll understand, my dear fellow, they said to me,
'Don't come here with your dirty, rough boots, they simply ruin our
clothes.'"

"Croisez in the middle--a nice 'kiss.' Pick up the ball, Biek," cried
Olisár.

"I am not a lackey. Do you think I'll pick up your balls?" replied
Biek-Agamalov in a furious tone.

Lieschtschenko caught in his mouth the tips of his long moustaches, and
thereupon began sucking and chewing them with an extremely thoughtful
and troubled air.

"Yuri Alexievich, my dear fellow, I have a favour to ask you," he
blurted out at last in a shy and deprecating tone. "You lead the dance
to-night, eh?"

"Yes, damn it all! They have so arranged it among themselves. I did try
to get off it, kow-towed to the Adjutant--ah, pretty nearly reported
myself ill. 'In that case,' said he, 'you must be good enough to hand in
a medical certificate.'"

"This is what I want you to do for me," Lieschtschenko went on in the
same humble voice. "For God's sake see that she does not have to sit out
many dances."

"Maria Viktorovna?"

"Yes, please----"

"Double with the yellow in the corner," said Biek-Agamalov, indicating
the stroke he intended to make. Being short, he often found billiards
very troublesome. To reach the ball now he was obliged to lie lengthways
on the table. He became quite red in the face through the effort, and
two veins in his forehead swelled to such an extent that they converged
at the top of his nose like the letter V.[13]

"What a conjurer!" said Olisár in a jeering, ironical tone. "I could not
do that."

Agamalov's cue touched the ball with a dry, scraping sound. The ball did
not move from its place.

"Miss!" cried Olisár jubilantly, as he danced a _cancan_ round the
billiard table. "Do you snore when you sleep, my pretty creature?"

Agamalov banged the thick end of his cue on the floor.

"If you ever again speak when I am making a stroke," he roared, his
black eyes glittering, "I'll throw up the game."

"Don't, whatever you do, get excited. It's so bad for your health. Now
it's my turn."

Just at that moment in rushed one of the soldiers stationed in the hall
for the service of the ladies, and came to attention in front of
Romashov.

"Your Honour, the ladies would like you to come into the ballroom."

Three ladies who had just arrived were already pacing up and down the
ballroom. They were none of them exactly young; the eldest of them, the
wife of the Club President--Anna Ivanovna Migunov--turned to Romashov
and exclaimed in a prim, affected tone, drawling out the words and
tossing her head:

"Sub-lieutenant Romashov, please order the band to play something whilst
we are waiting."

"With pleasure, ladies," replied Romashov with a polite bow. He then
went up to the orchestra and called to the conductor, "Zisserman, play
us something pretty."

The first thundering notes of the overture to "Long live the Tsar"
rolled through the open windows of the music gallery across the
ballroom, and the flames of the candelabra vibrated to the rhythm of the
drum beats.

The ladies gradually assembled. A year ago, Romashov had felt an
indescribable pleasure in those very minutes before the ball when, in
accordance with his duties as director of the ball, he received the
ladies as they arrived in the hall. Oh, what mystic witchery those
enchantresses possessed when, fired by the strains of the orchestra, by
the glare of many lights, and by the thought of the approaching ball,
they suffered themselves, in delicious confusion, to be divested of
their boas, fur cloaks, wraps, etc. Women's silvery laughter,
high-pitched chatter, mysterious whispers, the freezing perfume from
furs covered with hoar-frost, essences, powder, kid gloves, etc. All
this commingled constituted the mystic, intoxicating atmosphere that is
only found where beautiful women in evening dress crowd one another
immediately before entering a ballroom. What a charm in their lovely
eyes, beaming with the certainty of victory, that cast a last, swift,
scrutinizing glance in the mirror at their hair! What music in the
_frou-frou_ of trains and silken skirts! What bliss in the touch of
delicate little hands, shawls, and fans!

All this enchantment, Romashov felt, had now ceased for ever. He now
understood, and not without a certain sense of shame, that much of this
enchantment had owed its origin to the perusal of bad French novels, in
which occurred the inevitable description of how "Gustave and Armand
cross the vestibule when invited to a ball at the Russian Embassy." He
also knew that the ladies of his regiment wore for years the same
evening dress, which, on certain festive occasions, was pathetically
remodelled, and that the white gloves very often smelt of benzine. The
generally prevailing passion for different sorts of aigrettes, scarves,
sham diamonds, feathers, and ribbons of loud and gaudy colours, struck
him as being highly ridiculous and pretentious. The same lack of taste
and shabby-genteel love of display were shown even in their homes. They
"made up" shamelessly, and some faces by this means had acquired a
bluish tint; but the most unpleasant part of the affair, in Romashov's
opinion, was what he and others in the regiment, on the day after the
ball, discovered as having happened behind the scenes--gossip,
flirtations, and big and little scandals. And he also knew how much
poverty, envy, love of intrigue, petty provincial pride, and low
morality were hidden behind all this splendid misery.

Now Captain Taliman and his wife entered the room. They were both tall
and compact. She was a delicate, fragile blonde; he, dark, with the face
of a veritable brigand, and affected with a chronic hoarseness and
cough. Romashov knew beforehand that Taliman would very soon whisper his
usual phrase, and, sure enough, the latter directly afterwards
exclaimed, as his gipsy eyes wandered spy-like over the ballroom--

"Have you started cards yet, Lieutenant?"

"No, not yet, they are all together in the dining-room."

"Ah, really, do you know, Sonochka, I think I'll go into the dining-room
for a minute just to glance at the _Russki Invalid_. And you, my dear
Romashov, kindly look after my wife here for a bit--they are starting
the quadrille there."

After this the Lykatschev family--a whole caravan of pretty, laughing,
lisping young ladies, always chattering--made its appearance. At the
head walked the mother, a lively little woman, who, despite her forty
years, danced every dance, and brought children into the world "between
the second and third quadrille," as Artschakovski, the wit of the
regiment, liked to put it.

The young ladies instantly threw themselves on Romashov, laughing and
chattering in the attempt to talk one another down.

"Lieutenant Romashov, why do you never come to thee uth?"

"You wicked man!"

"Naughty, naughty, naughty!"

"Wicked man!"

"I will give you the firtht quadwille."

"Mesdames, mesdames," said Romashov in self-defence, bowing and scraping
in all directions, and forced against his will to do the polite.

At that very moment he happened to look in the direction of the street
door. He recognized, silhouetted against the glass, Raisa Alexandrovna's
thin face and thick, prominent lips, which, however, were almost hidden
by a white kerchief tied over her hat.

Romashov, like a schoolboy caught in the act, slipped into the
reception-room as quick as lightning, but however much he might try to
convince himself that he escaped Raisa's notice, he felt a certain
anxiety. In his quondam mistress's small eyes lay a new expression,
hard, menacing, and revengeful, that foreboded a bad time for him.

He walked into the dining-room, where a crowd of officers were
assembled. Nearly all the chairs round the long oilcloth-covered table
were engaged. The blue tobacco smoke curled slowly along the roof and
walls. A rancid smell of fried butter emanated from the kitchen. Two or
three groups of officers had already made inroads on the cold collation
and schnapps. A few were reading the newspapers. A loud, multitudinous
murmur of voices blended with the click of billiard balls, the rattle of
knives, and the slamming of the kitchen door. A cold, unpleasant draught
from the vestibule caught one's feet and legs.

Romashov looked for Lieutenant Bobetinski and went to him.

Bobetinski was standing, with his hands in his trousers pockets, quite
near the long table. He was rocking backwards and forwards, first on
his toes, then on his heels, and his eyes were blinking from the smoke.
Romashov gently touched his arm.

"I beg your pardon!" said Bobetinski as he turned round and drew one
hand out of his pocket; but he continued peering with his eyes,
squinting at Romashov, and screwing his moustache with a superior air
and his elbows akimbo. "Ha! it is you? This is very delightful!"

He always assumed an affected, mincing air, and spoke in short, broken
sentences, thinking, by so doing, that he imitated the aristocratic
Guardsmen and the _jeunesse dorée_ of St. Petersburg. He had a very high
opinion of himself, regarded himself as unsurpassed as a dancer and
connoisseur of women and horses, and loved to play the part of a _blasé_
man of the world, although he was hardly twenty-four. He always shrugged
his shoulders coquettishly high, jabbered horrible French, pattered
along the streets with limp, crooked knees and trailing gait, and
invariably accompanied his conversation with careless, weary gestures.

"My good Peter Taddeevich," implored Romashov in a piteous voice, "do,
please, conduct the ball to-night instead of me."

"_Mais, mon ami_"--Bobetinski shrugged his shoulders, raised his
eyebrows, and assumed a stupid expression. "But, my friend," he
translated into Russian, "why so? _Pourquoi donc?_ Really, how shall I
say it? You--you astonish me."

"Well, my dear fellow, please----"

"Stop! No familiarities, if you please. My dear fellow, indeed!"

"But I beg you, Peter Taddeevich. You see, my head aches, and I have a
pain in my throat; it is absolutely impossible for me to----"

In this way Romashov long and fruitlessly assailed his brother officer.
Finally, as a last expedient, he began to deluge him with gross
flattery.

"Peter Taddeevich, there is no one in the whole regiment so capable as
yourself of conducting a ball with good taste and genius, and, moreover,
a lady has specially desired----"

"A lady!" Bobetinski assumed a blank, melancholy expression. "A lady,
did you say? Ah, my friend, at my age----" he smiled with a studied
expression of hopeless resignation. "Besides, what is woman? Ha, ha! an
enigma. However, I'll do what you want me to do." And in the same
doleful tone he added suddenly, "_Mon cher ami_, do you happen to
have--what do you call it--three roubles?"

"Ah, no, alas!" sighed Romashov.

"Well, one rouble, then?"

"But----"

"_Désagréable._ The old, old story. At any rate, I suppose we can take a
glass of vodka together?"

"Alas, alas! Peter Taddeevich, I have no further credit."

"Oh! _O pauvre enfant!_ But it does not matter, come along!" Bobetinski
waved his hand with an air of magnanimity. "I will treat you."

Meanwhile, in the dining-room the conversation had become more and more
high-pitched and interesting for some of those present. The talk was
about certain officers' duels that had lately taken place, and opinions
were evidently much divided.

The speaker at that moment was Artschakovski, a rather obscure
individual who was suspected, not without reason, of cheating at cards.
There was a story current about him, which was whispered about, to the
effect that, before he entered the regiment, when he still belonged to
the reserves, he had been head of a posting-station, and was arrested
and condemned for killing a post-boy by a blow of his fist.

"Duels may often be necessary among the fools and dandies of the
Guards," exclaimed Artschakovski roughly, "but it is not the same thing
with us. Let us assume for an instance that I and Vasili Vasilich Lipski
get blind drunk at mess, and that I, who am a bachelor, whilst drunk,
box his ears. What will be the result? Well, either he refuses to
exchange a couple of bullets with me, and is consequently turned out of
the regiment, or he accepts the challenge and gets a bullet in his
stomach; but in either case his children will die of starvation. No, all
that sort of thing is sheer nonsense."

"Wait a bit," interrupted the old toper, Lieutenant-Colonel Liech, as he
held his glass with one hand and with the other made several languid
motions in the air; "do you understand what the honour of the uniform
is? It is the sort of thing, my dear fellow, which---- But speaking of
duels, I remember an event that happened in 1862 in the Temriukski
Regiment."

"For God's sake," exclaimed Artschakovski, interrupting him in turn,
"spare us your old stories or tell us something that took place after
the reign of King Orre."

"What cheek! you are only a little boy compared with me. Well, as I was
saying----"

"Only blood can wipe out the stain of an insult," stammered Bobetinski,
who plumed himself on being a cock, and now took part in the
conversation in a bragging tone.

"Well, gentlemen, there was at that time a certain ensign--Solúcha,"
said Liech, making one more attempt.

Captain Osadchi, commander of the 1st Company, approached from the
buffet.

"I hear that you are talking about duels--most interesting," he began in
a gruff, rolling bass that reminded one of a lion's roar, and
immediately drowned every murmur in the room. "I have the honour,
Lieutenant-Colonel. Good-evening, gentlemen."

"Ah! what do I see--the Colossus of Rhodes? Come and sit down," replied
Liech affably. "Come and have a glass with me, you prince of giants."

"All right," answered Osadchi in an octave lower.

This officer always had a curiously unnerving effect on Romashov, and at
the same time aroused in him a mingled feeling of fear and curiosity.
Osadchi was no less famous than Shulgovich, not only in the regiment but
also in the whole division, for his deafening voice when giving the word
of command, his gigantic build, and tremendous physical strength. He was
also renowned for his remarkable knowledge of the service and its
requirements. Now and then it even happened that Osadchi was, in the
interests of the service, removed from his own regiment to another, and
he usually succeeded, in the course of half a year, in turning the most
backward, good-for-nothing troops into exemplary war-machines. His magic
power seemed much more incomprehensible to his brother officers inasmuch
as he never--or at least in very rare instances--had recourse to blows
or insults. Romashov always thought he could perceive, behind those
handsome, gloomy, set features, the extreme paleness of which was thrown
into stronger relief by the bluish-black hair, something strained,
masterly, alluring, and cruel--a gigantic, bloodthirsty wild beast.
Often whilst observing Osadchi unseen from a distance, Romashov would
try to imagine what the man would be like if he were in a rage, and, at
the very thought of it, his limbs froze with fear. And now, without a
thought of protesting, he saw how Osadchi, with the careless calm that
enormous physical strength always lends, coolly sat down on the seat
intended for himself.

Osadchi drained his glass, nibbled a crisp radish, and said in a tone of
indifference--

"Well, what is the verdict?"

"That story, my dear friend," Liech put in, "I will tell you at once. It
was at the time when I was serving in the Temriukski Regiment, a
Lieutenant von Zoon--the soldiers called him 'Pod-Zvoon'--who, on a
certain occasion, happened to be at mess----"

Here, however, Liech was interrupted by Lipski, a red-faced, thick-set
staff captain who, in spite of his good forty years, did not think it
beneath him to be the Jack-pudding in ordinary and butt of the men, and
by virtue thereof had assumed the insolent, jocular tone of a spoilt
favourite.

"Allow me, Captain, to put the matter in a nutshell. Lieutenant
Artschakovski says that duels are nothing but madness and folly. For
such heresy he ought to be sent with a bursary to a seminary for
priests--but enough of that. But to get on with the story, Lieutenant
Bobetinski took up the debate and demanded _blood_. Then came
Lieutenant-Colonel Liech with his hoary chestnuts, which, on that
occasion, by a wonderful dispensation of Providence, we managed to
escape. After that, Sub-lieutenant Michin tried, in the midst of the
general noise, to expound his views, which were more and more
undistinguishable both from the speaker's insufficient strength of lungs
and his well-known bashfulness."

Sub-lieutenant Michin--an undersized youth with sunken chest, dark,
pock-marked, freckled face and two timid, almost frightened
eyes--blushed till the tears came into his eyes.

"Gentlemen, I only--gentlemen, I may be mistaken," he said, "but, in my
opinion--I mean in other words, as I look at the matter, every
particular case ought necessarily to be considered by itself." He now
began to bow and stammer worse and worse, at the same time grabbing
nervously with the tips of his fingers at his invisible moustaches. "A
duel may occasionally be useful, even necessary, nobody can deny, and I
suppose there is no one among us who will not approach the lists--when
honour demands it. That is, as I have said, indisputable; but,
gentlemen, sometimes the highest honour might also be found in--in
holding out the hand of reconciliation. Well, of course, I cannot now
say on what occasions this----"

"Ugh! you wretched Ivanovich," exclaimed Artschakovski, interrupting him
in a rude and contemptuous tone, "don't stand here mumbling. Go home to
your dear mamma and the feeding-bottle."

"Gentlemen, won't you allow me to finish what I was going to say?"

But Osadchi with his powerful bass voice put a stop to the dispute. In a
second there was silence in the room.

"Every duel, gentlemen, must, above all, end in death for at least one
of the parties, otherwise it is _absurd_. Directly coddling or humanity,
so-called, comes in, the whole thing is turned into a farce. 'Fifteen
paces distance and only one shot.' How damnably pitiful! Such a
deplorable event only happens in such tomfooleries as are called French
duels, which one reads about, now and then, in our papers. They meet,
each fires a bullet out of a toy pistol, and the thing is over. Then
come the cursed newspaper hacks with their report on the duel, which
invariably winds up thus: 'The duel went off satisfactorily. Both
adversaries exchanged shots without inflicting any injury on either
party, and both displayed the greatest courage during the whole time. At
the breakfast, after the champagne, both the former mortal enemies fell
into each other's arms, etc.' A duel like that, gentlemen, is nothing
but a scandal, and does nothing to raise the tone of our society."

Several of the company tried to speak at once. Liech, in particular,
made a last despairing attack on those present to finish his story:

"Well, well, my friends, it was like this--but listen, you puppies."

Nobody, however, did listen to his adjurations, and his supplicating
glances wandered in vain over the gathering, seeking for a deliverer and
ally. All turned disrespectfully away, eagerly engrossed in that
interesting subject, and Liech shook his head sorrowfully. At last he
caught sight of Romashov. The young officer had the same miserable
experience as his comrades with regard to the old Lieutenant-Colonel's
talents as a story-teller, but his heart grew soft, and he determined to
sacrifice himself. Liech dragged his prey away with him to the table.

"This--well--come and listen to me, Ensign. Ah, sit here and drink a
glass with me. All the others are mere asses and loons." Liech, with
considerable difficulty, raised his languid arm and made a contemptuous
gesture towards the group of officers. "Buzz, buzz, buzz! What
understanding or experience is there amongst such things? But wait a
bit, you shall hear."

Glass in one hand, the other waving in the air as if he were the
conductor of a big orchestra, Liech began one of his interminable
stories with which he was larded--like sausages with liver--and which he
never brought to a conclusion because of an endless number of
divagations from the subject, parentheses, embroideries, and analogues.
The anecdote in question was about an American duel, Heaven only knows
how many years ago, between two officers who, playing for their lives,
guessed odd and even on the last figure of a date on a rouble-note. But
one of them--it was never quite cleared up as to whether it was a
certain Pod-Zvoon or his friend Solúcha--was blackguard enough to paste
together two rouble-notes of different dates of issue, whereby the front
had always an even date, but the back an odd one--"or perhaps it was the
other way about," pondered Liech long and conscientiously. "You see, my
dear fellow, they of course then began to dispute. One of them said----"

Alas, however, Liech did not even this time get to the end of his story.
Madame Raisa Alexandrovna Peterson had glided into the buffet. Standing
at the door, but not entering, which was, moreover, not permitted to
ladies, she shouted with the roguishness and audacity of a privileged
young lady:

"Gentlemen, what do I see? The ladies have arrived long ago, and here
you are sitting and having a good old time. We want to dance."

Two or three young officers arose to go into the ballroom. The rest
coolly remained sitting where they were, chatting, drinking, and
smoking, without taking the slightest notice of the coquettish lady.
Only Liech, the chivalrous old professional flirt, strutted up with
bandy, uncertain legs to Raisa, with hands crossed over his chest--and
pouring the contents of his glass over his uniform, cried with a drunken
emotion:

"Most divine among women, how can any one forget his duties to a queen
of beauty? Your hand, my charmer; just one kiss----"

"Yuri Alexievich," Raisa babbled, "it's your turn to-day to arrange the
dancing. You are a nice one to do that."

"_Mille pardons, madame. C'est ma faute._ This is my fault," cried
Bobetinski, as he flew off to her. On the way he improvised a sort of
ballet with scrapes, bounds, genuflections, and a lot of wonderful
attitudes and gestures. "Your hand. _Votre main, madame._ Gentlemen, to
the ballroom, to the ballroom!"

He offered his arm to Raisa Alexandrovna, and walked out of the room as
proud as a peacock. Directly afterwards he was heard shouting in his
well-known, affected tone:

"_Messieurs_, take partners for a waltz. Band! a waltz!"

"Excuse me, Colonel, I am obliged to go now. Duty calls me," said
Romashov.

"Ah, my dear fellow," replied Liech, as his head drooped with a dejected
look--"are you, too, such a coxcomb as the others? But wait just a
moment, Ensign; have you heard the story of Moltke--about the great
Field-Marshal Moltke, the strategist?"

"Colonel, on my honour, I must really go--I----"

"Well, well, don't get excited. I won't be long. You see, it was like
this: the great Man of Silence used to take his meals in the officers'
mess, and every day he laid in front of him on the table a purse full of
gold with the intention of bestowing it on the first officer from whose
lips he heard a single intelligent word. Well, at last, you know, the
old man died after having borne with this world for ninety years,
but--you see--the purse had always been in safe keeping. Now run along,
my boy. Go and hop about like a sparrow."



IX


In the ballroom, the walls of which seemed to vibrate in the same rhythm
as the deafening music, two couples were dancing. Bobetinski, whose
elbows flapped like a pair of wings, pirouetted with short, quick steps
around his partner, Madame Taliman, who was dancing with the stately
composure of a stone monument. The gigantic Artschakovski of the fair
locks made the youngest of the Lykatschev girls, a little thing with
rosy cheeks, rotate round him, whereas he, leaning forward, and closely
observing his partner's hair and shoulders, moved his legs as if he were
dancing with a child. Fifteen ladies lined the walls quite deserted, and
trying to look as if they did not mind it. As, which was always the case
at these soirées, the gentlemen numbered less than a quarter of the
ladies, the prospect of a lively and enjoyable evening was not
particularly promising.

Raisa Alexandrovna, who had just opened the ball, and was, therefore,
the object of the other ladies' envy, was now dancing with the slender,
ceremonious Olisár. He held one of her hands as if it had been fixed to
his left side. She supported her chin in a languishing way against her
other hand, which rested on his right shoulder. She kept her head far
thrown back in an affected and unnatural attitude. When the dance was
over she sat purposely near Romashov, who was leaning against the
doorpost of the ladies' dressing-room. She fanned herself violently, and
looking up to Olisár, who was leaning over her, lisped in a soft
_dolcissimo_:

"Tell me, Count, tell me, please, why do I always feel so hot? Do tell
me."

Olisár made a slight bow, clicked his spurs, stroked his moustache
several times.

"Dear lady, that is a question which I don't think even Martin Sadek
could answer."

When Olisár cast a scrutinizing glance at the fair Raisa's _décolleté_
bosom, pitiable and bare as the desert itself, she began at once to
breathe quickly and deeply.

"Ah, I have always an abnormally high temperature," Raisa Alexandrovna
went on to say with a significant expression, insinuating by her smile
that her words had a double meaning. "I suffer, too, from an unusually
fiery temperament."

Olisár gave vent to a short, soft chuckle.

Romashov stood looking sideways at Raisa, thinking with disgust, "Oh,
how loathsome she is." And at the thought that he had once enjoyed her
favours, he experienced the sensation as if he had not changed his linen
for months.

"Well, well, Count, don't laugh. Perhaps you do not know that my mother
was a Greek?"

"And how horribly she speaks, too," thought Romashov. "Curious that I
never noticed this before. It sounds as if she had a chronic cold or a
polypus in her nose--'by buther was a Greek.'"

Now Raisa turned to Romashov and threw him a challenging glance.

Romashov mentally said, "His face became impassive like a mask."

"How do you do, Yuri Alexievich? Why don't you come and speak to me?"
Romashov went up to her. With a venomous glance from her small, sharp
eyes she pressed his hand. The pupils of her eyes stood motionless.

"At your desire I have kept the third quadrille for you. I hope you have
not forgotten that."

Romashov bowed.

"You are very polite! At least you might say _Enchanté, madame!_"
("Edchadté, badabe" was what Romashov heard.) "Isn't he a blockhead,
Count?"

"Of course, I remember," mumbled Romashov insincerely. "I thank you for
the great honour."

Bobetinski did nothing to liven up the evening. He conducted the ball
with an apathetic, condescending look, just as if he was performing,
from a strict sense of duty, something very distasteful and
uninteresting to himself, but of infinite importance to the rest of
mankind. When, however, the third quadrille was about to begin, he got,
as it were, a little new life, and, as he hurried across the room with
the long gliding steps of a skater, he shouted in a loud voice:

"_Quadrille monstre! Cavaliers, engagez vos dames!_"

Romashov and Raisa Alexandrovna took up a position close to the window
of the music gallery, with Michin and Madame Lieschtschenko for their
_vis-à-vis_. The latter hardly reached up to her partner's shoulders.
The number of dancers had now very noticeably increased, and the couples
stood up for the third quadrille. Every dance had therefore to be
repeated twice.

"There must be an explanation; this must be put a stop to," thought
Romashov, almost deafened by the noise of the big drums and the braying
brass instruments in his immediate proximity. "I have had enough! 'And
in his countenance you could read fixed resolution.'"

The "dancing-masters" and those who arranged the regimental balls had
preserved by tradition certain fairly innocent frolics and jokes for
such soirées, which were greatly appreciated by the younger dancers. For
instance, at the third quadrille it was customary, as it were
accidentally, by changing the dances, to cause confusion among the
dancers, who with uproar and laughter did their part in increasing the
general disorder. Bobetinski's device that evening consisted in the
gentlemen pretending to forget their partners and dancing the figure by
themselves. Suddenly a "galop all round" was ordered, the result of
which was a chaos of ladies and gentlemen rushing about in fruitless
search for their respective partners.

"_Mesdames, avancez--pardon, reculez._ Gentlemen, alone.
_Pardon--balancez avec vos dames!_"

Raisa Alexandrovna kept talking to Romashov in the most virulent tone
and panting with fury, but smiling all the while as if her conversation
was wholly confined to pleasant and joyous subjects.

"I will not allow any one to treat me in such a manner, do you hear? I
am not a good-for-nothing girl you can do as you like with. Besides,
decent people don't behave as you are behaving."

"Raisa Alexandrovna, for goodness' sake try to curb your temper," begged
Romashov in a low, imploring tone.

"Angry with you? No, sir, that would be to pay you too high a
compliment. I despise you, do you hear? Despise you; but woe to him who
dares to play with my feelings! You left my letter unanswered. How dare
you?"

"But your letter did not reach me, I assure you."

"Ha! don't try to humbug me. I know your lies, and I also know where you
spend your time. Don't make any mistake about that.

"Do you think I don't know this woman, this Lilliput queen, and her
intrigues? Rather, you may be sure of that," Raisa went on to say. "She
fondly imagines she's a somebody; yes, she does! Her father was a
thieving notary."

"I must beg you, in my presence, to express yourself in a more decent
manner in regard to my friends," interrupted Romashov sharply.

Then and there a painful scene occurred. Raisa stormed and broke out in
a torrent of aspersions on Shurochka. The fury within her had now the
mastery; her artificial smiles were banished, and she even tried to
drown the music by her snuffly voice. Romashov, conscious of his
impotence to try to put in a word in defence of the grossly insulted
Shurochka, was distracted with shame and wrath. In addition to this were
the intolerable din of the band and the disagreeable attention of the
bystanders, which his partner's unbridled fury was beginning to attract.

"Yes, her father was a common thief; she has nothing to stick her nose
in the air about and she ought, to be sure, to be very careful not to
give herself airs!" shrieked Raisa. "And for a thing like that to dare
to look down on us! We know something else about her, too!"

"I implore you!" whispered Romashov.

"Don't make any mistake about it; both you and she shall feel my claws.
In the first place, I shall open her husband's eyes--the eyes of that
fool Nikoläiev, who has, for the third time, been 'ploughed' in his
exam. But what else can one expect from a fool like that, who does not
know what is going on under his nose? And it is certainly no longer any
secret who the lover is."

"_Mazurka générale! Promenade!_" howled Bobetinski, who at that moment
was strutting through the room with the pomp of an archangel.

The floor rocked under the heavy tramping of the dancers, and the muslin
curtains and coloured lamps moved in unison with the notes of the
mazurka.

"Why cannot we part as friends?" Romashov asked in a shy tone. He felt
within himself that this woman not only caused him indescribable
disgust, but also aroused in his heart a cowardice he could not subdue,
and which filled him with self-contempt. "You no longer love me; let us
part good friends."

"Ha! ha! You're frightened; you're trying to cut my claws. No, my fine
fellow. I am not one of those who are thrown aside with impunity. It is
I, mind you, who throw aside one who causes me disgust and loathing--not
the other way about. And as for your baseness----"

"That's enough; let's end all this talk," said Romashov, interrupting
her in a hollow voice and with clenched teeth.

"Five minutes' _entr'acte_. _Cavaliers, occupez vos dames!_" shouted
Bobetinski.

"I'll end it when I think fit. You have deceived me shamefully. For you
I have sacrificed all that a virtuous woman can bestow. It is your fault
that I dare not look my husband in the face--my husband, the best and
noblest man on earth. It's you who made me forget my duties as wife and
mother. Oh, why, why did I not remain true to him!"

Romashov could not, however, now refrain from a smile. Raisa
Alexandrovna's innumerable amours with all the young, new-fledged
officers in the regiment were an open secret, and both by word of mouth
and in her letters to Romashov she was in the habit of referring to her
"beloved husband" in the following terms: "my fool," or "that despicable
creature," or "this booby who is always in the way," etc., etc.

"Ah, you have even the impudence to laugh," she hissed; "but look out
now, sir, it is my turn."

With these words she took her partner's arm and tripped along, with
swaying hips and smiling a vinegary smile on all sides. When the dance
was over her face resumed its former expression of hatred. Again she
began to buzz savagely--"like an angry wasp," thought Romashov.

"I shall never forgive you this, do you hear? _Never._ I know the reason
why you have thrown me over so shamelessly and in such a blackguardly
fashion; but don't fondly imagine that a new love-intrigue will be
successful. No; never, as long as I live, shall that be the case.
Instead of acknowledging in a straightforward and honourable way that
you no longer love me, you have preferred to cloak your treachery and
treat me like a vulgar harlot, reasoning, I suppose, like this: 'If it
does not come off with the other, I always have her, you know.' Ha! ha!
ha!"

"All right, you may perhaps allow me to speak decently," began Romashov,
with restrained wrath. His face grew paler and paler, and he bit his
lips nervously. "You have asked for it, and now I tell you straight. I
do _not_ love you."

"Oh, what an insult!"

"I have never loved you; nor did you love me. We have both played an
unworthy and false game, a miserable, vulgar farce with a nauseous plot
and disgusting _rôles_. Raisa Alexandrovna, I have studied you, and I
know you, very likely, better than you do yourself. You lack every
requisite of love, tenderness, nay, even common affection. The cause of
it is your absolutely superficial character, your narrow, petty outlook
on life. And, besides" (Romashov happened to remember at this point
Nasanski's words), "only elect, refined natures can know what a great or
real love is."

"Such elect, refined natures, for instance, as your own."

Once more the band thundered forth. Romashov looked almost with hatred
at the trombone's wide, shining mouth, that, with the most cynical
indifference, flung out its hoarse, howling notes over the whole of the
room. And its fellow-culprit--the poor soldier who, with the full force
of his lungs, gave life to the instrument--was with his bulging eyes and
blue, swollen cheeks, no less an object of his dislike and disgust.

"Don't let us quarrel about it. It is likely enough that I am not worthy
of a great and real love, but we are not discussing that now. The fact
is that you, with your narrow, provincial views and silly vanity, must
needs always be surrounded by men dancing attendance on you, so that you
may be able to boast about it to your lady friends in what you are
pleased to call 'Society.' And possibly you think I have not understood
the purpose of your ostentatiously familiar manner with me at the
regimental soirées, your tender glances, etc., the intimately
dictatorial tone you always assume when we are seen together. Yes,
precisely the chief object was that people should notice the
free-and-easy way in which you treated me. Except for this all your game
would not have had the slightest meaning, for no real love or affection
on my part has ever formed part of your--programme."

"Even if such had been the case I might well have chosen a better and
more worthy object than you," replied Raisa, in a haughty and scornful
tone.

"Such an answer from _you_ is too ridiculous to insult me; for, listen,
I repeat once more, your absurd vanity demands that some slave should
always be dancing attendance on you. But the years come and go, and the
number of your slaves diminishes. Finally, in order not to be entirely
without admirers, you are forced to sacrifice your plighted troth, your
duties as wife and mother."

"No; but that's quite sufficient. You shall most certainly hear from
me," whispered Raisa, in a significant tone and with glittering eyes.

At that moment, Captain Peterson came across the room with many absurd
skips and shuffles in order to avoid colliding with the dancers. He was
a thin, consumptive man with a yellow complexion, bald head, and black
eyes, in the warm and moist glance of which lurked treachery and malice.
It was said of him that, curiously enough, he was to such an extent
infatuated with his wife that he played the part of intimate friend, in
an unctuous and sickening way, with all her lovers. It was likewise
common knowledge that he had tried by means of acrimonious perfidy and
the most vulgar intrigues to be revenged on every single person who had,
with joy and relief, turned his back on the fair Raisa's withered
charms.

He smiled from a distance at his wife and Romashov with his bluish,
pursed lips.

"Are you dancing, Romashov? Well, how are you, my dear Georgi? Where
have you been all this time? My wife and I were so used to your company
that we have been quite dull without you."

"Been awfully busy," mumbled Romashov.

"Ah, yes, we all know about those military duties," replied Captain
Peterson, with a little insinuating whistle that was directly changed
into an amicable smile. His black eyes with their yellow pupils
wandered, however, from Raisa to Romashov inquisitively.

"I have an idea that you two have been quarrelling. Why do you both look
so cross? What has happened?"

Romashov stood silent whilst he gazed, worried and embarrassed, at
Raisa's skinny, dark, sinewy neck. Raisa answered promptly, with the
easy insolence she invariably displayed when lying:

"Yuri Alexievich is playing the philosopher. He declares that dancing is
both stupid and ridiculous, and that he has seen his best days."

"And yet he dances?" replied the Captain, with a quick, snake-like
glance at Romashov. "Dance away, my children, and don't let me disturb
you."

He had scarcely got out of earshot before Raisa Alexandrovna, in a
hypocritical, pathetic tone, burst out with, "And I have deceived this
saint, this noblest of husbands. And for whom?--Oh, if he knew all, if
he only knew!"

"_Mazurka générale_," shrieked Bobetinski. "Gentlemen, resume your
partners."

The violently perspiring bodies of the dancers and the dust arising from
the parquet floor made the air of the ballroom close, and the lights in
the lamps and candelabra took a dull yellow tint. The dancing was now in
full swing, but as the space was insufficient, each couple, who every
moment squeezed and pushed against one another, was obliged to tramp on
the very same spot. This figure--the last in the quadrille--consisted in
a gentleman, who was without a partner, pursuing a couple who were
dancing. If he managed to come face to face with a lady he clapped her
on the hand, which meant that the lady was now his booty. The lady's
usual partner tried, of course, to prevent this, but by this arose a
disorder and uproar which often resulted in some very brutal incidents.

"Actress," whispered Romashov hoarsely, as he bent nearer to Raisa.
"You're as pitiable as you are ridiculous."

"And you are drunk," the worthy lady almost shrieked, giving Romashov at
the same time a glance resembling that with which the heroine on the
stage measures the villain of the piece from head to foot.

"It only remains for me to find out," pursued Romashov mercilessly, "the
exact reason why I was chosen by you. But this, however, is a question
which I can answer myself. You gave yourself to me in order to get a
hold on me. Oh, if this had been done out of love or from sentiment
merely! But you were actuated by a base vanity. Are you not frightened
at the mere thought of the depths into which we have both sunk, without
even a spark of love that might redeem the crime? You must understand
that this is even more wretched than when a woman sells herself for
money. Then dire necessity is frequently the tempter. But in this
case--the memory of this senseless, unpardonable crime will always be
to me a source of shame and loathing."

With cold perspiration on his forehead and distraction in his weary
eyes, he gazed on the couples dancing. Past him--hardly lifting her feet
and without looking at her partner--sailed the majestic Madame Taliman,
with motionless shoulders and an ironical, menacing countenance, as if
she meant to protect herself against the slightest liberty or insult.
Epifanov skipped round her like a little frisky goat. Then glided little
Miss Lykatschev, flushed of face, with gleaming eyes, and bare, white,
virginal bosom. Then came Olisár with his slender, elegant legs,
straight and stiff as a sparrow's. Romashov felt a burning headache and
a strong, almost uncontrollable desire to weep; but beside him still
stood Raisa, pale with suppressed rage. With an exaggerated theatrical
gesture she fired at him the following sarcasm--

"Did any one ever hear such a thing before? A Russian Infantry
lieutenant playing the part of the chaste Joseph? Ha, ha, ha!"

"Yes, quite so, my lady. Precisely that part," replied Romashov, glaring
with wrath. "I know too well that it is humiliating and ridiculous.
Nevertheless, I am not ashamed to express my sorrow that I should have
so degraded myself. With our eyes open we have both flung ourselves into
a cesspool, and I know that I shall never again deserve a pure and noble
woman's love. Who is to blame for this? Well, you. Bear this well in
mind--you, you, you--for you were the older and more experienced of us
two, especially in affairs of that sort."

Raisa Alexandrovna got up hurriedly from her chair. "That will do," she
replied in a dramatic tone. "You have got what you wanted. _I hate
you._ I hope henceforward you will cease to visit a home where you were
received as a friend and relation, where you were entertained and fed,
and where, too, you were found out to be the scoundrel you are. Oh, that
I had the courage to reveal everything to my husband--that incomparable
creature, that saint whom I venerate. Were he only convinced of what has
happened he would, I think, know how to avenge the wounded honour of a
helpless, insulted woman. He would kill you."

Romashov looked through his eyeglass at her big, faded mouth, her
features distorted by hate and rage. The infernal music from the open
windows of the gallery continued with unimpaired strength; the
intolerable bassoon howled worse than ever, and, thought Romashov, the
bass drum had now come into immediate contact with his brain.

Raisa shut her fan with a snap that echoed through the ballroom. "Oh,
you--lowest of all blackguards on earth," whispered she, with a
theatrical gesture, and then disappeared into the ladies' retiring-room.

All was now over and done with, but Romashov did not experience the
relief he expected. This long-nourished hope to feel his soul freed from
a heavy, unclean burthen was not fulfilled. His strict, avenging
conscience told him that he had acted in a cowardly, low, and boorish
way when he cast all the blame on a weak, narrow, wretched woman who,
most certainly at that moment, in the ladies'-room, was, through him,
shedding bitter, hysterical tears of sorrow, shame, and impotent rage.

"I am sinking more and more deeply," thought he, in disgust at himself.
What had his life been? what had it consisted of? An odious and wanton
_liaison_, gambling, drinking, soul-killing, monotonous regimental
routine, with never a single inspiriting word, never a ray of light in
this black, hopeless darkness. Salutary, useful work, music, art,
science, where were they?

He returned to the dining-room. There he met Osadchi and his friend
Viätkin, who with much trouble was making his way in the direction of
the street door. Liech, now quite drunk, was helplessly wobbling in
different directions, whilst in a fuddled voice he kept asserting that
he was--an archbishop. Osadchi intoned in reply with the most serious
countenance and a low, rolling bass, whilst carefully following the
ecclesiastical ritual--

"Your high, refulgent Excellency, the hour of burial has struck. Give us
your blessing, etc."

As the soirée approached its end, the gathering in the dining-room grew
more noisy and lively. The room was already so full of tobacco smoke
that those sitting at opposite sides of the table could not recognize
each other. Cards were being played in one corner; by the window a small
but select set had assembled to edify one another by racy stories--the
spice most appreciated at officers' dinners and suppers.

"No, no, no, gentlemen," shrieked Artschakovski, "allow me to put in a
word. You see it was this way: a soldier was quartered at the house of a
_khokhol_[14] who had a pretty wife. Ho, ho, thought the soldier, that
is something for me."

Then, however, he was interrupted by Vasili Vasilievich, who had been
waiting long and impatiently--

"Shut up with your old stories, Artschakovski. You shall hear this. Once
upon a time in Odessa there----"

But even he was not allowed to speak very long. The generality of the
stories were rather poor and devoid of wit, but, to make up for that,
they were interspersed with coarse and repulsive cynicisms. Viätkin, who
had now returned from the street, where he had been paying his respects
to Liech's "interment" and holy "departure," invited Romashov to sit
down at the table.

"Sit you here, my dear Georginka.[15] We will watch them. To-day I am as
rich as a Jew. I won yesterday, and to-day I shall take the bank again."

Romashov only longed to lighten his heart, for a friend to whom he might
tell his sorrow and his disgust at life. After draining his glass he
looked at Viätkin with beseeching eyes, and began to talk in a voice
quivering with deep, inward emotion.

"Pavel Pavlich, we all seem to have completely forgotten the existence
of another life. _Where_ it is I cannot say; I only know that it exists.
Even in that men must struggle, suffer, and love, but that life is
rich--rich in great thoughts and noble deeds. For here, my friend, what
do you suppose our life is, and how will such a miserable existence as
ours end some day?"

"Well, yes, old fellow--but it's life," replied Viätkin in a sleepy way.
"Life after all is--only natural philosophy and energy. And what is
energy?"

"Oh, what a wretched existence," Romashov went on to say with increasing
emotion, and without listening to Viätkin. "To-day we booze at mess
till we are drunk; to-morrow we meet at drill--'one, two, left,
right'--in the evening we again assemble round the bottle. Just the
same, year in, year out. That's what makes up our life. How disgusting!"

Viätkin peered at him with sleepy eyes, hiccoughed, and then suddenly
started singing in a weak falsetto:--

    "In the dark, stilly forest
     There once dwelt a maiden,
     She sat at her distaff
     By day and by night.

"Take care of your health, my angel, and to the deuce with the rest.

"Romashevich! Romaskovski! let's go to the board of green cloth. I'll
lend you a----"

"No one understands me, and I have not a single friend here," sighed
Romashov mournfully. The next moment he remembered Shurochka--the
splendid, high-minded Shurochka, and he felt in his heart a delicious
and melancholy sensation, coupled with hopelessness and quiet
resignation.

He stayed in the mess-room till daybreak, watched them playing schtoss,
and now and then took a hand at the game, yet without feeling the
slightest pleasure or interest in it. Once he noticed how Artschakovski,
who was playing at a little private table with two ensigns, made rather
a stupid, but none the less successful, attempt to cheat. Romashov
thought for a moment of taking up the matter and exposing the fraud, but
checked himself suddenly, saying to himself: "Oh, what's the use! I
should not improve matters by interfering."

Viätkin, who had lost, in less than five minutes, his boasted
"millions," sat sleeping on a chair, with his eyes wide open and his
face as white as a sheet. Beside Romashov sat the eternal Lieschtschenko
with his mournful eyes fixed on the game. Day began to dawn. The
guttering candle-ends' half-extinguished, yellowish flames flickered
dully in their sticks, and illumined by their weak and uncertain light
the pale, emaciated features of the gamblers. But Romashov kept staring
at the cards, the heaps of silver and notes, and the green cloth
scrawled all over with chalk; and in his heavy, weary head the same
cruel, torturing thoughts of a worthless, unprofitable life ran
incessantly.



X


It was a splendid, though somewhat chilly, spring morning. The hedges
were in bloom. Romashov, who was still, as a rule, a slave to his
youthful, heavy sleep, had, as usual, overslept himself, and was late
for the morning drill. With an unpleasant feeling of shyness and
nervousness, he approached the parade-ground, and his spirits were not
cheered by the thought of Captain Sliva's notorious habit of making a
humiliating and painful situation still worse by his abuse and rudeness.

This officer was a survival of the barbaric times when an iron
discipline, idiotic pedantry--parade march in three time--and inhuman
martial laws were virtually epidemic. Even in the 4th Regiment, which,
from being quartered in a God-forsaken hole, seldom came into contact
with civilization, and, moreover, did not bear the reputation for much
culture, Captain Sliva was looked upon as a rough and boorish person,
and the most incredible anecdotes were current about him. Everything
outside the company, service, and drill-book, and which he was
accustomed to call "rot" or "rubbish," had no existence so far as he was
concerned. After having borne for nearly all his life the heavy burden
of military service, he had arrived at such a state of savagery that he
never opened a book, and, as far as newspapers were concerned, he only
looked at the official and military notices in the _Invalid_. He
despised with all his innate cynicism the meetings and amusements of
society, and there were no oaths, no insulting terms too gross and crude
for him to incorporate in his "Soldier's Lexicon." One story about him
was that one lovely summer evening, when sitting at his open window,
occupied, as usual, with his registers and accounts, a nightingale began
to warble. Captain Sliva got up instantly, and shouted in a towering
rage to his servant Sachartschuk, "Get a stone and drive away that
damned bird; it's disturbing me."

This apparently sleepy and easy-going man was unmercifully severe to the
soldiers, whom he not only abandoned to the ferocity of the "non-coms.,"
but whom he himself personally whipped till they fell bleeding to the
ground; but in all that concerned their food, clothing, and pay, he
displayed the greatest consideration and honesty, and in this he was
only surpassed by the commander of the 5th Company.

To the junior officers Captain Sliva was always harsh and stiff, and a
certain native, crabbed humour imparted an additional sharpness to his
biting sarcasms. If, for instance, a subaltern officer happened, during
the march, to step out with the wrong foot, he instantly bellowed--

"Damnation! What the devil are you doing? All the company _except_
Lieutenant N. is marching with the wrong foot!"

He was particularly rude and merciless on occasions when some young
officer overslept himself or, for some other cause, came too late to
drill, which not unfrequently was the case with Romashov.

Captain Sliva had a habit then of celebrating the victim's advent by
forming the whole company into line, and, in a sharp voice, commanding
"Attention!" After this he took up a position opposite the front rank,
and in death-like silence waited, watch in hand and motionless, while
the unpunctual officer, crushed with shame, sought his place in the
line. Now and then Sliva increased the poor sinner's torture by putting
to him the sarcastic question: "Will your Honour allow the company to go
on with the drill?" For Romashov he had, moreover, certain dainty
phrases specially stored up, e.g. "I hope you slept well," or "Your
Honour has, I suppose, as usual, had pleasant dreams?" etc., etc. When
all these preludes were finished, he began to shower abuse and
reproaches on his victim.

"Oh, I don't care," thought Romashov to himself in deep disgust as he
approached his company. "It is no worse to be here than in other places.
All my life is ruined."

Sliva, Viätkin, Lbov, and the ensign were standing in the middle of the
parade-ground, and all turned at once to Romashov as he arrived. Even
the soldiers turned their heads towards him, and with veritable torture
Romashov pictured to himself what a sorry figure he cut at that moment.

"Well, the shame I am now feeling is possibly unnecessary or excessive,"
he reasoned to himself, trying, as is habitual with timid or bashful
persons, to console himself. "Possibly that which seems so shameful and
guilty to me is regarded by others as the veriest trifle. Suppose, for
instance, that it was Lbov, not I, who came too late, and that I am now
in the line and see him coming up. Well, what more--what is there to
make a fuss about? Lbov comes--that's all it amounts to. How stupid to
grieve and get uncomfortable at such a petty incident, which within a
month, perhaps even in a week, will be forgotten by all here present.
Besides, what is there in this life which is not forgotten?" Romashov
remarked as he finished his argument with himself, and felt in some
degree calm and consoled.

To every one's astonishment this time Sliva spared Romashov from
personal insults, nay, he even seemed not to have noticed him in the
least. When Romashov went up to him and saluted, with his heels together
and his hand at his cap, he only said, pointing his red, withered
fingers, which strongly resembled five little cold sausages:

"I must beg you, Sub-lieutenant, to remember that it is your duty to be
with your company _five_ minutes before the senior subaltern officers,
and _ten_ minutes before the chief of your company."

"I am very sorry, Captain," replied Romashov in a composed tone.

"That's all very well, Sub-lieutenant, but you are always asleep and you
seem to have quite forgotten the old adage: 'He who is seldom awake must
go about shabby.' And I must now ask you, gentlemen, to retire to your
respective companies."

The whole company was split up into small groups, each of which was
instructed in gymnastics. The soldiers stood drawn up in open file at a
distance of a pace apart, and with their uniforms unbuttoned in order to
enable them to perform their gymnastic exercises. Bobyliev, the smart
subaltern officer stationed in Romashov's platoon, cast a respectful
glance at his commander, who was approaching, his lower jaw stuck out
and his eyes squinting, and giving orders in a resonant voice--

"Hips steady. Rise on your toes. Bend your knees."

And directly after that, very softly and in a sing-song voice--"

"Begin."

"One," sang out the soldiers in unison, and they simultaneously
performed in slow time the order to bend the knees till the whole
division found itself on its haunches.

Bobyliev, who likewise performed the same movement, scrutinized the
soldiers with severe, critical, and aggressive eyes. Immediately beside
him cried the little spasmodic corporal, Syeroshtán, in his sharp,
squeaky voice that reminded one of a cockerel squabbling for food--

"Stretch your arms to the right--and left--salute. Begin, one, two, one,
two," and directly afterwards ten smart young fellows were heard yelling
at the top of their voices the regulation--

"_Haú, haú, haú._"

"Halt," shouted Syeroshtán, red of face from rage and over-exertion.
"La-apschin, you great ass, you toss about, give yourself airs, and
twist your arm like some old woman from Riasan--_choú_, _choú_. Do the
movements properly, or by all that's unholy I'll----"

After this the subalterns led their respective divisions at quick march
to the gymnastic apparatus, which had been set up in different parts of
the parade-ground. Sub-lieutenant Lbov--young, strong, and agile, and
also an expert gymnast--threw down his sabre and cap, and ran before the
others to one of the bars. Grasping the bar with both his hands, after
three violent efforts he made a somersault in the air, threw himself
forward and finally landed himself on all fours two yards and a half
from the bar.

"Sub-lieutenant Lbov, at your everlasting circus tricks again," shrieked
Captain Sliva in a tone meant to be severe. In his heart the old warrior
cherished a sneaking affection for Lbov, who was a thoroughly efficient
soldier, and, by his brave bearing, invaluable at parades. "Be good
enough to observe the regulation, and keep the other thing till Carnival
comes round."

"Right, Captain!" yelled Lbov in reply; "but I shan't obey," he
whispered to Romashov with a wink.

The 4th platoon exercised on the inclined ladder. The soldiers walked in
turn to the ladder, gripped hold of the steps, and climbed up them with
arms bent. Shapovalenko stood below and made remarks--

"Keep your feet still. Up with your soles."

The turn now came to a little soldier in the left wing, whose name was
Khliabnikov, who served as a butt to the entire company. Whenever
Romashov caught sight of him, he wondered how this emaciated, sorry
figure, in height almost a dwarf, whose dirty little beardless face was
but a little larger than a man's fist, could have been admitted into the
army. And when he met Khliabnikov's soulless eyes, which looked as if
they had expressed nothing but a dull submissive fear ever since he was
born, he felt in his heart a heavy, oppressive feeling of disgust and
prick of conscience.

Khliabnikov hung motionless on the ladder like a dead, shapeless mass.

"Take a grip and raise yourself on your arms, you miserable dog!"
shrieked the sergeant. "Up with you, I say."

Khliabnikov made a violent effort to show his obedience, but in vain. He
remained in the same position, and his legs swung from side to side. For
the space of a second he turned downwards and sideways his ashen grey
face, in which the dirty little turned-up nose obstinately turned
upwards. Suddenly he let go of the ladder and fell like a sack to the
ground.

"Ho, ho, you refuse to obey orders, to make the movement you were
ordered to do," roared the sergeant; "but a scoundrel like you shall not
destroy discipline. Now you shall----"

"Shapovalenko, don't touch him!" shouted Romashov, beside himself with
anger and shame. "I forbid you to strike him now and always." Romashov
rushed up and pulled the sergeant's arm.

Shapovalenko instantaneously became stiff and erect, and raised his hand
to his cap. In his eyes, which at once resumed their ordinary lifeless
expression, and on his lips there gleamed a faint mocking smile.

"I will obey, your Honour, but permit me to report that that fellow is
utterly impossible."

Khliabnikov took his place once more in the ranks. He looked lazily out
of the corner of his eyes at the young officer, and stroked his nose
with the back of his hand. Romashov turned his back on him and went off,
meditating painfully over this fruitless pity, to inspect the 3rd
platoon.

After the gymnastics the soldiers had ten minutes' rest. The officers
forgathered at the bars, almost in the middle of the exercise-ground.
Their conversation turned on the great May parade, which was
approaching.

"Well, it now remains for us to guess where the shoe pinches," began
Sliva, as he swung his arms, and opened wide his watery blue eyes, "for
I'll tell you one thing, every General has his special little hobby. I
remember we once had a Lieutenant-General Lvovich for the commander of
our corps. He came to us direct from the Engineers. The natural
consequence was we never did anything except dig and root up earth.
Drill, marching, and keeping time--all such were thrown on the
dust-heap. From morning to night we built cottages and quarters--in
summer, of earth; in winter, of snow. The whole regiment looked like a
collection of clodhoppers, dirty beyond recognition. Captain Aleinikov,
the commander of the 10th Company--God rest his soul!--became a Knight
of St. Anne, because he had somehow constructed a little redoubt in two
hours."

"That was clever of him," observed Lbov.

"Wait, I have more to remind you of. You remember, Pavel Pavlich,
General Aragonski and his everlasting gunnery instructions?"

"And the story of Pontius Pilate," laughed Viätkin.

"What was that?" asked Romashov.

Captain Sliva made a contemptuous gesture with his hand.

"At that time we did nothing but read Aragonski's 'Instructions in
Shooting.' One day it so happened that one of the men had to pass an
examination in the Creed. When the soldier got to the clause 'suffered
under Pontius Pilatus,' there was a full stop. But the fellow did not
lose his head, but went boldly on with a lot of appropriate excerpts
from Aragonski's 'Instructions in Shooting,' and came out with flying
colours. Ah, you may well believe, those were grand times for idiocy.
Things went so far that the first finger was not allowed to retain its
good old name, but was called the 'trigger finger,' etc., etc."

"Do you remember, Athanasi Kirillich, what cramming and
theorizing--'range,' elevation, etc.--went on from morning to night? If
you gave the soldier a rifle and said to him: 'Look down the barrel.
What do you see there?' you got for an answer: 'I see a tense line which
is the gun's axis,' etc. And what practice in shooting there was in
those days, you remember, Athanasi Kirillich!"

"_Do_ I remember! The shooting in our division was the talk of the whole
country, ah, even the foreign newspapers had stories about it. At the
shooting competitions regiments borrowed 'crack' shots from each other.
Down at the butts stood young officers hidden behind a screen, who
helped the scoring by their revolvers. On another occasion it so
happened that a certain company made more hits in the target than could
be accounted for by the shots fired, whereupon the ensign who was
marking got severely 'called over the coals.'"

"Do you recollect the Schreiberovsky gymnastics in Slesarev's time?"

"Rather! It was like a ballet. Ah, may the devil take all those old
Generals with their hobbies and eccentricities. And yet, gentlemen, all
that sort of thing--all the old-time absurdities, were as nothing
compared with what is done in our days. It might be well said that
discipline has received its quietus. The soldier, if you please, is now
to be treated 'humanely.' He is our 'fellow-creature,' our 'brother';
his 'mind is to be developed,' he is to be taught 'to think,' etc., etc.
What absolute madness! No, he shall have a thrashing, the scoundrel. And
oh, my saintly Suvorov, tell me if a single individual nowadays knows
how a soldier ought to be treated, and what one should teach him.
Nothing but new-fangled arts and rubbish. That invention in regard to
cavalry charges, for instance."

"Yes, one might have something more amusing," Viätkin chimed in.

"There you stand," continued Sliva, "in the middle of the field, like a
decoy-bird, and the Cossacks rush at you in full pelt. Naturally, like a
sensible man, you make room for them in good time. Directly after comes:
'You have bad nerves, Captain; one should not behave in that way in the
army. Be good enough to recollect that,' etc., etc., in the same style."

"The General in command of the K---- Regiment," interrupted Viätkin,
"once had a brilliant idea. He had a company marched to the edge of an
awful cesspool, and then ordered the Captain to order the men to lie
down. The latter hesitated for an instant, but obeyed the command. The
soldiers were chapfallen, gazing at one another in a questioning way.
All thought they had heard incorrectly; but they got their information
right enough. The General thundered away at the poor Captain in the
presence of all. 'What training do you give your company? Miserable lot
of weaklings. Pretty heroes to take into the field. No, you are cravens,
every one of you, and you, Captain, not the least among them. March to
arrest.'"

"That 'takes the cake,'" laughed Lbov.

"And what's the use of it? First one insults the officers in the
presence of the men, and then complaints are made of lack of discipline.
But to give a scamp his deserts is a thing one dare not do. He is, if
you please, a 'human being,' a 'personage'; but in the good old times
there were no 'personages' in the army. Then the cattle got what they
needed, and then there was the Italian Campaign, Sebastopol, and several
other trifles. Well, all the same thing, so far as I am concerned. I'll
do my duty even if it costs me my commission, and as far as my arm
reaches every scoundrel shall get his deserts."

"There's no honour in striking a soldier," exclaimed Romashov, in a
muffled voice. Up to this he had been merely a silent listener. "One
can't hit a man who is not allowed to raise a hand in self-defence. It
is as cowardly as it is cruel."

Captain Sliva bestowed on Romashov an annihilating look, pressed his
underlip against his little grey, bristling moustache, and at length
exclaimed, with an expression of the deepest contempt--

"Wha-at's that?"

Romashov stood as white as a corpse, his pulse beat violently, and a
cold shudder ran through his body.

"I said that such a method of treatment was cruel and cowardly, and
I--retain my opinion," answered Romashov nervously, but without
flinching.

"You don't say so!" twittered Sliva. "Listen to my young cockerel.
Should you, against all likelihood, be another year with the regiment,
you shall be provided with a muzzle. That you may rely on. Thank God, I
know how to deal with such germs of evil. Don't worry yourself about
that."

Romashov fearlessly directed at him a glance of hatred, straight in his
eyes, and said, almost in a whisper--

"If ever I see you maltreat a soldier I will report it at once to the
commander of the regiment."

"What, do you dare?" shrieked Sliva in a threatening voice, but checked
himself instantly. "Enough of this," he went on to say dryly; "you
ensigns are a little too young to teach veterans who have smelt powder,
and who have, for more than a quarter of a century, served their Tsar
without incurring punishment. Officers, return to your respective
posts."

Captain Sliva turned his back sharply on the officers and went away.

"Why do you poke your nose into all that?" asked Viätkin as he took
Romashov by the arm and left the place. "As you know, that old plum[16]
isn't one of the sweetest; besides, you don't know him yet as well as I
do. Be careful what you are about; he is not to be played with, and some
fine day he'll put you in the lock-up in earnest."

"Listen, Pavel Pavlich," cried Romashov, with tears of rage in his
voice. "Do you think views such as Captain Sliva's are worthy of an
officer? And is it not revolting that such old bags of bones should be
suffered to insult their subordinates with impunity? Who can put up with
it in the long run?"

"Well, yes--to a certain extent you are right," replied Viätkin, in a
tone of indifference. The rest of what he thought of saying died away in
a gape, and Romashov continued, in increasing excitement--

"Tell me, what is the use of all this shouting and yelling at the men? I
never could imagine when I became an officer that such barbarism was
tolerated in our time in a Russian regiment. Ah! never shall I forget my
first impressions and experiences here. One incident remains very
clearly graven in my memory. It was the third day after my arrival here.
I was sitting at mess in company with that red-haired libertine,
Artschakovski. I addressed him in conversation as 'lieutenant,' because
he called me 'sub-lieutenant.' Suddenly he began showering insults and
abuse on me. Although we sat at the same table and drank ale together,
he shouted at me: 'In the first place, I am not lieutenant to you, but
_Mr._ Lieutenant, and, secondly, be good enough to stand up when you are
speaking to your superior.' And there I stood in the room, like a
schoolboy under punishment, until Lieutenant-Colonel Liech came and sat
between us. No, no, pray don't say anything, Pavel Pavlich. I am just
sick of all that goes on here."



XI


The 22nd of April was for Romashov not only an uncomfortable and
tiresome day, but a very remarkable one. At 10 a.m., before Romashov had
got out of bed, Nikoläiev's servant, Stepan, arrived with a letter from
Alexandra Petrovna.

     MY DEAR ROMOTCHKA (she wrote), I should not be in the least
     surprised if you have forgotten that to-day is my name-day, of
     which I also take the liberty to remind you. And in spite of all
     your transgressions, I should like to see you at my house to-day.
     But don't come at the conventional hour of congratulation, but at 5
     p.m. We are going to a little picnic at Dubetschnaia.--Yours,

A. N.

The letter trembled in Romashov's hands as he read it. For a whole week
he had not once seen Shurochka's saucy, smiling, bewitching face; had
not felt the delicious enchantment he always experienced in her
presence. "To-day," a joyful voice sang exultant in his heart.

"To-day," shouted Romashov, in a ringing voice, as he jumped out of bed.
"Hainán, my bathwater, quick."

Hainán rushed in.

"Your Honour, the servant is waiting for an answer."

"Oh--yes, of course." Romashov dropped, with eyes wide open, on a
chair. "The deuce, he is waiting for a 'tip,' and I haven't a single
copeck." Romashov stared at his trusty servant with a look of absolute
helplessness.

Hainán returned his look with a broad grin of delight.

"No more have I either, your Excellency. You have nothing, and I have
nothing--what's to be done? _Nichevó!_"

At that moment Romashov called to mind that dark spring night when he
stood in the dirty road, leaning against the wet, sticky fence, and
heard Stepan's scornful remark: "That man hangs about here every day."
Now he remembered the intolerable feeling of shame he experienced at
that moment, and what would he not give if only he could conjure up a
single silver coin, a twenty-copeck piece, wherewith to stop the mouth
of Shurochka's messenger.

He pressed his hands convulsively against his temples and almost cried
from annoyance.

"Hainán," he whispered, looking shyly askance at the door, "Hainán, go
and tell him he shall have his 'tip' to-night--for certain, do you hear?
For certain."

Romashov was just then as hard up as it was possible to be. His credit
was gone everywhere--at mess, with the buffet proprietor, at the
regimental treasury, etc. He certainly still drew his dinner and supper
rations, but without sakuska. He had not even tea and sugar in his room;
only a tremendous tin can containing coffee grounds--a dark, awesome
mixture which, when diluted with water, was heroically swallowed every
morning by Romashov and his trusty servant.

With grimaces of the deepest disgust, Romashov sat and absorbed this
bitter, nauseous morning beverage. His brain was working at high
pressure as to how he should find some escape from the present desperate
situation. First, where and how was he to obtain a name-day present for
Shurochka? It would be an impossibility for him to show up at her house
without one. And, besides, what should he give her? Sweets or gloves?
But he did not know what size she wore--sweets, then? But in the town
the sweets were notoriously nasty, therefore something else--scent--a
fan? No, scent would, he thought, be preferable. She liked "Ess
Bouquet," so "Ess Bouquet" it should be. Moreover, the expense of the
evening's picnic. A trap there and back, "tip" to Stepan, incidental
expenses. "Ah, my good Romashov, you won't do it for less than ten
roubles."

After this he reviewed his resources. His month's pay--every copeck of
that was spent and receipted. Advance of pay perhaps. Alas, he had tried
that way quite thirty times, but always with an unhappy result. The
paymaster to the regiment, Staff-Captain Doroshenko, was known far and
wide as the most disobliging "swine," especially to sub-lieutenants. He
had taken part in the Turkish War, and was there, alas! wounded in the
most mortifying and humiliating spot--in his heel. This had not happened
during retreat, but on an occasion when he was turning to his troops to
order an attack. None the less he was, on account of his ill-omened
wound, the object of everlasting flings and sarcasms, with the result
that Doroshenko, who went to the campaign a merry ensign, was now
changed into a jealous, irritable hypochondriac. No, Doroshenko would
not advance a single copeck, least of all to a sub-lieutenant who, with
uncommon eagerness, had long since drawn all the pay that was due to
him.

"But one need not hang oneself, I suppose, for that," Romashov consoled
himself by thinking, after he had finished the foregoing meditation.
"One must try and borrow. Let us now take the victims in turn. Well, the
1st Company, Osadchi?"

Before Romashov's mind's eye appeared Osadchi's peculiar but well-formed
features and his heavy, brutal expression. "No, anybody else in the
world except him. Second Company, Taliman? Ah, that poor devil, who is
borrowing all the year round, even from the ensigns. He won't do. Take
another name--Khutinski?"

But just at that moment a mad boyish idea crossed Romashov's mind.
"Suppose I go and borrow money from the Colonel himself. What then would
be likely to happen? First he would be numbed with horror at such a
piece of impudence; next he would begin trembling with rage, then he
would fire, as if from a mortar, the words: 'Wha-at! Si-lence!'"

Romashov burst out laughing. "How in the world can a day that began so
happily as this ever end sadly and sorrowfully? Yes, I don't know yet
how the problem is to be solved, but an inward voice has told me that
all will go well. Captain Duvernois? No, Duvernois is a skinflint, and,
besides, he can't bear me. I know that."

In this way he went through all the officers of his company, from the
first to the sixteenth, without getting a step nearer his goal. He was
just about to despair altogether when suddenly a new name sprang up in
his head--Lieutenant-Colonel Rafalski.

"Rafalski! What an ass I am! Hainán, my coat, gloves, cap. Make haste!"

Lieutenant-Colonel Rafalski, commander of the 4th Battalion, was an
incorrigible old bachelor, and, in addition, a most eccentric character,
who was called by his comrades "Colonel Brehm." He associated with no
one, was seen among the circle of his brother officers only on occasions
of ceremony, i.e. at Easter and on New Year's Day, and he neglected his
duties to such a degree that at drill he was the constant object of
furious invectives on the part of the higher authorities. All his time,
all his attention, and all his unconsumed funds of love and tenderness,
which he really possessed, were devoted to his idolized _protégés_, his
wild creatures--brutes, birds, and fishes, of which he owned almost an
entire menagerie. The ladies of the regiment, who in the depths of their
hearts were highly incensed with Rafalski for his unconcealed contempt
of women, used to say of him: "Such a dreadful man, and what dreadful
animals he keeps! Such dirtiness in his house, and, pardon the
expression, what a nasty smell he carries with him wherever he goes."

All his savings went to the menagerie. This most eccentric individual
had succeeded in reducing his temporal needs to a minimum. He wore a cap
and uniform that dated from prehistoric times, he slept and dwelt God
knows how, he shared the soldiers' fare, and he ate in the 15th
Company's kitchen, towards the staff of which he displayed a certain
liberality. To his comrades--particularly the younger of them--he seldom
refused a small loan if he was in funds, but to remain in debt to
"Colonel Brehm" was not regarded as _comme il faut_, and he who did so
was inevitably exposed to his comrades' ridicule and contempt.

Frivolous and impudent individuals as, e.g. Lbov, were occasionally not
averse from extracting a few silver roubles from Rafalski, and they
always introduced the business by a request to be allowed to see the
menagerie. This was generally an infallible way to the old hermit's
heart and cash-box. "Good morning, Ivan Antonovich, have you got any
fresh animals? Oh, how interesting! Come and show us them," etc., in the
same style. After this the loan was a simple matter.

Romashov had many times visited Rafalski, but never up to then with an
ulterior motive. He too was particularly fond of animals, and when he
was a cadet at Moscow, nay, even when he was a lad, he much preferred a
circus to a theatre, and the zoological gardens or some menagerie to
either. In his dreams as a child there always hovered a St. Bernard. Now
his secret dream was to be appointed Adjutant to a battalion--so that he
might become the possessor of a horse. But neither of his dreams was
fulfilled.

The poverty of his parents proved an insuperable obstacle to the
realization of the former, and, as far as his adjutancy was concerned,
his prospects were exceedingly small, as Romashov lacked the most
important qualifications for it, viz. a fine figure and carriage.

Romashov went into the street. A warm spring breeze caressed his cheeks,
and the ground that had just dried after the rain gave to his steps,
through its elasticity, a pleasant feeling of buoyancy and power.
Hagberry and lilac pointed and nodded at him with their rich-scented
bunches of blossom over the street fences. A suddenly awakened joy of
life expanded his chest, and he felt as if he was about to fly. After he
had looked round the street and convinced himself that he was alone, he
took Shurochka's letter out of his pocket, read it through once more,
and then pressed her signature passionately to his lips.

"Oh, lovely sky! Beautiful trees!" he whispered with moist eyes.

"Colonel Brehm" lived at the far end of a great enclosure hedged round
by a green lattice-like hedge. Over the gate might be read: "Ring the
bell. Beware of the dogs!"

Romashov pulled the bell. The servant's sallow, sleepy face appeared at
the wicket.

"Is the Colonel at home?"

"Yes. Please step in, your Honour."

"No. Go and take in my name first."

"It is not necessary. Walk in." The servant sleepily scratched his
thigh. "The Colonel does not like standing on ceremony, you know."

Romashov strode on, and followed a sort of path of bricks which led
across the yard to the house. A couple of enormous, mouse-coloured young
bull-dogs ran out of a corner, and one of them greeted him with a rough
but not unfriendly bark. Romashov snapped his fingers at it, which was
answered in delight by awkward, frolicsome leaps and still noisier
barking. The other bull-dog followed closely on Romashov's heels, and
sniffed with curiosity between the folds of his cape. Far away in the
court, where the tender, light green grass had already sprouted up,
stood a little donkey philosophizing, blinking in delight at the sun,
and lazily twitching its long ears. Here and there waddled ducks of
variegated hues, fowls and Chinese geese with large excrescences over
their bills. A bevy of peacocks made their ear-splitting cluck heard,
and a huge turkey-cock with trailing wings and tail-feathers high in
the air was courting the favourite sultana of his harem. A massive pink
sow of genuine Yorkshire breed wallowed majestically in a hole.

"Colonel Brehm," dressed in a Swedish leather jacket, stood at a window
with his back to the door, and he did not notice Romashov as the latter
entered the room. He was very busy with his glass aquarium, into which
he plunged one arm up to the elbow, and he was so absorbed by this
occupation that Romashov was obliged to cough loudly twice before
Rafalski turned round and presented his long, thin, unshaven face and a
pair of old-fashioned spectacles with tortoise-shell rims.

"Ah, ha--what do I see?--Sub-lieutenant Romashov? Very welcome, very
welcome!" rang his friendly greeting. "Excuse my not being able to shake
hands, but, as you see, I am quite wet. I am now testing a new siphon. I
have simplified the apparatus, which will act splendidly. Will you have
some tea?"

"I am very much obliged to you, but I have just breakfasted. I have
come, Colonel, to----"

"Of course you have heard the rumour that our regiment is to be moved to
garrison another town," interrupted Rafalski, in a tone as if he had
only resumed a conversation just dropped. "You may well imagine my
despair. How shall I manage to transport all my fishes? At least half of
them will die on the journey. And this aquarium too; look at it
yourself. Wholly of glass and a yard and a half long. Ah, my dear
fellow" (here he suddenly sprang into a wholly different train of
thought), "what an aquarium they have in Sebastopol! A cistern of
continually flowing seawater, big as this room, and entirely of stone.
And lighted by electricity too. You stand and gaze down on all those
wonderful fishes--sturgeons, sharks, rays, sea-cocks--nay, God forgive
me my sins! sea-cats, I mean. Imagine in your mind a gigantic pancake,
an _arshin_[17] and a half in diameter, which moves and wags--and behind
it a tail shaped like an arrow. My goodness, I stood there staring for a
couple of hours--but what are you laughing at?"

"I beg your pardon, but I just noticed a little white rat sitting on
your shoulder."

"Oh, you little rascal! Who gave you leave?" Rafalski twisted his head
and produced with his lips a whistling but extraordinarily delicate
sound that was remarkably like the cheeping noise of a rat. The little
white, red-eyed beast, trembling all over its body, snuggled up to
Rafalski's cheek, and began groping with its nose after its master's
mouth and chin-tuft.

"How tame your animals are, and how well they know you!" exclaimed
Romashov.

"Yes, they always know me well enough," replied Rafalski. After this he
drew a deep sigh and sorrowfully shook his grey head. "It is unfortunate
that mankind troubles itself and knows so little about animals. We have
trained and tamed for our use or good pleasure the dog, the horse, and
the cat, but how much do we know about the real nature and being of
these animals? Now and then, of course, some professor--a marvel of
learning--comes along--may the devil devour them all!--and talks a lot
of antediluvian rubbish that no sensible person either understands or
has the least profit from. Moreover, he gives the poor innocent beasts a
number of Latin nicknames as idiotic as they are unnecessary, and to
crown it all, he has the impudence to demand to be immortalized for all
this tomfoolery, and pretty nearly venerated as a saint. But what can he
teach us, and what does he know himself, of animals and their inner
life? No! take any dog you like, live together with it for a time, side
by side, and, by the study of this intelligent, reflecting creature, you
will get more matter for your psychology than all the professors and
teachers could dream."

"But perhaps there are works of that nature, though we do not yet know
them?" suggested Romashov shyly.

"Books, did you say? Yes, of course, there are plenty. Just glance over
there. I have a whole library of them."

Rafalski pointed to a long row of shelves standing along the walls.
"Those learned gentlemen write a whole lot of clever things, and show
great profundity in their studies. Yes, their learning is absolutely
overwhelming. What wonderful scientific instruments, and what acuteness
of intellect! But all that is quite different from what I mean. Not one
of all these great celebrities has hit upon the idea of observing
carefully, only for a single day, for instance, a dog or cat in its
private life. And yet how interesting and instructive that is. To watch
closely how a dog lives, thinks, intrigues, makes itself happy or
miserable. Just think, for example, what all those clowns and showmen
can effect. One might sometimes think that one was subjected to an
extraordinary hypnosis. Never in all my life shall I forget a clown I
saw in the hotel at Kiev--a mere clown. What results might have been
attained by a scientifically educated investigator, armed with all the
wonderful apparatus and resources of our time! What interesting things
one might hear about a dog's psychology, his character, docility, etc. A
new world of marvels would be opened to human knowledge. For my part,
you should know that I am quite certain that dogs possess a language
and, moreover, a very rich and developed speech."

"But, Ivan Antonovich, tell me why the learned have never made such an
attempt?" asked Romashov.

Rafalski replied by a sarcastic smile.

"He, he, he! the thing is clear enough. What do you suppose a dog is to
such a learned bigwig? A vertebrate animal, a mammal, a carnivorous
animal, etc, and that's the end of it. Nothing more. How could he
condescend to treat a dog as if it were an intelligent, rational being?
Never. No, these haughty university despots are in reality but a trifle
higher than the peasant who thought that the dog had steam instead of a
soul."

He stopped short and began snorting and splashing angrily whilst he
fussed and fumed with a gutta-percha tube that he was trying to apply to
the bottom of the aquarium. Romashov summoned all his courage, made a
violent effort of will, and succeeded in blurting out--

"Ivan Antonovich, I have come on an important--very important
business----"

"Money?"

"Yes, I am ashamed to trouble you. I don't require much--only ten
roubles--but I can't promise to repay you just yet."

Ivan Antonovich pulled his hands out of the water and began slowly to
dry them on a towel.

"I can manage ten roubles--I have not more, but these I'll lend you with
the greatest pleasure. You're wanting to be off, I suppose, on some
spree or dissipation? Well, well, don't be offended; I'm merely
jesting. Come, let us go."

"Colonel Brehm" took Romashov through his suite of apartments, which
consisted of five or six rooms, in which every trace of furniture and
curtains was lacking. Everywhere one's nose was assailed by the curious,
pungent odour that is always rife in places where small animals are
freely allowed to run riot. The floors were so filthy that one stumbled
at nearly every step. In all the corners, small holes and lairs, formed
of wooden boxes, hollow stubble, empty casks without bottoms, etc.,
etc., were arranged. Trees with bending branches stood in another room.
The one room was intended for birds, the other for squirrels and
martens. All the arrangements witnessed to a love of animals, careful
attention, and a great faculty for observation.

"Look here," Rafalski pointed to a little cage, surrounded by a thick
railing of barbed wire; from the semicircular opening, which was no
larger than the bottom of a drinking-glass, glowed two small, keen black
eyes. "That's a polecat, the cruellest and most bloodthirsty beast in
creation. You may not believe me, but it's none the less true, that, in
comparison with it, the lion and panther are as tame as lambs. When a
lion has eaten his thirty-four pounds or so of flesh, and is resting
after his meal, he looks on good-humouredly at the jackals gorging on
the remains of the banquet. But if that little brute gets into a
hen-house it does not spare a single life. There are no limits to its
murderous instinct, and, besides, it is the wildest beast in the world
and the one hardest to tame. Fie, you little monster."

Rafalski put his hand behind the bars, and at once, in the narrow outlet
to the cage, an open jaw with sharp, white teeth was displayed. The
polecat accompanied its rapid movements backwards and forwards by a
spiteful, cough-like sound.

"Have you ever seen such a nasty brute? And yet I myself have fed it
every day for a whole year."

"Colonel Brehm" had now evidently forgotten Romashov's business. He took
him from cage to cage, and showed him all his favourites, and he spoke
with as much enthusiasm, knowledge, and tenderness of the animals'
tempers and habits, as if the question concerned his oldest and most
intimate friends. Rafalski's collection of animals was really an
extraordinarily large and fine one for a private individual to own, who
was, moreover, compelled to live in an out-of-the-way and wretched
provincial hole. There were rabbits, white rats, otters, hedgehogs,
marmots, several venomous snakes in glass cases, ant-bears, several
sorts of monkeys, a black Australian hare, and an exceedingly fine
specimen of an Angora cat.

"Well, what do you say to this?" asked Rafalski, as he exhibited the
cat. "Isn't he charming? And yet he does not stand high in my favour,
for he is awfully stupid--much more stupid than our ordinary cats."
Rafalski then exclaimed hotly: "Another proof of the little we know and
how wrongly we value our ordinary domestic animals. What do we know
about the cat, horse, cow, and pig? The pig is a remarkably clever
animal. You're laughing, I see, but wait and you shall hear." (Romashov
had not shown the least signs of amusement.) "Last year I had in my
possession a wild boar which invented the following trick. I had got
home from the sugar factory four bushels of waste, intended for my pigs
and hot-beds. Well, my big boar could not, of course, wait patiently.
Whilst the foreman went to find my servant, the boar with his tusks tore
the bung out of the cask, and, in a few seconds, was in his seventh
heaven. What do you say of a chap like that? But listen
further"--Rafalski peered out of one eye, and assumed a crafty
expression--"I am at present engaged in writing a treatise on my
pigs--for God's sake, not a whisper of this to any one. Just fancy if
people got to hear that a Lieutenant-Colonel in the glorious Russian
Army was writing a book, and one about pigs into the bargain; but the
fact is, I managed to obtain a genuine Yorkshire sow. Have you seen her?
Come, let me show you her. Besides, I have down in the yard a young
beagle, the dearest little beast. Come!"

"Pardon me, Ivan Antonovich," stammered Romashov, "I should be only too
pleased to accompany you, but--but I really haven't the time now."

Rafalski struck his forehead with the palm of his hand.

"Oh, yes, what an incorrigible old gossip I am. Excuse me--I'll go and
get it--come along."

They went into a little bare room in which there was literally nothing
but a low tent-bedstead which, with its bottom composed of a sheet
hanging down to the floor, reminded one of a boat; a little night-table,
and a chair without a back. Rafalski pulled out a drawer of the little
table and produced the money.

"I am very glad to be able to help you, ensign, very glad. If you
please, no thanks or such nonsense. It's a pleasure, you know. Look me
up when convenient, and we'll have a chat. Good-bye."

When Romashov reached the street, he ran into Viätkin. Pavel Pavlich's
moustaches were twisted up ferociously, _à la_ Kaiser, and his
regimental cap, stuck on one side in a rakish manner, lay carelessly
thrown on one ear.

"Ha, look at Prince Hamlet," shouted Viätkin, "whence and whither?
You're beaming like a man in luck."

"Yes, that's exactly what I am," replied Romashov smilingly.

"Ah-ah! splendid; come and give me a big hug."

With the enthusiasm of youth, they fell into each other's arms in the
open street.

"Ought we not to celebrate this remarkable event by just a peep into the
mess-room?" proposed Viätkin. "'Come and take a nip in the deepest
loneliness,' as our noble friend Artschakovski is fond of saying."

"Impossible, Pavel Pavlich, I am in a hurry. But what's up with you? You
seem to-day as if you meant kicking over the traces?"

"Yes, rather, that's quite on the cards," Viätkin stuck his chin out
significantly. "To-day I have brought off a 'combination' so ingenious
that it would make our Finance Minister green with envy."

"Really?"

Viätkin's "combination" appeared simple enough, but testified, however,
to a certain ingenuity. The chief _rôle_ in the affair was played by
Khaim, the regimental tailor, who took from Pavel Pavlich a receipt for
a uniform supposed to have been delivered, but, instead of that, handed
over to Viätkin thirty roubles in cash.

"The best of it all is," exclaimed Viätkin, "that both Khaim and I are
equally satisfied with the deal. The Jew gave me thirty roubles and
became entitled through my receipt to draw forty-five from the clothing
department's treasury. I am at last once more in a position to chuck
away a few coppers at mess. A masterstroke, eh?"

"Viätkin, you're a great man, and another time I'll bear in mind your
'patent.' But good-bye for the present. I hope you will have good luck
at cards." They separated, but, after a minute, Viätkin called out to
his comrade again. Romashov stopped and turned round.

"Have you been to the menagerie?" asked Viätkin, with a cunning wink,
making a gesture in the direction of Rafalski's house.

Romashov replied by a nod, and said in a tone of conviction, "Brehm is a
downright good fellow--the best of the lot of us."

"You're right," agreed Viätkin, "bar that frightful smell."



XII


When Romashov reached Nikoläiev's house about five o'clock, he noticed
with surprise that his happy humour of the morning and confidence that
the day would be a success had given place to an inexplicable, painful
nervousness. He felt assured that this nervousness had not come over him
all at once, but had begun much earlier in the day, though he did not
know when. It was likewise clear to him that this feeling of nervousness
had gradually and imperceptibly crept over him. What did it mean? But
such incidents were not new to him; even from his early childhood he had
experienced them, and he knew, too, that he would not regain his mental
balance until he had discovered the cause of the disturbance. He
remembered, for instance, how he had worried himself for a whole day,
and that it was not till evening that he called to mind that, in the
forenoon, when passing a railway crossing, he had been startled and
alarmed by a train rushing past, and this had disturbed his balance.
Directly, however, the cause was discovered he at once became happy and
light-hearted. The question now was to review in inverted order the
events and experiences of the day. Svidierski's millinery shop and its
perfumes; the hire and payment of Leib, the best cab-driver in the town;
the visit to the post-office to set his watch correctly; the lovely
morning; Stepan? No, impossible. In Romashov's pocket lay a rouble laid
by for him. But what could it be then?

In the street, opposite to the Nikoläievs', stood three two-horse
carriages, and two soldiers held by the reins a couple of
saddle-horses--the one, Olisár's, a dark-brown old gelding, newly
purchased from a cavalry officer; the other Biek-Agamalov's chestnut
mare, with fierce bright eyes.

"I know! The letter!" flashed through Romashov's brain. That strange
expression "in spite of that"--what could it mean? That Nikoläiev was
angry or jealous? Perhaps mischief had been made. Nikoläiev's manner had
certainly been rather cold lately.

"Drive on!" he shouted to the driver.

At that moment, though he had neither seen nor heard anything, he knew
that the door of the house had opened, he knew it by the sweet and
stormy beating of his heart.

"Romochka! where are you going?" he heard Alexandra Petrovna's clear,
happy voice behind him.

Romashov, by a strong pull, drew the driver, who was sitting opposite
him, back by the girdle, and jumped out of the fly. Shurochka stood in
the open door as if she were framed in a dark room. She wore a smooth
white dress with red flowers in the sash. The same sort of red flowers
were twined in her hair. How wonderful! Romashov felt instantly and
infallibly that this was _she_, but, nevertheless, did not recognize
her. To him it was a new revelation, radiant and in festal array.

While Romashov was mumbling his felicitations, Shurochka forced him,
without letting go his hands, softly and with gentle violence, to enter
the gloomy hall with her. At the same time she uttered half-aloud, in a
hurried and nervous tone--

"Thanks, Romochka, for coming. Ah, how much I was afraid that you would
plead some excuse! But remember now, to-day you are to be jolly and
amiable. Don't do anything which will attract attention. Now, how absurd
you are! Directly any one touches you, you shrivel up like a
sensitive-plant."

"Alexandra Petrovna, your letter has upset me. There is an expression
you make use of...."

"My dear boy! what nonsense!" she grasped both his hands and pressed
them hard, gazing into the depths of his eyes. In that glance of hers
there was something which Romashov had never seen before--a caressing
tenderness, an intensity, and something besides, which he could not
interpret. In the mysterious depths of her dark pupils fixed so long and
earnestly on him he read a strange, elusive significance, a message
uttered in the mysterious language of the soul.

"Please--don't let us talk of this to-day! No doubt you will be pleased
to hear that I have been watching for you. I know what a coward you are,
you see. Don't you dare to look at me like that, now!"

She laughed in some confusion and released his hands.

"That will do now--Romochka, you awkward creature! again you've
forgotten to kiss my hand. That's right! Now the other. But don't
forget," she added in a hot whisper, "that to-day is our day. Tsarina
Alexandra and her trusty knight, Georgi. Come."

"One instant--look here--you'll allow me? It's a very modest gift."

"What? Scent? What nonsense is this? No, forgive me; I'm only joking.
Thanks, thanks, dear Romochka. Volodya," she called out loudly in an
unconstrained tone as she entered the room, "here is another friend to
join us in our little picnic."

As is always the case before dispersing for a general excursion, there
was much noise and confusion in the drawing-room. The thick tobacco
smoke formed here and there blue eddies when met by the sunbeams on its
way out of the window. Seven or eight officers stood in the middle of
the room, in animated conversation. The loudest among them was the
hoarse-voiced Taliman with his everlasting cough. There were Captain
Osadchi and the two inseparable Adjutants, Olisár and Biek-Agamalov;
moreover, Lieutenant Andrusevich--a little, lithe, and active man, who,
in his sharp-nosed physiognomy, resembled a rat--and Sofia Pavlovna
Taliman, who, smiling, powdered, and painted, sat, like a dressed-up
doll, in the middle of the sofa, between Ensign Michin's two sisters.
These girls were very prepossessing in their simple, home-made but
tasteful dresses with white and green ribbons. They were both dark-eyed,
black-haired, with a few summer freckles on their fresh, rosy cheeks.
Both had dazzlingly white teeth which, perhaps from their not
irreproachable form and evenness, gave the fresh lips a particular,
curious charm. Both were extraordinarily like, not only each other, but
also their brother, although the latter was certainly not a "beauty"
man. Of the ladies belonging to the regiment who were invited were Mrs.
Andrusevich--a little, fat, podgy, simple, laughing woman, very much
addicted to doubtful anecdotes--and, lastly, the really pretty, but
gossiping and lisping, Misses Lykatschev.

As is always the case at military parties, the ladies formed a circle by
themselves. Quite near them, and sitting by himself, Staff-Captain Ditz,
the coxcomb, was lolling indolently in an easy chair. This officer, who,
with his tight-laced figure and aristocratic looks, strongly reminded
one of the well-known _Fliegende Blätter_ type of lieutenants, had been
cashiered from the Guards on account of some mysterious, scandalous
story. He distinguished himself by his unfailing ironical confidence in
his intercourse with men, and his audacious boldness with women, and he
pursued, carefully and very lucratively, card-playing on a big scale,
not, however, in the mess-room, but in the Townsmen's Club, with the
civilian officials of the place, as well as with the Polish landowners
in the neighbourhood. Nobody in the regiment liked him, but he was
feared, and all felt within themselves a certain rough conviction that
some day a terrible, dirty scandal would bring Ditz's military career to
an abrupt conclusion. It was reported that he had a _liaison_ with the
young wife of an old, retired Staff-Captain who lived in the town, and
also that he was very friendly with Madame Taliman. It was also purely
for her sake he was invited to officers' families, according to the
curious conceptions of good tone and good breeding that still hold sway
in military circles.

"Delighted--delighted!" was Nikoläiev's greeting as he went up to
Romashov. "Why didn't you come this morning and taste our pasty?"

Nikoläiev uttered all this in a very jovial and friendly tone, but in
his voice and glance Romashov noticed the same cold, artificial, and
harsh expression which he had felt almost unconsciously lately.

"He does not like me," thought Romashov. "But what is the matter with
him? Is he angry--or jealous, or have I bored him to death?"

"As you perhaps are aware, we had inspection of rifles in our company
this morning," lied Romashov boldly. "When the Great Inspection
approaches, one is never free either Sundays or week-days, you know.
However, may I candidly admit that I am a trifle embarrassed? I did not
know in the least that you were giving a picnic. I invited myself, so to
speak. And truly, I feel some qualms----"

Nikoläiev smiled broadly, and clapped Romashov on the shoulder with
almost insulting familiarity.

"How you talk, my friend! The more the merrier, and we don't want any
Chinese ceremonies here. But there is one awkward thing--I mean, will
there be sufficient carriages? But we shall be able to manage
something."

"I brought my own trap," said Romashov, to calm him, whilst he, quite
unnoticeably, released his shoulder from Nikoläiev's caressing hand,
"and I shall be very pleased to put it at your service."

Romashov turned round and met Shurochka's eye. "Thank you, my dear,"
said her ardent, curiously intent look.

"How strange she is to-day," thought Romashov.

"That's capital!" Nikoläiev looked at his watch. "What do you say,
gentlemen; shall we start?"

"'Let us start,' said the parrot when the cat dragged it out of its cage
by the tail," said Olisár jokingly.

All got up, noisy and laughing. The ladies went in search of their hats
and parasols, and began to put on their gloves. Taliman, who suffered
from bronchitis, croaked and screamed that, above everything, the
company should wrap up well; but his voice was drowned in the noise and
confusion. Little Michin took Romashov aside and said to him--

"Yuri Alexievich, I have a favour to ask you. Let my sisters ride in
your carriage, otherwise Ditz will come and force his society on them--a
thing I would prevent at any price. He is in the habit of conversing
with young girls in such a way that they can hardly restrain their tears
of shame and indignation. I am not, God knows! a man fond of violence,
but some day I shall give that scoundrel what he deserves."

Romashov would naturally have much liked to ride with Shurochka, but
Michin had always been his friend, and it was impossible to withstand
the imploring look of those clear, true-hearted eyes. Besides, Romashov
was so full of joy at that moment that he could not refuse.

At last, after much noise and fun, they were all seated in the
carriages. Romashov had kept his word, and sat stowed away between the
two Michin girls. Only Staff-Captain Lieschtschenko, whose presence
Romashov now noticed for the first time, kept wandering here and there
among the carriages with a countenance more doleful and woebegone than
ever. All avoided him like the plague. At last Romashov took pity and
called to him, and offered him a place on the box-seat of his trap. The
Staff-Captain thankfully accepted the invitation, fixed on Romashov a
long, grateful look from sad, moist dog's eyes, and climbed up with a
sigh to the box.

They started. At their head rode Olisár on his lazy old horse,
repeatedly performing clown tricks, and bawling out a hackneyed
operetta air: "Up on the roof of the omnibus," etc.

"Quick--march!" rang Osadchi's stentorian voice. The cavalcade increased
its pace, and was gradually lost sight of amidst the dust of the high
road.



XIII


The picnic gave no promise of being anything like so pleasant and
cheerful as one might have expected from the party's high spirits at the
start. After driving three _versts_, they halted and got out at
Dubetschnaia. By this name was designated a piece of ground hardly
fifteen _dessyatins_ in extent, which, sparsely covered with proud,
century-old oaks, slowly slanted down towards the strand of a little
river. Close thickets of bushes were arrayed beside the mighty trees,
and these, here and there, formed a charming frame for the small open
spaces covered by the fresh and delicate greenery of spring. In a
similar idyllic spot in the oak-woods, servants and footmen, sent on in
advance, waited with samovars and baskets.

The company assembled around the white tablecloths spread on the grass.
The ladies produced plates and cold meat, and the gentlemen helped them,
amidst jokes and flirtations. Olisár dressed himself up as a cook by
putting on a couple of serviettes as cap and apron. After much fun and
ceremony, the difficult problem of placing the guests was solved, in
which entered the indispensable condition that the ladies should have a
gentleman on each side. The guests half-reclined or half-sat in rather
uncomfortable positions, which was appreciated by all as being something
new and interesting, and which finally caused the ever-silent
Lieschtschenko to astonish those present, amidst general laughter, by
the following famous utterance: "Here we lie, just like the old Greek
Romans."

Shurochka had on one side Taliman, on the other side Romashov. She was
unusually cheerful and talkative, nay, sometimes in such high spirits
that the attention of many was called to it. Romashov had never found
her so bewitching before. He thought he noticed in her something new,
something emotional and passionate, which feverishly sought an outlet.
Sometimes she turned without a word to Romashov and gazed at him
intently for half a second longer than was strictly proper, and he felt
then that a force, mysterious, consuming, and overpowering, gleamed from
her eyes.

Osadchi, who sat by himself at the end of the improvised table, got on
his knees. After tapping his knife against the glass and requesting
silence, he said, in a deep bass voice, the heavy waves of sound from
which vibrated in the pure woodland air--

"Gentlemen, let us quaff the first beaker in honour of our fair hostess,
whose name-day it is. May God vouchsafe her every good--and the rank of
a General's consort."

And after he had raised the great glass, he shouted with all the force
of his powerful voice--

"Hurrah!"

It seemed as if all the trees in the vicinity sighed and drooped under
this deafening howl, which resembled the thunder's boom and the lion's
roar, and the echo of which died away between the oaks' thick trunks.
Andrusevich, who sat next to Osadchi, fell backwards with a comic
expression of terror, and pretended to be slightly deaf during the
remainder of the banquet. The gentlemen got up and clinked their glasses
with Shurochka's. Romashov purposely waited to the last, and she
observed it. Whilst Shurochka turned towards him, she, silently and with
a passionate smile, held forward her glass of white wine. In that moment
her eyes grew wider and darker, and her lips moved noiselessly, just as
if she had clearly uttered a certain word; but, directly afterwards, she
turned round laughing to Taliman, and began an animated conversation
with him. "What did she say?" thought Romashov. "What word was it that
she would not or dared not say aloud?" He felt nervous and agitated,
and, secretly, he made an attempt to give his lips the same form and
expression as he had just observed with Shurochka, in order, by that
means, to guess what she said; but it was fruitless. "Romochka?"
"Beloved?" "I love?" No, that wasn't it. Only one thing he knew for
certain, viz., that the mysterious word had three syllables.

After that he drank with Nikoläiev, and wished him success on the
General Staff, as if it were a matter of course that Nikoläiev would
pass his examination. Then came the usual, inevitable toasts of "the
ladies present," of "women in general," the "glorious colours of the
regiment," of the "ever-victorious Russian Army," etc.

Now up sprang Taliman, who was already very elevated, and screamed in
his hoarse, broken falsetto, "Gentlemen, I propose the health of our
beloved, idolized sovereign, for whom we are all ready at any time to
sacrifice our lives to the last drop of our blood."

At the last words his voice failed him completely. The bandit look in
his dark brown, gipsy eyes faded, and tears moistened his brown cheeks.

"The hymn to the Tsar," shouted little fat Madame Andrusevich. All
arose. The officers raised their hands to the peaks of their caps.
Discordant, untrained, exultant voices rang over the neighbourhood, but
worse and more out of tune than all the rest screamed the sentimental
Staff-Captain Lieschtschenko, whose expression was even more melancholy
than usual.

They now began drinking hard, as, for the matter of that, the officers
always did when they forgathered at mess, at each other's homes, at
excursions and picnics, official dinners, etc. All talked at once, and
individual voices could no longer be distinguished. Shurochka, who had
drunk a good deal of white wine, suddenly leaned her head near Romashov.
Her cheeks and lips glowed, and the dark pupils of her beaming eyes had
now attained an almost black hue.

"I can't stand these provincial picnics," she exclaimed. "They are
always so vulgar, mean, and wearisome. I was, of course, obliged to give
a party before my husband started for his examination, but, good
gracious! why could we not have stayed at home and enjoyed ourselves in
our pretty, shady garden? Such a stupid notion. And yet to-day, I don't
know why, I am so madly happy. Ah, Romochka, I know the reason; I know
it, and will tell you afterwards. Oh, no! No, no, Romochka, that is not
true. I know nothing--absolutely nothing."

Her beautiful eyes were half-closed, and her face, full of alluring,
promising, and tormenting impatience, had become shamelessly beautiful,
and Romashov, though he hardly understood what it meant, was
instinctively conscious of the passionate emotion which possessed
Shurochka and felt a sweet thrill run down his arms and legs and through
his heart.

"You are so wonderful to-day--has anything happened?" he asked in a
whisper.

She answered straightway with an expression of innocent helplessness. "I
have already told you--I don't know--I can't explain it. Look at the
sky. It's blue, but why? It is the same with me. Romochka, dear boy,
pour me out some more wine."

At the opposite side of the tablecloth an exciting conversation was
carried on with regard to the intended war with Germany, which was then
regarded by many as almost a certainty. Soon an irritable, senseless
quarrel arose about it, which was, however, suddenly interrupted by
Osadchi's furious, thundering, dictatorial voice. He was almost drunk,
but the only signs of it were the terrible pallor of his handsome face
and the lowering gaze of his large black eyes.

"Rubbish!" he screamed wildly. "What do you really mean by war nowadays?
War has been spoilt, transmogrified, and everything else, for the matter
of that. Children are born idiots, women are stunted, badly brought-up
creatures, and men have--nerves. 'Ugh, blood, blood! Oh, I shall
faint,'" he imitated in an insulting, mockingly pitiful tone. "And all
this only because the real, ferocious and merciless character of war has
changed. Now, can this be called war when you fire a couple of shots at
the enemy at a distance of fifteen _versts_, and then return home in
triumph as a hero? Pretty heroes! You are taken prisoner, and then they
say to you: 'My poor friend, how are you? Are you cold? Would you like
a cigarette? Are you quite comfortable?' Damn it all!" Osadchi gave vent
to a few inarticulate roars and lowered his head like a mad bull ready
to attack. "In the Middle Ages, gentlemen, things were quite different.
Night attacks--storming ladders and naked weapons--murder and
conflagration everywhere. 'Soldiers, the town is yours for three days.'
The slaughter begins, torch and sword perform their office; in the
streets streams of blood and wine. Oh, glorious festival of brave men
amidst bleeding corpses and smoking ruins, beautiful, naked, weeping
women dragged by their hair to the victor's feet."

"Anyhow, you haven't changed much," interrupted Sofia Pavlovna Taliman
jokingly.

"All the town a river of fire, the tempest sporting at night with the
bodies of hanged men; vultures shriek and the victor lords it by the
campfires beneath the gallows tree. Why take prisoners and waste time
and strength for them? Ugh!" Osadchi, with teeth clenched, groaned like
a wild beast. "Grand and glorious days! What fights! Eye to eye and
chest to chest. An uninterrupted slaughter for hours, till the
cold-blooded tenacity and discipline of one party, coupled with
invincible fury, brought victory. And what fights then! What courage,
what physical strength, and what superior dexterity in the use of
weapons! Gentlemen"--Osadchi arose in all his gigantic stature and in
his terrible voice insolence and cold-bloodedness reigned--"gentlemen, I
know that from your military colleges have issued morbid, crazy phrases
about what's called 'humanity in war,' etc., etc. But I drink at this
moment--even if I am to drain my glass by myself--to the wars of bygone
days and the joyful, bloody cruelty of old times."

All were silent, hypnotized and cowed by this unexpected horrible
ecstasy of an otherwise reserved and taciturn man, whom they now
regarded with a feeling of terror and curiosity. At that moment
Biek-Agamalov jumped up from where he was sitting. He did this so
quickly and suddenly that he alarmed several who were present, and one
of the ladies uttered a cry of terror. His widely staring eyes flashed
wildly, and his white, clenched teeth resembled a beast of prey's. He
seemed to be nearly stifled, and he could not find words.

"Oh, see! here's one who understands and rejoices at what you have said.
Ugh!" With convulsive energy, nay, almost furiously, he grasped and
shook Osadchi's hand. "To hell with all these weak, cowardly, squeamish
wretches! Out with the sabre and hew them down!"

His bloodshot eyes sought an object suitable as a vent for his flaming
rage. His naturally cruel instincts had at this moment thrown off their
mask. Like a madman he slashed at the oak-copse with his naked sword.
Mutilated branches and young leaves rained down on the tablecloth and
guests.

"Lieutenant Biek! Madman! Are you out of your mind?" screamed the
ladies.

Biek-Agamalov pulled himself together and returned to his place, visibly
much ashamed of his barbaric behaviour; but his delicate nostrils rose
and fell with his quick breathings, and his black eyes, wild with
suppressed rage, looked loweringly and defiantly at the company.

Romashov had heard, and yet not heard, Osadchi's speech. He felt, as it
were, stupefied by a narcotic, but celestially delightful, intoxicating
drink, and he thought that a warm spider, as soft as velvet, had been
spinning softly and cautiously round him with its web, and gently
tickled his body till he almost died of an inward, exultant laughter. His
hand lightly brushed--and each time as though unintentionally--Shurochka's
arm, but neither she nor he attempted to look at each other. Romashov
was quite lost in the land of dreams, when the sound of Biek-Agamalov's
and Osadchi's voices reached him, but as though they came from a
distant, fantastic mist. The actual words he could understand, but they
seemed to him empty and devoid of any intelligent meaning.

"Osadchi is a cruel man and he does not like me," thought Romashov.
"Osadchi's wife is a creature to be pitied--small, thin, and every year
in an interesting condition. He never takes her out with him. Last year
a young soldier in Osadchi's company hanged himself--Osadchi? Who is
this Osadchi? See now, Biek, too, is shrieking and making a row. What
sort of a man is he? Do I know him? Ah, of course I know him, and yet he
is so strange to me, so wonderful and incomprehensible. But who are you
who are sitting beside me?--from whom such joy and happiness beam that I
am intoxicated with this happiness. There sits Nikoläiev opposite me. He
looks displeased, and sits there in silence all the time. He glances
here as if accidentally, and his eyes glide over me with cold contempt.
He is, methinks, much embittered. Well, I have no objection--may he have
his revenge! Oh, my delicious happiness!"

It began to grow dark. The lilac shadows of the trees stole slowly over
the plain. The youngest Miss Michin suddenly called out--

"Gentlemen, where are the violets? Here on this very spot they are said
to grow in profusion. Come, let us find some and gather them."

"It's too late," some one objected. "It's impossible to see them in the
grass now."

"Yes, it is easier to lose a thing now than to find it," interposed
Ditz, with a cynical laugh.

"Well, anyhow, let us light a bonfire," proposed Andrusevich.

They at once set about eagerly collecting and forming into a pile an
enormous quantity of dry branches, twigs, and leaves that had been lying
there from last year. The bonfire was lighted, and a huge pillar of
merrily-crackling, sparkling flame arose against the sky. At the same
instant, as though terror-stricken, the last glimpse of daylight left
the place a prey to the darkness which swiftly arose from the forest
gloom. Purple gleaming spots shyly trembled in the oaks' leafy crests,
and the trees seemed at one time to hurry forward with curiosity in the
full illumination from the fire, at another time to hasten as quickly
back to the dark coverts of the grove.

All got up from their places on the grass. The servants lighted the
candles in the many-coloured Chinese lanterns. The young officers played
and raced like schoolboys. Olisár wrestled with Michin, and to the
astonishment of all the insignificant, clumsy Michin threw his tall,
well-built adversary twice in succession on his back. After this the
guests began leaping right across the fire. Andrusevich displayed some
of his tricks. At one time he imitated the noise of a fly buzzing
against a window, at another time he showed how a poultry-maid attempted
to catch a fugitive cock, lastly, he disappeared in the darkness among
the bushes, from which was heard directly afterwards the sharp rustle of
a saw or grindstone. Even Ditz condescended to show his dexterity, as a
juggler, with empty bottles.

"Allow me, ladies and gentlemen," cried Taliman, "to perform a little
innocent conjuring trick. This is no question of a marvellous
witchcraft, but only quickness and dexterity. I will ask the
distinguished audience to convince themselves that I have not hidden
anything in my hands or coat-sleeves. Well, now we begin, one, two,
three--hey, presto!"

With a rapid movement, and, amidst general laughter, he took from his
pocket two new packs of cards, which, with a little bang, he quickly and
deftly freed from their wrapper.

"_Preference_, gentlemen," he suggested. "A little game, if you like, in
the open air. How would that do, eh?"

Osadchi, Nikoläiev, and Andrusevich sat down to cards, and with a deep
and sorrowful sigh, Lieschtschenko stationed himself, as usual, behind
the players. Nikoläiev refused to join the game, and stood out for some
time, but gave way at last. As he sat down he looked about him several
times in evident anxiety, searching with his eyes for Shurochka, but the
gleam of the fire blinded him, and a scowling, worried expression became
fixed on his face.

Romashov pursued a narrow path amongst the trees. He neither understood
nor knew what was awaiting him, but he felt in his heart a vaguely
oppressive but, nevertheless, delicious anguish whilst waiting for
something that was to happen. He stopped. Behind him he heard a slight
rustling of branches, and, after that, the sound of quick steps and the
_frou-frou_ of a silken skirt. Shurochka was approaching him with
hurried steps. She resembled a dryad when, in her white dress, she
glided softly forth between the dark trunks of the mighty oaks. Romashov
went up and embraced her without uttering a word. Shurochka was
breathing heavily and in gasps. Her warm breath often met Romashov's
cheeks and lips, and he felt beneath his hand her heart's violent
throbs.

"Let's sit here," whispered Shurochka.

She sank down on the grass, and began with both hands to arrange her
hair at the back. Romashov laid himself at her feet, but, as the ground
just there sloped downwards, he saw only the soft and delicate outlines
of her neck and chin.

Suddenly she said to him in a low, trembling voice--

"Romochka, are you happy?"

"Yes--happy," he answered. Then, after reviewing in his mind, for an
instant, all the events of that day, he repeated fervently: "Oh, yes--so
happy, but tell me why you are to-day so, so?..."

"So? What do you mean?"

She bent lower towards him, gazed into his eyes, and all her lovely
countenance was for once visible to Romashov.

"Wonderful, divine Shurochka, you have never been so beautiful as now.
There is something about you that sings and shines--something new and
mysterious which I cannot understand. But, Alexandra Petrovna, don't be
angry now at the question. Are you not afraid that some one may come?"

She smiled without speaking, and that soft, low, caressing laugh aroused
in Romashov's heart a tremor of ineffable bliss.

"My dearest Romochka--my good, faint-hearted, simple, timorous
Romochka--have I not already told you that this day is ours? Think only
of that, Romochka. Do you know why I am so brave and reckless to-day?
No, you do not know the reason. Well, it's because I am in love with you
to-day--nothing else. No, no--don't, please, get any false notions into
your head. To-morrow it will have passed."

Romashov tried to take her in his arms.

"Alexandra Petrovna--Shurochka--Sascha,"[18] he moaned beseechingly.

"Don't call me Shurochka--do you hear? I don't like it. Anything but
that. By the way," she stopped abruptly as if considering something,
"what a charming name you have--Georgi. It's much prettier than
Yuri--oh, much, much, much prettier. Georgi," she pronounced the name
slowly with an accent on each syllable as though it afforded her delight
to listen to the sound of every letter in the word. "Yes, there is a
proud ring about that name."

"Oh, my beloved," Romashov exclaimed, interrupting her with passionate
fervour.

"Wait and listen. I dreamt of you last night--a wonderful, enchanting
dream. I dreamt we were dancing together in a very remarkable room. Oh,
I should at any time recognize that room in its minutest details. It was
lighted by a red lamp that shed its radiance on handsome rugs, a bright
new cottage piano, and two windows with drawn red curtains. All within
was red. An invisible orchestra played, we danced close-folded in each
other's arms. No, no. It's only in dreams that one can come so
intoxicatingly close to the object of one's love. Our feet did not touch
the floor; we hovered in the air in quicker and quicker circles, and
this ineffably delightful enchantment lasted so very, very long. Listen,
Romochka, do you ever fly in your dreams?"

Romashov did not answer immediately. He was in an exquisitely beautiful
world of wonders, at the same time magic and real. And was not all this
then merely a dream, a fairy tale? This warm, intoxicating spring night;
these dark, silent, listening trees; this rare, beautiful, white-clad
woman beside him. He only succeeded, after a violent effort of will, in
coming back to consciousness and reality.

"Yes, sometimes, but, with every passing year my flight gets weaker and
lower. When I was a child, I used to fly as high as the ceiling, and how
funny it seemed to me to look down on the people on the floor. They
walked with their feet up, and tried in vain to reach me with the long
broom. I flew off, mocking them with my exultant laughter. But now the
force in my wings is broken," added Romashov, with a sigh. "I flap my
wings about for a few strokes, and then fall flop on the floor."

Shurochka sank into a semi-recumbent position, with her elbow resting on
the ground and her head resting in the palm of her hand. After a few
moments' silence she continued in an absent tone--

"This morning, when I awoke, a mad desire came over me to meet you. So
intense was my longing that I do not know what would have happened if
you had not come. I almost think I should have defied convention, and
looked you up at your house. That was why I told you not to come before
five o'clock. I was afraid of myself. Darling, do you understand me
now?"

Hardly half an _arshin_ from Romashov's face lay her crossed feet--two
tiny feet in very low shoes, and stockings clocked with white embroidery
in the form of an arrow over the instep. With his temples throbbing and
a buzzing in his ears, he madly pressed his eager lips against this
elastic, live, cool part of her body, which he felt through the
stocking.

"No, Romochka--stop." He heard quite close above his head her weak,
faltering, and somewhat lazy voice.

Romashov raised his head. Once more he was the fairy-tale prince in the
wonderful wood. In scattered groups along the whole extensive slope in
the dark grass stood the ancient, solemn oaks, motionless, but attentive
to every sound that disturbed Nature's holy, dream-steeped slumbers.
High up, above the horizon and through the dense mass of tree trunks and
crests, one could still discern a slender streak of twilight glow, not,
as usual, light red or changing into blue, but of dark purple hue,
reminiscent of the last expiring embers in the hearth, or the dull
flames of deep red wine drawn out by the sun's rays. And as it were,
framed in all this silent magnificence, lay a young, lovely, white-clad
woman--a dryad lazily reclining.

Romashov came closer to her. To him it seemed as if from Shurochka's
countenance there streamed a pale, faint radiance. He could not
distinguish her eyes; he only saw two large black spots, but he felt
that she was gazing at him steadily.

"This is a poem, a fairy-tale--a fairy-tale," he whispered, scarcely
moving his lips.

"Yes, my friend, it is a fairy-tale."

He began to kiss her dress; he hid his face in her slender, warm,
sweet-smelling hand, and, at the same time, stammered in a hollow
voice--

"Sascha--I love you--love you."

When she now raised herself somewhat up, he clearly saw her eyes, black,
piercing, now unnaturally dilated, at another moment closed altogether,
by which the whole of her face was so strangely altered that it became
unrecognizable. His eager, thirsty lips sought her mouth, but she turned
away, shook her head sadly, and at last whispered again and again--

"No, no, no, my dear, my darling--not that."

"Oh, my adored one, what bliss--I love you," Romashov again interrupted
her, intoxicated with love. "See, this night--this silence, and no one
here, save ourselves. Oh, my happiness, how I love you!"

But again she replied, "No, no," and sank back into her former attitude
on the grass. She breathed heavily. At last she said in a scarcely
audible voice, and it was plain that every word cost her a great effort:

"Romochka, it's a pity that you are so weak. I will not deny that I feel
myself drawn to you, and that you are dear to me, in spite of your
awkwardness, your simple inexperience of life, your childish and
sentimental tenderness. I do not say I love you, but you are always in
my thoughts, in my dreams, and your presence, your caresses set my
senses, my thoughts, working. But why are you always so pitiable?
Remember that pity is the sister of contempt. You see it is unfortunate
I cannot look up to you. Oh, if you were a strong, purposeful man----"
She took off Romashov's cap and put her fingers softly and caressingly
through his soft hair. "If you could only win fame--a high
position----"

"I promise to do so; I will do so," exclaimed Romashov, in a strained
voice. "Only be mine, come to me ... all my life shall...."

She interrupted him with a tender and sorrowful smile, of which there
was an echo in her voice.

"I believe you, dear; I believe you mean what you say, and I also know
you will never be able to keep your promise. Oh, if I could only cherish
the slightest hope of that, I would abandon everything and follow you.
Ah, Romochka, my handsome boy, I call to mind a certain legend which
tells how God from the beginning created every human being whole, but
afterwards broke it into two pieces and threw the bits broadcast into
the world. And ever afterward the one half seeks in vain its fellow.
Dear, we are both exactly two such unhappy creatures. With us there are
so many sympathies, antipathies, thoughts, dreams, and wishes in common.
We understand each other by means of only half a hint, half a word--nay,
even without words. And yet our ways must lie apart. Alas! this is now
the second time in my life----"

"Yes, I know it."

"Has he told you this?" asked Shurochka eagerly.

"No; it was only by accident I got to know it."

They were both silent. In the sky the first stars began to light up and
display themselves to the eye as little, trembling, emerald, sparkling
points. From the right you might hear a weak echo of voices, laughter
and the strains of a song; but in all the rest of the wood, which was
sunk in soft, caressing darkness, reigned a deep, mysterious silence.
The great blazing pyre was not visible from this spot in the woods, but
the crests from the nearest oaks now and then reflected the flaming red
glow that, by its rapid changes from darkness to light, reminded one of
distant and vivid sheet-lightning. Shurochka softly and silently
caressed Romashov's hair and face. When he succeeded in seizing her
fingers between his lips, she herself pressed the palm of her hand
against his mouth.

"I do not love my husband," she said slowly and in an absent voice. "He
is rough, indelicate, and devoid of any trace of fine feeling. Ah, I
blush when I speak of it--we women never forget how a man first takes
forcible possession of us. Besides, he is so insanely jealous. Even
to-day he worries me about that wretched Nasanski. He forces confessions
from me, and makes the most insignificant events of those times the
ground for the wildest conclusions. Ah--shame, he has unblushingly dared
to put the most disgusting questions to me. Good God! all that was only
an innocent, childish romance, but the mere mention of Nasanski's name
makes him furious."

Now and then, whilst she spoke, a nervous trembling was noticeable in
her voice, and her hand, still continuing its caress, was thrilled, as
it were, by a shudder.

"Are you cold?" asked Romashov.

"No, dear--not at all," she replied gently. "The night is so
bewitchingly beautiful, you know." Suddenly, with a burst of
uncontrollable passion, she exclaimed, "Oh, my beloved, how sweet to be
here with you."

Romashov took her hand, softly caressed the delicate fingers, and said
in a shy, diffident tone:

"Tell me, I beg you. You have just said yourself that you do not love
your husband. Why, then, do you live together?"

She arose with a rapid movement, sat up, and began nervously to pass her
hands over her forehead and cheeks, as if she had awakened from a dream.

"It's late; let us go. Perhaps they are even now looking for us," she
answered in a calm and completely altered voice.

They got up from the grass, and both stood for a while silent, listening
to each other's breathings, eye to eye, but with lowered gaze.

"Good-bye," she suddenly cried in a silvery voice. "Good-bye, my
bliss--my brief bliss."

She twined her arms round his neck and pressed her moist, burning-hot
lips to his mouth. With clenched teeth and a sigh of intense passion she
pressed her body to his. To Romashov's eyes the black trunks of the oaks
seemed to reel and softly bend towards the ground, where the objects ran
into each other and disappeared before his eyes. Time stood still....

By a violent jerk she released herself from his arms, and said in a firm
voice:

"Farewell--enough. Let us go."

Romashov without a sound sank down on the grass at her feet, embracing
her knees, and pressing his lips against her dress in long, hot kisses.

"Sascha--Saschenka," he whispered, having now lost all self-command,
"have pity on me."

"Get up, Georgi Alexandrovich! Come--they might take us unawares. Let us
return to the others."

They proceeded on their way in the direction from which they heard the
sound of voices. Romashov's temples throbbed, his knees gave way, and
he stumbled like a drunken man.

"No, I will not," Shurochka answered at last in a fevered, panting
voice. "I will not betray him. Besides, it would be something even worse
than betrayal--it would be cowardice. Cowardice enters into every
betrayal. I'll tell you the whole truth. I have never deceived my
husband, and I shall remain faithful to him until the very moment when I
shall release myself from him--for ever. His kisses and caresses are
disgusting to me, and listen, now--no, even before--when I thought of
you and your kisses, I understood what ineffable bliss it would be to
surrender myself wholly to the man I love. But to steal such a
joy--never. I hate deceit and treacherous ways."

They were approaching the spot where the picnic had taken place, and the
flames from the pyre shone from between the trees, the coarse,
bark-covered trunks of which were sharply outlined against the fire, and
looked as if they were molten in some black metal.

"Well," resumed Romashov, "if I shake off my sluggishness, if I succeed
in attaining the same goal as that for which your husband is striving,
or perhaps even something still higher--would you then ...?"

She pressed her cheek hard against his shoulder, and answered
impetuously and passionately--

"Yes, then, then!"

They gained the open. All the vast, burning pyre was visible; around it
a crowd of small, dark figures were moving.

"Listen, Romochka, to still another last word." Shurochka spoke fast,
and there was a note of sorrow and anguish in her voice. "I did not
like to spoil this evening for you, but now it must be told. You must
not call at my house any more."

He stopped abruptly before her with a look of intense astonishment. "Not
call? But tell me the reason, Sascha. What has happened?"

"Come, come; I don't know, but somebody is writing anonymous letters to
my husband. He has not shown them to me, only casually mentioned several
things about them. The foulest and most disgusting stories are being
manufactured about you and me. In short, I beg you not to come to us any
more."

"Sascha," he moaned, as he stretched out his arms to her.

"O my friend, my dearest and most beloved. Who will suffer more from
this than I? But it is unavoidable. And listen to this, too. I am afraid
he is going to speak to you about this. I beseech you, for God's sake,
not to lose your temper. Promise me you won't."

"That is all right; don't be afraid," Romashov replied in a gloomy tone.

"That is all. Farewell, poor friend. Give me your hand once more and
squeeze mine tight, quite tight, till it hurts. Oh! good-bye, darling,
darling."

They separated without going closer to the fire. Shurochka walked
straight up the slope. Romashov took a devious path downwards along the
shore. The card-playing was still going on, but their absence had been
remarked, and when Romashov approached the fire, Ditz greeted him so
insolently, and with such a vulgar attack of coughing in order to draw
attention, that Romashov could hardly restrain himself from flinging a
firebrand at his face.

Directly after this he noticed that Nikoläiev left his game, took
Shurochka aside, and talked to her for some time with angry gestures and
looks of hatred. Suddenly she pulled herself together, and answered him
in a few words with an indescribable expression of indignation and
contempt on her features. And that big, strong man all at once
shrivelled up humbly in her presence, like a whipped hound which
obediently goes its way, but gnashes its teeth with suppressed fury.

The party broke up soon after this. The night felt chilly, and a raw
mist rose from the little river. The common stock of good humour and
merriment had long been exhausted, and all separated, weary, drowsy, and
without hiding their yawns. Romashov was soon once more sitting in his
trap, opposite the Misses Michin, but he never uttered a word during the
course of the journey. Before his mind's eye still stood the mighty dark
and silent trees and the blood-red sunset over the brow of the woodland
hill. There, too, in the soft, scented grass, he saw beside him a female
shape robed in white, but during all his intense, consuming pain and
longing, he did not fail to say of himself, pathetically--

"And over his handsome countenance swept a cloud of sorrow."



XIV


In May the regiment went into camp, which, year after year, was pitched
in the same spot outside the town, and not far from the railway. The
young officers had, whilst the camp was on, according to the
regulations, to live in wooden barracks near their respective companies;
but Romashov continued to enjoy his own dwelling in the town, as the
officers' barracks of the 6th Company had long been in a ruinous and
uninhabitable condition, on account of there being no money available
for repairs. Every day he had to journey four times between the town and
the camp. In the morning off to the camp for drill, thence back to the
officers' mess in the town for his dinner; after that, off to the
afternoon exercises, and, finally, at night, his last walk back to his
home. This fatiguing life was seriously affecting his health. After the
first fortnight he began to get thin and hollow-eyed, and soon lost the
fresh colour of his cheeks.

Even the rest, officers as well as men, fared little better.
Preparations were being made for the great General Review, and nobody
ventured to speak of fatigue or weariness. The Captains of companies
exhausted the utmost strength of their men by two or three hours' extra
drill every day. During all the drill the smacking sound of ears being
boxed and other maltreatment was heard all over the plain. More than
once Romashov noticed how the Captains, in a furious rage, like wild
beasts, attacked the poor recruits, and boxed the ears of the entire
line from first to last; but, nevertheless, the "non-coms." displayed
the greatest cruelty. They punished with unbridled rage the slightest
mistake in marching or manual exercise; teeth were knocked out, drums of
the ears were broken, and the defenceless victims were thrown down
senseless. But none of all these martyrs ever entertained the thought of
drawing a sword. It was just as if the whole regiment had become the
prey of a wild hypnosis or had been attacked by nightmare. And all these
terrors and sufferings were multiplied by a fearful heat, for May this
year was unusually hot.

Wherever you went an unnatural nervousness was discernible. The most
absurd quarrels would, all of a sudden, break out during meals at the
officers' mess. They insulted each other, and sought quarrels without
rhyme or reason. The soldiers, with their sunken cheeks and sallow eyes,
looked like idiots. Never, during the few hours' rest they were allowed
to enjoy, was a laugh heard from the tents; never a joke. At night,
after bugle-call, the rank and file were ordered to get into line for
games and singing, and with an absolutely apathetic expression of voice
and features they howled the old campsong--

    "Oh, the gallant Russian soldier,
     Fear with him can find no place;
     He, when bombs are bursting round him,
     Calls them 'brother' to their face."

Then a dance would be played on the harmonium, and the ensign would roar
out--

"Gregorash, Skvortzov, up and dance, you hounds!"

The two recruits obeyed the order without a murmur, but in both their
song and dance there lay something dead, mechanical, and resigned, at
which one was inclined to weep.

Only in the 5th Company were they easy-going and free, and there the
drills began every day an hour later than the rest and were concluded an
hour earlier. You might have fancied that every member of it had been
specially chosen, for they all looked lively, well-fed. The lads of the
5th Company looked their officers bravely and openly in the face, and
the very _rubashka_[19] was worn with a certain aristocratic elegance.
Their commander, Stelikovski--a very eccentric old bachelor and
comparatively rich (he drew from some unknown quarter two hundred
roubles every month), was of an independent character, with a dry
manner, who stood aloof from his comrades, and lastly, was in bad odour
on account of his dissolute life. He attracted and hired young girls
from the lower class, often minors, and these he paid handsomely, and
sent back to their native places after the lapse of a month. Corporal
punishment--nay, even threats and insulting words--were strictly
forbidden in his company, although, as far as that goes, there was by no
means any coddling of the men, who, however, in appearance, and
readiness, and capability, were not inferior to any company of guardsmen
in existence. Being himself masterful, cool, and self-reliant in the
highest degree, he was also able to implant those qualities firmly in
his subordinates. What, in other companies, could not be attained after
a whole week's drill amid threats, yells, and oaths, blows and stripes,
Stelikovski attained with the greatest calm in a single day. He was a
man of few words, seldom raised his voice, and when, on occasion, he did
speak, the soldiers stood as if carved in stone. Among the officers he
was shunned and hated, but worshipped by his men--a state of things
that, most certainly, was unique in the whole of the Russian Army.

At length the 15th of May arrived, when the Great Review, ordered by the
Brigadier-General, was to take place. In all the companies, except the
5th, the non-coms. had their men drawn up by 4 a.m. The poor, tortured,
drowsy, gaping soldiers were trembling as though with cold in their
coarse shirts, although the air was mild and balmy and the weather
serene, and their gloomy, depressed glances and sallow, greyish, chalky
faces gave a painful impression in the gleaming, bright summer morning.

When the clock struck six, the officers began to join their companies.
The regiment had not to be assembled and in line before 10 a.m., but,
with the exception of Stelikovski, not one of the Captains thought of
letting their poor wearied soldiers have their proper sleep and gain
strength for the toils awaiting them that day. On the contrary, never
had their fussiness and zeal been greater than on this morning. The air
was thick with oaths, threats, and insults; ear-boxing, slaps on the
mouth, kicks, and blows with the fist rained down, at each slightest
blunder, on the miserable, utterly exhausted soldiers.

At 9 a.m. the companies marched to the parade-ground, about five hundred
paces in front of the camp. Sixteen outposts, provided with small,
multi-coloured flags for signalling, were stationed in an absolutely
straight line about half a verst long, so as to mark out, with
mathematical accuracy, the points where each company's right wing should
be placed at the parade past the Brigadier-General. Lieutenant Kováko,
who had been allotted this highly important task, was, of course, one of
the heroes of the day, and, conscious of this, he galloped, like a
madman--red, perspiring, and with his cap on his neck--backwards and
forwards along the line, shouting and swearing, and also belabouring
with his sabre the ribs of his lean white charger. The poor beast, grown
grey with age and having a cataract in its right eye, waved its short
tail convulsively. Yes, on Lieutenant Kováko and his outposts depended
the whole regiment's weal and woe, for it was he who bore the awful
responsibility of the sixteen companies' respective "gaps" and
"dressing."

Precisely at ten minutes to 10 a.m., the 5th Company marched out of
camp. With brisk, long, measured steps, that made the earth tremble,
these hundred men marched past all the other companies and took their
place in the line. They formed a splendid, select corps; lithe, muscular
figures with straight backs and brave bearing, clean, shining faces, and
the little peakless cap tipped coquettishly over the right ear. Captain
Stelikovski--a little thin man, displaying himself in tremendously wide
breeches--carelessly promenaded, without troubling himself in the least
about the time his troops kept when marching, five paces on the side of
the right flank, peering amusedly, and now and then shaking his head
whimsically now to the right, now to the left, as though to control the
troops' "dressing" and attention. Colonel Liech, the commander of the
battalion, who, like the rest of the officers, had been, ever since
dawn, in a state of examination-fever and nervous irritability, rushed
up to Stelikovski with furious upbraidings for having "come too late."
The latter slowly and coolly took out his watch, glanced at it, and
replied in a dry, almost contemptuous tone:

"The commander of the regiment ordered me to be here by ten o'clock. It
still wants three minutes to that hour. I do not consider I am justified
in worrying and exerting my men unnecessarily."

"Don't, if you please," croaked Liech, gesticulating and pulling his
reins. "I must ask you to be silent when your superior officer makes a
remark."

But he only too well understood that he was wrong and would get the
worst of it, and he rode quickly on, and visited his wrath on the 8th
Company, whose officers had ordered the knapsacks to be opened.

"What the deuce are you about? What is this foolery? Are you thinking of
opening a bazaar or a general shop? This is just like beginning a hunt
by cramming the hounds with food. Close your knapsacks and put them on
quickly. You ought to have thought of this before."

At a quarter to eleven they began dressing the companies on the lines
laid down. This was for all a very minute, tedious, and troublesome
task. Between the _échelons_ long ropes were tightly stretched along the
ground. Every soldier in the front rank was obliged to see, with the
most painful accuracy, that his toes just grazed the tightly-stretched
rope, for in that lay the fundamental condition of the faultless
dressing of the long front. Moreover, the distance between the toes,
like the breadth of the gun-stock and the somewhat inclined position of
the upper part of the body, had to be the same along the whole line.
While anxiously superintending these details the Captains often flew
into a towering rage. Frantic shouts and angry words of command were
heard everywhere: "Ivanoff, more forward, you--Syaroschtan, right
shoulder forward, left back!"

At 10.30 a.m. the commander of the regiment arrived. He rode on a
powerful chestnut-brown gelding with white legs. Colonel Shulgovich was
an imposing, almost majestic, figure on horseback. He had a firm "seat,"
although he rode in infantry style, with stirrups far too short. In
greeting his regiment he yelled in his tremendous voice, in which a
certain jubilant heroic note in honour of the occasion was audible--

"Good morning, my fine fellows."

Romashov, who remembered his 4th platoon and especially Kliabnikov's
wretched appearance, could not refrain from smiling. "Pretty choice
specimens, in all truth," thought he.

The standards were unfurled amidst the strident notes of the regimental
band. After this came a long and trying moment. Straight away to the
station, from which the Brigadier-General was expected, were posted a
number of signallers who, by certain arranged signs, were to prepare the
regiment for the approach of the Generals. More than once they were
disturbed by a false alarm. The loose, slack ropes were once more
tightened in mad haste, "dressings" and "lines" were ordered, and all
stood for several minutes at the most painful "attention," until
weariness once more asserted its claims, and the poor soldiers
collapsed, yet, at the very last, striving to keep the position of their
feet, at any rate, unmoved. Out in the plain, about three hundred paces
off, the ladies displayed their clothes, parasols, and hats of
variegated and loud colours. Romashov knew very well that Shurochka was
not in that bright, festive group. But every time he glanced in that
direction he felt, as it were, an icy-cold shudder in the region of his
heart, and his quick, nervous breathing bore witness to a strong inward
excitement.

Suddenly, like a strong gust of wind, a rumour ran through the ranks,
and a timorous cry was heard: "He's coming; he's coming!" It was clear
to all that the important, eventful moment was approaching. The
soldiers, who had been since dawn the victims of the prevailing
excitement, dressed in their ranks without orders, but with a certain
nervous haste, and became rigid in apparently lifeless immobility. Now
and then a nervous coughing was heard.

"Ranks, attention!" rang out Shulgovich's order.

Romashov, glancing to the right, discovered, at a good distance down the
plain, a small but dense group of horsemen who, now and then obscured
for an instant by a faint yellow cloud of dust, were rapidly approaching
the front. Shulgovich rode, with a severe and solemn countenance, from
his place in front of the middle company, right out into the plain, most
certainly a good fourth further than the regulations demanded. The
tremendous importance of the moment was reflected in his features. With
a gesture of noble dignity, he first glanced upwards, then calmed the
dark, motionless mass of soldiers by a glance, withering, it is true,
but mingled with tremulous exultation, and then let his stentorian voice
roll over the plain, when commanding--

"Attention! Should--er----"

He purposely kept back the last syllable of that longest word of
command--the so-called "effective" word, just as if an infinite power
and sanctity lay hidden in the pronunciation of those few wretched
letters. His countenance became a bluish-red, the veins in his neck were
strained like thick cords, and, finally, the releasing word was
discernible in the wild-beast-like roar--

"---- arms!"

One--two. A thousand slamming and rattling of hard blows from soldiers'
fists on the stocks of their rifles, and the violent contact of locks
with the coarse metal clasps of belts echoed through the air. At the
same moment the electrifying strains of the regimental march were
audible from the right wing. Like wild, excited, undisciplined children
let loose, the flutes and cornets ran riot, trying by their shrill,
ear-piercing voices to drown the coarse bellowing of trombones and
ophicleides, whilst the thunder of drums and kettledrums, warning and
threatening, exhorted frivolous, thoughtless young men of the
consideration due to the seriousness and supreme importance of the
moment. From the station there rang out, almost like a soothing
piccolo-strain, the whistle of the engine, mingling harmoniously with
the joyful music of the band.

Romashov suddenly felt himself caught, as it were, by a mighty, roaring
wave that, irresistibly and exultingly, carried him away. With a
sensation of joy and courage such as he had never experienced before,
his glance met the sun's gold-steeped rays, and it seemed to him as if,
at that moment, he was, for the first time, conscious of the blue sky
paled by the heat, and the warm verdure of the plain that disappeared in
the far distance. For once he felt young and strong and eager to
distinguish himself; proud, too, of belonging to this magnificent,
motionless, imposing mass of men, gathered together and quelled by an
invisible, mysterious will.

Shulgovich, with his sabre drawn to a level with his face, rode in a
ponderous gallop to meet the General.

Directly the band's rough martial, triumphant strains had ceased, the
General's calm, musical voice rang out--

"Good-day, 1st Company."

The soldiers answered his salutation promptly and joyfully. Again the
locomotive made its voice heard, but this time in the form of a sharp,
defiant signal. The Brigadier-General rode slowly along the line,
saluting the companies in their proper order. Romashov could already
distinguish his heavy, obese figure with the thin linen jacket turned up
in deep folds across his chest and fat belly; his big square face turned
towards the troops; the gorgeous saddle-cloth with his monogram
embroidered in bright colours, the majestic grey charger, the ivory
rings on the martingale, and patent-leather riding boots.

"Good-day, 6th Company."

The soldiers round Romashov replied with a shout that was pretty nearly
destructive both to throats and ear-drums. The General sat his horse
with the careless grace of an accomplished rider. His noble charger,
with the gentle, steadfast glance from his handsome, though slightly
bloodshot eyes, tugged hard at its bit, from which, now and then, a few
white foam-drops fell to the ground, and careered gently on with short,
quick, dancing steps.

"He's grey about the temples, but his moustache is black--dyed,
perhaps," was Romashov's reflection just then.

Through his gold-rimmed _pince-nez_ the General answered with his dark,
clever, youthful and satirically questioning eyes the soldiers' glances
directed at him. When he came up to Romashov he touched the peak of his
cap with his hand. Romashov stood quite still, with every muscle
strained in the most correct attitude of "attention," and he clasped the
hilt of his sabre with such a hard, crushing grip that it almost caused
him pain. A shudder of infinite, enthusiastic devotion rushed through
his whole being, and whilst looking fixedly at the General's face, he
thought to himself in his old naïve, childish way--

"The grey-haired old warrior's glances noted with delight the young
ensign's slender, well-built figure."

The General continued his slow ride along the front, saluting company
after company. Behind him moved his suite--a promiscuous, resplendent
group of staff officers, whose horses shone with profuse rubbing down
and dressing. Romashov glanced at them, too, benevolently, but not one
of them took the slightest notice of him. These spoilt favourites of
fortune had long since had more than enough of parades, reviews, and the
boundless enthusiasm of little, insignificant infantry officers, and
Romashov felt in his heart a bitter, rebellious feeling at the thought
that these superior people belonged to a world quite beyond his reach.

The band suddenly received a sign to stop playing. The General returned
at a sharp trot to the right wing, and after him, in a long, variegated
line, his mounted suite. Colonel Shulgovich galloped off to the 1st
Company. Pulling his reins and throwing all his enormous body back in
the saddle, he yelled in a hoarse and trembling voice--

"Captain Osadchi, advance company. Quick, march!"

Between the commander of the regiment and Captain Osadchi there was an
incessant rivalry, during drill hours, to outdo each other in lung
power, and not many seconds elapsed before the latter was heard to order
in his mighty, rolling bass--

"Company, shoulder arms! Dress in the middle. Forward, march!" Osadchi
had, with fearful sacrifice of time and labour, succeeded in introducing
in his company a new kind of marching. This consisted in the soldiers
raising their foot high in the air in very slow time, and afterwards
putting it down on the ground with the greatest possible force. This
wonderful and imposing manner of moving along the ground excited not
only much interest, but also a certain envy among the other captains of
companies.

But the 1st Company had hardly marched fifty paces before they heard the
General's angry and impatient voice exclaim--

"What the deuce is this? Halt with the company. Halt, halt! Come here to
me, Captain. Tell me, sir, what in the name of goodness that is supposed
to represent. Is it a funeral or a torch procession? Say. March in
three-time. Listen, sir, we're not living in the days of Nicholas, when
a soldier served for twenty-five years. How many precious days have you
wasted in practising this _corps de ballet_? Answer me."

Osadchi stood gloomy, still and silent before his angry chief, with his
drawn sabre pointing to the ground. The General was silent for an
instant, and then resumed his harangue with an expression of sorrow and
irony in his voice--

"By this sort of insanity you will soon succeed in extinguishing the
last spark of life in your soldiers. Don't you think so yourself? Oh,
you luckless ghosts from Ivan the Cruel's days! But enough of this.
Allow me instead to ask you, Captain, the name of this young lad."

"Ignati Mikhailovich, your Excellency," replied Osadchi in the dry,
sepulchral, regulation voice.

"Well and good. But what do you know about him? Is he a bachelor, or has
he a wife and children? Perhaps he has some trouble at home? Or he is
very poor? Answer me."

"I can't say, your Excellency? I have a hundred men under my command. It
is hard to remember all about them."

"Hard to remember, did you say?" repeated the General in a sad and
serious voice. "Ah, gentlemen, gentlemen. You must certainly know what
the Scripture says: 'Do not destroy the soul,' and what are you doing?
That poor, grey, wretched creature standing there, may, perhaps, some
day, in the hour of battle, protect you by his body, carry you on his
shoulders out of a hail of bullets, may, with his ragged cloak, protect
you against snow and frost, and yet you have nothing to say about him,
but 'I can't say!'"

In his nervous excitement the General pulled in the reins and shouted
over Osadchi's head, in an angry voice, to the commander of the
regiment--

"Colonel, get this company out of my way. I have had enough. Nothing but
marionettes and blockheads."

From that moment the fate of the regiment was sealed. The terrified
soldiers' absolute exhaustion, the non-coms.' lunatical cruelty, the
officers' incapacity, indifference, and laziness--all this came out
clearly as the review proceeded. In the 2nd Company the soldiers did not
even know the Lord's Prayer. In the 3rd, the officers ran like wild
fowls when the company was to be drilled in "open order." In the 4th,
the manual exercise was below criticism, etc. The worst of all was,
however, that none of the companies, with the exception of the 5th, knew
how to meet a sudden charge of cavalry. Now, this was precisely the
General's hobby; he had published independently copious instructions on
this, in which he pointed out minutely the vital importance of the
troops' mobility and quickness, and of their leader's resolution and
deliberation.

After each company had in turn been reviewed, the General commanded the
officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned, to go out of ear-shot,
after which he questioned the soldiers with regard to their wishes and
grounds of complaint; but everywhere he met with the same good-humoured
reply: "Satisfied with everything, your Excellency." When that question
was put to No. 1 Company, Romashov heard an ensign in it remark in a
threatening voice--

"Just let me hear any one daring to complain; I'll give him
'complaints'!"

For the 5th Company only was the whole review a complete triumph. The
brave, young, lusty soldiers executed all their movements with life and
energy, and with such facility, mobility, and absence of all pedantry
that the whole of the review seemed to officers and men, not a severe,
painful examination, but like a jolly and amusing game. The General
smiled his satisfaction, and soon could not refrain from a "Well done,
my lads"--the first words of approval he uttered during the whole time.

When, however, the ominous pretended charge was to be met, Stelikovski
literally took the old General by storm. The General himself started the
exercise by suddenly shouting to the commander of the company: "Cavalry
from the right, eight hundred paces." Stelikovski formed, without a
second's hesitation and with the greatest calm and precision, his
company to meet the supposed enemy, which seemed to approach at a
furious gallop. With compactly closed ranks--the fore-rank in a kneeling
position--the troops fired two or three rounds, immediately after which
was heard the fateful command: "Quick fire!"

"Thanks, my children," cried the old General joyously--"that's the way
it should be done. Thanks, thanks."

After the oral examination the company was drawn up in open file; but
the General delayed his final dismissal. It was as if it seemed hard to
him to say good-bye to this company. Passing as slowly as possible along
the front, he observed every soldier with particular and deep interest,
and a very delighted smile gleamed through the _pince-nez_ from the
clever eyes beneath the heavy, prominent eyebrows. Suddenly he stopped
his charger, turned round on his saddle to the head of his staff, and
exclaimed--

"No; come here and look, Colonel, what muzzles the rascals have. What do
you feed them on, Captain? Pies? Hi, you thick nose" (he pointed to a
young soldier in the ranks), "your name's Kovál?"

"Mikhail Borichuk, your Excellency," boldly replied the young recruit
with a frank, happy smile.

"Oh, you scamp, I thought you were called Kovál. Well, this time I was
out of my reckoning," said the General in fun, "but there's no harm
done; better luck next time," he added, with the same good-humour.

At these words the soldier's countenance puckered in a broad grin.

"No, your Excellency, you are not wrong at all," shouted the soldier in
a raised voice. "At home, in the village, I am employed as a farrier,
and, therefore, they call me Kovál."

The General nodded in delight, and he was evidently very proud of his
memory. "Well, Captain, is he a good soldier?"

"Very good, General. All my soldiers are good," replied Stelikovski in
his usual confident tone.

The General's eyebrows were knitted, but his lips kept smiling, and the
crabbed old face gradually resumed its light and friendly expression.
"Well, well, Captain; we will see about that. How is the
punishment-list?"

"Your Excellency, for five years not a single man in my company has been
punished."

The General bent forward heavily and held out to Stelikovski his hairy
hand in the white, unbuttoned glove that had slipped down to the
knuckles.

"I heartily thank you, my friend," he replied in a trembling voice, and
tears glistened in his eyes. The General, like many old warriors, liked,
now and then, to shed a slight tear. "Again my thanks for having given
an old man pleasure. And you, too, my brave boys, accept my thanks," he
shouted in a loud and vigorous voice to the soldiers.

Thanks to the good impression left behind from Stelikovski's
inspection, the review of the 6th Company also went off nearly
satisfactorily; the General did certainly not bestow praise, but neither
were any reproaches heard. At the bayonet attack on the straw mannikin
this company even went astray.

"Not that way, not that way, not that way!" screamed the General,
shaking with wrath in the saddle. "Hold, stop! that's damnable. You go
to work as if you were making a hole in soft bread. Listen, boys. That's
not the way to deal with an enemy. The bayonet should be driven in
forcibly and furiously right in the waist up to the muzzle of your
rifle. Don't forget."

The remaining companies made, one after the other, a hopeless "hash" of
everything. At last the General's outburst of anger ceased. Tired and
listless, he watched the miserable spectacle with gloomy looks, and,
without uttering a word, he entirely excused himself from inspecting the
15th and 16th Companies, exclaiming with a gesture of disgust--

"Enough, enough of such abortions."

There still remained the grand march past, and the parade. The whole
regiment was formed into columns with half companies in front, and
reduced gaps. Again the everlasting markers were ordered out to set the
line of march by their ropes. The heat was now almost unbearable, and
the soldiers could hardly bear any longer the fearful stench that exuded
from their own freely perspiring bodies.

But for the forthcoming "solemn" march past, the men now made a final
effort to pull themselves together. The officers almost besought their
subordinates to strain every nerve for this final proof of their
endurance and discipline. "Brothers, for the honour of the regiment, do
your best. Save yourselves and us from disgracing ourselves before the
General." In this humble recourse on the part of the officers to their
subordinates there lay--besides much else that was little edifying--too,
an indirect recognition of their own faults and shortcomings. The wrath
aroused in such a great personage as the General of the regiment was
felt to be equally painful and oppressive to officers and troops alike,
and it had, to some extent, a levelling effect, so that all were, in an
equally high degree, dispirited, nervous, and apathetic.

"Attention! The band in front!" ordered Colonel Shulgovich, in the far
distance.

And all these fifteen hundred human beings for a second suppressed their
faint inward murmurings; all muscles were once more strained, and again
they stood in nervous, painful expectation.

Shulgovich could not be detected by any eye, but his tremendous voice
again rang across the field--

"Stand at ease!"

Four battalion Captains turned in their saddles to their respective
divisions, and each uttered the command--

"Battalion, stand at----" after which they awaited with feverish
nervousness the word of command.

Somewhere, far away on the field, a sabre suddenly gleamed like
lightning in the air. This was the desired signal, and all the Captains
at once roared--

"---- ease!" whereupon all the regiment, with a dull thud, grounded
their rifles. Here and there was heard the click of a few unfortunate
bayonets which, in the movement, happened to clash together.

But now, at last, the solemn, never-to-be-forgotten moment had arrived,
when the commander of the regiment's tremendous lungs were to be heard
by the world in all their awful majesty. Solemnly, confidently, but, at
the same time, menacingly, like slow rumblings of thunder, the strongly
accentuated syllables rolled across the plain in the command--

"March past!"

In the next moment you might hear sixteen Captains risking their lives
in mad attempt to shout each other down, when they repeated all at
once--

"March past!"

One single poor sinner far away in detail of the column managed to come
too late. He whined in a melancholy falsetto:

"March pa--!"

The rest of the word was unfortunately lost to the men, and probably
drowned in the oaths and threats of the bystanders.

"Column in half companies!" roared Colonel Shulgovich.

"Column in half companies!" repeated the Captains.

"With double platoon--hollow!" chanted Shulgovich.

"With double platoon--hollow!" answered the choir.

"Dress-ing--ri-ight!" thundered the giant.

"Dress-ing--ri-ight!" came from the dwarfs.

Shulgovich now took breath for two or three seconds, after which he once
more gave vent to his voice of thunder in the command--

"First half company--forward--march!"

Rolling heavily through the dense ranks across the level plain came
Osadchi's dull roar--

"First half company, dress to the right--forward--march!"

Away in the front was heard the merry rattle of drums. Seen from the
rear, the column resembled a forest of bayonets which often enough waved
backwards and forwards.

"Second half company to the middle!" Romashov recognized Artschakovski's
squeaky falsetto.

A new line of bayonets assumed a leaning position and departed. The
thunder of the drums grew more and more faint, and was just about to
sink down, as it were, and be absorbed in the ground, when suddenly the
last sounds of drum-beats were dispersed by the rhythmically jubilant,
irresistible waves of music from the wind instruments. The sleepy
marching time of the companies filing past at once caught fire and life;
languid eyes and greyish cheeks regained their colour, and tired muscles
were once more braced to save the honour of the regiment.

The half companies proceeded to march, one after the other, and at every
step the soldiers' torpid spirits were revived under the influence of
the band's cheerful strains. The 1st Battalion's last company had
already got some distance when, lo! Lieutenant-Colonel Liech advanced
gently on his thin, raven-black horse, followed close at his heels by
Olisár. Both had their sabres ready for the salute, with their
sabre-hilts' knots dangling on a level with their mouths. Soon
Stelikovski's quiet, nonchalant command was heard. High above the
bayonets, the standard lorded on its long pole, and it was now the 6th
Company's turn to march. Captain Sliva stepped to the front and
inspected his men by a glance from his pale, prominent, fishy eyes. With
his miserable shrunken figure stooping, and his long arms, he had a
striking resemblance to an ugly old monkey.

"F-irst half company--forward!"

With a light and elegant step Romashov hurried to his place right in
front of the second half company's pivot. A blissful, intoxicating
feeling of pride came over him whilst he allowed his glance to glide
quickly over the first row of his division. "The old swashbuckler viewed
with an eagle's eyes the brave band of veterans," he declaimed silently,
after which in a prolonged sing-song he gave the order--

"Second half company--forward!"

"One, two," Romashov counted softly to himself, marking time with a soft
stamping on the spot. Pronouncing the word at the right moment was of
infinite importance, as upon it depended the exact carrying out of the
inexorable command that the half company should begin marching with the
proper foot, i.e., with the same foot as the preceding division, "left,
right; left, right." At last a start was made. With head erect, and
beaming with a smile of boundless happiness, he cried in a loud,
resonant voice--

"March!"

A second afterwards he made, as quick as lightning, a complete turn on
one foot towards his men, and commanded, two tones lower in the scale--

"Dress--right!"

The profound solemnity and "infinite beauty" of the moment almost took
away his breath. At that instant it seemed to him as if the music's
waves of melody surrounded him, and were changed into a seething,
blinding ocean of light and fire; as if these deafening brazen peals had
descended on him from on high, from heaven, from the sun. Even now, as
at his last never-to-be-forgotten tryst with Shurochka, he was thrilled
by a freezing, petrifying shudder that made the very hair on his head
stand up.

With joy in their voices and in time with the music, the 5th Company
replied to the General's salute. Nearer and nearer to Romashov sounded
the jubilant notes of the parade march. On the right and onwards, he
could now distinguish the General's heavy figure on his grey horse, and,
somewhat farther off, the ladies' brilliant dresses, which, in the
blinding glare of the noon-day sun, reminded him of the flaming
flower-petals in the old sagas. On the left gleamed the bandsmen's gold
instruments, and it seemed to Romashov as if, between the General and
the band, was drawn an invisible, enchanted thread, the passing of which
was combined peril and bliss.

At this moment the first half company reached "the thread."

"Good, my lads," rang the General's delighted voice. "Ah, ah, ah, ah!"
was the soldiers' rapid, joyous answer. Stronger and stronger at every
second grew the alluring influence of the parade march, and Romashov
could hardly restrain his feelings any longer. "O thou, my ideal,"
thought he of the General, with deep emotion.

The blissful moment had come. With elastic strides that scarcely touched
the ground, Romashov approached his "enchanted thread." He threw his
head bravely back with a proud and defiant twist to the left. So potent
a feeling of lightness, freedom, and bliss rushed through his being that
he fancied he could at any moment whirl himself into space. And while he
felt he was an object of delight and admiration to the eyes of all--a
centre of all the universe contains of strength, beauty, and delight, he
said to himself, as though under the witchery of a heavenly dream--

"Look, look, there goes Romashov! The ladies' eyes are shining with love
and admiration. One, two; left, right, 'Colonel Shulgovich,' shouts the
General, 'your Romashov is a priceless jewel; he must be my Adjutant.'
Left, right! One, two!"

Another second and Romashov knew he had started and passed his mystic
"thread." The parade march had changed to a joyous peal of trumpets
announcing victory. "Now comes the General's salute and thanks," thought
Romashov, and his soul returns to the regions of bliss; but he fancies
he hears the Colonel's voice and certain other voices.

"What has happened; what is the matter? Of course the General has
saluted, but why don't my men respond?--What's this?"

Romashov turned round, and his face became white. Instead of a
well-ordered troop in two lines as straight as an arrow, his men formed
a shapeless mass--a crowd--resembling a flock of sheep--of individuals
mad with imbecility and misery, pushing and jolting each other. The
cause of this was that Romashov, whilst he was in his paradisaical world
of dreams and intoxication of victory, failed to notice that, step by
step, he deviated from the line of march, and more and more approached
the right wing of his division. His trusty, unfortunate "markers"
followed close on the heels of their leader, and, of course, in
consequence of this the whole of the half company finally got into the
wildest confusion. Romashov saw all this at the very moment he became
aware that the wretched Khliabnikov was stalking, on his own account,
twenty paces behind the division, right under the very nose of the
General.

Romashov immediately let his wings droop. Covered with dust, he stood
quite still to await and collect his poor veterans, who, absolutely dead
beaten with the weight of their knapsacks and ammunition, were now
hardly able to crawl along on all-fours with one hand still grasping the
rifle and the other fumbling in the air or in the region of their
perspiring noses.

To Romashov it seemed as if the glorious May sun had suddenly lost its
radiance; as if he had been buried under an infinite weight, under sand
and gravel, and that the music that so lately sounded such triumphant
strains now rang softly and ominously in his ears, like a funeral march.
And he felt so small and weak and wretched, so loathsome in every
respect, that it was all he could do to keep himself upright on his
leaden, palsied legs.

The Colonel's Adjutant at that moment rushed up to him. Federovski's
face was as red as fire and distorted with passion. His lower jaw
trembled, and he was panting with rage and his hard riding. Even at a
distance he began shrieking like a man possessed, and uttering
inarticulate and incomprehensible words.

"Sub-lieutenant Romashov, the commander of your regiment condemns, in
the strongest terms, your behaviour to-day. Seven days' arrest in the
staff cells. What a monstrous scandal! The whole regiment--on account of
you. Oh, such an abortion!"

Romashov did not make the slightest reply, nor did he even turn his
head. And, besides, what answer could he make? Federovski had, most
certainly, a right to be furious. But the troops, the soldiers who heard
every single insulting word of the Adjutant's--what would they think?
Romashov felt at that moment a boundless hatred and contempt of
himself. "I am lost; I am dishonoured for ever. I'll shoot myself. Can I
suppose I am worthy to live! What am I? An insignificant, ridiculous,
contemptible wretch--a caricature, an ugly, disgusting, idiotic
creature. My own soldiers will laugh at me, and, behind my back, they
will make merry with nudges and secret signs, at my expense. Or,
perhaps, they will pity me. All the same, everything is lost, and
I--I'll shoot myself."

After passing the General, all the companies made a half-turn to the
left, and then went back to their original places, where they were
successively drawn up again and in open file. Whilst waiting for the
return of the last companies to march past, the men were allowed to
"stand easy," and the officers utilized the occasion to smoke a
cigarette and chat with one another. Only Romashov stood quite alone,
silent and motionless in front of his half company. He dug the earth
incessantly with the point of his sabre, and though he cast his eyes
down fixedly, he felt he was, on all sides, a mark for curious,
sarcastic, and contemptuous glances.

Captain Sliva purposely passed by Romashov without stopping except to
look at him, and spoke, as it were, to himself through his clenched
teeth, and in a voice hoarse and unrecognizable through hatred and
fury--

"Be good enough to send in to-day a request to be transferred to another
company."

A little while afterwards Viätkin came. In his kindly, frank glance and
the drawn corners of his mouth, Romashov read that expression of pity
and compassion with which people usually regard a dog that has been run
over and crushed in the street. And, at the same time, Romashov felt
with disgust that he had, half mechanically, twisted his mouth into an
unmeaning, pitiful smile.

"Yuri Alexievich," exclaimed Viätkin, "come and smoke a cigarette with
me," and with a click of the tongue and slightly throwing his head back,
he added in a despondent tone--

"Well, well, old chap!"

Romashov's chin and the corners of his mouth twitched, and a lump came
into his throat. Tears were not far off, and he replied in the faltering
and fretful voice of an aggrieved child--

"No, no; not now!--I don't want to!"

Viätkin withdrew.

"Suppose I were to go and give that fellow Sliva a bang on his ear,"
thought Romashov, buffeted here and there by his melancholy
introspections. "Or to go up to that grey-bearded General and say:
'Aren't you ashamed, at your age, to play with soldiers and torture men?
Release us from here instantly, and let us rest. For two long weeks the
soldiers have been ill-treated solely on account of you.'"

Romashov, however, remembered his own proud, stuck-up thoughts only a
brief while ago--of the young ensign as handsome as a picture, of the
ladies' ideal, of the General's favourite future Adjutant, etc.,
etc.--and he felt so much shame and pain that a deep blush overspread,
not only his face, but even his chest and back.

"You wretched, absurd, contemptible being!" he shrieked to himself in
thought. "Let all know that I shall shoot myself to-day."

       *       *       *       *       *

The review was over. The regiment had, nevertheless, to parade several
times before the General, first by companies in the ordinary march,
afterwards in quick march, and finally in close columns. The General
became a little less severe, as it were, and he even praised the
soldiers several times. At last the clock was close upon 4 p.m. Then at
length the men got a little rest whilst the officers assembled to
criticize them.

The staff-trumpeter blew a signal. "The officers are summoned to the
General," it shouted through the companies.

The officers left the ranks, and formed themselves into a dense circle
round the General, who remained on horseback, stooping and visibly
extremely tired; but he peered through his glasses as shrewdly and
scornfully as before.

"I shall be brief," said he in an abrupt and decisive tone. "The
regiment is inefficient, but that's not the fault of the soldiers, but
of the officers. When the coachman is bad the horses will not go.
Gentlemen, you have no heart, no mind or sympathy, so far as the men's
needs and interests are concerned. Don't forget, 'Blessed is he who lays
down his life for his friend.' With you there is only one thought, 'How
shall I best please the General at the review?' You treat your men like
plough horses. The appearance of the officers witnesses to moral
slovenliness and barbarism. Here and there an officer puts me in mind of
a village sexton dressed in an officer's uniform. Moreover, I will refer
to my orders of the day in writing. An ensign, belonging probably to the
sixth or seventh company, lost his head entirely and hopelessly muddled
up his division. Such a thing is a disgrace. I do not want a jog-trot
march in three-time, but, before everything else, a sound and calm
judgment."

"That last referred to me," thought Romashov, and he fancied he felt all
the glances of those present turned towards him at once. But nobody even
stirred: all stood speechless, petrified, with their eyes immovably
fixed on the General's face.

"My very heartiest thanks to the Captain of the 5th Company. Where are
you, Captain? Oh, there you are!" The General, a little theatrically,
took off his cap with both hands and bared his powerfully shaped bald
head, whilst making a profound bow to Stelikovski. "Once more I thank
you, and it is a pleasure for me to shake you by the hand. If God should
ordain that this corps is to fight under my command, remember, Captain,
that the first dangerous task belongs to you. And now, gentlemen,
good-bye. Your work for the day is finished, and it will be a pleasure
for me to see you again, but under different and more pleasing
circumstances. Make way for my horse now."

Colonel Shulgovich stepped out of the circle.

"Your Excellency, in the officers' name, I invite you respectfully to
dine at our mess. We shall be----"

"No, I see no reason for that," interrupted the General dryly. "I thank
you, as I am in duty bound to do, but I am invited to Count
Liedochovski's."

The officers cleared a way, and the General galloped off to the place
where the regiment was awaiting the officers' return.

"I thank you, my lads," he shouted lustily and kindly to the soldiers.
"I give you two days' leave. And now, off with you to your tents. Quick
march, hurrah!"

It was just as if he had, by this last brief shout, turned the whole
regiment topsy-turvy. With a deafening yell of delight, fifteen hundred
men dispersed, in an instant, in all directions, and the ground shook
beneath the feet of the fugitives.

       *       *       *       *       *

Romashov separated himself from the other officers, who returned, in
groups, to the town, and took a long circuit through the camp. He felt
just then like a banned, excommunicated fugitive; like an unworthy
member expelled from the circle of his comrades--nay, even like a
creature beyond the pale of humanity, in soul and body stunted and
despised.

When he at length found himself behind the camp, near his own mess, he
heard a few cries of sudden but restrained rage. He stood an instant and
saw how his ensign, Rynda--a small, red-faced, powerful fellow--was,
with frightful invectives and objurgations, belabouring with his fists
Khliabnikov's nose and cheeks. In the poor victim's almost bestially
dull eyes one could see an indescribable terror, and, at every blow,
Khliabnikov staggered now to the right, now to the left.

Romashov hurried away from the spot almost at running speed. In his
present state of mind, it was beyond his power to protect Khliabnikov
from further ill-treatment. It seemed to Romashov as if this wretched
soldier's fate had to-day become linked with his own. They were both, he
thought, cripples, who aroused in mankind the same feeling of compassion
and disgust. This similarity in their position certainly excited, on
Romashov's part, an intolerable feeling of shame and disgust at himself,
but also a consciousness that in this lay something singularly deep and
truly human.



XV


Only one way led from the camp to the town, viz. over the railway-line,
which at this spot crossed a deep and declivitous ravine. Romashov ran
briskly down the narrow, well-trodden, almost precipitous pathway, and
was beginning, after that, a toilsome clamber up the other slope. He had
not reached more than half-way to the top of the ravine before he
noticed a figure there in uniform with a cloak over his shoulders. After
a few seconds' close examination, Romashov recognized his friend
Nikoläiev.

"Now," thought Romashov, "comes the most disagreeable of all," and he
could not suppress a certain unpleasant feeling of anxiety; but he
continued on his way resigned to his fate, and was soon on the plateau.

The two officers had not seen each other for five days, but neither of
them made even an intimation of greeting, and it seemed, at any rate to
Romashov, as if this were quite the correct thing on this memorable,
miserable day.

"I have purposely waited for you here, Yuri Alexievich," began
Nikoläiev, whilst he looked over Romashov's shoulder into the distance,
towards the camp.

"I am at your service, Vladimir Yefimovich," replied Romashov in a
strained, unconcerned tone, and with a slight tremor in his voice. He
stooped down to the ground and broke off a dry, brown stalk of grass
from the previous year. Whilst absently biting the stalk of grass, he
stared obstinately at the bright buttons on Nikoläiev's cape, and he saw
in them his own distorted figure--a little narrow head upwards;
downwards two stunted legs, and between them an abnormally broad big
belly.

"I shall not keep you long waiting--only a few words," said Nikoläiev.
He spoke with a strikingly peculiar softness in his voice and with the
forced politeness of an angry and hot-tempered person who has made up
his mind not to forget himself. But whilst both tried to shun the
other's glances, the situation became every moment more and more
intolerable, so that Romashov in a questioning tone proposed--

"It would be best perhaps if we went on our way together?"

The winding steps, worn by foot-passengers, cut through a large field of
white beet. In the distance the town, with its white houses and
red-tiled roofs, might be distinguished. Both officers walked side by
side, yet with an evident effort to keep as far as possible from each
other, and the beets' thick, luxuriant, and juicy leaves were crushed
and bruised beneath their feet. Both observed, for a long time, an
obstinate silence. Finally, after taking a deep breath, Nikoläiev
managed, with a visible effort, to blurt out--

"First of all, I must ask you a question. Have you invariably shown my
wife, Alexandra Petrovna, due regard and respect?"

"I don't understand what you mean, Vladimir Yefimovich," replied
Romashov; "but I, too, have a question...."

"Excuse me," interrupted Nikoläiev in a sharp tone, "our questions
ought, to avoid confusion, to be put in turn--first I, then you. And now
let us talk openly and without restraint. Answer me this question first.
Is it a matter of supreme indifference to you that my wife--that her
good name--has been the subject of scandal and slander? No, no, don't
interrupt me. You can hardly deny, I suppose, that on my part you have
never experienced anything but goodwill, and that, in our house, you
have always been received as an intimate friend--nay, almost as a
relation."

Romashov made a false step and stumbled on the loose ground. In an
embarrassed tone he mumbled in reply--

"Be assured, Vladimir Yefimovich, that I shall always feel grateful to
you and Alexandra Petrovna."

"Ah, that's not the question," said Nikoläiev, angrily interrupting him.
"I am not soliciting your gratitude. I'll only tell you that my wife has
been the victim of dirty, lying scandal in which" (Nikoläiev almost
panted out the words, and he wiped his face with his handkerchief)--"well,
to put it shortly, a scandal in which you, too, are mixed up. We
both--she and I--are greeted almost every day with the most shameless
anonymous letters. It is too disgusting to me to put these letters
before you, but you shall know a good deal of their contents."
Nikoläiev broke off his speech, but, in the next minute, he continued
with a stammer. "By all the devils--now listen--they say that you are
Alexandra Petrovna's lover, and that--how horrible!--secret meetings
daily take place in your room. The whole regiment is talking about it.
What a scandal!"

He bit his teeth in rage and spat.

"I know who has written these letters," answered Romashov in a lowered
voice, and turned away.

"Do you?" Nikoläiev stopped suddenly and clutched Romashov's arm
tightly. It was quite plain now that his forced calm was quite
exhausted. His bestial eyes grew bigger, his face became blood-red, foam
began to appear at the corners of his mouth, and, as he bent in a
threatening manner towards Romashov, he shrieked madly--

"So you know this, and you even dare to keep silence! Don't you
understand that it is quite plainly your bounden duty to slay this
serpent brood, to put a stop at once to this insidious slander?
My--noble Don Juan, if you are an honourable man and not a ----"

Romashov turned pale, and he eyed Nikoläiev with a glance of hatred. He
felt that moment that his hands and feet were as heavy as lead, his
brain empty, that the abnormal and violent beating of his heart had sunk
still lower in his chest, and that his whole body was trembling.

"I must ask you to lower your voice when you address me," he interrupted
him by saying in a hollow voice. "Speak civilly; you know well enough I
do not allow any one to shout at me."

"I'm not shouting," replied Nikoläiev, still speaking in a rough and
coarse, though somewhat subdued tone. "I'm only trying to make you see
what your duty is, although I have a right to demand it. Our former
intimate relations give me this right. If Alexandra Petrovna's
unblemished name is still of any value to you, then, without delay, put
a stop to these infamies."

"All right. I will do all I can as regards that," was Romashov's dry
answer.

He turned away and went on. In the middle of the pathway, Nikoläiev
caught him up in a few steps.

"Please wait a moment." Nikoläiev's voice sounded more gentle, and
seemed even to have lost some of its assertiveness and force. "I submit,
now the matter has at last been talked about, we ought also to cease our
acquaintance. What do you say yourself?"

"Perhaps so."

"You must yourself have noticed the kindness and sympathy with which
we--that is to say, Alexandra Petrovna and I--received you at our house.
But if I should now be forced to--I need say no more; you know well
enough how scandal rankles in this wretched little provincial hole."

"Very well," replied Romashov gloomily. "I shall cease my visits. That,
I take it, was what you wished. I may tell you, moreover, that I had
already made up my mind not to enter your door again. A few days ago I
paid Alexandra Petrovna a very short call to return her some books, but
you may be absolutely certain that was the last time."

"Yes, that is best so; I think----"

Nikoläiev did not finish the sentence, and was evidently anything but
easy in his mind. The two officers reached the road at this moment.
There still remained some three hundred yards before they came to the
town. Without uttering another word or even deigning to glance at each
other, they continued on their way, side by side. Neither of them could
make up his mind either to stop or turn back, and the situation became
more awkward every minute.

At length they reached the furthest houses of the town. An _isvostschik_
drove up and was at once hailed by Nikoläiev.

"That's agreed then, Yuri Alexievich." Nikoläiev uttered these words in
a vulgar, unpleasant tone, and then got into the _droshky_. "Good-bye
and _au revoir_."

The two officers did not shake hands, and their salute at parting was
very curt. Romashov stood still for a moment, and stared, through the
cloud of dust, at the hurrying _droshky_ and Nikoläiev's strong, white
neck. He suddenly felt like the most lonely and forsaken man in the wide
world, and it seemed to him as if he had, then and there, despoiled
himself of all that had hitherto made his life at all worth living.

Slowly he made his way home. Hainán met him in the yard, and saluted
him, from a distance, with his broad grin. His face beamed with
benevolence and delight as he took off his master's cloak, and, after a
few minutes, he began his usual curious dance.

"Have you had dinner?" he asked in a sympathetic, familiar tone. "Oh,
you have not. Then I'll run to the club at once and fetch some food.
I'll be back again directly."

"Go to the devil!" screamed Romashov, "and don't dare to come into my
room. I'm not at home to anybody--not even to the Tsar himself."

He threw himself on the bed, and buried his face in the pillow. His
teeth closed over the linen, his eyes burned, and he felt a curious
stabbing sensation in his throat. He wanted to cry. With eager longing
he waited for the first hot, bitter tears which would, he hoped, afford
him consolation and relief in this dark hour of torture and misery.
Without pity on himself, he recalled once more in his mind the cruel
events of the day; he purposely magnified and exaggerated his shame and
ignominy, and he regarded, as it were, from outside, his own wretched
Ego with pity and contempt.

Then something very strange happened. It did not seem to Romashov that
he slept or even slumbered for an instant, but simply that he was for
some moments wholly incapable of thinking. His eyes were shut, but, all
of a sudden, he felt he had regained full consciousness, and was
suffering the same anguish as before. It was completely dark in the room
now. He looked at his watch and discovered to his indescribable
astonishment that this mysterious trance had lasted more than five
hours.

He began to feel hungry. He got up, put on his sabre, threw his cloak
over his shoulder and started for the officers' mess. The distance there
from Romashov's door was scarcely two hundred yards, and besides, he
always made use of a short cut through unbuilt-upon plots and fenced-in
kitchen-gardens, etc.

A bright gleam issued from the half-open windows of the
_salle-à-manger_, billiard-room, and kitchen, but the dirty backyard,
blocked up with and partly covered by all sorts of rubbish, was in thick
darkness. Every moment one heard loud chatter and laughter, singing, and
the sharp click of billiard balls.

Romashov had already reached the courtyard steps when he recognized his
Captain's angry and sneering voice. Romashov stopped at once, and
cautiously glancing into one of the open windows of the
_salle-à-manger_, he caught sight of Captain Sliva's humped back.

He was stammering: "All my c-c-company m-m-marches as one man." Sliva
marked time by raising and lowering the palm of his hand. "But th-that
d-d-damned fool m-must upset everything." Sliva made with his first
finger several clumsy and silly motions in the air. "But, g-gentlemen,
I s-said to him, 'M-march to another c-c-company, my f-fine f-f-fellow,
or s-still b-better m-march out of the regiment. Who the devil will have
s-such an officer?'"

Romashov shut his eyes, and shrivelled up with shame and rage. He feared
that, at the next movement on his part, all the officers at mess would
rush to the window and discover him. For one or two minutes he did not
stir; then with his head hidden in his cloak, and scarcely venturing to
breathe, he stole on tip-toe along the wall, out through the gate to the
street, the moonlit portion of which he crossed by a couple of brisk
jumps so as to reach the deep protecting shadow of the high hoarding on
the other side.

Romashov sauntered for a long time that evening about the streets of the
town. Often he did not even know where he was. Once he stopped in the
shadow right under Nikoläiev's house, the green-painted sheet-iron roof
and white walls of which were brilliantly illumined by the moon's clear
bright rays. Not a soul was in the street, not a sound was audible. The
sharply marked outlines of the shadows from the houses opposite divided
the street into two halves.

Behind the thick dark-red curtains in one of the rooms at the
Nikoläievs' a lamp was burning. "My beloved," whispered Romashov, "don't
you feel how near I am to you, how much I love you?" He pressed his
hands to his chest, and had much difficulty in restraining his tears.

Suddenly, however, he got the idea that, in spite of the distance and
the house's thick walls, he might possibly make Shurochka notice his
presence. With closed teeth and hands so tightly clenched that the
nails were driven into the flesh, and with a sensation as if icy-cold
ants were creeping over his body, he began to concentrate all his
will-power to a single object. "Get up from your sofa. Come to the
window. Draw the curtain. Look, look through the window out into the
street. Obey. I command you; come to the window at once."

But the curtain remained motionless. "You don't hear me, then,"
whispered Romashov, with sorrow and indignation in his heart. "You are
sitting by the lamp beside him, calm, indifferent, and as beautiful as
ever. Oh, my God, my God, how wretched I am!"

He sighed deeply, and with bowed head and crippled with weariness he
continued his melancholy wandering.

He even passed Nasanski's place, but it was dark there. It seemed to
Romashov as if a white spectre had quickly fluttered past one of the
house's dark windows. A shudder ran through him, and he dared not call
to Nasanski.

Some days later Romashov remembered this fantastic--nay, idiotic--ramble
as a strange, far-off dream which, nevertheless, could not be forgotten.
He had even been in the Jewish cemetery, but how he got there he could
not tell himself. This silent and mysterious burial-ground lay beyond
the town, on a height, and was surrounded by a low white wall. From the
luxuriant, slumbering grass arose the icy-cold gravestones, simple,
unadorned, like each other, and casting behind them long, narrow
shadows. And over all this gloomy place reigned the grave, solemn,
austere note of solitude.

After this he saw himself in another quarter of the town, but this,
nevertheless, was perhaps only a dream. He stood in the middle of a
long, carefully constructed dam that divided the River Bug across its
entire breadth. The dark-hued water ran slowly and lazily away beneath
his feet, and now and then it, as it were, strove to render a well-known
melody by its capricious splashing. The moon was mirrored on the lightly
curled surface of the river, like an infinitely long, trembling pillar,
around which you might fancy you saw millions of fishes playing in the
water whilst they slowly withdrew and disappeared in the direction of
the distant shore, which lay afar off, silent, dark, and deserted.
Wherever he might be, whether in or out of the town, he was followed by
a faint, sweet, aromatic scent from the white acacia flower.

Wonderful thoughts entered his brain this night--thoughts sometimes sad
and melancholy, at other times childishly ridiculous. Most frequently he
reasoned like the inexperienced gambler who with the frivolity and
optimism of youth pondered upon the fact that he had in a single night
played away all he possessed. Thus Romashov tried again and again to
delude himself into believing that the wretched events of the past day
had absolutely no importance--nay, he even succeeded in resuscitating
that "irresistible" Sub-lieutenant Romashov who so ideally conducts his
parade march under the General's critical eyes, who at the front is the
object of the General's thanks and admiration, and who afterwards drains
his goblet of wine among his rejoicing comrades. But the next moment he
hears Federovski's furious threats, his chief's insulting words,
Nikoläiev's painful questions and complaints, and he is once more the
disgraced and hopelessly ruined Sub-lieutenant Romashov.

An irresistible force from within brought him back in the course of his
nocturnal wandering to the place where he came upon Nikoläiev after the
review. Here he walked about meditating suicide, though by no means
seriously, but only--according to his ingrained habit--to pose in his
own worthy person as a martyr and hero.

Hainán comes rushing out of Romashov's room. His countenance is
distorted with terror. Pale and trembling all over, he hurries on to the
officers' _salle-à-manger_, which is full of people. At the sight of
Hainán all spontaneously get up from their places. "Your
Excellencies--the lieutenant has--shot himself," Hainán at last stammers
out. General uproar; dismay is to be read in the faces of all. "Who has
shot himself? Where? What lieutenant?" Finally somebody recognizes
Hainán. "Gentlemen, this is Hainán, you know--Lieutenant Romashov's
servant. It's the Circassian, you know." All hurry to Romashov's house;
some do not even give themselves time to put on their caps. Romashov is
discovered lying on his bed; on the floor beside him is a large pool of
blood, in which is found a revolver of the Smith and Wesson celebrated
make. Through a crowd of officers, who occupy every corner of the little
room, Znoiko, the regimental surgeon, pushes his way with some
difficulty. "Shot in the temple," he says amidst a general hush. "All is
over, nothing can be done." Some one among the bystanders says in a
lowered voice, "Gentlemen, uncover your heads before the majesty of
Death!" Many make the sign of the Cross. Viätkin finds on the table a
note on which the deceased has written in a firm hand a few lines in
pencil. Viätkin reads them out--

     I forgive all. I die of my own free will. My life is intolerable.
     Break the news gently to my mother.

GEORGI ROMASHOV.

All gaze at one another, and each reads on his neighbour's countenance
the unuttered thought: "We are his murderers." Softly rocks the coffin
covered with gold brocade and carried by eight comrades. The entire
corps of officers takes part in the procession. After the officers comes
the 6th Company. Captain Sliva frowns gloomily. Viätkin's kind face is
disfigured by tears, but now in the street he makes an effort to compose
himself. Lbov--oh, heart of gold!--weeps incessantly without blushing
for his emotion. Like deep, heavy sighs sound the hollow strains of the
Dead March. There stand all the ladies of the regiment, including
Shurochka. "I kissed him," she thinks with despair in her heart. "I
loved him--I might have saved him." "Too late!" thinks Romashov, with a
bitter smile. The officers accompanying their dead comrade to the grave
softly converse with each other. "Ah," thinks each of them to himself,
"how sorry I am for him, poor fellow. What an excellent comrade, what a
handsome and capable officer!--Yes, yes, that is true, but we did not
appreciate him." Loud and more touching sound the strains of the Dead
March. It is Beethoven's immortal music, "By a Hero's Bier." But
Romashov is lying in his coffin, cold and still, with an everlasting
smile on his lips. On his chest rests a modest bouquet of violets, but
no one knows from where they came. He has forgiven all--Shurochka,
Sliva, Federovski, Shulgovich--all. But they waste no tears. He is
better off where he is now; he was too pure, too good for this world.

This gloomy, silent monologue forced tears from Romashov's eyes, but he
did not wipe them away. It was so delicious to imagine himself a martyr,
an innocent victim to the malignity of mankind.

He had now reached the white-beet field, the extensive surface of which
had an almost oppressive influence on Romashov. He climbed on to a
little hillock just beside the ravine in which the railway ran.

There he stood. This side of the ravine lay in deep shadow, but the
opposite one was so powerfully illuminated that one might fancy it
possible to distinguish every blade of grass. The ravine was very
precipitous near the place where Romashov was now standing, and at the
bottom of it the rails, worn bright by traffic, shone. Far away in the
field on the other side of the railway the white, pyramid-like tents
could be seen in even rows.

A little way down the slope of the ravine was a small platform. Romashov
glided down to it and sat on the grass. He felt nearly sick from hunger
and weariness, and his legs shook from exhaustion. The great deserted
field behind him, the air, clear and transparent in spite of the shades
of night, the dew-soaked grass--all was sunk in a deep, insidious,
luminous silence, the intensity of which was felt by Romashov like a
strong buzzing in his ear. Rarely indeed might be heard from a
locomotive manoeuvring at the railway station a shrill whistling
which, in the solemn stillness of the night, brought with it something
impetuous, impatient, and threatening.

Romashov laid himself on his back in the grass. The fleecy white clouds
right above him stood motionless, but over them the round moon glided
rapidly on in the dark firmament which, cold and bare and boundless,
riveted Romashov's gaze. All the illimitable space between earth and
heaven seemed to him fraught with eternal terror and eternal longing.
"There dwells--God," thought Romashov, and suddenly, with a naïve
outburst of sorrow, anger, and self-pity, he whispered passionately and
bitterly--

"God, why hast Thou turned Thy countenance from me? What offence can
I--a miserable worm, a grain of sand--have committed against Thee? Thou
art almighty, Thou art good, Thou seest and hearest everything--why hast
Thou suffered injustice and malice so to triumph over me?"

But instantly afterwards he was filled with alarm at his blasphemous
speech, and he went on to say in fervour and anguish--

"No, no; forgive and forget my sinful words. I know Thou art as wise as
Thou art merciful, and I shall never murmur any more. Do with me what
seems best in Thy sight. I will always submit to Thy will with gratitude
and a meek heart."

Simultaneously with these pious words of penance and reformation there
stirred in the depth of his soul a secret calculating thought that his
solemnly promised submission to our Lord's will would move the
All-seeing God suddenly to work, on his behalf, a miracle whereby all
the bitter sorrows and trials of this day would appear only as a hideous
dream.

"Where are you?" shrieked just then a locomotive down at the station
with a short, angry, impatient whistle. Another engine at once answered,
in a hollow, threatening tone, "I am coming."

From the moonlit crest of the ravine's opposite slope a soft rustle was
heard. In order more easily to detect the cause, Romashov raised his
head from the ground. A grey, shapeless, scarcely human figure was
sliding down to the bottom of the ravine. In spite of the bright
moonlight, it was difficult to distinguish the night-walker in the high
grass, and only by the movements of his shadow was it possible for any
one to follow with the eye his course down the declivity.

Now he was crossing the railway-line. "Judging from everything," guessed
Romashov, "he is a soldier. Anyhow it's a human being; but who can it
be? A drunkard or a sleep-walker?"

The strange figure had already crossed the railway, stepped into the
shade, and was climbing toilsomely up the slope on which Romashov was.
The latter now saw distinctly that the wanderer was a soldier, who,
however, immediately afterwards disappeared from Romashov's sight. Two
or three minutes elapsed before he again became visible. A round-clipped
head without a cap was slowly lifted in Romashov's direction, who now
recognized, without difficulty, the left wing soldier in his own
half-company--the unfortunate Khliabnikov.

Khliabnikov went on his way bareheaded and with his cap in his hand,
looking fixedly before him. It was evident that he was labouring under
the influence of a mysterious inward force. He passed so near Romashov
that the latter's cloak almost grazed his own. The moon's keen rays were
reflected in the motionless pupils beneath the unnaturally wide-open
eyelids.

"Khliabnikov, is it you?" cried Romashov.

"A-ah!" shouted the soldier, who stopped immediately, and began to shake
all over.

Romashov jumped up from the ground. He saw before him a disfigured face,
as pale as a corpse's, with severed, bleeding lips, and one eye almost
closed up by a tremendous bump turning blue. In the uncertain evening
light the traces of the disgusting violence that had been perpetrated
gained a still more horrible appearance. And as Romashov gazed at
Khliabnikov, his thoughts ran thus: "Behold the man who with me brought
shame on the entire regiment to-day. We are both equally to be pitied."

"Where were you going, my friend? what's the matter?" asked Romashov, in
his tenderest tone, and, without thinking, he put both his hands on the
soldier's shoulders. Khliabnikov stared at him out of his uninjured eye
with the wild look of one who had been frightened out of his wits, but
he turned away at once. His bleeding lips, welded together, slowly
opened with a soft, smacking sound, but all he could utter was a hoarse
rattle. Romashov suddenly experienced an intolerable feeling of
sickness, and he thought he felt in his chest and abdomen certain
symptoms which usually precede fainting.

"Has some one beaten you, eh? Tell me! Come and sit down beside me." He
pulled the soldier by the sleeve of his coat down to the ground.
Khliabnikov obediently collapsed, like a dummy fallen in a heap, and
sank noiselessly down on the damp grass beside Romashov.

"Where were you going?" asked the latter. Khliabnikov did not answer a
word where he sat, in a very unnatural and uncomfortable position, with
his legs straddling. Romashov noticed that his head sank slowly, with
scarcely perceptible little nods, on his chest. Again Romashov heard the
same short, hoarse, rattling sound, and his whole soul was filled by an
unspeakable pity. "Do I understand that you wanted to run away? Put on
your cap and listen, Khliabnikov. At this moment I am not your officer
or superior, but, like yourself, only a lonely, unlucky, ruined
creature. I can understand how hard and burdensome it is for you to
live, therefore speak to me frankly, tell me all. Perhaps you meant to
kill yourself?" he added in a hollow, whispering tone.

A gurgling noise was again heard in the soldier's throat, but not a word
passed his lips. At the same moment Romashov noticed that his companion
in misfortune was shaking from head to foot as if from a chill, and he
was himself now attacked by an unconquerable terror. This sleepless
night passed in feverish excitement; this feeling of loneliness and
desertion; the moon's unchangeable, oppressive, cold gleam; the ravine's
black depth beneath his feet; the dumb, cruelly maltreated soldier at
his side--all this seemed to him like a mad, insufferable dream--one of
those dreams that are wont to herald the approach of death. But directly
afterwards he was again seized by the same infinite pity for the
unfortunate victim beside him, and it was clear to him at once how petty
and insignificant was his own sorrow in comparison with Khliabnikov's
cruel fate. With sincere tenderness he threw his arm round the soldier's
neck, drew him forcibly to him, and said, with the warmth that belongs
to conviction--

"Khliabnikov, you find life unsupportable, but, my friend, believe me,
even I am an exceedingly unhappy man. The whole world wherein I live is
to me a puzzle. Everything is so savage, cruel, and senseless. However,
one must be patient, one must learn to suffer."

Khliabnikov's bowed head fell suddenly on Romashov's knee, which he
embraced with both arms. All his being shook with suppressed weeping.

"I can't stand any more," he uttered at last, "I'll bear it no longer.
Oh, my God! They beat me, they mock me; the sergeants shriek for
schnapps and money. Where is a poor devil like me to get money? And then
they beat me again--me, who have suffered from childhood from an
incurable pain--a severe rupture."

Romashov bent down over his head, which shook convulsively backwards and
forwards against Romashov's knee. He perceived the smell of the
soldier's dirty, unhealthy body, and the rank stench of his cloak, which
also served as a counterpane during the cold nights in his tent. An
infinite sorrow for and disgust at himself, his profession, and the
whole world harrowed the young officer's soul. With overflowing heart he
rested his forehead against Khliabnikov's burning head and stubbly hair,
at the same time whispering scarcely audibly--

"My brother!"

Khliabnikov grasped Romashov's hand, on which a few warm tears fell.
Romashov even felt two cold, clammy lips kissing his fingers, but he did
not withdraw his hand, and he spoke simple, calming, touching words,
just as when one talks to a weeping, injured child.

Then he escorted Khliabnikov back to the camp, and then sent for
Shapovalenko, the sergeant on duty that day in the 6th Company. The
latter came out hurriedly, clad in an obviously imperfect costume,
peered for a while with a pair of drowsy eyes, scratched himself both
back and front with an earnestness that was probably more than
justified. After several tremendous yawns he became gradually awake to
the situation.

Romashov ordered him to release Khliabnikov from any duties he might
happen to have just then.

"Your Honour, this may perhaps be a little premature."

"No arguing!" shrieked Romashov in a furious tone. "Tell the Captain
to-morrow that you acted on my instructions." Then turning to
Khliabnikov, he added: "We meet to-morrow, you know, at my house," and
received in reply a long, shy, grateful look.

Romashov slowly turned his steps homewards along the camp. A few words
caught from a whispered conversation in one of the tents caused him to
stop and listen: "You see, comrades," says a subdued voice, "that this
same devil sends the soldier his very chief magician. When the magician
catches sight of the soldier, he roars at him like this: 'What's a
soldier to me? I'll eat him!' 'No,' replies the soldier, 'you can't do
that, old chap, for I myself am a magician----'"

Romashov soon reached the ravine again. Once more that indescribable
feeling of disgust at life and contempt of the inanity and senselessness
of the work of creation. Whilst descending the declivity he stopped
suddenly and raised his eyes to heaven. Again he was met by the same
infinite, icy-cold firmament; again he experienced the same longing,
mingled with fear and anguish, and almost unconsciously he raised his
fists threateningly against heaven, and in the voice of a man foaming
with rage, in words of unspeakable blasphemy, challenged his Maker's
omnipotence, and dared Him, in proof of it, to break off his arms and
legs.

Romashov, deliberately and with his eyes shut, threw himself down the
precipice, and alighted unscathed on the railway bank. With two leaps he
gained the opposite slope, the top of which he reached without stopping
or taking breath. His nostrils were dilated, and his chest heaved
violently under convulsive efforts to regain his breath, but in the
depths of his soul there blazed a proud, triumphant feeling of malicious
joy and defiance.



XVI


There was a lesson on military drill going on in the school of recruits.
In a close room, on benches arranged in a square, sat the soldiers of
the 3rd platoon facing one another. In the middle of this square
Corporal Syeroshtán walked to and fro. Close by, walking backwards and
forwards in the centre of a similar square, was the non-commissioned
officer Shapovalenko.

"Bondarenko!" cried Syeroshtán in a piercing voice.

Bondarenko brought his feet down on the floor with a bang, and jumped up
just like a jack-in-the-box.

"Now, Bondarenko, suppose that you were standing at arms, and the
commander came to you and asked: 'What is that in your hands,
Bondarenko?' What ought you to answer?"

"A gun," replied Bondarenko after reflection.

"Wrong! Do you mean to tell me you would call it a gun? At home you
might call it a gun, certainly, but in the service it is called simply a
sharp-shooting infantry rifle of small calibre, maker Berdan, number
two, with a sliding bolt. Repeat that now, you son of a----!"

Bondarenko gabbled over the words, which he evidently knew by heart.

"Sit down!" commanded Syeroshtán graciously. "And for what purpose is
the rifle given you?" His stern gaze wandered round the class.
"Shevchuk! you answer this question."

Shevchuk stood up with a morose expression, and answered in a deep bass
voice, speaking through his nose, and very slowly, and in detached
phrases, as if there were a full stop after each:

"It is given to me in order that in time of peace I may practise with
it. But in time of war that I may protect my Emperor and my country from
enemies." He stopped, scratched his nose, and added obscurely: "Whether
they be external or internal."

"Right! You know that very well, Shevchuk, only you mumble. Sit down.
And now, Ovechkin, tell me, whom do we call external enemies?"

Ovechkin, a sprightly soldier from Orlov, answered rapidly and with
great animation, spluttering with excitement:

"External enemies are all those nations with whom we might go to war;
the French, Germans, Italians, Turks, Europeans----"

"Wait," Syeroshtán cut him short. "All that is not in the text. Sit
down. And now tell me--Arkhipov! Who are our internal enemies?"

He uttered the last two words very loudly, as if to emphasize them, and
threw a meaning glance at the volunteer, Markouson.

The clumsy, pock-marked Arkhipov was obstinately silent, and stood
gazing out of the window. Outside the service he was an active,
intelligent, clever fellow; but in class he behaved like an imbecile.
Obviously the trouble lay in the fact that his healthy mind, accustomed
to observe and think about the simple, straightforward affairs of
village life, was quite unable to grasp the connection between
hypothetical problems and real life. For this reason he could not
understand nor learn the simplest things, to the great astonishment and
indignation of his platoon commander.

"We-ll! How much longer am I to wait while you get ready to answer?"
cried Syeroshtán, beginning to get angry.

"Internal enemies--enemies----"

"You don't know it?" cried Syeroshtán in a threatening tone, and he
would have fallen upon Arkhipov, but, glancing with a side glance at the
officer, he contented himself with shaking his head and rolling his eyes
terribly. "Well, listen. Internal enemies are those who resist the law;
for example, who shall we----?" He glanced at Ovechkin's sharp eyes.
"You tell us, Ovechkin."

Ovechkin jumped up and cried joyfully:

"Such as rebels, students, horse-stealers, Jews and Poles."

Shapovalenko was occupied with his platoon close by. Pacing up and down
between the benches, he asked questions from the "Soldier's Manual,"
which he held in his hand.

"Soltuis, what is a sentry?"

Soltuis, a Lithuanian, cried, opening and shutting his eyes rapidly in
the effort to think: "A sentry must be incorruptible."

"Well, and what else?"

"A sentry is a soldier placed at a certain post with a rifle in his
hand."

"Right. I see, Soltuis, that you are beginning to try. And why is he
placed there, Pakhorukov?"

"That he may neither sleep, nor doze, nor smoke, nor accept bribes."

"And the pass-word?"

"And that he may give the pass-word to the officers who pass in and
out."

"Right. Sit down."

Shapovalenko had noticed some time ago the ironical smile on the face of
the volunteer Fokin, and for this reason he cried with extra severity:

"Now, volunteer! But is that the way to stand? When your chief asks a
question you should stand as straight as a ramrod. What do you mean by
the Colours?"

The volunteer Fokin, with a University badge on his breast, stood in
front of the non-commissioned officer in a respectful attitude, but his
young, grey eyes sparkled with laughter.

"By the Colours is meant the sacred Standard of War under which----"

"Wrong!" broke in Shapovalenko angrily, bringing the Manual down hard on
the palm of his hand.

"No, that is quite right," replied Fokin calmly.

"Wh-a-at? If your chief says it is wrong, it is wrong."

"Look in the book and see for yourself."

"I am your officer, and as such I must know better than you. A fine
thing, indeed! Perhaps you think that I want to enter a cadet school for
instruction? What do you know about anything? What's a St-a-a-n-dard?
Ste-ndard! There's no such word as Sta-a-andard. The sacred Stendard of
War----"

"Don't quarrel now, Shapovalenko," put in Romashov. "Get on with the
lesson."

"Very good, your Honour!" drawled Shapovalenko. "Only allow me to inform
your Honour that all these volunteers are far too clever."

"That will do, that will do! get on with the lesson."

"Very good, your Honour--Khliabnikov! Who is the commander of this
corps?"

Khliabnikov stared with wild eyes at the "non-com." All the sound which
came from his open mouth was a croak, which might have been made by a
hoarse crow.

"Answer!" cried Shapovalenko furiously.

"His----"

"Well! 'His.' What else?"

Romashov, who had just turned away, heard him mutter in a low voice:
"You wait! Won't I just give you a stroking down after the lesson." But
directly Romashov turned back to him he said loudly and kindly: "His
Excellency--well, how does it go on, Khliabnikov?"

"His--infantry--lieutenant," muttered Khliabnikov in a broken, terrified
voice.

"A-a-a!" cried Shapovalenko, grinding his teeth. "Whatever shall we do
with you, Khliabnikov? I am really afraid to think what will become of
you; you are just like a camel, except that you can't even make yourself
heard. You don't make the slightest attempt to learn. Stand there until
the end of the lesson, and after dinner come to me, and I'll take you
alone. Grechenko! Who is the commander of this corps?"

"As it is to-day, so it will be to-morrow, and so on to the end of my
life," thought Romashov, as he passed from platoon to platoon. "Shall I
throw it all up? Shall I leave the service? I don't know what to do!"

After the instruction the men were kept busy in the yard, which was
arranged as a shooting range. While one party practised shooting in a
looking-glass, another learned to hit a target with a shot, and a third
learned rifle-shooting. Ensign Lbov's clear, animated tenor voice giving
orders to the 2nd platoon could be heard at a distance.

"Right--turn--firing company--one, two!" "Compan-y!" he dragged out the
last syllable, paused, and then, abruptly: "Fire!"

There was a loud report, and Lbov in his joyful, inspiring voice, cried
again:

"Present!"

Sliva went from platoon to platoon, stooping and walking slowly, finding
fault and making coarse remarks:

"Is that the way to hold a rifle? Any one would think you were a deacon
holding a candle! What are you keeping your mouth open for, Kartashov?
Do you want some porridge? Sergeant-major, put Kartashov under arms for
an hour after drill. How do you fold up a cloak, Vedenyeev? Look at it,
you lazy fellow!"

After the shooting practice the men piled their rifles and threw
themselves down beside them on the young spring grass, already trampled
on by the soldiers' boots. It was a warm, clear day. The air smelled of
the leaves of young poplar trees, of which there were two rows planted
round the causeway. Viätkin again approached Romashov:

"Dreaming again, Yuri Alexeich," he said. "What is the use of it? As
soon as the drill is over we will go to the club, and after a drink or
two you will be all right."

"I am bored, my dear Pavel Pavlich," said Romashov wearily.

"It is not very cheerful, I admit," said Viätkin. "But how can it be
helped? The men must be taught their business, or what would happen if
war suddenly broke out?"

"What is war after all?" said Romashov sadly, "and why----? Perhaps it
is nothing more than a mistake made by all, a universal error, a
madness. Do you mean to tell me that it is natural to kill?"

"Oh, the devil take your philosophy! If the Germans were to attack us
suddenly, who would defend Russia?"

"I know nothing about it, so I can't talk about it," said Romashov
shortly. "I know nothing, and yet, take----"

"For my part," said Viätkin, "I think that if those are your ideas about
war, it would be better for you to be out of the service. We are not
supposed to think in our profession. The only question is, What could we
do if we were not in the service? What use should we be anywhere when we
know nothing but 'Left! Right!' We can die, of course, that is true. And
die we should, as soon as we began to be in want, for food is not
provided gratis, you know. And so, Mr. Philosopher, come to the club
with me after drill."

"Very well," agreed Romashov indifferently. "If you ask me, I should say
that it's a hog's life that we are leading; but, as you say, if one
thinks so it is better to leave the service altogether."

While they talked they walked up and down, and at length halted close to
the 4th platoon. The soldiers were sitting or lying around their piled
arms; some of them were eating bread, for soldiers eat bread all day
long, and under all circumstances, at reviews, at halting-places in the
manoeuvres, in church before confession, and even before physical
punishment.

Romashov heard a quietly provocative voice say:

"Khliabnikov! I say, Khliabnikov!"

"Yes?" said Khliabnikov gruffly, through his nose.

"What do you do at home?"

"Work," answered the other sleepily.

"What kind of work, you blockhead?"

"All kinds--ploughing, cattle driving."

Romashov glanced at the grey, pitiful face of Khliabnikov, and again was
seized by an uneasy pain at his heart.

"Rifle practice!" cried Sliva from the centre. "Officers to their
places."

They unpiled their arms and took their places with much bustle.

"Close up!" commanded Sliva. "Stand at ease!"

And then, coming nearer to the company, he shouted:

"Manual exercise--count aloud. On guard!"

"One!" cried the soldiers, and held their guns aloft.

Sliva went amongst them in a leisurely manner, making abrupt remarks:
"Bayonets higher.--Hold the butt-end to you."

Then he again took up his position in front of the company and gave the
order: "Two!"

"Two!" cried the soldiers.

And once more Sliva went amongst them to see if they were doing the
exercises correctly.

After the manual exercise by division they had exercise by company, then
turnings, form fours, fixing and unfixing bayonets and other forms.
Romashov performed like an automaton all that was required of him, but
all the time the words so carelessly uttered by Viätkin were running
through his mind: "If I thought that, I would not stay in the service."
And all the arts of war--the skilful evolutions, the cleverness of the
rifle exercise, and all those tactics and fortifications on which he had
wasted nine of the best years of his life, which would fill the rest of
his life, and which not so very long ago had seemed to him important and
so full of wisdom--all had suddenly become deadly dull, unnatural,
inventions without value, a universal self-deceit resembling an absurd
dream.

When the drill was finished he and Viätkin went to the club and drank a
lot of vodka together. Romashov, hardly knowing what he was doing,
kissed Viätkin and wept hysterically on his shoulder, complained of his
empty, miserable life, and also that no one understood him, also that a
certain woman did not love him--who she was no one should ever know. As
for Viätkin, he drank glass after glass, only saying from time to time
with contemptuous pity:

"The worst of you is, Romashov, that you can't drink. You take one glass
and you are all over the place."

Then suddenly he struck his fist on the table threateningly, and cried:
"If they want us to die, we'll die!"

"We'll die," answered Romashov pitifully. "What is dying? A mere trifle!
Oh, how my heart aches!"

Romashov did not remember going home and getting into bed. It seemed to
him that he was floating on a thick blue cloud, upon which were
scattered milliards and milliards of microscopic diamonds. His head
seemed swollen to a tremendous size, and a pitiless voice was calling
out in a tone which made him feel sick:

"One! Two!"



XVII


From this night Romashov underwent a profound inward change. He cut
himself entirely adrift from the company of his comrades, usually took
his dinner at home, never frequented the _soirées dansantes_ of his
regiment, and ceased to indulge in drink. He had grown older, riper, and
more serious, and he noticed this himself in the calm resignation with
which he bore the trials and adversities of life. Often, too, he
recalled to mind the assertion he had long ago picked up from books or
in the way of conversation, that human life is made up of periods of
seven years, and that, in the course of each period, not only the
organism, but also the character, views taken of life, and inclinations
are completely renewed. And it was not so long since Romashov had
completed his twenty-first year.

The soldier Khliabnikov used to visit him, but at first, however, only
after being again urged to do so. Afterwards his visits became more and
more frequent. During the first period he put one in mind of a starved
and whipped dog which flinches from the hand held out caressingly; but
Romashov's kindness and goodness gradually drove away his fear and
embarrassment and restored to him the faculty of gratitude and
confidence. With something akin to remorse and shame, Romashov learned
more of Khliabnikov's sad conditions of life and family circumstances.
At home lived his mother, his father--a confirmed drunkard--a
semi-idiotic brother, and four young sisters. The family's little plot
of land had been confiscated, contrary to all law and justice, by the
commune, which afterwards was kind enough to shelter the poor wretches
in a miserable hut. The elder members were journeymen employed by
strange and occasional employers, the younger ones went out to beg.
Khliabnikov could, therefore, not reckon on any support from his people,
and, on account of his delicate health, was not in a position to
undertake any remunerative manual labour in such leisure as the service
left him. But the soldier's life is unendurable without money. He
receives twenty-two and a half copecks a month from the State, and out
of this he must defray the costs of tea, sugar, soap, etc., and in
addition, the indispensable presents to greedy and unconscionable
sergeants. Woe betide the soldier who cannot, by presents, money, or
schnapps, bribe his torturers. He becomes a helpless victim to insult
and gross maltreatment, and all the heavy and disgusting work in the
camp falls unmercifully to his lot.

With surprise, terror, and pain Romashov realized that Fate had daily
united him by the closest ties with hundreds of these grey
"Khliabnikovs," with those defenceless victims of their own ignorance
and brutal coarseness, of the officers' heartless indifference and
cruelty, of a humiliating, systematic slavery; but the most horrible of
all, however, was the fact that not a single officer--and, up to that
day, not even Romashov himself--saw in these stereotyped crowds of
slaves anything beyond mechanical quantities bracketed under the name of
companies, battalions, regiments, etc.

Romashov did his best to procure Khliabnikov, now and then, a little
income. Of course it was not very long before both this and other
unaccustomed marks of humanity on the part of an officer became noticed
in the company. Romashov noticed very frequently how the "non-coms." in
his presence acted towards Khliabnikov with comical, exaggerated
politeness in manner and tone. That even Captain Sliva had got scent of
Romashov's changed attitude as regards the treatment of soldiers was
palpable enough, and more than once, from remarks made by him--

"D-d-damned Liberals--come here to ruin the people--ought to be
thrashed--f-f-flayed alive, every man Jack of 'em!"

Now, as Romashov more and more abandoned himself to loneliness and
self-examination, those curious, entangling contemplations, which a
month previously, at the time of his arrest, had such a disturbing
effect on him, now assailed him with even greater frequency. These
generally happened after his duties for the day had been done, when he
strolled silently backwards and forwards, beneath the thick, slumbering
foliage of the trees near his dwelling, and when, lonely and oppressed,
he listened to the solemn bass of the booming beetles or, with dreamy
eyes, gazed at the roseate and rapidly darkening sky.

This new life of his surprised him by the richness of its shifting
impression. In days gone by he would never have even dared to entertain
a notion of what pure and calm joy, what potency and secret depths, lie
hidden in something so simple and common as human thought.

Romashov had already determined irrevocably not to remain on active
service, but to join the reserves as soon as his period of service as an
officer by examination had expired, but he did not yet know where he
would find suitable employment and an income on which he might exist. He
went over in his mind all possible occupations--post-office, customs,
telegraph service, railway, etc., etc. He pondered on whether he might
seek the post of estate-manager, or enter the Civil Service. And now he
was astounded at the thought of all the innumerable different trades and
professions that exist in the world. "How have they arisen," thought he,
"all these absurd, comical, wonderful and more or less repulsive
occupations--prison-warders, acrobats, chiropodists, professors, actors,
dog-barbers, policemen, jugglers, prostitutes, bath-men, veterinary
surgeons, grave-diggers, beadles, etc., etc? And perhaps there's not a
human invention or caprice, however idiotic, paradoxical, barbarous, and
immoral it may be, that does not at once find ready and willing hands to
bring it to completion and realization."

So, too, in meditating more profoundly, it struck him what a countless
number of "intelligent" means of bread-winning there are, which are all
based on mistrust of the honour and morality of mankind--supervisors and
officials of all sorts, controllers, inspectors, policemen, custom-house
officers, bookkeepers, revising-officers, etc., whose existence has,
without exception, found justification in man's weakness for or lack of
resistance against crime and corruption.

He also called to mind priests, schoolmasters, lawyers and judges--in
short, all those persons who, according to the nature of their work, are
in continual and intimate contact with other men's ideas, strivings,
sorrows, and sufferings. At the thought of these, Romashov came to the
tragic conclusion that these individuals become more quickly than
others hard, heartless egoists, who, wrapping themselves in the
dressing-gown of selfishness, very soon grow frozen for ever in dead
formalism. He knew that there also exists another class, i.e. those who
create and look after the external conditions of human luxury and
enjoyment--engineers, architects, inventors, manufacturers, and all
those who, by their united efforts, can render mankind inestimable
temporal services, and place themselves solely at the disposal of the
rich and powerful. They think only of their own skin, of their own nest,
of their own brood, and they become, in consequence of this, the slaves
of gold and tyranny. Who is there then to raise up, instruct, and
console the brutally used slave, Khliabnikov, and say to him, "Shake
hands with me, brother"?

Pondering over similar subjects, Romashov certainly probed slowly and
fumblingly, but more and more deeply, into the great problem of life.
Formerly everything seemed to him as simple as simple could be. The
world was divided into two categories very different in size and
importance. The one, the guild of officers, constituting the military
caste, which alone attains power, honour, and glory, the fine uniform of
which confers an uncontested monopoly of bravery, physical strength, and
unbounded contempt for all other living creatures; the other, the
civilian element of society--an enormous number of indeterminable petty
insects; another race, a pariah class hardly worthy to live, obscure
individuals to be thrashed and insulted without rhyme or reason, whose
nose every little gilded popinjay may tweak, unless he prefers, to the
huge delight of his comrades, to crush their tall silk hats over his
victims' ears.

When Romashov thought, he stood apart from reality; when he viewed
military life, as it were, from a secret corner through a chink in the
wall, he gradually began to understand that the army and all that
pertains to it, with its false glamour and borrowed plumes, came into
the world through a mad, cruel confusion of ideas in mankind. "How,"
Romashov asked himself, "can so large a class of society, in profound
peace, and without doing the country the least good, be suffered to
exist, to eat the bread of others, to walk in other men's clothes, to
dwell in other men's houses, only with the obligation, in the event of
war, to kill and maim living creatures of the same race as themselves?"

And more and more clearly it dawned on his mind that only the two
following domains of activity are worthy of man, viz. science and art
and free manual labour. And with new force the old dreams and hopes of a
future literary career arose in him. Now and again, when Chance put into
his hand a valuable book rich in noble and fructifying ideas, he thought
with bitter melancholy of himself: "Good gracious, how simple, clear and
true all this is which I myself, moreover, have known and experienced!
Why cannot I, too, compose something similar?" He wished he could write
a novel or a great romance, the _leitmotiv_ of which should be his
contempt and disgust for military life. In his imagination everything
fell so excellently into groups, his descriptions of scenery became true
and splendid, his puppets woke to life, the story developed, and his
treatment of it made him so boisterously cheerful and happy. But when he
sat down to write, everything suddenly became so pale and feeble, so
childish, so artificial and stereotyped. As long as his pen ran quickly
and boldly over the paper he noticed none of these defects; but
directly he compared his own work with that of some of the great Russian
authors--if only with a small, detached piece from them--he was seized
at once by a deep despair, and by shame and disgust at his own work.

He often wandered, harassed by such thoughts, about the streets in the
balmy nights of the latter part of May. Without noticing it himself, he
invariably selected for these promenades the same way--i.e. from the
Jewish cemetery to the great dam, and thence to the high railway bank.
It happened occasionally that, entirely absorbed in his dreams, he
failed to notice the way he took, and, suddenly waking up, he found
himself, much to his astonishment, in a wholly different part of the
town.

Every night he passed by Shurochka's window. With stealthy steps, bated
breath, and beating heart, he prowled along the opposite side of the
street. He felt like a thief who, in shame and anguish, tries hard to
leave the scene of his crime as unobserved as possible. When the lamp
was extinguished in the Nikoläiev's drawing-room, in the black
window-panes of which there was only a weak reflection of the moon's
faint rays, Romashov hid himself in the deep shade of the high hoarding,
pressed his crossed arms convulsively against his breast, and uttered in
a hot whisper--

"Sleep, sleep, my beloved one, my queen! I am here watching over you."

In such moments he felt tears in his eyes, but in his soul stirred,
besides love, tenderness and self-sacrificing affection, and also the
human animal's blind jealousy and lust.

One evening Nikoläiev was invited to a whist party at the commander's.
Romashov was aware of this. When, as usual of a night, he passed
Nikoläiev's dwelling, he smelt, from the little flower-bed behind the
hoarding, the fragrant, disturbing perfume of daffodils. He jumped over
the hedge, soiled his hands with the sticky mould of the bed, and
plucked a whole armful of soft, moist, pale flowers.

The window of Shurochka's bedroom was open. It was dark within, and not
a sound could be heard from it. With a boldness that astonished himself,
Romashov approached the wall, and threw the flowers into the room. Still
the same mysterious silence. He stood quite still for three minutes,
listening and waiting. His heart-beats, so it seemed to him, echoed
along the whole of the long, dead-silent street; but no answer. Not the
faintest sound reached the listener's ears. With bent back, and blushing
for shame, he stole away on tip-toe.

The next day he received the following curt and angry letter from
Shurochka--

     Never dare to repeat what you did yesterday. Courting in the Romeo
     and Juliet style is always absurd, particularly in this little hole
     of a place.

In the daytime Romashov tried to obtain a distant glimpse of Shurochka
in the street, but he never succeeded. He often thought he recognized
the mistress of his heart in some lady walking along. With beating heart
and thrills of bliss he hurried nearer, but every time this turned out a
bitter disappointment; and when he found out his mistake he felt in his
soul an abandonment and deadly void that caused him pain.



XVIII


One day towards the end of May, a young soldier belonging to Captain
Osadchi's company hanged himself. Curiously enough, this suicide
happened on the same date as a similar dreadful event in the previous
year, and that, too, in Osadchi's company.

About this time drinking-bouts were arranged in the regiment. These, in
spite of their quasi-official character, were not one whit inferior in
coarseness to the regular and more private gatherings _inter pocula_. It
is highly probable that such stimulating entertainments were felt a
special necessity when men, who have been tied to one another by fate,
through a soul-destructive inactivity or senseless cruelty towards their
kind, have chanced to look somewhat more deeply into each other's
hearts, and then--in spite of prejudices, unscrupulousness, and
spiritual darkness--suddenly realize in what a bottomless pit of
darkness they all are. In order to deaden the pangs of conscience and
remorse at a life ruined and thrown away, all their insidious, brutish
instincts have to be let loose at once and all their passions satisfied.

Shortly after the suicide in question, a similar crisis occurred among
the officers. Osadchi, as might be expected, became the instigator and
high-priest of the orgies. In the course of several days he organized in
the mess, games of hazard more recklessly than ever, during which
fearful quantities of spirit were consumed. Strangely enough, this wild
beast in human form soon managed to entice pretty nearly all the
officers of his regiment into a whirl of mad dissipations. And during
all these carousals Osadchi, with unparalleled cynicism, insolence, and
heartlessness, tried to provoke expressions of disapproval and
opposition, by invoking all the powers of the nether-world to insult the
name and memory of the unhappy man who had taken his own life.

It was about 6 p.m., Romashov was sitting at his window with his legs
resting on the window-sill, and whistling softly a waltz out of _Faust_.
The sparrows and magpies were making a noise and laughing at each other
in the garden. It was not yet evening, but the shadows beneath the trees
grew longer and fainter.

Suddenly a powerful voice was heard outside singing, not without a
certain spirit, but out of tune--

    "The chargers are champing, snorting, and neighing.
     The foam-covered bridle still holds them in sway."

Immediately afterwards the door was flung wide open, and Viätkin rolled
into Romashov's room with a loud peal of laughter. Although it was all
he could do to stand on his legs, he kept on singing--

    "Matrons and maidens with sorrowful glances
     Watch till their hero is lost to their sight."

Viätkin was still completely intoxicated from the libations of the
preceding day, and his eyelids were red and swollen from a night
without sleep. His hat was half off his head, and his long, waxed
moustache hung down like the tusks of a walrus.

"R-romuald, Syria's holy hermit, come, let me kiss you!" he roared in a
way that echoed through the whole house. "How long do you intend to sit
brooding here? Come, let us go. There's wine and play and jolly fellows
down there. Come!"

Viätkin gave Romashov a sounding kiss and rubbed his face with his wet
moustache.

"Well, well, that will do, Pavel Pavlich. Is that the way to go on?"
Romashov tried to defend himself against Viätkin's repeated caresses,
but in vain.

"Hold out your hand, my friend. Osadchi is kicking up a row down there,
so there's not a pane of glass unbroken. Romashevich, I love you. Come
here and let me give you a real Russian kiss, right on the mouth--do you
hear?"

Viätkin with his swollen face, glassy eyes, and stinking breath was
unspeakably forbidding to Romashov, but, as usual, the latter could not
ward off such caresses, to which he now responded by a sickly and
submissive smile.

"Wait and you shall hear why I came," shrieked Viätkin, hiccupping and
stumbling about the room. "Something important, you may well believe.
Bobetinski was cleaned out by me to his last copeck. Then he wanted, of
course, to give an IOU. 'Much obliged, dear boy, but that cock won't
fight. But perhaps you have something left to pledge.' Then he drew out
his revolver--here it is, by the way." Viätkin drew from his breeches
pocket, which followed, turned inside out, a choice little,
well-constructed revolver protected by a chamois-leather case. "As you
see, dear boy, the Mervin type. 'Well,' I said to him, 'how much will
you venture on that--twenty--ten--fifteen?' And can you imagine such a
curmudgeon? The first time only a rouble, on the 'colour,' of course.
But all the same--hey, presto! slap-bang! After five raisings the
revolver was mine and the cartridges too. And now you shall have it,
Romashevich, as a keepsake of our old friendship. Some day you will
always think of me thus: 'Viätkin was always a brave and generous
officer.' But what are you doing? Are you writing verses?"

"Well, well, what have you brought this for, Pavel Pavlich? Put it
away."

"All right. Perhaps you think it's no good? I could kill an elephant
with it. Will experiment with it at once. Where's that slave of yours?
He shall get us a target on the spot. Wait a second.
Hainán!--slave!--squire-at-arms!--hi!"

Viätkin rolled out of the door and then into Hainán's closet, where for
several minutes he was heard kicking up a row. Suddenly he returned in
triumph with Pushkin's bust under his arm.

"Well I never, Pavel Pavlich! Don't make a fool of yourself. Let that
alone." But there was not sufficient force in Romashov's objections, and
Viätkin went on as he pleased.

"Rubbish! You chatter like a starling. Now we'll put this on the
_tabouret_. Stand up, you ass. I'll teach you, by Jove!"

With these adjurations to poor Pushkin, Viätkin returned to Romashov,
took his stand at the window-sill, and cocked his revolver. As he was
not sober, he swung the muzzle of the weapon here and there, and
Romashov expected every second that one of them would be killed.

The distance was about five paces. Viätkin was long in taking aim,
during which the muzzle described some dangerous curves in the air. At
last the shot rang out, and in Pushkin's right cheek appeared a big
black, irregular hole. Romashov was for some moments deafened by the
report.

"Well aimed!" shrieked Viätkin, rejoicing. "Here's your revolver, and
don't forget my friendship. Hurry on now with your uniform jacket and
come with us to the mess. Long live the glorious Russian Army!"

"Pavel Pavlich, I really cannot to-day," protested Romashov weakly. He
could not defend himself. In his resistance to the other's strenuous
pressing, he neither found the proper decisive word nor the tone of
voice requisite for enforcing respect, and, blaming himself inwardly for
his despicable passive weakness, he wearily followed Viätkin, who with
his shaky legs bravely stumbled among the cucumbers and turnips in the
kitchen-garden.

       *       *       *       *       *

The officers' meeting that night was more than usually noisy and stormy,
and finally assumed an absolutely mad character. First they caroused at
mess, then drove to the railway station to drink wine, after which the
orgy proceeded in the officers' casino. Romashov held aloof at first,
was angry with himself for yielding, and experienced the feeling of
loathing that overcomes every sober individual in a company of
drunkards. The laughter struck him as being artificial, the witticisms
poor, and the singing out of tune. But the hot red wine he drank at the
station mounted to his head and produced in him a noisy, nervous
merriment. A curtain of millions, as it were, of grains of sand dancing
round each other was spread before his eyes, which were heavy with wine,
and at the same time everything seemed to him so enjoyable, comic, and
humorous.

The hours flew like seconds, and it was only when the lamps of the
_salle-à-manger_ were lighted that Romashov began to realize how the
time had sped and that night had set in.

"Gentlemen," called some one, "the ladies are waiting for us. Let us be
off to Schleyfer's."

"Hurrah!--to Schleyfer's, to Schleyfer's."

The proposal was hailed with laughter and jubilation. All got up and the
chairs danced along the floor. This evening everything, moreover, went
off, as it were, automatically. Outside the mess-room door stood a whole
row of phaetons, but nobody knew who ordered them and how they came
there. Romashov was for some time tossed between moments of
semi-consciousness and the fully wide-awake state and alertness of mind
of a sober man. Suddenly he found himself sitting in a carriage beside
Viätkin. On the front seat sat a third person whose features Romashov
could not distinguish in the darkness of the night, however much he
might, by violent jerks of his body sidewards, bend forward to look
closely at the unknown. The latter's face was quite dark. Now it shrunk
up to the size of a man's fist, at another time it stretched itself out
awry, and then seemed to Romashov extraordinarily familiar. Romashov
suddenly burst out into a roar of laughter that sounded unnatural and
idiotic, and did not seem to come from himself, but from some stranger
in his immediate vicinity.

"You're lying, Viätkin. I know very well, my dear fellow, where we are
going to," babbled Romashov, in a drunken, chaffing tone. "You're taking
me to the girls, you rascal."

At that moment a carriage passed them with a deafening noise. By the
light of the lamp the outlines of a couple of brown country horses
dragging quickly along in an awkward and ridiculous gallop an open
carriage with a drunken coachman slashing his whip in a frantic way, and
four no less intoxicated officers, were reproduced for a second.

Consciousness and the faculty of reflection returned to Romashov for a
moment. Yes, it could not be disputed; he was actually on his way to a
place where women surrendered their bodies to caresses and embraces for
payment in cash. "Ugh! after all, it's perhaps the same thing in the
end. Women are women," shouted a wild, brutish, impatient voice within
him. At the same time, there rang in his soul a lovely, far-away,
scarcely audible music--the memory of Shurochka, but in this unconscious
coincidence there was nothing low, defiling, or insulting. On the
contrary, the thought of her at this moment had a refreshing, soothing,
and at the same time exciting and inflaming effect on his heart.

In a short time he would then find himself in close contact with that
curious, mysterious, and much-vaunted species of women that he had never
gazed on before. He dreamt of how he would meet their glances, take
their hands, and listen to their merry laughter and joyous songs, and he
felt that all this would bring him relief and consolation in his
incessant longing and torturing desire for Shurochka, the only woman in
the world who existed for him. In all these dreams, however, there was
not a trace of degraded, sensual lust. As a dead-tired bird on the wing
rushes, in the cold and darkness of an autumn night, blindly against the
irresistibly attractive flood of light from the lighthouse, so, too,
his soul, tortured by a cruel and capricious woman, was drawn into this
sphere of undisguised, sensual tenderness and careless, boisterous
merriment.

Suddenly the horses made a sharp swerve to the right, and at once the
noise of the carriage and the squeaking of the wheel-tyres ceased. The
carriage rocked here and there in the shallow cavities of the deep,
sandy road. Romashov opened his eyes. Far beneath him and on a wide
stretch of land, a multitude of small lights or lamps here and there
cast their faint, uncertain glimmer. Now they disappeared behind
invisible trees and houses, now they bobbed up before his eyes, and it
looked as if a huge, fantastic, disordered crowd of people or a
procession with torches and lanterns was moving forward down the road.
An acrid smell of wormwood, a big dark branch slowly waved up and down
over the heads of the parties who were being driven along, and, at the
same time, they found themselves suddenly environed by a new
atmosphere--cold, raw, and moist, as if it had arisen from a vault.

"Where are we?" asked Romashov.

"At Savalie," shrieked in reply the dark figure sitting on the box-seat,
in whom Romashov now recognized Lieutenant Epifanov. "We're at
Schleyfer's, you know. Haven't you ever been here before?"

"Go to hell," grumbled Romashov. Epifanov kept on laughing.

"Hark you, Yuri Alexievich, shall we tell the little darlings in a
whisper what an innocent you are? Later on, you'll put all our noses out
of joint."

Again Romashov felt, half-unconsciously, that he had sunk back into
impenetrable darkness, until he, as suddenly, found himself standing in
a large room with parqueted floor and Vienna chairs along the walls.
Over the entrance to the room, and over three other doors leading to
small, dark chambers, lay hangings of red and yellow flowered cotton.
Curtains of the same stuff and colour flickered in the draught from the
windows opened on a gloomy backyard. Lamps were burning on the walls,
but the great room was filled with smoke and the smell of meat from the
adjacent kitchen; and the fumes were only dispersed occasionally by the
balmy spring air entering through the window, and by the fresh scent of
the white acacias that bloomed outside the house.

About ten officers took part in this excursion. All seemed bent on
solving the delicate problem of contriving to shriek, laugh, and bawl at
the same time. Romashov strolled about the room with a feeling of naïve,
unreflecting enjoyment, and, with a certain astonishment and delight,
gradually recognized all his boon-companions--Biek-Agamalov, Lbov,
Viätkin, Epifanov, Artschakovski, Olisár, etc. Even Staff-Captain
Lieschtschenko was discovered there. He sat huddled up in a window with
his usual, eternal, resigned _Weltschmerz_ grin. On a table stood a
respectable row of bottles containing ale and a dark, thick, syrupy
cherry-cordial. No one knew who had ordered all these bottles. They were
thought--like so much else that night--to have come of their own accord.
Romashov drank, proposed healths, and embraced every one he met, and
began to feel sticky and messy about his lips and fingers.

There were five or six women in the room. One of them--a girl of
fourteen dressed as a page, with rose-coloured stockings--sat on
Biek-Agamalov's knee and played with his epaulettes. Another--a big,
coarse blonde in a red silk _basquine_ and dark skirt, and with powdered
face, and broad, black, painted eyebrows--went straight up to Romashov.

"Gracious, my good sir, why do you look so miserable? Come with me into
that room," she added in a whisper.

She threw herself carelessly on a table, and there sat with one leg over
the other. Romashov noticed how the strong outlines of her well-formed
knee were shown off by the thin skirt. A shudder thrilled him, and his
hands trembled.

"What's your name?"

"Mine? Malvina." She turned away with an air of indifference, and began
swinging her legs. "Order me a cigarette."

Two Jewish musicians came on the scene, one with a violin, the other
with a tambourine. Soon a vulgar, hackneyed, screeching polka tune was
heard in the room, whereupon Olisár and Artschakovski at once began to
dance the _cancan_. They hopped round the room first on one leg, then on
the other, snapped their fingers, wagged their hips, and bent backwards
and forwards with vulgar, cynical gestures. This unattractive ballet was
suddenly interrupted by Biek-Agamalov, who jumped off the table,
shrieking in his sharp, penetrating voice--

"To hell with the _starar_! Out with the ragtag and bobtail!"

Down by the door stood two young exquisites, both of whom had many
acquaintances among officers, and had even been guests at the regimental
soirées. One of them was a Treasury official, the other a landed
proprietor and brother of the police magistrate of the town. They both
belonged to the so-called "cream" of Society.

The Treasury official turned white, but forced a smile, and answered in
an affable tone--

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but can't we join? We are old acquaintances, you
know. My name is Dubiezki. We should not interfere with you at all."

"Possibly in making love, but not when the fight begins," added the
magistrate's brother, who tried to adopt a good-humoured tone.

"Out of this!" screamed Biek-Agamalov. "March to the door!"

"Gentlemen, by all means, put the _starar_ out," sneered Artschakovski.

A horrible confusion arose in the room. Tables and chairs were thrown
over; the men shrieked, laughed, and stamped with all their might. The
flames of the lamps rose like fiery tongues on high. The cold night air
penetrated through the open windows, but without any cooling or calming
effect on all these half-demented fighting-cocks. The two civilians had
already been thrown into the backyard, where they were heard fiercely
screeching and threatening with tears in their voices--

"_Opritschniker_,[20] brigands! This affair will cost you dear. We shall
lodge a complaint with your commander, with the Governor."

"Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo," Viätkin sneered in mockery, whilst stretching out of
the window. "Go to blazes!"

It seemed to Romashov as if all the events of the day had followed one
another without a break, but also without the least intelligible
connection, just as if a series of wild pictures in loud and motley
colours had been unrolled before his eyes. Again were heard the scraping
of the violin and the tambourine's blustering noise. One of the
"partners" had now gone so far as to pirouette on the floor with nothing
but his shirt on. A pretty, slender woman, who had up to then escaped
Romashov's notice, with dishevelled hair over her bare neck, and sharp,
prominent shoulder-blades, wound her arms round poor Lieschtschenko's
neck and sang in his ear in her shrill soprano, and in unison with the
violin's awful melody:

      "When consumption sets its mark,
       And you're lying pale and stark,
    And doctors are seen fumbling round your couch."

Bobetinski slung a glass of ale between the curtains of one of the
little, dark _cabinets_, whence very soon proceeded an angry, but
sleepy, thick voice--

"Aren't you ashamed, sir? Who dares ...? Such a low swine!"

"I say! how long have you been here?" asked Romashov of the lady in the
red _basquine_, whilst, as it were, in an absent-minded way, he rested
his hand on her strong, warm knee.

She made some answer, but he did not hear it. A fresh scene of savagery
had absorbed all his attention. Sub-lieutenant Lbov was driving before
him one of the musicians, and banging him on the head all the time with
the tambourine. The poor Jew, terrified out of his wits, ran from corner
to corner, screaming and babbling his unintelligible jargon, with wholly
ineffectual attempts to catch his long, fluttering coat-tails, and
incessantly glancing behind him from the corners of his eyes at his
unmerciful persecutor. Everybody was laughing. Artschakovski fell flat
on the floor, and wriggled with tears in his eyes and in alarming
convulsions of laughter. Directly afterwards the other Jew's piercing
yells were audible. Another of the company had snatched the violin, and
thrown it down with fearful violence. With a crashing sound that
harmonized, in an almost touching way, with the musician's desperate
cries for help, the instrument broke into a thousand fragments. What
followed this Romashov never perceived, inasmuch as, for several
minutes, he was in a sort of dark "nirvana." When he had somewhat
regained the use of his reason, he saw, as though in a fever-dream, that
all in the room were running round each other with wild shrieks and
gestures of despair. For an instant the whole swarm gathered round
Biek-Agamalov, only in the next instant to be scattered like chaff in
all directions. The majority sought safety in the little, dark
_cabinets_.

"Out of it! I won't stand a single one!" shrieked Biek-Agamalov in
Berserker fury. He ground his teeth, stamped on the floor, and struck
about him with his clenched fists. His face was crimson; the veins in
his forehead from the roots of his hair to his nose stood like strained
ropes; his head was lowered like a bull's, and his unnaturally prominent
eyes with their bloodshot whites were terrifying. He was unable to utter
any human sounds, but groaned, like a wild beast, in a vibrating voice--

"Ah-ah-ah-ah!"

Suddenly, whilst bending the upper part of his body to the left with the
suppleness of a panther, he drew his sabre, as quick as lightning, from
its sheath. The broad, sharp blade described, with a whistling sound,
several rapid circles over his head.

In frantic terror every living creature fled helter-skelter from the
room through doors and windows, the women screaming hysterically, the
men trampling down all that lay in their way. Romashov was carried by
the current irresistibly towards the door, where an officer rushing past
caused him, by the sharp facet of his uniform-button, a long, bleeding
scratch on his face. The next moment all stood whooping and yelling in
the yard, except Romashov, who alone remained by the door of the room.
He felt his heart beating with increased force and quickness; but the
murderous, unbridled scene filled him not only with terror, but also
with an intoxicating feeling of savage, exulting defiance.

"I will have blood!" screamed Biek-Agamalov, with gnashing teeth. The
sight of the terror he inspired deprived him of the last remains of
understanding and reflection. With frantic strength and rage he smashed,
with a few strokes, all the furniture nearest to him, and, after that,
hurled his sabre with such force at a large mirror that the glass
splinters hailed on all sides. With another blow he laid waste the
table, which was crowded with a number of bottles and glasses, the
fragments and contents of which were thrown all over the floor.

But just at that moment cried a piercing voice of indescribable fury and
boldness--

"Fool! Cad!"

This insult was hurled by the same bare-headed woman with naked arms as
had just embraced Lieschtschenko. This was the first time that Romashov
had noticed her. She was standing in a recess behind the stove, leaning
forward with clenched hands tightly pressed against her hips, and
pouring out an uninterrupted flow of "Billingsgate" with a rapidity and
readiness which the vilest market-woman might have envied.

"Fool! Cad! Scum! I am not afraid of you! Fool! Fool! Fool!"

Biek-Agamalov lowered his sabre, and seemed, for a moment, to lose all
power over himself. Romashov saw how his face grew whiter and whiter,
how his eyebrows puckered, and how the yellow pupils first darkened and
then hurled a blinding flash of diabolical hatred and rage which no
longer knew bounds. His knees gave way, and his head fell on his chest.
At that moment, Biek-Agamalov was no longer a human being. He was
transformed into a bloodthirsty wild beast straining every nerve for the
fatal leap.

"Silence!" It sounded as if he had spat out the word. Speak he could
not.

"Scoundrel, brute, beast, I shall not be silent!" shrieked the fury in
the stove corner, her body trembling all over at every word she hurled.

Romashov felt himself getting whiter and whiter every moment. He felt a
sensation of void in his brain, a sensation of release from every
oppressive act of thought or reflection. A curious mixture of joy and
terror arose in his soul, just as the bubbles of sparkling wine ascend
to the edge of a goblet. He saw Biek-Agamalov, whilst continually
following the woman with his eyes, slowly raise his sabre above his
head. An irresistible flow of frantic jubilation, fear, inconsiderate
boldness, carried Romashov away. He rushed forward so rapidly that he
did not even hear Biek-Agamalov hiss his last question--

"Will you be silent? For the last time----"

Romashov, with a force he never thought he was capable of, gripped
Agamalov's wrist. During the course of a few seconds and at a distance
of a couple of inches between their faces, the two officers eyed one
another without moving, stiff as if carved out of stone. Romashov heard
his comrade's quick, panting breath; he saw his eyes glitter with hate
and a thirst for revenge, and his lips foam with the spasmodic movements
of his lower jaw; but he felt that the fire of wrath would, in a few
minutes, be extinguished in this man who had never yet sought, of his
own accord, to curb his passions. But to Romashov this feeling of proud
triumph in a game of life and death, from which he now knew he should
come out the victor, was almost intolerable. He knew that all those who
were anxiously watching this scene from outside also realized in what
deadly danger he stood. Out in the yard and by the open windows there
brooded such a hush and quiet that, all of a sudden, a nightingale a few
paces off began to trill her joyous lay.

"Let me go," came at last like a hoarse whisper from Biek-Agamalov's
bitten lips.

"Biek, you must never strike a woman," replied Romashov calmly. "You
would blush for it as long as you lived."

The last sparks of rage and madness now died out in Agamalov's eyes.
Romashov drew a deep breath as if from a long swoon. His heart beat
irregularly and quick, and his head was again heavy and feverishly hot.

"Let me go!" shrieked Biek-Agamalov once more in a fierce tone, and
tried to release himself. Romashov felt he would no longer be able to
keep his hold of him; but he had no further dread of his wrath. He said
in a caressing brotherly tone, as he laid his hand on his comrade's
shoulder--

"Forgive me, Biek, but I know that a day will come when you will thank
me for this."

Biek-Agamalov with a loud snap stuck his sabre into its sheath.

"All right, confound you!" he screamed in an angry tone, in which,
however, there was a note of shame and confusion. "We'll settle this
matter afterwards. But what right have you----?"

The valiant crowd in the yard now understood that all danger was over
for the present. With loud, but not quite natural, peals of laughter,
the lot now rushed into the room. But he now seemed extinguished, his
strength exhausted, and there was something apathetic and ironically
contemptuous about him.

Now Madame Schleyfer herself--a massive lady with a hard look, small
dark pouches under her eyes, disappearing eyelashes, and great layers of
fat on her neck and bosom--entered the room. She attacked first one and
then the other of the officers; took tight hold of one by a button, of
another by a sleeve, and howled to each of them who could stand and
listen her everlasting song--

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, who will make good all this? Who will pay for the
mirror, the furniture, the bottles, the girls?"

All this meanwhile was settled to the satisfaction of the authorities by
the same mysterious "benefactor" who had provided for everything else in
the course of this memorable excursion. The officers left the room in
groups. Every one of them inhaled with delight the mild, pure air of the
May night. Romashov felt all his being thrilled with a certain joyous
agitation. It seemed to him as if all traces of the day's orgies had
vanished from his brain, as if a pair of innocent fresh lips had
repurified and refreshed him by a soft kiss on his brow.

Biek-Agamalov came up to him, took his hand, and said--

"Romashov, come and ride in my carriage. I wish you to do so."

And when Romashov, on one occasion during the journey home, turned
towards the right to observe the awkward gallop of the horses,
Biek-Agamalov seized his hand and pressed it for a long time
warmly--nay, so hard that it almost caused pain. Not a word, however,
passed between the two officers during the whole way.



XIX


The violent emotion felt by every member of the company during the wild
scene we have just depicted found expression in a nervous irritability
which, on their return to the mess-room, took the form of reckless
arrogance and gross misbehaviour to all who happened to come across the
officers on their way home. A poor Jew coming along was stopped and
deprived of his cap. Olisár got up in the carriage, and insulted, in the
outskirts of the town, in the middle of the street, all passers-by in a
manner which cannot be decently described. Bobetinski whipped his
coachman for no reason whatever. The others sang and bawled with all
their might; only Biek-Agamalov, who rode beside Romashov, sat all the
time angry, silent, and taciturn.

Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, the mess-rooms were
brilliantly illuminated and full of people. In the card and
billiard-rooms and at the buffet creatures with unbuttoned coats,
flaming faces, vacantly staring eyes and of uncertain gait, helplessly
collided with each other, heavily fuddled by the fumes of wine and
tobacco smoke. Romashov, who was walking about and nodding to several of
the officers, also found among them, to his great astonishment,
Nikoläiev. He was sitting by Osadchi, red in face and intoxicated, but
holding himself upright. On seeing Romashov approaching he eyed him
sharply for a few seconds, but afterwards turned abruptly aside, so as
to avoid holding out his hand to the latter, meanwhile conversing with
his neighbour with increased interest.

"Viätkin, come here and sing," bellowed Osadchi over the heads of the
rest.

"Yes, come let us sing," chanted Viätkin, in reply, parodying,
imitating, and caricaturing a melody from the Church ritual--

    "Three small boys found lurching
     Got an awful birching
     At the parson's stile."

Viätkin imitated in quick succession and in the same tone the strophes
recited in the remainder of the antiphon at Mass--

    "Sexton, parson, and his clerk
     Thought the smacking quite a lark.
     Then the beadle said, 'By hell,
     Nikifor, you smack right well.'"

    "Nikifor, you smack right well!"

answered _pianissimo_ in complete harmony the hastily improvised choir
of drunken officers, seconded by Osadchi's softly rumbling bass voice.

Viätkin conducted the singing, standing on a table in the middle of the
room, whilst stretching his arms in an attitude of benediction over the
heads of the "congregation." Now his eyes flashed terrifying glances of
threat and condemnation; at another time they were raised to heaven with
a languishing expression of infinite beatitude; then he hissed with rage
at those who sang out of tune; again he stopped in time by a scarcely
perceptible _tremolo_ of the palm of his hand a run to a misplaced
_crescendo_.

"Staff-Captain Lieschtschenko, you're singing damnably. Damn it, what a
wretched ear!" roared Osadchi. "Keep quiet in the room, gentlemen. No
noise, please, when there's singing."

    "Once on a time a farmer so rich--
     Who used to like iced punch"--

continued Viätkin, in his improvised service of the Church. His eyes,
however, now began to smart dreadfully from the dense tobacco smoke.
Romashov was reminded by the wet and sticky tablecloth that he had not
washed his hands since dinner. He went out and made his way across the
yard to a side room called the "Officers' Shelter," which served as a
sort of lavatory. It was a cold, dismal little crib with only one
window. Several common cupboards stood along the wall, and between them,
in hospital fashion, were placed two beds, the sheets, etc., of which
were never changed. Not a man in the entire regiment could recollect
when this room was swept and cleaned. There was an intolerable stench
there, the main ingredients of which were rotting bedclothes, stinking
boots, and bad tobacco. The room was originally intended for officers of
other regiments who happened to be visiting the garrison town, but it
gradually became converted into a sort of _morgue_ for those who got
dead drunk at mess. It was almost officially designated as "the
mortuary," which name, by a dreadful irony of fate, received its full
justification from the fact that no less than two officers and one
soldier had committed suicide in it during the few years the regiment
had been garrisoned in the town. Moreover, not a year elapsed without
one suicide taking place among the officers of this regiment.

When Romashov entered "the mortuary" he found two men sitting there on a
bed near the window. The room was dark, and it was some time before
Romashov recognized in one of the "guests" ex-Staff-Captain Klodt,
alcoholist and thief, and on those grounds expelled from the command of
his company. The other was a certain Ensign Solotuchin--a tall, lean,
bald-headed, worn-out rake and gambler, feared and despised wherever he
went for his evil, lying tongue and his conversation interlarded with
coarse cynicisms and improprieties--a veritable type of the ensigns of
the storybooks.

Between these two worthy "birds of a feather" might be seen on the table
the dim outline of a schnapps bottle, an empty plate, and two full
glasses. The pair of boon companions were silent when Romashov entered
the room, and tried, as it were, to hide themselves in the darkness; but
when he leaned over them, they looked at him with a sly smile.

"What, in the name of goodness, are you two doing here?" asked Romashov,
in alarm.

"Hush!" Solotuchin made a mysterious warning gesture with his
forefinger. "Wait here, and don't disturb us."

"Hold your jaw!" ordered Klodt in a whisper.

At the same moment the rattling noise of a _telega_ was heard somewhere
in the distance. Then the two strangers raised their glasses, clicked
them together, and drained the contents.

"But answer me. What is the meaning of it all?" repeated Romashov in the
same anxious tone.

"My little greenhorn," replied Klodt in a significant whisper, "if you
must know, it's only our usual little morning repast; but now I hear
the _telega_, Ensign," Klodt went on to say as he turned to Solotuchin.
"It's time then to finish our drink and be off. What do you think of the
moonlight? Will it suit?"

"My glass is empty already," replied Solotuchin, glancing out of the
window at the moon's slender, pointed sickle that stood drowsy and
sleepy in the sky, and hung down over the little slumbering town. "But
let's just wait a wee bit. S-sh! I thought I heard a dog barking."

And again they bent towards one another to resume their mysterious
conversation, carried on in a low voice; the spluttering tone and
evident lack of coherence witnessed clearly enough that the schnapps had
begun to take effect. From the _salle-à-manger_ hard by came now and
then the melancholy, hollow tones of Viätkin's and Osadchi's improvised
Mass for the Dead, which had a weird and threatening ring about it in
the silent night.

Romashov seized his head with both hands.

"I beseech you, gentlemen, to stop this. I can't stand it any longer."

"Go to the devil!" roared Solotuchin. "No, stop, dear boy--whither away?
But, by all that's unholy, you shall first drink a glass with two fine
fellows. Catch tight hold of him, Captain, I'll shut the door."

With a yell of laughter the two scoundrels jumped up to seize Romashov;
but the latter's self-command was exhausted. The whole hideous
situation--this disgusting drinking-bout in the weird, dark room with
its insufferable, stifling atmosphere--this mysterious midnight meeting
between two individuals who were a danger to society--the vulgar
bellowing of the drunken officers and their blasphemous parody of the
Russian Mass--all this filled him with frantic terror and nausea. With
a piercing shriek, he thrust Solotuchin from him, and, trembling in
every limb, rushed deliberately from the mortuary.

Common sense now urged him to go home, but a strange, unfathomable
inward force again drove him, against his will, to the mess-room. There
some of the wine-soaked company were asleep on the window-sills and
chairs. A stifling heat prevailed, and, in spite of the wide-open
windows, the drowsily burning lights and lamps were never reached by a
quickening draught of air. The poor, dead-tired soldiers who attended to
the waiting could scarcely stand on their legs, and every moment stifled
a yawn, but as yet none of the champion boozers had entertained a
thought of breaking up.

Viätkin had again taken his place on a table, and was singing in his
high, caressive tenor voice--

    "Swift as the ocean's
     Roaring billows,
     Vanishes life in eternity."

There were several officers in the regiment with really beautiful
voices, which even now were very effective in spite of the drink.

This simple, plaintive melody exercised, at this moment, an ennobling
influence on all, and more than one of them experienced a pricking,
remorseful feeling at the thought of his worthless, sinful life.

    "Once you're in your coffin,
     Soon the world forgets your name,"

continued Viätkin in a voice of emotion, and his sleepy but good eyes
were dimmed with tears. Artschakovski seconded him with unimpeachable
care. To make his voice thrill he grasped his larynx with two fingers
and shook it. Osadchi accompanied it all with his heavy, long-drawn,
organ notes.

After the singing there reigned a deep silence for a few moments.
Suddenly Osadchi began again to recite in a subdued tone and eyes cast
down--

    "All ye who wander in sorrow's heavy, narrow road----"

"No, that's enough of it," a voice exclaimed. "This is now, I suppose,
the tenth time we have taken up this cursed Mass of Requiem----"

But the rest had already intoned the solemn melody that divides the
recitative of the antiphon, and once more, in the reeking and dirty
room, resounded the requiem over St. John of Damascus in clear,
full-voiced strains that express in so masterly a way the inconsolable
sorrow for death's inexorable cruelty--

    "All ye who believe in Me enter into the joy of My Father."

Artschakovski, who was as familiar with the ritual as the most
experienced choir-singer, at once repeated the following answer in
accordance with the text--

    "With our whole soul we all praise," etc.

And so the whole antiphon was chanted; but when Osadchi's turn came to
take up the recitation for the last time, he lowered his head like an
infuriated bull, the veins in his neck swelled, and as he directed his
melancholy, cruel, and threatening glances towards those present, he
declaimed in a half-singing tone, and in a voice that resembled the roar
of distant thunder--

    "Give, O Lord, Thy departed slave, Nikifor,
     A blessed departure hence and eternal rest."

In the midst of this lofty and pious invocation he stopped short, and,
to the horror of the bystanders, uttered two words of the most
blasphemous, cynical, and disgusting import.

Romashov jumped up, and thumped his fist, like a madman, on the table.

"Be silent! I forbid this," he roared in a voice trembling with anger
and pain. "What are you laughing at, Captain Osadchi? You ought to be
ashamed. Your eyes are mocking, but I see and know that remorse, terror,
and the tortures of hell are raging in your heart."

A hideous silence on the part of all followed this outbreak of temper.
Then a voice from the crowd was heard to exclaim--

"Is he drunk?"

These three words relaxed all the terrible tension of the situation; but
at the same moment let loose afresh--just as a few hours previously in
Schleyfer's den of infamy--all the evil spirits of orgy. There was
shrieking, hooting, stamping, jumping, and dancing; the whole room was
turned in a trice into an indescribable, savage, motley chaos. Viätkin,
who jumped on to a table, hit his head against the big hanging lamp,
which then swayed in awful zigzag curves, producing for some time a
fantastic series of dissolving views on the ceiling and walls, on which
drunken, frantic human beings were depicted as marvellous, gigantic
shapes, or as huddled, dwarfish figures resembling embryos.

The debauch seemed at last to reach its height. All these wretched
creatures were possessed, as it were, by a savage, exultant, ruthless
fiend who, mocking at all the laws of sense and decency, forced his
victims, by blasphemies, oaths, and all kinds of shamelessness, to
abdicate the last shreds of their human dignity.

Romashov, in the smoke and stuffiness, suddenly caught sight of a person
with features distorted by rage and incessant hooting, which for that
reason seemed to him, in the first instant, unrecognizable. It was none
other than Nikoläiev, who, now foaming with hate and fury, roared to his
enemy:

"You're a disgrace to the whole regiment, you and Nasanski! Not a word
or, by God! I'll----"

Romashov felt that some one was pulling him, gently and cautiously, a
few paces backwards. He turned round and recognized Agamalov, but at the
same instant forgot him, and turned quickly round to Nikoläiev. White
with suppressed rage, he answered in a low, hoarse voice and a forced
and bitter smile--

"What reason have you to mention Nasanski's name? But perhaps you have
some private, secret cause for hating him?"

"Rascal, scoundrel, your hour is come!" screamed Nikoläiev in a loud,
trembling voice. With flashing eyes he raised his tightly clenched fist
to Romashov's face, but the expected blow never fell. Romashov
experienced a momentary fear, together with a torturing, sickening
sensation in his chest and ribs, and he now noticed, for the first time,
that he was grasping some object with the fingers of his right hand.
Then with a rapid movement he threw the remains of his half-emptied
glass of ale into Nikoläiev's face.

Instantly after this a violent blow in the region of his left eye struck
him like a deafening thunderclap, and with the howl of a wounded wild
beast, Romashov rushed at his foe. A heavy fall, and the two rolled over
one another on the ground with furious blows and kicks. A thick cloud of
dust eddied round the combatants; chairs and tables were flung in all
directions, but the two continued, with unabated fury, to force, in
turn, each other's head against the filthy floor, and panting and with
rattling throats, tried to tear each other to pieces. Romashov knew he
had managed somehow or other to get his fingers well into Nikoläiev's
mouth at one of the corners, and he strove with all his might to rend
Nikoläiev's cheek, with the object of destroying those hateful features
for all time. He himself, however, felt no pain when his head and elbows
were bumped time after time, in the course of the fight, against the
hard floor.

He had not the slightest notion as to how the battle finally ended. He
suddenly found himself standing in a corner, plucked from the fight by
kindly hands, and, by the same well-meaning helper, prevented from
renewing his attack on Nikoläiev. Biek-Agamalov handed Romashov a glass
of water, and his teeth could be heard chattering, through the
convulsive twitchings of his lower jaw, against the side of the glass.
His uniform was torn to tatters in the back and elbows, and one
shoulder-strap swung hither and thither on its torn fastening. Romashov
was unable to speak, but his silent lips moved incessantly in fruitless
efforts to whisper audibly--

"I'll--show--him. I challenge him."

Old Liech, who had been in a delightful slumber at the edge of his table
during all that fearful row, now arose fully awake, sober, and severe in
countenance, and, in a bitter and hectoring tone rarely employed by him,
said--

"Gentlemen, in my capacity as the eldest here present, I order you all
to leave the mess instantly, and to go to your respective quarters. A
report of what has taken place here to-night is to be handed in to the
commander of the regiment to-morrow."

The order was obeyed without the slightest demur. All departed, cowed
and shamefaced, and consequently shy at meeting each other's glances.
Each individual dreaded to read in his comrade's eyes his own shame and
self-contempt, and they all gave one the impression of dirty little
malicious animals, to whose dim and undeveloped brains a gleam of human
understanding had suddenly managed to grope its way.

Day began to dawn. A delightful, glorious morning with a clear,
fleckless sky, refreshing coolness, and infinite harmony and peace. The
moist trees, wrapped in thin, curling exhalations arising from the
earth, and scarcely visible to the eye, had just awakened silently and
imperceptibly from their deep, mysterious, nocturnal sleep. And when
Romashov, on his way home, glanced at them, at the sky, and at the grass
faintly sparkling like silver in the dew, he felt himself so low, vile,
degenerate, and disgusting that he realized, with unutterable
melancholy, how unworthy he was to be greeted by the innocent, smiling
child-eyes of awakening Nature.



XX


On that same day--it was Wednesday--Romashov received the following curt
official communication--

     The Court of Honour of the--th Infantry Regiment hereby requests
     Sub-lieutenant Romashov to attend at 6 p.m. the officers'
     common-room. Dress: ordinary uniform.

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL MIGUNOV,
_President of the Court_.

On perusing the letter, Romashov could not restrain an ironical smile.
This so-called "ordinary uniform," i.e. undress uniform with
shoulder-knots and belt, was to be worn, under the most _extraordinary_
circumstances, before the Court, for public reprimand, when appearing
for examination by the commander of his regiment, etc., etc.

At 6 p.m. Romashov put in an appearance at the mess, and told the
orderly to send in his name to the president. The answer was to the
effect that he was to wait. Romashov sat down by an open window in the
dining-room, took up a paper and began to read; but he did not
understand a word of the contents: everything seemed to him so
uninteresting as he cast his eyes mechanically down one column after
another. Three officers who were in the mess before Romashov returned
his salutation with marked coldness, and continued their conversation in
a low voice, with the obvious intention of preventing Romashov from
catching what they were saying. Only one of them, Michin, pressed
Romashov's hand long and warmly, with moist eyes, blushing and
tongue-tied. He at once turned away, put on his cloak and hat hurriedly
and awkwardly, and ran out of the room.

Nikoläiev shortly afterwards entered through the buffet. He was pale,
his eyelids were of a bluish hue, his left hand was shaking with
spasmodic twitches, and just below his temples a bluish swelling was
visible. At once the recollection of the fight on the previous day came
to Romashov with painful distinctness. He hung his head, frowned, and,
almost annihilated with shame, hid himself behind his newspaper. He
closed his eyes, and listened in nervous tension to every sound in the
room.

Romashov heard Nikoläiev order a glass of cognac from the waiter, and
then greet one of the company. After that he walked up to where Romashov
was sitting, and passed him quite closely. Somebody left the room, the
door of which was shut again. A few seconds later Romashov heard in a
whispering tone behind him--

"Don't look back. Sit still and listen carefully to what I have to say."

It was Nikoläiev. The newspaper shook in Romashov's hands.

"As you're aware, all conversation between us is now forbidden; but damn
all these French niceties. What occurred yesterday can never be put
straight again, made little of, or be consigned to oblivion. In spite of
everything, however, I regard you as a man of conscience and honour. I
implore you--do you hear?--I implore you, not a word about my wife and
the anonymous letters. You understand me?"

Romashov, who was hidden by the newspaper from the eyes of his brother
officer, made a slow inclination of his head. The sound of steps
crunching the sand was audible from the courtyard. Romashov allowed a
few minutes to elapse, after which he turned round and glanced through
the window. Nikoläiev had gone.

"Your Honour!" the orderly suddenly stood, as if he had risen from the
earth, at Romashov's side. "I am ordered to ask you to walk in."

Along one side of the wall were placed several card tables, over which a
green cloth had been spread. Behind these tables sat the members of the
court, with their backs to the window. In consequence of this, it was
difficult to distinguish their faces. In the midst of them, in an
arm-chair, was seated Lieutenant-Colonel Migunov, the president--a fat,
pursy man without a neck, but with big, round shoulders which protruded
in quite an unnatural manner. On each side of Migunov sat
Lieutenant-Colonels Rafalski and Liech, and moreover, on the right,
Osadchi and Peterson; on the left, Captain Duvernois and the commissary
to the regiment, Staff-Captain Doroshenko. The table in front of all
these gentlemen was virtually empty, except that before Doroshenko, the
court prosecutor-in-ordinary, lay a heap of papers. It was cold and dark
in the great, bare room, although out-of-doors the sunshine was
gloriously warm. Everywhere the nose was assailed by a drowsy smell of
mustiness and rotting, moth-eaten furniture.

The president laid his big, white, fat hands on the tablecloth, examined
them minutely, and then began in a dry, official tone--

"Sub-lieutenant Romashov, the Officers' Court of Honour, which meets
to-day by order of the commander of the regiment, is directed to
examine closely into the circumstances of the deplorable and, to the
officers as a body, disgraceful scene that took place between you and
Lieutenant Nikoläiev last night, and it is incumbent on you to render to
us a most punctilious account of what you have to say with regard to
this painful affair."

Romashov stood before his judges with his arms hanging down, and plucked
at the fur lining of his cap. He felt like a hunted animal, but at the
same time as clumsy, feeble, and indifferent to everything as a
schoolboy just "ploughed" at an examination is to his teachers' threats
and his school-fellows' jeers. Coughing and stammering, in unconnected
phrases and with contradictions and repetitions, Romashov began his
report. At the same time, and whilst slowly observing the high
"tribunal" seated before him, he made a sort of appraisement of the
private or personal feelings of its individual members towards him.
"Migunov has a heart of stone, and it is a matter of supreme
indifference to him how the affair turns out; but the place of honour as
president and the great responsibility attached to it are, in the
highest degree, flattering to his vanity. Lieutenant-Colonel 'Brehm' is
looking miserable. Oh, you good old chap, perhaps you are sitting
thinking of that ten-rouble note which was never returned to you? Old
Liech looks glum. He's sober to-day in honour of the occasion, but the
pouches under his eyes are bigger than usual. He's not my enemy, but has
so many sins of his own to answer that he must take advantage of the
occasion, and play the part of guardian and protector of morality and
the 'honour of an officer.' So far as Osadchi and Peterson are
concerned, they are both notoriously my enemies. By invoking the law, I
might certainly challenge Osadchi--the whole of the row began through
his blasphemously parodying the Mass for the Dead--but what then? The
result in any case will be the same. Peterson smiles out of one corner
of his mouth in his usual snake-like way. I am just wondering what share
he had in those anonymous letters. Duvernois--a sleepy beast, whose
great, troubled eyes put one in mind of a cuttlefish's. Ah, yes, I've
never been one of Duvernois's favourites, and just as little of
Doroshenko's. Yuri Alexievich, my dear boy, the prospect does indeed
look gloomy for you."

"One instant, if you please," interrupted Osadchi. "President, will you
permit me to put a question?"

"Certainly," replied Migunov, with a gracious nod.

"Tell me, Sub-lieutenant Romashov," began Osadchi, in an affectedly
imposing and drawling tone, "where were you before you came to the mess
in such an inexcusable condition?"

Romashov blushed deeply, and felt big drops of sweat on his forehead.

"I was--I was," he stammered, "I was in a brothel," he added almost in a
whisper.

"Ha, ha--in a brothel," repeated Osadchi, as he purposely raised his
voice and pronounced every word with unsparing distinctness. "And no
doubt you had drinks there."

"Yes, I had been drinking," answered Romashov, in an abrupt tone.

"I have no wish to put any more questions," said Osadchi, turning with a
bow to the president.

"Sub-lieutenant, be good enough to continue your report," resumed
Migunov, "You remember you have acknowledged that you threw the glass
of ale at Nikoläiev--well?"

Romashov began his story again as unmethodically and unconnectedly as
before, but honourably endeavouring not to give any details. He had
already, in an indirect way and with much shame, succeeded in expressing
the regret he felt at his unworthy conduct, when he was once more
interrupted, this time by Captain Peterson. The latter was rubbing his
long, yellow-wax coloured hands with their sharp, dirty finger-nails
just as if he were washing himself, and said in his studiously
polite--nay, almost friendly--thin, wheedling voice--

"Ah, all that is quite fit and proper, and such a voluntary confession,
in a way, does you credit; but tell me, were you not, before this
painful story began, in the habit of visiting Lieutenant Nikoläiev's
house?"

Romashov drew himself up and, looking straight, not at Captain Peterson,
but at Migunov, replied bluntly:

"That is true, but I cannot understand what that has to do with the
matter."

"Pray don't get excited," exclaimed Peterson. "I only want you to answer
my questions. Tell me then, was there any special cause of mutual enmity
between you and Lieutenant Nikoläiev? I do not mean any difference in
the service, but a cause of a quite--er--if I may so put it, domestic
nature?"

Romashov pulled himself up to his full height, and his glance pierced
with undisguised hatred his enemy's treacherous, black, consumptive
eyes.

"I have not visited Lieutenant Nikoläiev's home more frequently than
those of my other acquaintances," he replied in a hard and cutting tone.
"No previous enmity has existed between us. The whole thing happened
unexpectedly and accidentally, when we were both the worse for liquor."

"Heh, heh, heh, we have already heard about the insobriety," Captain
Peterson chimed in; "but I will ask you once more, had not an unfriendly
meeting already taken place between you and Lieutenant Nikoläiev? I do
not for an instant suggest that you had quarrelled or come to blows, but
quite simply that--how shall I put it?--you were a little at variance in
your views of certain scandalous reports and intrigues?"

"President, am I bound to reply to all questions that are put to me?"
exclaimed Romashov.

"That rests entirely with you," replied Migunov coldly. "You can, if you
wish, absolutely refuse to answer. You can also commit your answer to
writing. That is your privilege."

"In such case I hereby declare that I will not answer any of Captain
Peterson's questions, and that not only in my interest but in his."

After Romashov had answered a few questions of minor importance the
examination was declared closed. Nevertheless, he had on two occasions
to give the court supplementary information, first in the evening of the
same day, and then again on the day following, viz., Thursday morning.
However careless and inexperienced Romashov might be in all the
practical circumstances of life, he nevertheless saw soon enough that
the court was performing its functions in the most negligent and
indiscreet way, and had therefore been guilty, not only of a revolting
lack of tact, but also of utter illegality. In defiance of Section 149
of the "Statute concerning Discipline," by which every communication to
unauthorized persons of what takes place at such examinations is in
plain language strictly forbidden, the members of the "Court of Honour"
did not scruple to relate everything straight off to their wives and
relations. The latter spread the scandal still further among the other
ladies of "Society," who in their turn discussed the matter with their
maidservants, charwomen, etc. Before twenty-four hours had elapsed
Romashov was the talk of the entire town and "hero of the day." When he
passed along the street he was gazed at from windows and doors, between
the hedge-posts of backyards, and from the vantage of garden-bushes and
arbours. Women from a good distance off pointed at him with their
finger, and he often heard his name whispered behind his back. Nobody in
the town doubted that a duel between him and Nikoläiev was
inevitable--nay, they even began to bet about the upshot of it.

As Romashov was passing Lykatschev's house on Thursday morning he
suddenly heard his name shouted.

"Yuri Alexievich, Yuri Alexievich, come here."

Romashov stopped, and soon discovered Katya Lykatschev standing on a
bench inside the fence. She was still in morning dress, which chiefly
consisted of a _kimono_, the triangular arrangement of which in front
left the delicate virginal neck wholly exposed. And she was altogether
so fresh and rosy that for an instant Romashov even felt light at heart.

Katya leant over the fence to enable Romashov to reach her hand, which
was still cool and moist from the morning bath. She began at once to
chatter and lisp at her usual pace:

"Where have you been all this time? You ought to be ashamed of yourself,
forgetting your friends in that way! _Zoi, zoi, zoi_--hush! I have long
known everything, everything." She stared at Romashov with great
terror-stricken eyes. "Take this and hang it round your throat. Hear and
obey at once. Look, if you please."

From the fold of her _kimono_, straight from her bosom, she drew out an
amulet that hung by a silk cord, and shyly put it into Romashov's hand.
The amulet still felt balmy from its nest against the young woman's warm
body.

"Will it help?" asked Romashov, in a jesting tone. "What is it?"

"That's a secret, and don't you dare to laugh, you ungodly creature.
_Zoi, zoi!_"

"Hang it, if I'm not beginning to be a man of note," thought Romashov,
as he said good-bye to Katya. "Splendid girl!" But he could not prevent
himself, though it might be for the last time, from thinking of himself
in the third person:

"And over the old warrior's rugged features stole a melancholy smile."

On that same evening he and Nikoläiev were again summoned to the Court.
The two enemies stood before the green table almost side by side. They
did not once look at each other, but they equally felt each other's
high-strung emotion, and were, in consequence, still more excited. Their
eyes were fixed, as though by magnetism, on the president's face when he
at last began to read the verdict of the Court.

"The members of the Officers' Court of Honour of the--th Regiment" (here
followed their Christian and surnames in full), "under the presidency of
Lieutenant-Colonel Migunov, have inquired into the matter of the fight,
in the mess, between Lieutenant Nikoläiev and Sub-lieutenant Romashov,
and the Court, by reason of the serious nature of the case, finds a duel
is necessary to satisfy the wounded honour of the regiment. This decree
of the Court is ratified by the commander of the regiment."

Lieutenant-Colonel Migunov took off his spectacles, and replaced them in
their case.

"It is incumbent on you, gentlemen," he went on to say in a sepulchral
voice, "to choose two seconds apiece, who are to meet here at 9 p.m. to
agree as to the conditions of the duel. Moreover," added Migunov, as he
got up and put his spectaclecase in his back-pocket, "moreover, I must
tell you that the verdict just read possesses only a conditionally
binding force on you, viz. it rests in your free discretion either to
submit to the decree of the Court or"--Migunov paused and made a gesture
by which he meant to express his absolute indifference--"leave the
regiment. You ought, gentlemen, to keep apart. However, one thing more.
Not in my capacity as president of the Court, but as an old comrade, I
must advise you, gentlemen, for the avoidance of further unpleasantness
and complications prior to the duel, not to visit the mess. _Au
revoir._"

Nikoläiev made a sharp, military "Face-about," and walked with rapid
steps out of the room. Romashov followed slowly after. He had no fear,
but he felt at once utterly lonely, abandoned, and shut off from the
entire world. When he reached the steps he gazed for some time, calm and
astonished, at the sky, the trees, a cow grazing on the other side of
the fence, the sparrows burrowing in the high road, and thought, "So
everything lives, struggles, and worries about its existence, except
myself. I require nothing and I have no interests. I am doomed; I am
alone, and dead already to this world."

With a feeling of sickness and disgust he went to find Biek-Agamalov and
Viätkin, whom he had chosen for his seconds. Both granted his request;
Biek-Agamalov with a gloomy, solemn countenance, Viätkin with many
hearty handshakes.

It was impossible for Romashov to return home.

Never had the thought of his uncomfortable abode seemed so repulsive to
him as at the present moment. In these gloomy hours of spiritual
depression, abandonment, and weariness of life, he needed a trusty,
intelligent, and sympathetic friend--a man with brains and heart.

Then he thought of Nasanski.



XXI


Nasanski was, as always, at home. He had only just awakened from a heavy
sleep following intoxication, and was lying on his back with only his
underclothing on and his hands under his head. In his troubled eyes
might be read sickness of life and physical weariness. His face had not
yet lost its sleepy and lifeless expression when Romashov, stooping over
his friend, said in a troubled and uncertain voice--

"Good-day, Vasili Nilich. Perhaps I have come at an inconvenient time?"

"Good-day," replied Nasanski, in a hoarse and weak voice. "Any news? Sit
down."

He offered Romashov his hot, clammy hand, but looked at him, not as at a
dear and ever-welcome friend, but as it were a troublous dream-picture
that still lingered after his drunken sleep.

"Aren't you well?" asked Romashov shyly, as he threw himself down on the
corner of the bed. "In that case I'll go at once, I won't disturb you."

Nasanski lifted his head a couple of inches from the pillow, and by an
effort he peered, with deeply puckered forehead, at Romashov.

"No--wait. Oh, how my head aches! Listen, Georgi Alexievich. I see that
something unusual has happened. If I could only collect my thoughts!
What is it?"

Romashov looked at him with silent pity. Nasanski's whole appearance
had undergone a terrible change since the two friends had last seen each
other. His eyes were sunken and surrounded by black rings; his temples
had a yellow hue; the rough, wrinkled skin over his cheek-bones hung
limply down, and was partly concealed by the sticky, wet tufts of hair
that drooped.

"Nothing particular. I only wanted to see you. To-morrow I am to fight a
duel with Nikoläiev, and I was loath to go home. But nothing matters
now. _Au revoir._ You see--I had nobody else to talk to and my heart is
heavy."

Nasanski closed his eyes, and his features made a still more painful
impression. It was evident that he had, by a really abnormal effort of
will, tried to recover consciousness, and now, when he opened his eyes,
a spark of keen understanding was at last visible in his glance.

"Well, well, I'll tell you what we'll do----" Nasanski turned on his
side by an effort and raised himself on his elbow. "But first give
me--out of the cupboard, you know---- No, let the apples be--there
should be a few peppermint drops--thanks, my friend. I'll tell you what
we'll do---- Faugh, how disgusting! Take me out into the fresh air. Here
it's intolerable. Always the same hideous hallucinations. Come with me;
we'll get a boat, then we can chat. Will you?"

With a stern face, and an expression of utter loathing on his
countenance, he drained glass after glass. Romashov observed Nasanski's
ashy complexion gradually assume a deeper hue, and his beautiful blue
eyes regain life and brilliancy.

When they reached the street they took a fly and drove to the river
flowing past the very outskirts of the town, which there swells out to a
dam, on one side of which stood a mill driven by turbines, an enormous
red building belonging to a Jew. On the other shore stood a few
bathing-houses, and there, too, boats might be hired. Romashov sat by
the oars, and Nasanski assumed a half-recumbent position in the stern.

The river was very broad here, the stream weak, the banks low and
overgrown with long, juicy grass that hung down over the water, and out
of it rose tall green reeds and masses of big, white water-lilies.

Romashov related the particulars of his fight with Nikoläiev. Nasanski
listened abstractedly and gazed down at the river, which in lazy,
sluggish eddies flowed away like molten glass in the wake of the boat.

"Tell me candidly, Romashov, have you any fear?" asked Nasanski, in a
low voice.

"Of the duel? No, I'm not afraid of that," replied Romashov irritably,
but he became abruptly silent, whilst, in the flash of a second, he saw
himself standing face to face with Nikoläiev, and with hypnotized eyes
gazing at the black, threatening muzzle of his revolver. "No, no," added
Romashov hastily, "I will not lie and boast that I'm not afraid. On the
contrary, I think it terrible; but I also know that I shall not behave
like a coward, and that I shall never apologize."

Nasanski dipped the tips of his fingers in the softly rippling water,
warm with the evening glow, and said slowly, in a weak voice often
interrupted by coughing:

"Ah, my friend, my dear Romashov, why will you do this thing? Only think
if what you say is true, and you are not a coward. Why not then show
your moral courage in a still higher degree by refusing to fight this
duel?"

"He has insulted me, struck me--on the face," replied Romashov, with
newly kindled, burning indignation.

"Well, admitting that," resumed Nasanski gently, with his tender,
sorrowful eyes fixed on Romashov, "what does that signify? Time heals
all wounds; everything in the world is buried and disappears, even the
recollection of this scandal. You yourself will in time forget both your
hatred and your sufferings; but you'll never forget a man you have
killed. He will stand ever at your side, at the head of your bed, at
your dinner-table, when you are alone, and when you are amidst the
bustle of the world. Empty-heads, idiots, pretentious imitators and
parrots will, of course, at all times solemnly assure you that a murder
in the course of a _duel_ is no murder. What madmen! No, a murder is,
and always will be, a murder. And the most horrible thing about it is
not in death and suffering, in pools of blood or in corpses, but
inasmuch as it deprives a human being of _the joys of life_. Oh, how
priceless is life!" exclaimed Nasanski suddenly, in a high voice and
with tears in his eyes. "Who do you suppose believes in the reality of
an existence after this one? Not you, or I, or any other man of sound
reason. Therefore death is feared by all. Only half-demented, ecstatic
barbarians or 'the foolish in the Lord' allow themselves to be deluded
into the notion that they will be greeted on the other side of the
grave, in the garden of Paradise, by the beatific hymns of celestial
eunuchs. Moreover, we have those who, silently despising such old wives'
fables and puerilities, cross the threshold of death. Others again
picture the empire of the grave as a cold, dark, bare room. No, my
friend, there is no such future state. In death there is neither cold,
nor darkness, nor space, nor even fear--nothing but absolute
annihilation."

Romashov shipped his oars, and it was only by observing the green shore
gently stealing by that one could tell that the boat was moving onwards.

"Yes--annihilation," Romashov repeated slowly, in a dreamy tone.

"But why cudgel your brains over this? Gaze instead at the living
landscape around you. How exquisite is life!" shouted Nasanski, with a
powerful and eloquent gesture. "Oh, thou beauty of the Godhead--thou
infinite beauty! Look at this blue sky, this calm and silent water, and
you will tremble with joy and rapture. Look at yon water-mill far in the
distance, softly moving its sails. Look at the fresh verdure of the bank
and the mischievous play of the sunbeams on the water. How wonderfully
lovely and peaceful is all this!" Nasanski suddenly buried his face in
his hands and burst out weeping; but he recovered his self-possession
immediately, and, without any shame for his tears, he went on to say,
while looking at Romashov with moist, glistening eyes:

"No, even if I were to fall under the railway train, and were left lying
on the line with broken and bleeding limbs, and any one were to ask me
if life were beautiful, I should none the less, and even by summoning my
last remains of strength, answer enthusiastically, 'Ah, yes, even now
life is glorious.' How much joy does not sight alone give us, and so,
too, music, the scent of flowers, and woman's love? And then the human
understanding: thought which alone is our life's golden sun--the eternal
source of noble pleasure and imperishable bliss. Yurochka--pardon me
calling you so, my friend"--Nasanski held out his trembling hand to
Romashov as though entreating forgiveness--"suppose you were shut up in
prison, and you were doomed all your life to stare at crumbling bricks
of the wall of your cell--no, let us suppose that in your prison dungeon
there never penetrated a ray of light or a sound from the outer world.
Well, what more? What would that be in comparison with all the
mysterious terrors of death? Yet if thought, memory, imagination, the
spirit's faculty of creation remained, you would not only be able to
live, but even find moments of enthusiasm and the joy of life."

"Yes, life is priceless," exclaimed Romashov, interrupting him.

"It's magnificent," Nasanski went on to say hotly, "yet people wish two
rational creatures to kill each other for a woman's sake, or to
re-establish their so-called honour! But who is it then he kills?--this
miserable living clod of earth that arrogates to himself the proud name
of _man?_ Is it himself or his neighbour? No, he kills the gracious
warmth and lifegiving sun, the bright sky, and all nature with its
infinite beauty and charm. He kills that which never, never, never will
return. Oh, what madmen!"

Nasanski ceased, shook his head sorrowfully, and collapsed. The boat
glided into the reeds. Romashov again took the oars. High, hard, green
stalks bowed slowly and gravely, gently scraping the boat's gunwale.
Amid the tall rushes there was shade and coolness.

"What shall I do?" asked Romashov, scowling and angry. "Shall I enter
the reserves? Where shall I go?"

Nasanski looked at him with a gentle smile.

"Listen, Romashov, and look me straight in the face--that's right. No,
don't turn away, look at me, and answer on your honour and conscience.
Do you really think that you are now serving any good, useful, and
reasonable purposes? I know you much better than all the rest--yes, I
know your inmost soul, and I know you do _not_ think so."

"No," replied Romashov, in a firm voice, "you are right. But what will
become of me?"

"Well, be calm. Only look at our officers. Oh, I'm not talking now of
the fops of the Emperor's lifeguards who dance at the Court balls, talk
French, and are kept by their parents or by their more or less lawful
wives. No, I'm thinking of ourselves--poor officers in the line who,
nevertheless, constitute the very 'pick' of the irresistible and
glorious Russian Army. What are we? Well, mere fag-ends--_le beau
reste_, despised pariahs; at best the sons of poor, poverty-stricken
infantry Captains, ruined in body and soul, but for, by far, the most
part consisting of collegians, seminarists, etc., who have failed. Look,
for instance, at our regiment. What are they who remain for any time in
the service? Poor devils burdened with large families, veritable beggars
ready for every villainy and cruelty--ah, even for murder--and are not
even ashamed of abstracting the poor soldier's scanty pay so that, at
any rate, cabbage soup may not be lacking on their table at home. Such
an individual is commanded to shoot. Whom? And for what? It is all the
same to him. He only knows that at home there are hungry mouths, dirty,
scrofulous, rickety children, and with dull countenance he splutters,
like another woodpecker, his eternal, unvarying answer, 'My oath.' And
if there's a spark of ability or talent in any one, it is extinguished
in schnapps. Seventy-five per cent. of our officers are diseased through
vice. If any one in the regiment happens to scrape through his entrance
examination for the Staff College--which, by the way, hardly happens
with us once in five years--he is pursued by hatred. The most servile
and fawning individuals, or those who have managed to obtain a little
patronage, as a rule, get into the police or gendarmes. Should they have
in their veins a few drops of noble blood, they may perhaps get a
circuit-judgeship in the country. Let us suppose that a man of
education, fine feeling, and heart is forced to remain in the regiment.
What do you suppose is his fate? To him the service is an intolerable
yoke and a perpetual source of humiliation, suffering, and
self-contempt. Every one tries to procure an occupation of another sort
which soon entirely engrosses him. One is seized with a mania for
collecting; another watches impatiently for the evening so that he may,
with great trouble and waste of time, embroider small crosses and other
gewgaws for an absolutely unnecessary ornamental mat. A third fills his
life by the help of a little metal saw, and produces at last an
exquisite, perforated frame for his own portrait. And the thought of all
this absurd and worthless work secretly occupies their minds during the
insufferable hours of drill. Cards, drinking-bouts, disgusting swagger
about the favours women have bestowed on them--all this I might be able
to pass over in silence. The most repulsive thing, however, is the cruel
eagerness, conspicuous in so many officers, to gain a name as martinets
and brutes to their men, as, for instance, Osadchi and Company, who with
impunity knock out the teeth and eyes of their young recruits. Perhaps
you are not aware that Artschakovski so maltreated his servant in my
presence that it was all I could do to help the victim away alive. Blood
splashed over the floor and walls. Well, how do you think the affair
ended? You shall hear. The soldier complained to the Captain of his
company; the latter sent him with a sealed order to the pay-sergeant,
who, in strict obedience to his superior's orders, further belaboured
with his fists the soldier's swollen and bleeding face for the space of
half an hour. The same soldier complained twice at the General
Inspection, but without redress."

Nasanski stopped and began nervously rubbing his temples with the palm
of his hand.

"Wait," he went on to say. "Ah, how one's thoughts fly! Isn't it an
unpleasant sensation to know that our thoughts lead us, and not we our
thoughts? Well, to resume what we were talking about. Among our senior
remaining officers we have also other types, for instance, Captain
Plavski. On his petroleum stove he cooks his own beastly food, goes
about in rags, and, out of his monthly forty-eight roubles twelve times
a year, he puts twenty-five in the bank, where he has a sum of 2,000
roubles on deposit, which he lends to his brother officers at an
outrageously usurious rate of interest. And you think, perhaps, that
this is innate or inherited greed? Certainly not; it is only a means of
filling up the soul-destroying hours of garrison service. Then we have
Captain Stelikovski, a strong, able, talented man. Of what does his life
consist? Oh, in seducing young, inexperienced peasant girls. Finally,
our famous oddity, Lieutenant-Colonel 'Brehm.' A good-natured, kindly
ass--a thoroughly good fellow, who has but one interest in life--the
care of his animals. What to him signify the service, the colours, the
parades, censures of his superiors, or the honour of the warrior? Less
than nothing."

"'Brehm' is a fine fellow. I like him," interrupted Romashov.

"He certainly is that, my friend," Nasanski admitted in a weary tone,
"and yet," he went on to say with a lowering countenance, "if you knew
what I once saw at the manoeuvres. After a night march we were
directly afterwards to advance to attack. Both officers and men were
utterly done up. 'Brehm' was in command, and ordered the buglers to
sound the charge, but the latter, goodness knows why, signalled the
reserve to advance. 'Brehm' repeated his order once, twice, thrice, but
in vain; the result was the same. Then our excellent, kind-hearted
'Brehm' gallops up to the unsuspecting bugler, and bangs his fist, with
all his force, against the bell of the trumpet. I saw with my own eyes
the trumpeter spitting out blood and broken teeth."

"Oh, my God!" groaned Romashov in disgust.

"Yes, they are all alike, even the best and most tender-hearted among
them. At home they are splendid fathers of families and excellent
husbands; but as soon as they approach the barracks they become
low-minded, cowardly, and idiotic barbarians. You ask me why this is,
and I answer: Because nobody can find a grain of sense in what is called
military service. You know how all children like to play at war. Well,
the human race has had its childhood--a time of incessant and bloody
war; but war was not then one of the scourges of mankind, but a
continued, savage, exultant national feast to which daring bands of
youths marched forth, meeting victory or death with joy and pleasure.
The bravest, strongest, and most cunning was chosen as leader, and so
long as success attended his banner, he was almost accorded divine
worship, until at last he was killed by his subjects, in order to make
room for a luckier and more powerful rival. Mankind, however, grew in
age and wisdom; people got weary of the former rowdy, bloody games, and
became more serious, thoughtful, and cautious. The old Vikings of song
and saga were designated and treated as pirates. The soldier no longer
regarded war as a bloody but enjoyable occupation, and he had often to
be dragged to the enemy with a noose round his neck. The former
terrifying, ruthless, adored _atamens_ have been changed into cowardly,
cautious _chinóvniks_,[21] who get along painfully enough on never
adequate pay. Their courage is inspired by drink. Military discipline
still exists, but it is based on threats and dread, and undermined by a
dull, mutual hatred. To make a long story short, the whilom fine, proud
'pheasants' are of faded hue and look ruffled. Only one more parallel
resembling the foregoing can I adduce from universal history, to wit,
monasticism. The legend of its origin is touching and beautiful, its
mission was peaceful, benevolent, and civilizing, and its existence most
certainly an historic necessity. But centuries pass away, and what do we
see now? Hundreds of thousands of impostors, idle, licentious, and
impudent, who are hated and despised even by those who think they need
their religious aid. And all this abomination is carefully hidden under
a close veil of tinsel and finery, and foolish, empty ceremonies, in all
ages the charlatan's _conditio sine quâ non_. Is not this comparison of
mine between the monastic orders and the military caste logical? Here
the cassock and the censer; there the gold-laced uniform and the clank
of arms. Here bigotry, hypocritical humility, sighs, and sugary,
sanctimonious, unmeaning phrases; there the same odious affectations,
although of another kind--swaggering manners, bold, and scornful
looks--'God help the man who dares to insult me!'--padded shoulders,
cock-a-hoop defiance. Both the former and the latter class live like
parasites on society, and are profoundly conscious of that fact, but
fear--especially for their bellies' sake--to publish it. And both remind
one of certain little blood-sucking animals which eat their way most
obstinately into the surface of a foreign body in proportion as it is
decomposed."

Nasanski stopped and spat with withering contempt.

"Go on, go on," exclaimed Romashov eagerly.

"But other times are coming, indeed have come. Yes, tremendous surprises
and changes are about to take place. You remember my saying on one
occasion that for a thousand years there has existed a genius of
humanity that seldom reveals itself, but whose laws are as inexorable as
they are ruthless; but the wiser men become, so much more deeply do they
penetrate the spirit of those laws. And I am convinced that, sooner or
later, everything in this world must be brought into equilibrium in
accordance with these immutable laws. Justice will then be dispensed.
The longer and more cruel the slavery has been, so much more terrible
will be the day of reckoning for tyrants. The greater the violence,
injustice, and brutality, so much more bloody will be the retribution.
Oh, I am firmly convinced that the day will dawn when we 'superior
officers,' we 'almighty swells,' darlings of the women, drones and
brainless swaggerers, will have our ears boxed with impunity in streets
and lanes, in vestibules and corridors, when women will turn their backs
on us in contempt, and when our own affectionate soldiers will cease to
obey us. And all this will happen, not because we have brutally
ill-treated men deprived of every possibility of self-defence; not
because we have, for the 'honour' of the uniform, insulted women; not
because we have committed, when in a state of intoxication, scandalous
acts in public-houses and public places; and not even because we, the
privileged lick-spittles of the State, have, in innumerable battlefields
and in pretty nearly every country, covered our standards with shame,
and been driven by our own soldiers out of the maize-fields in which we
had taken shelter. Well, of course, we shall also be punished for that.
No, our most monstrous and unpardonable sin consists in our being blind
and deaf to everything. For long, long periods past--and, naturally, far
away from our polluted garrisons--people have discerned the dawn of a
new life resplendent with light and freedom. Far-seeing, high-minded,
and noble spirits, free from prejudices and human fear, have arisen to
sow among the nations burning words of liberation and enlightenment.
These heroes remind one of the last scene in a melodrama, when the dark
castles and prison towers of tyranny fall down and are buried, in order,
as it were, by magic, to be succeeded by freedom's dazzling light and
hailed by exultant throngs. We alone--crass idiots, irredeemable victims
of pride and blindness--still stick up our tail-feathers, like angry
turkey-cocks, and yell in savage wrath, 'What? Where? Silence! Obey!
Shoot!' etc., etc. And it's just this turkey-cock's contempt for the
fight for freedom by awakening humanity that shall never, never be
forgiven us."

The boat glided gently over the calm, open, mirroring surface of the
river, which was garlanded round by the tall, dark green, motionless
reeds. The little vessel was, as it were, hidden from the whole world.
Over it hovered, now and then uttering a scream, the white gulls,
occasionally so closely that, as they almost brushed Romashov with the
tips of their wings, they made him feel the breeze arising from their
strong, swift flights. Nasanski lay on his back in the stern of the boat
and kept staring, for a long time, at the bright sky, where a few golden
clouds sailing gently by had already begun to change to rose colour.

Romashov said in a shy tone:

"Are you tired? Oh, keep on talking."

It seemed as if Nasanski continued to think and dream aloud when he once
more picked up the threads of his monologue.

"Yes, a new, glorious, and wonderful time is at hand. I venture to say
this, for I myself have lived a good deal in the world, read, seen,
experienced, and suffered much. When I was a schoolboy, the old crows
and jackdaws croaked into our ears: 'Love your neighbour as yourself,
and know that gentleness, obedience, and the fear of God are man's
fairest adornments.' Then came certain strong, honest, fanatical men who
said: 'Come and join us, and we'll throw ourselves into the abyss so
that the coming race shall live in light and freedom.' But I never
understood a word of this. Who do you suppose is going to show me, in a
convincing way, in what manner I am linked to this 'neighbour' of
mine--damn him! who, you know, may be a miserable slave, a Hottentot, a
leper, or an idiot? Of all the holy legends there is none which I hate
and despise with my whole soul so much as that of John the Almoner.[22]
The leper says: 'I am shivering with cold; lie beside me in my bed and
warm my body with thy limbs. Lay thy lips close to my fetid mouth and
breathe on me!' Oh, how disgusting! How I hate this victim of leprosy,
and, for the matter of that, also all other similar choice examples of
my 'neighbour.' Can any reasonable being tell me why I should crush my
head so that the generation in the year 3200 may attain a higher
standard of happiness? Be quiet! I, too, once upon a time, sympathized
with the silly, babyish cackle about 'the world-soul,' 'man's sacred
duty,' etc. But even if these high-falutin phrases did find a place then
in my brain, they never forced their way into my heart. Do you follow
me, Romashov?"

Romashov looked at Nasanski with a mixture of gratitude and shame.

"I understand you fully. When I come to 'send in my checks' and die,
then the universe dies with me. That's what you meant, eh?"

"Exactly, but listen further. Love of humanity is burnt out and has
vanished from the heart of man. In its stead shall come a new creed, a
new view of life that shall last to the world's end; and this view of
life consists in the individual's love for himself, for his own powerful
intelligence and the infinite riches of his feelings and perceptions.
Think, Romashov, just this way and in no other. Who is nearer and dearer
to me than myself? No one. You, and none other, are the Tsar and
autocrat of your own soul, its pride and ornament. You are the god of
all that lives. To you alone belongs all that you see, hear, and feel.
Take what you want and do what you please. Fear nobody and nothing, for
there is no one in the whole universe above you or can even be your
rival. Ah, a time will come when the fixed belief in one's own Ego will
cast its blessed beams over mankind as did once the fiery tongues of the
Holy Ghost over the Apostles' heads. Then there will be no longer slaves
and masters; no maimed or cripples; no malice, no vices, no pity, no
hate. Men will be gods. How shall I dare to deceive, insult, or
ill-treat another man, in whom I see and feel my fellow, who, like
myself, is a god? Then, and then only, shall life be rich and beautiful.
Over the whole habitable portion of our earth shall tall, airy, lovely
buildings be raised. Nothing vulgar, common, low, and impure shall any
longer torture the eye. Our daily life shall become a pleasurable toil,
an enfranchised science, a wonderful music, an everlasting merry-making.
Love, free and sovereign, shall become the world's _religion_. No longer
shall it be forced in shame to hide its countenance; no longer shall it
be coupled with sin, disgrace, and darkness. And our own bodies shall
glow with health, strength, and beauty, and go clad in bright,
shimmering robes. Just as certainly as I believe in an eternal sky above
me," shouted Nasanski, "so do I just as firmly believe in this
paradisaical life to come."

Romashov, agitated and no longer master of himself, whispered with white
lips:

"Nasanski, these are dreams, fancies."

Nasanski's smile was silent and compassionate.

"Yes," he at last uttered with a laugh still lingering in his voice,
"you may perhaps be right. A professor of Dogmatic Theology or Classical
Philology would, with arms and legs extended and head bent on one side
in profound thought, say something like this: 'This is merely an
outburst of the most unbridled Individualism.' But, my dear fellow,
luckily the thing does not depend on more or less categorical phrases
and comminations fulminated in a loud voice, but on the fact that there
is nothing in the world more real, practical and irrefutable than these
so-called 'fancies,' which are certainly only the property of some few
people. These fancies will some day more strongly and completely weld
together the whole of mankind to a complete homogeneous body. But let us
forget now that we are warriors. We are merely defenceless _starar_.
Suppose we go up the street; there we see right before us a wonderful,
merry-looking, two-headed monster[23] that attacks all who come within
its reach, no matter who they be. It has not yet touched me, but the
mere thought that this brute might ill-treat me, or insult a woman I
loved, or deprive me of my liberty is enough to make me mad. I cannot
overpower this creature by myself, but beside me walks another man
filled with the same thirst for vengeance as I, and I say to him: 'Come,
shall we go and kill the monster, so that he may not be able to dig his
claws into any one!' You understand that all I have just been telling
you is only a drastic simile, a hyperbole; but the truth is that I see,
in this two-headed monster that which holds my soul captive, limits my
individual freedom, and robs me of my manhood. And when that day dawns,
then no more lamb-like love for one's neighbour, but the divine love to
one's own Ego will be preached among men. Then, too, the double-headed
monster's reign will be over."

Nasanski stopped. This violent outburst had evidently been too much for
his nerves. After a few minutes, he went on in a hollow voice:

"My dear Georgi Alexievich, there rushes past us incessantly a brawling
stream of divinely inspired, lofty, flaming thoughts and new and
imperishable ideas which are to crush and bury for ever the bulwarks and
golden idols of tyranny and darkness. We, however, keep on stamping in
our old stalls and neighing: 'Ah, you poor jades, you ought to have a
taste of the whip!'--And once more I say: This will never be forgiven
us."

Nasanski got up, wrapped his cloak round him with a slight shiver, and
remarked in a weary voice:

"I'm cold--let's go home."

Romashov rowed out of the rushes. The sun was setting behind the roofs
of the distant town, the dark outlines of which were sharply defined
against the red evening sky. Here and there the sunrays were reflected
by a gleaming window-pane. The greater part of the river's surface was
as even as a mirror, and faded away in bright, sportive colours; but
behind the boat the water was already dark, opaque, and curled by little
light waves.

Romashov suddenly exclaimed, as if he were answering his own thoughts:

"You are right. I'll enter the reserves. I do not yet know how I shall
do it, but I had thought of it before."

Nasanski shivered with the cold and wrapped his cloak more closely round
him.

"Come, come," replied he in a melancholy and tender tone. "There's a
certain inward light in you, Georgi Alexievich; I don't know what to
call it properly; but in this bear-pit it will soon go out. Yes, they
would spit at it and put it out. Then get away from here! Don't be
afraid to struggle for your existence. Don't fear life--the warm,
wonderful life that's so rich in changes. Let's suppose you cannot hold
yourself up; that you sink deep--deep; that you become a victim to
crime and poverty. What then? I tell you that the life of a beggar or
vagrant is tenfold richer than Captain Sliva's and those of his kidney.
You wander round the world here and there, from village to village, from
town to town. You make acquaintance with quaint, careless, homeless,
humorous specimens of humanity. You see and hear, suffer and enjoy; you
sleep on the dewy grass; you shiver with cold in the frosty hours of the
morning. But you are as free as a bird; you're afraid of no one, and you
worship life with all your soul. Oh, how little men understand after
all! What does it matter whether you eat _vobla_[24] or saddle of buck
venison with truffles; if you drink vodka or champagne; whether you die
in a police-cell or under a canopy? All this is the veriest trifle. I
often stand and watch funeral processions. There lies, overshadowed by
enormous plumes, in its silver-mounted coffin, a rotting ape accompanied
to the grave by a number of other apes, bedizened, behind and before,
with orders, stars, keys, and other worthless finery. And afterwards all
those visits and announcements! No, my friend, in all the world there is
only one thing consistent and worth possessing, viz, an emancipated
spirit with imaginative, creative force, and a cheerful temperament. One
can have truffles or do without them. All that sort of thing is a matter
of luck; it does not signify anything. A common guard, provided he is
not an absolute beast, might in six months be trained to act as Tsar,
and play his part admirably; but a well-fattened, sluggish, and stupid
ape, that throws himself into his carriage with his big belly in the
air, will never succeed in grasping what liberty is, will never feel the
bliss of inspiration, or shed sweet tears of enthusiasm.

"Travel, Romashov. Go away from here. I advise you to do so, for I
myself have tasted freedom, and if I crept into my dirty cage again,
whose fault was it? But enough of this. Dive boldly into life. It will
not deceive you. Life resembles a huge building with thousands of rooms
in which you will find light, joy, singing, wonderful pictures, handsome
and talented men and women, games and frolic, dancing, love, and all
that is great and mighty in art. Of this castle you have hitherto seen
only a dark, narrow, cold, and raw cupboard, full of scourings and
spiders' webs, and yet you hesitate to leave it."

Romashov made fast the boat and helped Nasanski to land. It was already
dusk when they reached Nasanski's abode. Romashov helped him to bed and
spread the cloak and counterpane over him.

Nasanski trembled so much from his chill that his teeth chattered. He
rolled himself up like a ball, bored his head right into his pillow, and
whimpered helplessly as a child.

"Oh, how frightened I am of my room! What dreams! What dreams!"

"Perhaps you would like me to stay with you?" said Romashov.

"No, no; that's not necessary. But get me, please, some bromide and a
little--vodka. I have no money."

Romashov sat by him till eleven. Nasanski's fits of ague gradually
subsided. Suddenly he opened his great eyes gleaming with fever, and
uttered with some difficulty, but in a determined, abrupt tone:

"Go, now--good-bye."

"Good-bye," replied Romashov sadly. He wanted to say, "Good-bye, my
teacher," but was ashamed of the phrase, and he merely added with an
attempt at joking:

"Why did you merely say 'good-bye'? Why not say _do svidánia_?"[25]

Nasanski burst into a weird, senseless laugh.

"Why not _do svishvezia_?"[26] he screamed in a wild, mad voice.

Romashov felt that his body was shaken by violent shudders.



XXII


On approaching his abode, Romashov noticed, to his astonishment, that a
faint gleam of light poured from the dark window of his room. "What can
that be?" he thought, not without a certain uneasiness, whilst he
involuntarily quickened his steps. "Perhaps it is my seconds waiting to
communicate to me the conditions of the duel?" In the hall he ran into
Hainán, but he did not recognize him immediately in the dark, and being
startled, cried angrily:

"What the devil----! Oh, it's you, Hainán--and who's in there?"

In spite of the darkness, Romashov realized that Hainán was doing his
usual dance.

"It's a lady, your Honour. She's sitting in there."

Romashov opened the door. The lamp, the kerosene of which had long come
to an end, was still flickering feebly and was just ready to go out. On
the bed was seated a female figure, the outlines of which could scarcely
be distinguished in the half-dark room.

"Shurochka!"--Romashov, who for a second was unable to breathe, slowly
approached the bed on tip-toe--"Shurochka, you here?"

"S-sh; sit down," she replied in a rapid whisper. "Put out the lamp."

Romashov blew sharply into the chimney of the lamp. The little
flickering, blue flame went out, and the room was at once dark and
silent, but, in the next moment, the alarum on the table went off
loudly. Romashov sat down by Alexandra Petrovna, but could not
distinguish her features. A curious feeling of pain, nervousness, and
faintness of heart took possession of him. He was unable to speak.

"Who is on the other side of that wall?" asked Shurochka. "Can we be
overheard?"

"No, there's no one there, only old furniture. My landlord is a joiner.
One can speak out loud."

But both spoke, all the same, in a low voice, and those shyly uttered
words acquired, in the darkness, something in addition awful,
disquieting, treacherously stealthy. Romashov sat so close to Shurochka
that he almost touched her dress. There was a buzzing in his ears, and
the blood throbbed in his veins with dull, heavy beats.

"Why, oh, why have you done this?" she asked quietly, but in a
passionately reproachful tone. Shurochka laid her hand on his knee.
Romashov felt through the cloth this light touch of her feverishly
burning finger-tips. He drew a deep breath, his eyes closed, and big
black ovals, the sides of which sparkled with a dazzling, bluish gleam,
took shape and ran into each other before his eyes, reminding him of the
legend of the wonderful lakes. "Did you forget that I told you to keep
your self-control when you met _him_? No, no--I don't reproach you. You
did not do it on purpose, I know that; but in that moment, when the wild
beast within you was aroused, you had not even one thought of me. There
was nothing to stay your arm. You never loved me."

"I love you," said Romashov softly, as with a shy movement he put his
trembling fingers on her hand. Shurochka withdrew her hand, though not
hastily, but at once and slowly, as though she were afraid of hurting
him.

"I know that neither you nor he mixed my name up with this scandal; but
I can tell you that all this chivalry has been wasted. There's not a
house in the town where they are not gossiping about it."

"Forgive me; I could not control myself. I was blinded, beside myself
with jealousy," stammered Romashov.

Shurochka laughed for a while to herself. At last she answered him:

"You talk about 'jealousy.' Did you really think that my husband, after
his fight with you, was high-minded enough to deny himself the pleasure
of telling me where you had come from when you returned to the mess? He
also told me one or two things about Nasanski."

"Forgive me," repeated Romashov. "It's true I was there--but I did
nothing to blush for in your presence. Pardon me."

Shurochka suddenly raised her voice. Her voice acquired an energetic,
almost severe accent, when she answered him.

"Listen, Georgi Alexievich, the minutes are precious. I waited here
nearly half an hour for you. Let us, therefore, talk briefly and to the
point. You know what Volodya is to me--I don't love him, but, for his
sake, I killed a part of my soul. I cherish greater ambition than he
does. Twice he has failed to pass for the Staff College. This caused me
far greater sorrow and disappointment than it did him. All this idea of
trying to get on the Staff is mine, only mine. I have literally dragged
him, whipped him on, crammed lessons into him, gone over them with him,
filed and sharpened him, screwed up his pride and ambition, and cheered
him in hours of apathy and depression. I live only for this, and I
cannot even bear the thought of these hopes of mine being blighted.
Whatever the cost, Volodya must pass his examination."

Romashov sat with his head in his hands. Suddenly he felt Shurochka
softly and caressingly drawing her fingers through his hair. Sorrowful
and bewildered, he said to her:

"What can I do?"

She laid her arm round his neck and drew his head to her bosom. She was
not wearing a corset, and Romashov felt her soft, elastic bosom pressed
against his cheek, and inhaled the delicious, aromatic perfume that came
from her young, absolutely healthy body. When she spoke he felt in his
hair her irregular, nervous breathing.

"You remember, that evening--at the picnic? I told you then the whole
truth: I did not love him; but think, now, only think, three
years--three whole long years of the most arduous, repulsive work--of
fancies, dreams, hopes. You know how I hate and despise this wretched
little provincial hole, the odious set of officers. I always wanted to
be dressed expensively and elegantly. I love power, flattery--slaves.
And then comes this regimental scandal, this stupid fight between two
drunken, irresponsible men accidentally brought together. Then all is
over--all my dreams and hopes turned to ashes. Isn't this dreadful? I
have never been a mother; but I think I can imagine what it would be if
I had a son--a son petted, idolized, even madly worshipped. He
represents, so to speak, an incarnation or embodiment of my life's
dreams, sorrows, tears, sleepless nights, and then, suddenly, occurs a
senseless accident. My little son is sitting playing at the window; the
nurse turns away for a few minutes, and the child falls out on to the
pavement. My dear, my sorrow and indignation can only be compared to
this mother's despair. But I am not blaming you."

Romashov was sitting in a very cramped and uncomfortable position, and
he was afraid that his heavy head might cause Shurochka pain or
discomfort. But he had, however, for hours been used to sitting without
moving, and, in a sort of intoxication, listen to the quick and regular
beatings of his heart.

"Do you hear what I say?" she asked, stooping down to him.

"Yes, yes--talk, talk. You know I'll do all you wish. Oh, if I could
only----"

"No, no; but only listen till I have finished. If you kill him or if
they prevent him from sitting for the examination, then it is all, all
over. That very day I shall cast him off as a worthless thing, and go my
own way--where? No matter where. To St. Petersburg, Odessa, Kiev. Don't
imagine this is one of those common, untrue, 'penny-novelette' phrases.
Cheap effects I despise, and I will spare you them. But I know I am
young, intelligent, and well-educated. I am not pretty, but I know the
art of catching men far better than all those famous charmers who, at
our official balls, receive the prize for beauty in the form of an
elegant card-tray or something between a musical-box and an alarum. I
can stand in the background; I can, by coldness and contempt, be bitter
to myself and others. But I can flame up into a consuming passion and
burn like a firework."

Romashov glanced towards the window. His eyes had now begun to be used
to the darkness, and he could distinguish the outlines of the framework
of the window.

"Don't talk like that, please. It pains me so; but, tell me, do you wish
me to avoid the duel, and send him an apology? Tell me."

Shurochka did not reply at once. The clock again made its monotonous,
metallic voice heard, and filled every corner of the dark room with its
infernal din. At last Shurochka answered as softly as if she were
talking to herself in thought, and with an expression in her voice which
Romashov was not in a condition to interpret.

"I knew you would offer to do this."

"I do not feel afraid," he exclaimed in a stern but soft tone.

"No, no, no," she said hastily in an eager, beseeching whisper. "You
misunderstood me, you do not understand me. Come nearer to me. Come and
sit as you did just now. Come!"

She threw both her arms round his neck, and whispered to him tender
words, tickling his face with her soft hair, and flooding his cheeks
with her hot breath.

"You quite misunderstood me. I meant something quite different, but I am
ashamed to tell you all. You are so good, so pure-hearted. I, alas! am
the opposite, and, therefore, it's so difficult for me to mention it."

"No, no. Tell me everything. I love you."

"Listen to me," she began, and Romashov guessed what she would say
before she could utter the words. "If you refuse to fight with him, how
much shame and persecution, how many sufferings will be your lot. No,
no, this must not be done. Oh, my God, at this moment I will not lie to
you, dear. I have already weighed everything carefully. Suppose you
refuse the duel. In that case my husband will certainly be
rehabilitated; but, you understand, after a duel that ends in
reconciliation, there is always something left--how shall I put
it?--something covered by a certain obscurity, and which, therefore,
leaves room for malice and slander. Do you understand me now?" she added
with melancholy tenderness, pressing, at the same time, a light kiss on
his brow.

"Yes, but go on."

"The consequence, of course, is that they would never allow my husband
even to present himself for a fresh examination. The reputation of an
officer on the Staff must be unblemished. On the other hand, if a duel
actually takes place, it will put you both in a dignified, heroic light.
Men who can conduct themselves fittingly in front of the muzzle of a
revolver--very much will be forgiven them in this world. Besides--after
the duel--you can, if you like, offer an apology; but that I leave to
your own discretion."

Tightly clasped in each other's arms, they continued their conversation
in a whisper, but Romashov felt as if something mysterious, unclean, and
nauseous had crept in between him and Shurochka, and he felt a freezing
chill at heart. Again he tried to tear himself away from her arms, but
she would not let him go. In his effort to hide from her the nervous
excitement he was in, he exclaimed in a rough tone:

"For Heaven's sake, put an end to this! Say what you want, and I'll
agree to everything."

Then she put her mouth so close to his that her words affected him like
hot, thrilling kisses.

"The duel must take place, but neither of you will run any risk. Don't
misunderstand me, I implore you, and don't condemn me. Like all women, I
loathe cowards, but, for _my_ sake, you must do this. No, Georgi, don't
ask me if my husband--for the matter of that, he already knows all."

Now at last Romashov managed to release himself from the tight grip of
her soft, strong arms. He stood straight up before her, and answered in
a curt, rough voice:

"That's all right. It shall be as you wish! I consent."

Shurochka also rose. Romashov could not see in the dark room that she
was putting her hair straight, but he felt or guessed it.

"Are you going now?" he asked.

"Good-bye," she replied in a faint voice, "and kiss me now for the last
time."

Romashov's heart was shaken by pity and love. Groping in the darkness,
he caught her head in his hands, and began kissing her eyes and cheeks,
which were wet with big, silent tears. This took away his self-control.

"Don't cry like that, Sascha, my darling," he implored in a sad and
tender tone.

Suddenly throwing her arms round his neck, she pressed herself tightly
to him by a strong, passionate movement, and, without ceasing her
kisses, she whispered the words in short, broken sentences. She was
breathing heavily and trembling all over.

"I can't part from you like this. We shall never see each other again.
Some presentiment tells me that, so at this only moment we must not fear
anything in the world. Let us be happy!"

And at that moment the pair, the room, the entire world, were filled
with an ineffable bliss--stupefying, suffocating, consuming. For the
space of a second Romashov fancied he saw, as it were by miracle,
Shurochka's eyes shining on him with an expression of mad joy. Her lips
sought his.

       *       *       *       *       *

"May I accompany you home?" asked Romashov, as he escorted her to the
street.

"No, my darling, don't. I have not the least idea how long I've been
with you. What is the time?"

"I don't know. I have not a watch."

She stood lingering there, leaning against the gate. A powerful scent
arose from the earth in the warm, languishing summer night. It was still
dark, but, notwithstanding the darkness, Romashov could clearly
distinguish Shurochka's features, motionless and pale as a marble
statue's.

"Good-bye, my darling," she uttered at last in a weary voice.
"Good-bye." They embraced each other, but their lips were cold and
lifeless. Shurochka departed quickly and was swallowed up by the dark
night.

Romashov remained a while listening till the last faint sounds of her
light steps could no longer be caught, and then returned to his room. A
feeling of utter, yet pleasant, weariness took possession of him. He had
hardly undressed before he fell asleep. And the last impression left on
his mind was a faint, delicious odour of perfume proceeding from his
pillow--the scent from Shurochka's hair and her fair young body.



XXIII


_June 2, 18--._
Z.

To his Excellency the Colonel and Commander of the--th Infantry Regiment
from Ditz, Staff-Captain of the same regiment.


                        REPORT.

Herewith allow me respectfully to report to your Excellency that the
duel between Lieutenant Nikoläiev and Sub-lieutenant Romashov took place
to-day, according to the conditions settled by you on the 1st inst.

The two adversaries met at 5.55 a.m. in the wood called "Oakwood,"
situated three and a quarter versts beyond the town. The duel was
decided in the space of one minute ten seconds, including the time for
placing the parties and giving the signal. The places taken by the
duellists were determined by lot. When the command "Forward" was given
the fight began. As the two officers approached each other, a shot from
Lieutenant Nikoläiev struck Sub-lieutenant Romashov high on the right
side. After this Lieutenant Nikoläiev stopped to await his adversary's
bullet, but, after the lapse of half a minute, it was evident that
Sub-lieutenant Romashov was not in a condition to return the shot, by
reason of which Sub-lieutenant Romashov's seconds declared the duel was
ended, as to which other witnesses were agreed. Sub-lieutenant
Romashov, on being carried to his carriage, fell into a deep swoon, and
died in five minutes through internal hæmorrhage.

The seconds on Lieutenant Nikoläiev's side were the undersigned and
Lieutenant Vasin; on Sub-lieutenant Romashov's, Lieutenants
Biek-Agamalov and Viätkin. The further arrangements for the duel were,
by general agreement, made by me.

A certificate from Dr. Znoiko is enclosed herein.

_Ditz_,
_Staff-Captain._

    UNWIN BROTHERS, LIMITED, THE GRESHAM PRESS, WOKING AND LONDON

       *       *       *       *       *

_Crown 8vo._ FICTION _6s. each_

Moll Davis

BY BERNARD CAPES

A very light-hearted Comedy of the Stuart period, elaborated from an
incident in the Grammont Memoirs. With the more than doubtful reputation
of the lady of the title-rôle Mr. Capes has taken some additional
liberties, but only with a view to helping it to a kindlier estimate
than it perhaps deserved. Moll will be remembered as Pepys's little
jigging shepherdess, who, as Celania in Davenant's play of "The Rivals,"
won the royal heart by her singing of "My Lodging is on the Cold
Ground." She was one of the many then foundresses of noble houses. Her
early history was so obscure as to lend itself very legitimately to the
purposes of romance. Only dates in this case have been a little freely
dealt with.

Through Stained Glass

BY GEORGE AGNEW CHAMBERLAIN

Author of "Home"

"Brilliantly witty, always interesting, distinctly new in its
characterisation."--_Land and Water._

"Has a flavour of high romance ... with an imaginative skill."--_Daily
News._

"Very clever, very interesting, and extremely well written."--_Sunday
Times._

His Father's Wife

BY J. E. PATTERSON

"This is the best book that Mr. Patterson has yet given us."--_New
Witness._

"One of the cleverest novels of the present day."--_Pioneer._

"Is intensely human ... is drawn with much detail and convincing
knowledge"--_The Queen._

Fate the Marplot

SECOND IMPRESSION.

BY F. THICKNESSE-WOODINGTON

"Clear-cut character studies."--_Birmingham Gazette._

"Grips the reader's attention throughout."--_Pall Mall Gazette._

"Admirably told ... has not a dull moment in its pages."--_World._

Sanpriel: The Promised Land

BY ALVILDE PRYDZ

Author of "The Heart of the Northern Sea"

Authorized Translation from the Norwegian

_By_ HESTER CODDINGTON

"Sanpriel" is an unusual story in which the translator has retained the
foreign flavour of its picturesque Norwegian setting. It deals with
intimate human relations without the hectic touch, is readable, has a
true poetic quality, and carries the cool, refreshing air of Norway's
mountains and streams into every moment of the story.

A recent issue of the American Library Association Bulletin lists 176
books. Only 13 of this number are especially recommended for purchase by
all libraries, large or small. "Sanpriel" is one of the 13. Still more
significant is the fact that of 21 volumes of fiction listed, only three
have the distinction of being specially recommended. "Sanpriel" is one
of the three.

Oblomov

BY IVAN GONCHAROV

Translated by C. J. HOGARTH

Mr. MAURICE BARING says: "In Oblomov Goncharov created a type which has
become immortal, and Oblomov has passed into the Russian tongue, just as
Tartuffe has passed into the French language, or Pecksniff into the
English tongue."

Collins & Co.

BY CAPTAIN JACK ELLIOTT

"Is an excellent tale of adventure."--_Athenæum._

"There is a general sense of rollicking adventure about the whole book
that is quite captivating."--_Truth._

"It goes with quite a merry swing."--_Times._

It's an Ill Wind--

BY DOUGLAS GOLDRING

Author of "Streets": a book of London Verses, "The Loire," "Ways of
Escape," etc.

"A clever and lifelike picture ... brightly written. A pleasant story
and one to read."--_Ladies' Field._

"Is distinctly one to read, and as clever a novel as any to be
found."--_Tatler._

"The combination of realistic style and romantic substance is quite
piquant."--_Westminster Gazette._

       *       *       *       *       *

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Lezghins are among the medley of mountain tribes living in
Daghestan and part of the Terek province. These mountaineers of the
Eastern Caucasus are nearly all Sun'i Mohammedans.

[2] One of Russia's bravest and greatest generals in the war with
Napoleon, 1812.

[3] Roman Catholic priests are so called in Lithuania and Poland.

[4] _Schtoss_ is a sort of Russian hazard.

[5] Yuri = George.

[6] _Roubashka_ (blouse).

[7] The official newspaper of the Russian Army.

[8] Professional floor-polisher.

[9] A town and "government" in East Russia.

[10] Corresponds to the Swedish _smörgasbord_, and consists of a number
of cold dishes and delicacies.

[11] A national dish in Russia, consisting of a sort of buckwheat
porridge baked in the oven in fire-proof earthen vessels, which are put
on the table.

[12] In the time of Nicholas, sons of soldiers quartered or garrisoned
in certain districts. They were liable to be called on to serve.

[13] An old Slavonic character (l'schiza), only occurring in the Russian
Bible and Ritual.

[14] Nickname for Little Russians on account of their curious habit of
cutting and fashioning their hair into a tuft (_khokhol_) on the crown.

[15] An affectionate diminutive of George.

[16] Sliva is the Russian for plum.

[17] Arshin = 2·33 feet.

[18] Pet name for Alexandra.

[19] A light jacket worn in the hot weather.

[20] The name given to Ivan the Terrible's lifeguards and executioners.

[21] _Chinóvnik_, Russian word for official.

[22] Ivan Milostivni, one of the innumerable saints of the Greek Church.

[23] The allusion is to the double eagle in the arms of Russia.

[24] _Vobla_ is a kind of fish of the size of Prussian carp, and is
caught in the Volga.

[25] _Au revoir._

[26] Untranslatable pun on the two last syllables of _svidánia_; Dania
means Denmark, _Schvezia_, Sweden.

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:


Agamalov-Biek Biek-Agamalov=> {pg 9}

Nikolaiev=> Nikoläiev {pg 37}

Vladimir Yefimovisch=> Vladimir Yefimovich {pg 51}

Nikkoläiev=> Nikoläiev {pg 61}

Nasanski stuck his hands in his pocket=> Nasanski stuck his hands in his
pockets {pg 70}

they call me Koval=> they call me Kovál {pg 228}

Yuri Alekseich,=> Yuri Alexeich, {pg 267}

by the name mysterious "benefactor"=> by the same mysterious
"benefactor" {pg 295}

non-commisioned=> non-commissioned {pg 362}





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Duel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home