Chapter IX.
 

They walked up and down the boulevard once or twice, meeting no one they knew, and they listened to the band which was playing as usual in the garden. It was a very poor performance; the music being harsh and discordant, but at a distance it sounded languorous and sad. They only met men and women joking and laughing, whose noisy merriment seemed at variance with the mournful music and the dreary evening. It irritated Yourii. At the end of the boulevard Sanine joined them, greeting them effusively. Yourii did not like him, so conversation was scarcely brisk. Sanine kept on laughing at everybody he saw. Later on they met Ivanoff, and Sanine went off with him.

"Where are you going?" asked Novikoff.

"To treat my friend," replied Ivanoff, producing a bottle of vodka which he showed to them in triumph.

Sanine laughed.

To Yourii this vodka and laughter seemed singularly coarse and vulgar. He turned away in disgust. Sanine observed this, but said nothing.

"God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men," exclaimed Ivanoff mockingly.

Yourii reddened, "A stale joke like that into the bargain!" he thought, as, shrugging his shoulders contemptuously, he walked away.

"Novikoff, guileless Pharisee, come along with us!" cried Ivanoff.

"What for?" "To have a drink."

Novikoff glanced round him ruefully, but Lida was not to be seen.

"Lida is at home, doing penance for her sins!" laughed Sanine.

"What nonsense!" exclaimed Novikoff testily. "I've got to see a patient..."

"Who is quite able to die without your help," said Ivanoff. "For that matter, we can polish off the vodka without your help, either."

"Suppose I get drunk?" thought Novikoff. "All right! I'll come," he said.

As they went away, Yourii could hear at a distance Ivanoff's gruff bass voice and Sanine's careless, merry laugh. He walked once more along the boulevard. Girlish voices called to him through the dusk. Sina Karsavina and the school-mistress Dubova were sitting on a bench. It was now getting dark, and their figures were hardly discernible. They wore dark dresses, were without hats, and carried books in their hands. Yourii hastened to join them.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

"At the library," replied Sina.

Without speaking, her companion moved to make room for Yourii who would have preferred to sit next to Sina, but, being shy, he took a seat beside the ugly schoolteacher, Dubova.

"Why do you look so utterly miserable?" asked Dubova, pursing up her thin, dry lips, as was her wont.

"What makes you think that I am miserable? On the contrary I am in excellent spirits. Somewhat bored, perhaps."

"Ah! that's because you've nothing to do," said Dubova.

"Have you so much to do, then?"

"At any rate, I have not the time to weep." "I am not weeping, am I?"

"Well," said Dubova, teasing him, "you're in the sulks."

"My life," replied Yourii, "has caused me to forget what laughing is."

This was said in such a bitter tone that there was a sudden silence.

"A friend of mine told me that my life is most instructive," said Yourii after a pause, though no one had ever made such a statement to him.

"In what way?" asked Sina cautiously.

"As an example of how not to live."

"Oh! do tell us all about it. Perhaps we might profit by the lesson," said Dubova.

Yourii considered that his life was an absolute failure, and that he himself was the most luckless and wretched of men. In such a belief there lay a certain mournful solace, and it was pleasant to him to complain about his own life and mankind in general. To men he never spoke of such things, feeling instinctively that they would not believe him, but to women, especially if they were young and pretty, he was ever ready to talk at length about himself. He was good-looking, and talked well, so women always felt for him affectionate pity. On this occasion also, if jocular at the outset, Yourii relapsed into his usual tone; discoursing at great length about his own life. From his own description he appeared to be a man of extraordinary powers, cramped and crushed by the force of circumstances, misunderstood by his party, and one who by unlucky chance and human folly was doomed to be just a mere student in exile instead of a leader of the people! Like all extremely self-satisfied persons Yourii entirely failed to perceive that all this in no way proved his extraordinary powers, and that men of genius were surrounded by just such associates, and hampered by just such misfortunes. It seemed to him that he alone was the victim of an inexorable destiny. As he talked well and with great vivacity and point, what he said sounded true enough, so that girls believed him, pitied him, and sympathized with him in his misfortunes. The band was still playing its sad, discordant tunes, the evening was gloomy and depressing, and they all three felt in a melancholy mood. When Yourii ceased talking, Dubova, meditating on her own dull, monotonous existence and vanishing youth without joy or love, asked him in a low voice,

"Tell me, Yourii, has the thought of suicide never crossed your mind?"

"Why do you ask me that?"

"Oh! well, I don't know ..."

They said no more.

"You are on the committee, aren't you?" asked Sina eagerly.

"Yes," replied Yourii curtly, as if unwilling to admit the fact, but in reality pleased to do so, because he thought that to this charming girl he would appear weirdly interesting. He then walked back with them to their house, and on the way they laughed and talked much. All depression had vanished.

"How nice he is!" said Sina, when Yourii had gone.

Dubova shook her finger threateningly:

"Mind that you don't fall in love with him."

"What an idea!" laughed Sina, though secretly afraid.

Yourii reached home in a brighter, more hopeful mood. He went to look at the picture that he had begun. It produced no impression upon him, and he lay down contentedly to sleep. That night in dreams he had visions of fair women, radiant and alluring.