Chapter XXII.
 

On reaching his room, narrow and stuffy as a prison-cell, Yourii found life as dreary as ever, and his little love-episode seemed to him thoroughly commonplace.

"I stole a kiss from her! What bliss! How heroic of me! How exquisitely romantic! In the moonlight the hero beguiles the fair maid with burning words and kisses! Bah! what rubbish! In such a cursed little hole as this one insensibly becomes a shallow fool."

When he lived in a city, Yourii imagined that the country was the real place for him where he could associate with peasants and share in their rustic toil beneath a burning sun. Now that he had the chance to do this, village life seemed insufferable to him, and he longed for the stimulus of a town where alone his energies could have scope.

"The stir and bustle of a city! The thrill of passionate eloquence!" so he rapturously phrased it to himself; yet he soon checked such boyish enthusiasm.

"After all, what does it mean? What are politics and science? Great as ideals in the distance, yes! But in the life of each individual they're only a trade, like anything else! Strife! Titanic efforts! The conditions of modern existence make all that impossible. I suffer, I strive, I surmount obstacles! Well, what then? Where's the end of it? Not in my lifetime, at any rate! Prometheus wished to give fire to mankind, and he did so. That was a triumph, if you like! But what about us? The most we do is to throw faggots on a fire that we have never kindled, and which by us will never be put out."

It suddenly struck him that if things were wrong it was because he, Yourii, was not a Prometheus. Such a thought, in itself most distressing, yet gave him another opportunity for morbid self-torture.

"What sort of a Prometheus am I? Always looking at everything from a personal, egotistic point of view. It is I, always I; always for myself. I am every bit as weak and insignificant as the other people that I heartily Despise."

This comparison was so displeasing to him that his thoughts became confused, and for a while he sat brooding over the subject, endeavouring to find a justification of some kind.

"No, I am not like the others," he said to himself, feeling, in a sense, relieved, "because I think about these things. Fellows like Riasantzeff and Novikoff and Sanine would never dream of doing so. They have not the remotest intention of criticising themselves, being perfectly happy and self-satisfied, like Zarathustra's triumphant pigs. The whole of life is summed up in their own infinitesimal ego; and by their spirit of shallowness it is that I am infected. Ah, well! when you are with wolves you've got to howl. That is only natural."

Yourii began to walk up and down the room, and, as often happens, his change of position brought with it a change in his train of thought.

"Very well. That's so. All the same, a good many things have to be considered. For instance, what is my position with regard to Sina Karsavina? Whether I love her or not it doesn't much matter. The question is, what will come of it all? Suppose I marry her, or become closely attached to her. Will that make me happy? To betray her would be a crime, and if I love her ... Well, then, I can ... In all probability she would have children." He blushed at the thought. "There's nothing wrong about that, only it would be a tie, and I should lose my freedom. A family man! Domestic bliss! No, that's not in my line."

"One ... two ... three," he counted, as he tried each time to step across two boards and set his foot on the third one. "If I could be sure that she would not have children, or that I should get so fond of them that my whole life would be devoted to them! No; how terribly commonplace! Riasantzeff would be fond of his children, too. What difference would there then be between us? A life of self-sacrifice! That is the real life! Yes, but of sacrifice for whom? And in what way? No matter what road I choose nor at what goal I aim, show me the pure and perfect ideal for which it were worth while to die! No, it is not that I am weak; it is because life itself is not worthy of sacrifice nor of enthusiasm. Consequently there is no sense in living at all."

Never before had this conclusion seemed so absolutely convincing to him. On his table lay a revolver, and each time he passed it, while walking up and down, its polished steel caught his eye.

He took it up and examined it carefully. It was loaded. He placed the barrel against his temple.

"There! Like that!" he thought. "Bang! And it's all over. Is it a wise or a stupid thing to shoot oneself? Is suicide a cowardly act? Then I suppose that I am a coward!"

The contact of cold steel on his heated brow was at once pleasant and alarming.

"What about Sina?" he asked himself. "Ah! well, I shall never get her, and so I leave to some one else this enjoyment." The thought of Sina awoke tender memories, which he strove to repress as sentimental folly.

"Why should I not do it?" His heart seemed to stop beating. Then once more, and deliberately this time, he put the revolver to his brow and pulled the trigger, His blood ran cold; there was a buzzing in his ears and the room seemed to whirl round.

The weapon did not go off; only the click of the trigger could be heard. Half fainting, his hand dropped to his side. Every fibre within him quivered, his head swam, his lips were parched, and his hand trembled so much that when he laid down the revolver it rattled against the table.

"A fine fellow I am!" he thought as, recovering himself, he went to the glass to see what he looked like.

"Then I'm a coward, am I?" "No," he thought proudly, "I am not! I did it right enough. How could I help it if the thing didn't go off?"

His own vision looked out at him from the mirror; rather a solemn, grave one, he thought. Trying to persuade himself that he attached no importance to what he had just done, he put out his tongue and moved away from the glass.

"Fate would not have it so," he said aloud, and the sound of the words seemed to cheer him.

"I wonder if anyone saw me?" he thought, as he looked round in alarm. Yet all was still, and nothing could be heard moving behind the closed door. To him it was as if nothing in the world existed and suffered in this terrible solitude but himself. He put out the lamp, and to his amazement perceived through a chink in the shutter the first red rays of dawn. Then he lay down to sleep, and in dream was aware of something gigantic that bent over him, exhaling fiery breath.