Chapter XXXI.
 

In a moment Sarudine's life had undergone a complete change. Careless, easy, and gay as it had been before, so now it seemed to him distorted, dire, and unendurable. The laughing mask had fallen; the hideous face of a monster was revealed.

Tanaroff had taken him home in a droschky. On the way he exaggerated his pain and weakness so as not to have to open his eyes. In this way he thought that he would avoid the shame levelled at him by thousands of eyes so soon as they encountered his.

The slim, blue back of the droschky driver, the passers-by, malicious, inquisitive faces at windows, even Tanaroff's arm round his waist were all, as he imagined, silent expressions of undisguised contempt. So intensely painful did this sensation become, that at last Sarudine almost fainted. He felt as if he were losing his reason, and he longed to die. His brain refused to recognize what had happened. He kept thinking that there was a mistake, some misunderstanding, and that his plight was not as desperate and deplorable as he imagined. Yet the actual fact remained, and ever darker grew his despair.

Sarudine felt that he was being supported, that he was in pain, and that his hands were blood-stained and dirty. It really surprised him to know that he was still conscious of it all. At times, when the vehicle turned a sharp corner, and swayed to one side, he partially opened his eyes, and perceived, as if through tears, familiar streets, and houses, and people, and the church. Nothing had become changed, yet all seemed hostile, strange, and infinitely remote.

Passers-by stopped and stared. Sarudine instantly shut his eyes in shame and despair. The drive seemed endless. "Faster! faster!" he thought anxiously. Then, however, he pictured to himself the faces of his man-servant, of his landlady, and of the neighbours, which made him wish that the journey might never end. Just to drive on, drive on, anywhere, like that, with eyes closed!

Tanaroff was horribly ashamed of this procession. Very red and confused, he looked straight in front of him, and strove to give onlookers the impression that he had nothing whatever to do with the affair.

At first he professed to sympathize with Sarudine, but soon relapsed into silence, occasionally through his clenched teeth urging the coachman to drive quicker. From this, as also from the irresolute support of his arm, which at times almost pushed him away, Sarudine knew exactly what Tanaroff felt. It was this knowledge that a man whom he held to be so absolutely his inferior should feel ashamed of him, which convinced Sarudine that all was now at an end.

He could not cross the courtyard without assistance. Tanaroff and the scared, trembling orderly almost had to carry him. If there were other onlookers, Sarudine did not see them. They made up a bed for him on the sofa and stood there, helpless and irresolute. This irritated him intensely. At last, recovering himself, the servant fetched some hot water and a towel, and carefully washed the blood from Sarudine's face and hands. His master avoided his glance, but in the soldier's eyes there was nothing malicious or scornful; only such fear and pity as some kind-hearted old nurse might feel.

"Oh! however did this happen, your Excellency? Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What have they been doing to him?" he murmured.

"It's no business of yours!" hissed Tanaroff angrily; glancing round immediately afterwards, in confusion. He went to the window and mechanically took out a cigarette, but uncertain if, while Sarudine lay there, he ought to smoke, he hurriedly thrust his cigarette-case into his pocket.

"Shall I fetch the doctor?" asked the orderly, standing at attention, and unabashed by the rude answer that he had received.

Tanaroff stretched out his fingers irresolutely.

"I don't know," he said in an altered voice, as he again looked round.

Sarudine had heard these words, and was horrified to think that the doctor would see his battered face. "I don't want anybody," he murmured feebly, trying to persuade himself and the others that he was going to die.

Cleansed now from blood and dirt, his face was no longer horrible to behold, but called rather for compassion.

From mere animal curiosity Tanaroff hastily glanced at him, and then, in a moment, looked elsewhere. Almost imperceptible as this movement had been, Sarudine noticed it with unutterable anguish and despair. He shut his eyes tighter, and exclaimed, in a broken, tearful voice:

"Leave me! Leave me! Oh! Oh!"

Tanaroff glanced again at him. Suddenly a feeling of irritation and contempt possessed him.

"He's actually going to cry now!" he thought, with a certain malicious satisfaction.

Sarudine's eyes were closed, and he lay quite still. Tanaroff drummed lightly on the window-sill with his fingers, twirled his moustache, looked round first, and then, out of the window, feeling selfishly eager to get away.

"I can't very well, just yet," he thought. "What a damned bore! Better wait until he goes to sleep."

Another quarter of an hour passed, and Sarudine appeared to be restless. To Tanaroff such suspense was intolerable. At last the sufferer lay motionless.

"Aha! he's asleep," thought Tanaroff, inwardly pleased. "Yes, I'm sure that he is."

He moved cautiously across the room so that the jingling of his spurs was scarcely audible. Suddenly Sarudine opened his eyes. Tanaroff stood still, but Sarudine had already guessed his intention, and the former knew that he had been detected in the act. Now something strange occurred. Sarudine shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep. Tanaroff tried to persuade himself that this was the case, while yet perfectly well aware that each was watching the other; and so, in an awkward, stooping posture, he crept out of the room on tiptoe, feeling like a convicted traitor.

The door closed gently behind him. In such wise were the bonds of friendship that had bound these two men together broken once and for all. They both felt that a gulf now lay between them that could never be bridged; in this world henceforth they could be nothing to each other.

In the outer room Tanaroff breathed more freely. He had no regret that all was at end between himself and the man with whom for many years his life had been spent.

"Look here!" said he to the servant as if, for form's sake, it behoved him to speak, "I am now going. If anything should happen--well ... you understand ..."

"Very good, sir," replied the soldier, looking scared.

"So now you know.... And see that the bandage is frequently changed."

He hurried down the steps, and, after closing the garden-gate, he drew a deep breath when he saw before him the broad, silent street. It was now nearly dark, and Tanaroff was glad that no one could notice his flushed face.

"I may even be mixed up in this horrid affair myself," he thought, and his heart sank as he approached the boulevard. "After all, what have I got to do with it?"

Thus he sought to pacify himself, endeavouring to forget how Ivanoff had flung him aside with such force that he almost fell down.

"Deuce take it! What a nasty business! It's all that fool of a Sarudine! Why did he ever associate with such canaille?"

The more he brooded over the whole unpleasantness of this incident, the more his commonplace figure, as he strutted along in his tightly- fitting breeches, smart boots, and white tunic, assumed a threatening aspect.

In every passer-by he was ready to detect ridicule and scorn; indeed, at the slightest provocation he would have wildly drawn his sword. However, he met but few folk that, like furtive shadows, passed swiftly along the outskirts of the darkening boulevard. On reaching home he became somewhat calmer, and then he thought again of what Ivanoff had done.

"Why didn't I hit him? I ought to have given him one in the jaw. I might have used my sword. I had my revolver, too, in my pocket. I ought to have shot him like a dog. How came I to forget the revolver? Well, after all, perhaps it's just as well that I didn't. Suppose I had killed him? It would have been a matter for the police. One of those other fellows might have had a revolver, too! A pretty state of things, eh? At all events, nobody knows that I had a weapon on me, and by degrees, the whole thing will blow over."

Tanaroff looked cautiously round before he drew out his revolver and placed it in the table drawer.

"I shall have to go to the colonel at once, and explain to him that I had nothing whatever to do with the matter," he thought, as he locked the drawer. Then an irresistible impulse seized him to go to the officer's mess, and, as an eye-witness, describe exactly what took place. The officers had already heard about the affair in the public gardens, and they hurried back to the brilliantly lighted mess-rooms to give vent in heated language to their indignation. They were really rather pleased at Sarudine's discomfiture, since often enough his smartness and elegance in dress and demeanour had served to put them in the shade.

Tanaroff was hailed with undisguised curiosity. He felt that he was the hero of the hour as he began to give a detailed account of the whole incident. In his narrow black eyes there was a look of hatred for the friend who had always been his superior. He thought of the money incident, and of Sarudine's condescending attitude towards him, and he revenged himself for past slights by a minute description of his comrade's defeat.

Meanwhile, forsaken and alone, Sarudine lay there upon his couch.

His soldier-servant, who had learnt the whole truth elsewhere, moved noiselessly about, looking sad and anxious as before. He set the tea- things ready, fetched some wine, and drove the dog out of the room as it leaped about for joy at the sight of its master.

After a while the man came back on tiptoe. "Your Excellency had better have a little wine," he whispered.

"Eh? What?" exclaimed Sarudine, opening his eyes and shutting them again instantly. In a tone which he thought severe, but which was really piteous, he could just move his swollen lips sufficiently to say: "Bring me the looking-glass."

The servant sighed, brought the mirror, and held a candle close to it.

"Why does he want to look at himself?" he thought.

When Sarudine looked in the glass he uttered an involuntary cry. In the dark mirror a terribly disfigured face confronted him. One side of it was black and blue, his eye was swollen, and his moustache stuck out like bristles on his puffy check.

"Here! Take it away!" murmured Sarudine, and he sobbed hysterically. "Some water!"

"Your Excellency mustn't take it so to heart. You'll soon be all right again," said the kindly soldier, as he proffered water in a sticky glass which smelt of tea.

Sarudine could not drink; his teeth rattled helplessly against the rim of the glass, and the water was spilt over his coat.

"Go away!" he feebly moaned.

His servant, so he thought, was the only man in the world who sympathized with him, yet that kindlier feeling towards him was speedily extinguished by the intolerable consciousness that his serving-man had cause to pity him.

Almost in tears, the soldier blinked his eyes and, going out, sat down on the steps leading to the garden. Fawning upon him, the dog thrust its pretty nose against his knee and looked up at him gravely with dark, questioning eyes. He gently stroked its soft, wavy coat. Overhead shone the silent stars. A sense of fear came over him, as the presage of some great, inevitable mischance.

"Life's a sad thing!" he thought bitterly, remembering for a moment his own native village.

Sarudine turned hastily over on the sofa and lay motionless, without noticing that the compress, now grown warm, had slipped off his face.

"Now all is at an end!" he murmured hysterically, "What is at an end? Everything! My whole life--done for! Why? Because I've been insulted-- struck like a dog! My face struck with the fist! I can never remain in the regiment, never!"

He could clearly see himself there, in the avenue, hobbling on all fours, cowed and ridiculous, as he uttered feeble, senseless threats. Again and again he mentally rehearsed that awful incident with ever increasing torture, and, as if illuminated, all the details stood out vividly before his eyes. That which most irritated him was his recollection of Sina Karsavina's white dress, of which he caught a glimpse at the very moment when he was vowing futile vengeance.

"Who was it that lifted me up?" He tried to turn his thoughts into another channel. "Was it Tanaroff? Or that Jew boy who was with them! It must have been Tanaroff. Anyhow, it doesn't matter in the least. What matters is that my whole life is ruined, and that I shall have to leave the regiment. And the duel? What about that? He won't fight. I shall have to leave the regiment."

Sarudine recollected how a regimental committee had forced two brother- officers, married men, to resign because they had refused to fight a duel.

"I shall be asked to resign in the same way. Quite civilly, without shaking hands ... the very fellows that.... Nobody will feel flattered now to be seen walking arm-in-arm with me in the boulevard, or envy me, or imitate my manner. But, after all, that's nothing. It's the shame, the dishonour of it. Why? Because I was struck in the face? It has happened to me before when I was a cadet. That big fellow, Schwartz, gave me a hiding, and knocked out one of my teeth. Nobody thought anything about it, but we shook hands afterwards, and became the best of friends. Nobody despised me then. Why should it be different now? Surely it is just the same thing! On that occasion, too, blood was spilt, and I fell down. So that ..."

To these despairing questions Sarudine could find no answer.

"If he had accepted my challenge and had shot me in the face, that would have been worse, and much more painful. Yet no one would have despised me in that case; on the contrary, I should have had sympathy and admiration. Thus there is a difference between a bullet and the fist. What difference is there, and why should there be any?"

His thoughts came swiftly, incoherently, yet his suffering, and irreparable misfortune would seem to have roused something new and latent within him of which in his careless years of selfish enjoyment he had never been conscious.

"Von Deitz, for instance, was always saying, 'If one smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left.' But how did he come back that day from Sanine's? Shouting angrily, and waving his arms because the fellow wouldn't accept my challenge! The others are really to blame for my wanting to hit him with the riding-whip. My mistake was that I didn't do it in time. The whole thing's absurdly unjust. However, there it is; the disgrace remains; and I shall have to leave the regiment."

With both hands pressed to his aching brow, Sarudine tossed from side to side, for the pain in his eye was excruciating. Then, in a fit of fury, he muttered:

"Get a revolver, rush at him, and put a couple of bullets through his head ... and then, as he lies there, stamp on his face, on his eyes, on his teeth!..."

The compress fell to the floor with a dull thud. Sarudine, startled, opened his eyes and, in the dimly-lighted room, saw a basin with water, a towel, and the dark window, that like an awful eye, stared at him mysteriously.

"No, no, there's no help for it now," he thought, in dull despair. "They all saw it; saw how I was struck in the face, and how I crawled along on all fours. Oh! the shame of it! Struck like that, in the face! No, it's too much! I shall never be free or happy again!"

And again through his mind there flashed a new, keen thought.

"After all, have I ever been free? No. That's just why I've come to grief now, because my life has never been free; because I've never lived it in my own way. Of my own free will should I ever have wanted to fight a duel, or to hit him with the whip? Nobody would have struck me, and everything would have been all right. Who first imagined, and when, that an insult could only be wiped out with blood? Not I, certainly. Well, I've wiped it out, or rather, it's been wiped out with my blood, hasn't it? I don't know what it all means, but I know this, that I shall have to leave the regiment!"

His thoughts would fain have taken another direction, yet, like birds with clipped wings, they always fell back again, back to the one central fact that he had been grossly insulted, and would be obliged to leave the regiment.

He remembered having once seen a fly that had fallen into syrup crawling over the floor, dragging its sticky legs and wings along with the utmost difficulty. It was plain that the wretched insect must die, though it still struggled, and made frantic efforts to regain its feet. At the time he had turned away from it in disgust, and now he saw it again, as in a feverish dream. Then he suddenly thought of a fight that he had once witnessed between two peasants, when one, with a terrific blow in the face, felled the other, an elderly, grey-haired man. He got up, wiped his bloody nose on his sleeve, exclaiming with emphasis, "What a fool!"

"Yes, I remember seeing that," thought Sarudine, "and then they had drinks together at the 'Crown.'"

The night drew near to its end. In silence so strange, so oppressive, it seemed as if Sarudine were the one living, suffering soul left on earth. On the table the guttering candle was still burning with a faint, steady, flame. Lost in the gloom of his disordered thoughts Sarudine stared at it with glittering, feverish eyes.

Amid the wild chaos of impressions and recollections there was one thing which stood out clearly from all others. It was the sense of his utter solitude that stabbed his heart like a dagger. Millions of men at that moment were merrily enjoying life, laughing and joking; some, it might be, were even talking about him. But he, only he, was alone. Vainly he sought to recall familiar faces. Yet pale, and strange, and cold, they appeared to him, and their eyes had a look of curiosity and malevolent glee. Then, in his dejection, he thought of Lida.

He pictured her as he had seen her last; her large, sad eyes; the thin blouse that lightly veiled her soft bosom; her hair in a single loose plait. In her face Sarudine saw neither malice nor contempt. Those dark eyes gazed at him in sorrowful reproach. He remembered how he had repulsed her at the moment of her supreme distress. The sense of having lost her wounded him like a knife.

"She suffered then far more than I do now.... I thrust her from me.... I almost wanted her to drown herself; wanted her to die."

As to a last anchor that should save him, his whole soul turned to her. He yearned for her caresses, her sympathy. For an instant it seemed to him as if all his actual sufferings would efface the past; yet he knew, alas! that Lida would never, never come back to him, and that all was at an end. Before him lay nothing but the blank, abysmal void!

Raising his arm, Sarudine pressed his hand against his brow. He lay there, motionless, with eyes closed and teeth clenched, striving to see nothing, to hear nothing, to feel nothing. But after a little while his hand dropped, and he sat up. His head ached terribly, his tongue seemed on fire, and he trembled from head to foot. Then he rose and staggered to the table.

"I have lost everything; my life, Lida, everything!"

It flashed across him that this life of his, after all, had not been either good, or glad, or sane, but foolish, perverted and base. Sarudine, the handsome Sarudine, entitled to all that was best and most enjoyable in life, no longer existed. There was only a feeble, emasculated body left to bear all this pain and dishonour.

"To live on is impossible," he thought, "for that would mean the entire effacement of the past. I should have to begin a new life, to become quite a different man, and that I cannot do!"

His head fell forward on the table, and in the weird, flickering candlelight he lay there, motionless.