Chapter XXXIII.
 

The news that two persons had committed suicide on the same night spread rapidly through the little town. It was Ivanoff who told Yourii. The latter had just come back from a lesson, and was at work upon a portrait of Lialia. She posed for him in a light-coloured blouse, open at the neck, and her pretty shell-pink arms showed through the semi- transparent stuff. The room was filled with sunlight which lit up her golden hair, and heightened the charm of her girlish grace.

"Good day," said Ivanoff, as, entering, he flung his hat on to a chair.

"Ah! it's you. Well, what's the news?" asked Yourii, smiling.

He was in a contented, happy mood, for at last he had got some teaching which made him less dependent upon his father, and the society of his bright, charming sister served to cheer him, also.

"Oh! lots of news," said Ivanoff, with a vague look in his eyes. "One man has hanged himself, and another has blown his brains out, and the devil's got hold of a third."

"What on earth do you mean?" exclaimed Yourii.

"The third catastrophe is my own invention, just to heighten the effect; but as regards the other two, the news is correct. Sarudine shot himself last night, and I have just heard that Soloveitchik has committed suicide by hanging."

"Impossible!" cried Lialia, jumping up. Her eyes expressed horror and intense curiosity.

Yourii hurriedly laid aside his palette, and approached Ivanoff.

"You're not joking?"

"No, indeed."

As usual, he put on an air of philosophic indifference, yet evidently he was much shocked at what had happened.

"Why did he shoot himself? Because Sanine struck him?"

"Does Sanine know?" asked Lialia anxiously.

"Yes. Sanine heard about it last night," replied Ivanoff.

"And what does he say?" exclaimed Yourii.

Ivanoff shrugged his shoulders. He was in no mood to discuss Sanine with Yourii, and he answered, not without irritation.

"Nothing. What has it to do with him?"

"Anyhow, he was the cause of it," said Lialia.

"Yes, but what business had that fool to attack him? It is not Sanine's fault. The whole affair is deplorable, but it is entirely due to Sarudine's stupidity."

"Oh! I think that the real reason lies deeper," said Yourii sadly. "Sarudine lived in a certain set that..."

Ivanoff shrugged his shoulders.

"Yes, and the very fact that he lived in, and was influenced by, such an idiotic set is only proof positive that he was a fool."

Yourii rubbed his hands and said nothing. It pained him to hear the dead man spoken of thus.

"Well I can understand why Sarudine did it," said Lialia, "but Soloveitchik? I never would have thought it possible! What was the reason?"

"God knows!" replied Ivanoff. "He was always a bit queer."

At that moment Riasantzeff drove up, and meeting Sina Karsavina on the doorstep, they came upstairs together. Her voice, high-pitched and anxious, could be heard, and also his jovial, bantering tones that talk with pretty girls always evoked.

"Anatole Pavlovitch has just come from there," said Sina excitedly.

Riasantzeff followed her, laughing as usual, and endeavouring to light a cigarette as he entered.

"A nice state of things!" he said gaily. "If this goes on we soon shan't have any young people left."

Sina sat down without speaking. Her pretty face looked sad and dejected.

"Now then, tell us all about it," said Ivanoff.

"As I came out of the club last night," began Riasantzeff, "a soldier rushed up to me and stammered out, 'His Excellency's shot himself!' I jumped into a droschky and got there as fast as I could. I found nearly the whole regiment at the house. Sarudine was lying on the bed, and his tunic was unbuttoned."

"And where did he shoot himself?" asked Lialia, clinging to her lover's arm.

"In the temple. The bullet went right through his head and hit the ceiling."

"Was it a Browning?" Yourii asked this.

"Yes. It was an awful sight. The wall was splashed with blood and brains, and his face was utterly disfigured. Sanine must have given him a teaser." He laughed. "A tough customer is that lad!"

Ivanoff nodded approvingly.

"He's strong enough, I warrant you."

"Coarse brute!" said Yourii, in disgust.

Sina glanced timidly at him.

"In my opinion it was not his fault," she said. "He couldn't possibly wait until..."

"Yes, yes," replied Riasantzeff, "but to hit a fellow like that! Sarudine had challenged him."

"There you go!" exclaimed Ivanoff irritably, as he shrugged his shoulders.

"If you come to think of it, duelling is absurd!" said Yourii.

"Of course it is!" chimed in Sina.

To his surprise, Yourii noticed that Sina seemed pleased to take Sanine's part.

"At any rate, it's...." The right phrase failed him wherewith to disparage Sanine.

"A brutal thing," suggested Riasantzeff.

Though Yourii thought Riasantzeff was little better than a brute to himself, he was glad to hear the latter abuse Sanine to Sina when she defended him. However, as she noticed Yourii's look of annoyance, she said no more. Secretly, she was much pleased by Sanine's strength and pluck, and was quite unwilling to accept Riasantzeff's denouncement of duelling as just. Like Yourii, she did not consider that he was qualified to lay down the law like that.

"Wonderfully civilized, certainly," sneered Ivanoff, "to shoot a man's nose off, or run him through the body."

"Is a blow in the face any better?"

"I certainly think that it is. What harm can a fist do? A bruise is soon healed. You won't find that a blow with the fist ever hurt anybody much."

"That's not the point."

"Then, what is, pray?" said Ivanoff, his thin lips curled with scorn.

"I don't believe in fighting at all, myself, but, if it must be, then one ought to draw the line at severe bodily injuries. That's quite clear."

"He almost knocked the other's eye out. I suppose you don't call that severe bodily injury?" retorted Riasantzeff sarcastically.

"Well, of course, to lose an eye is a bad job, but it's not the same as getting a bullet through your body. The loss of an eye is not a fatal injury."

"But Sarudine is dead?"

"Ah! that's because he wished to die."

Yourii nervously plucked at his moustache.

"I must frankly confess," he said, quite pleased at his own sincerity, "that personally, I have not made up my mind as regards this question. I cannot say how I should have behaved in Sanine's place. Of course, duelling's stupid, and to fight with fists is not much better."

"But what is a man to do if he's compelled to fight?" said Sina.

Yourii shrugged his shoulders.

"It's for Soloveitchik that we ought to be sorry," said Riasantzeff, after a pause. The words contrasted strangely with his cheerful countenance. Then all at once, they remembered that not one of them had asked about Soloveitchik.

"Where did he hang himself? Do you know?"

"In the shed next to the dog's kennel. He let the dog loose, and then hanged himself."

Sina and Yourii simultaneously seemed to hear a shrill voice exclaim:

"Lie down, Sultan!"

"Yes, and he left a note behind," continued Riasantzeff, unable to conceal the merry twinkle in his eyes. "I made a copy of it. In a way, it's really a human document." Taking out his pocket-book he read as follows:

"Why should I live, since I do not know how I ought to live? Men such as I cannot make their fellow-creatures happy."

He stopped suddenly, as if somewhat embarrassed. Dead silence ensued. A sad spirit seemed to pass noiselessly through the room. Tears rose to Sina's eyes, and Lialia's face grew red with emotion. Yourii smiled mournfully as he turned towards the window.

"That's all," said Riasantzeff meditatively.

"What more would you have?" asked Sina with quivering lips.

Ivanoff rose and reached across for the matches that were on the table.

"It's nothing more than tomfoolery," he muttered.

"For shame!" was Sina's indignant protest.

Yourii glanced in disgust at Ivanoff's long, smooth hair and turned away.

"To take the case of Soloveitchik," resumed Riasantzeff, and again his eyes twinkled. "I always thought him a nincompoop--a silly Jew boy. And now, see what he has shown himself to be! There is no love more sublime than the love which bids one sacrifice one's life for humanity."

"But he didn't sacrifice his life for humanity," replied Ivanoff, as he looked askance at Riasantzeff's portly face and figure, and observed how tightly his waistcoat fitted him.

"Yes, but it's the same thing, for if ..."

"It's not the same thing at all," was Ivanoff's stubborn retort, and his eyes flashed angrily. "It's the act of an idiot, that's what it is!"

His strange hatred of Soloveitchik made a most unpleasant impression upon the others.

Sina Karsavina, as she got up to go, whispered to Yourii, "I am going. He is simply detestable."

Yourii nodded. "Utterly brutal," he murmured.

Immediately after Sina's departure, Lialia and Riasantzeff went out. Ivanoff sat pensively smoking his cigarette for a while, as he stared sulkily at a corner of the room. Then he also departed.

In the street as he walked along, swinging his arms in the usual way, he thought to himself, in his wrath:

"These fools imagine that I am not capable of understanding what they understand! I like that! I know exactly what they think and feel, better than they do themselves. I also know that there is no love more sublime than the love which bids a man lay down his life for others. But for a man to go and hang himself simply because he is of no good to anybody--that's absolute nonsense!"