Sanine by Mikhail Petrovich Artzybashev
When to the sound of martial music Sarudine's remains were borne to the churchyard, Yourii from his window watched the sad, imposing procession. He saw the horses draped in black, and the deceased officer's cap that lay on the coffin-lid. There were flowers in profusion, and many female mourners, Yourii was deeply grieved at the sight.
That evening he walked for a long while with Sina Karsavina; yet her beautiful eyes and gentle caressing manner did not enable him to shake off his depression.
"How awful it is to think," he said, his eyes fixed on the ground, "to think that Sarudine no longer exists. A handsome, merry, careless young officer like that! One would have thought that he would live for ever, and that the horrible things of life, such as pain and doubt and suffering, were unknown to him, would never touch him. Yet one fine day this very man is swept away like dust, after passing through a terrible ordeal known to none but himself. Now he's gone, and will never, never return. All that's left of him is the cap on the coffin-lid."
Yourii was silent, and he still gazed at the ground. Swaying slightly as she walked beside him, Sina listened attentively, while with her pretty, dimpled hands she kept twisting the lace of her parasol. She was not thinking about Sarudine. It was a keen pleasure for her to be near Yourii, yet unconsciously she shared his melancholy mood, and her face assumed a mournful expression. "Yes! wasn't it sad? That music, too!"
"I don't blame Sanine," said Yourii with emphasis.
"He could not have acted otherwise. The horrible part of it all is that the paths of these two men crossed, so that one or the other was obliged to give way. It is also horrible that the victor does not realize that his triumph is an appalling one. He calmly sweeps a man off the face of the earth, and yet is in the right."
"Yes, he's in the right, and--" exclaimed Sina, who had not heard all that Yourii had said. Her bosom heaved with excitement.
"But I call it horrible!" cried Yourii, hastily interrupting her, as he glanced at her shapely form and eager face.
"Why is it so?" asked Sina in a timid voice. She blushed suddenly, and her eyes lost their brightness.
"Anyone else would have felt remorse, or have suffered some kind of spiritual anguish," said Yourii. "But he showed not the slightest sign of it. 'I'm very sorry,' says he, 'but it's not my fault.' Fault, indeed! As if the question were one of fault or of blame!"
"Then of what is it?" asked Sina. Her voice faltered, and she looked downwards, fearing to offend her companion.
"That I don't know; but a man has no right to behave like a brute," was the indignant rejoinder.
For some time they walked along without speaking. Sina was grieved at what seemed their momentary estrangement, at this breaking of their spiritual bond which to her was so sweet, while Yourii felt that he had not expressed himself clearly, and this wounded his self-respect.
Soon afterwards they parted, she being sad and somewhat hurt. Yourii noticed her dejection, and was morbidly pleased thereat, as if he had revenged himself on some one he loved for a gross personal insult.
At home his ill-humour was increased. During dinner Lialia repeated what Riasantzeff had told her about Soloveitchik. As the men were removing the corpse, several urchins had called out:
"Ikey's hanged himself! Ikey's hanged himself!"
Nicolai Yegorovitch laughed loudly, and made her say:
"Ikey's hanged himself," over and over again.
Yourii shut himself up in his room, and, while correcting his pupil's exercises, he thought:
"How much of the brute there is in every man! For such dull-witted beasts is it worth while to suffer and to die?"
Then, ashamed of his intolerance, he said to himself.
"They are not to blame. They don't know what they are doing. Well, whether they know or not, they're brutes, and nothing else!"
His thoughts reverted to Soloveitchik.
"How lonely is each of us in this world! There was poor Soloveitchik, great of heart, living in our midst ready to make any sacrifice, and to suffer for others. Yet nobody, any more than I did, noticed him or appreciated him. In fact, we despised him. That was because he could not express himself, and his anxiety to please only had an irritating effect, though, in reality he was striving to get into closer touch with all of us, and to be helpful and kind. He was a saint, and we looked upon him as a fool!"
So keen was his sense of remorse that he left his work, and restlessly paced the room. At last he sat down at the table, and, opening the Bible, read as follows:
"As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more."
"He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more."
"How true that is! How terrible and inevitable!" he thought.
"Here I sit, alive, thirsting for life and joy, and read my death- warrant. Yet I cannot even protest against it!"
As in a frenzy of despair, he clasped his forehead and with ineffectual fury appealed to some Power invisible and supreme.
"What has man done to thee that thou shouldst mock him thus? If thou dost exist, why dost thou hide thyself from him? Why hast thou made me thus, that even though I would believe in thee I yet have no belief in my own faith? And, if thou shouldst answer me, how can I tell if it is thou or I myself that makes reply? If I am right in wishing to live, why dost thou rob me of this right which thou thyself gavest to me? If thou hast need of our sufferings, well, these let us bear for love of thee. Yet we know not even if a tree be not of greater worth than a man."
"For a tree there is always hope. Even when felled it can put forth fresh shoots, and regain new verdure and new life. But man dies, and vanishes for ever. I lie down never to rise again. If I knew for certain that after milliards of years I should come to life again, patient and uncomplaining I would wait through all those centuries in outer darkness."
Once more he read from the book:
"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"
"One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever."
"The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down and hasteth to his place where he arose."
"The wind goeth toward the south and turneth about unto the north: it whirleth about continually; and the wind returneth again according to his circuits."
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; there is nothing new under the sun."
"There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after."
"I, the Preacher, was King over Israel in Jerusalem."
"I, the Preacher, was King!" He shouted out these last words, as in vehement anger and despair, and then looked round in alarm, fearing lest some one should have heard him. Then he took a sheet of paper and began to write."
"I here begin this document which will end with my decease."
"Bah! how absurd it sounds!" he exclaimed as he pushed the paper from him with such violence that it fell to the floor."
"But that miserable little fellow, Soloveitchik, didn't think it absurd that he could not understand the meaning of life!"
Yourii failed to perceive that he was taking as his model a man whom he had described as a miserable little fellow.
"Anyhow, sooner or later, my end will be like that. There is no other way out. Why is there not? Because..."
Yourii paused. He believed that he had got an exact reply to this question, yet the words he wanted could not be found. His brain was over-wrought, and his thoughts confused.
"It's rubbish, all rubbish!" he exclaimed bitterly.
The lamp burned low, and its faint light illumined Yourii's bowed head, as he leant across the table.
"Why didn't I die when I was a boy and had inflammation of the lungs? I should now be happy, and at rest."
He shivered at the thought.
"In that case I should not have seen or known all that now I know. That would have been just as dreadful."
Yourii tossed back his head, and rose.
"It's enough to drive one mad!"
He went to the window and tried to open it, but the shutters were firmly fastened from the outside. By using a pencil, Yourii was able at last to unhook them, and with a creaking sound they swung back, admitting the cool, pure night air, Yourii looked up at the heavens and saw the roseate light of the dawn.
The morning was bright and clear. The seven stars of the Great Bear shone faintly, while large and lustrous in the crimson east flamed the morning star. A fresh breeze stirred the leaves, and dispersed the grey mists that floated above the lawn and veiled the smooth surface of the stream beside whose margin water-lilies and myosotis and white clover grew in abundance. The sky was flecked with little pink clouds, while here and there a last star trembled in the blue. All was so beautiful, so calm, as if the awestruck earth awaited the splendid approach of dawn.
Yourii at last went back to bed, but the garish daylight prevented him from getting sleep, as he lay there with aching brow and jaded eyes.