Chapter XLI.
 

Next morning Yourii rose late, feeling indisposed. His head ached, and he had a bad taste in his mouth. At first he could only recollect shouts, jingling glasses, and the waning light of lamps at dawn. Then he remembered how, stumbling and grunting, Schafroff and Peter Ilitsch had retired, while he and Ivanoff--the latter pale with drink, but firm on his feet--stood talking on the balcony. They had no eyes for the radiant morning sky, pale green at the horizon, and changing over head to blue; they did not see the fair meadows and fields, nor the shining river that lay below.

They still went on arguing. Ivanoff triumphantly proved to Yourii that people of his sort were worthless, since they feared to take from life that which life offered them. They were far better dead and forgotten. It was with malicious pleasure that he quoted Peter Ilitsch's remark, "I should certainly never call such persons men," as he laughed wildly, imagining that he had demolished Yourii by such a phrase. Yet, strange to say, Yourii was not annoyed by it, dealing only with Ivanoff's assertion that his life was a miserable one. That, he said, was because "people of his sort" were more sensitive, more highly-strung; and he agreed that they were far better out of the world. Then, becoming intensely depressed, he almost wept. He now recollected with shame how he had been on the point of telling Ivanoff of his love-episode with Sina, and had almost flung the honour of that pure, lovely girl at the feet of this truculent sot. When at last Ivanoff, growling, had gone out into the courtyard, the room to Yourii seemed horribly dreary and deserted.

There was a mist over everything; only the dirty table-cloth, with its green radish-stalks, empty beer-glasses and cigarette-ends danced before his eyes, as he sat there, huddled-up and forlorn.

Afterwards, he remembered, Ivanoff came back, and with him was Sanine. The latter seemed gay, talkative and perfectly sober. He looked at Yourii in a strange manner, half-friendly and half-derisive. Then his thoughts turned to the scene in the wood with Sina. "It would have been base of me if I had taken advantage of her weakness," he said to himself. "Yet what shall I do now? Possess her, and then cast her off? No, I could never do that; I'm too kind-hearted. Well, what then? Marry her?"

Marriage! To Yourii the very word sounded appallingly commonplace. How could anyone of his complex temperament endure the idea of a philistine menage? It was impossible. "And yet I love her," he thought. "Why should I put her from me, and go? Why should I destroy my own happiness? It's monstrous! It's absurd!"

On reaching home, in order to take his thoughts off the one engrossing subject, he sat down at the table and proceeded to read over certain sententious passages written by him recently.

"In this world there is neither good nor bad."

"Some say: what is natural is good, and that man is right in his desires."

"But that is false, for all is natural. In darkness and void nothing is born; all has the same origin."

"Yet others say: All is good which comes from God. Yet that likewise is false; for, if God exists, then all things come from Him, even blasphemy."

"Again, there are those who say: goodness lies in doing good to others."

"How can that be? What is good for one, is bad for another."

"The slave desires his liberty, while his master wants him to remain a slave. The wealthy man wants to keep his wealth, and the poor man, to destroy the rich; he who is oppressed, to be free; the victor to remain unvanquished; the loveless to be loved; the living not to die. Man desires the destruction of beasts, just as beasts wish to destroy man. Thus it was in the beginning, and thus it ever shall be; nor has any man a special right to get good that is good for him alone."

"Men are wont to say that loving-kindness is better than hatred. Yet that is false, for if there be a reward, then certainly it is better to be kind and unselfish, but if not, then it is better for a man to take his share of happiness beneath the sun."

Yourii read on, thinking that these written meditations of his were amazingly profound.

"It's all so true!" he said to himself, and in his melancholy there was a touch of pride.

He went to the window and looked out into the garden where the paths were strewn with yellow leaves. The sickly hue of death confronted him at every point--dying leaves and dying insects whose lives depend on warmth and light.

Yourii could not comprehend this calm. The pageant of dying summer filled his soul with wrath unutterable.

"Autumn already; and then winter, and the snow. Then spring, and summer, and autumn again! The eternal monotony of it all! And what shall I be doing all the while? Exactly what I'm doing now. At best, I shall become dull-witted, caring for nothing. Then old age, and death."

The same thoughts that had so often harassed him now rushed through his brain. Life, so he said, had passed by him; after all, there was no such thing as an exceptional existence; even a hero's life is full of tedium, grievous at the outset, and joyless at the close.

"An achievement! A victory of some sort!" Yourii wrung his hands in despair. "To blaze up, and then to expire, without fear, without pain. That is the only real life!"

A thousand exploits one more heroic than the other, presented themselves to his mind, each like some grinning death's head. Closing his eyes, Yourii could clearly behold a grey Petersburg morning, damp brick walls and a gibbet faintly outlined against the leaden sky. He pictured the barrel of a revolver pressed to his brow; he imagined that he could hear the whiz of nagaikas as they struck his defenceless face and naked back.

"That's what's in store for one! To that one must come!" he exclaimed.

The deeds of heroism vanished, and in their place, his own helplessness grinned at him like a mocking mask. He felt that all his dreams of victory and valour were only childish fancies.

"Why should I sacrifice my own life or submit to insult and death in order that the working classes in the thirty-second century may not suffer through want of food or of sexual satisfaction? The devil take all workers and non-workers in this world!"

"I wish somebody would shoot me," he thought. "Kill me, right out, with a shot aimed from behind, so that I should feel nothing. What nonsense, isn't it? Why must somebody else do it? and not I myself? Am I really such a coward that I cannot pluck up courage to end this life which I know to be nothing but misery? Sooner or later, one must die, so that..."

He approached the drawer in which he kept his revolver, and furtively took it out.

"Suppose I were to try? Not really because I ... just for fun!"

He slipped the weapon into his pocket and went out on to the veranda leading to the garden. On the steps lay yellow, withered leaves. He kicked them in all directions as he whistled a melancholy tune.

"What's that you're whistling?" asked Lialia, gaily, as she came across the garden. "It's like a dirge for your departed youth."

"Don't talk nonsense!" replied Yourii irritably; and from that moment he felt the approach of something that it was beyond his power to prevent. Like an animal that knows death is near, he wandered restlessly hither and thither, to look for some quiet spot. The courtyard only irritated him, so he walked down to the river where yellow leaves were floating, and threw a dry twig into the stream. For a long time he watched the eddying circles on the water as the floating leaves danced. He turned back and went towards the house, stopping to look at the ruined flower-beds where the last red blossoms yet lingered. Then he returned to the garden.

There, amid the brown and yellow foliage one oak-tree stood whose leaves were green. On the bench beneath it a yellow cat lay sunning itself. Yourii gently stroked its soft furry back, as tears rose to his eyes.

"This is the end! This is the end!" he kept repeating to himself. Senseless though the words seemed to him, they struck him like an arrow in the heart.

"No, no! What nonsense! My whole life lies before me. I'm only twenty- four years old! It's not that. Then, what is it?"

He suddenly thought of Sina, and how impossible it would be to meet her after that outrageous scene in the wood. Yet how could he possibly help meeting her? The shame of it overwhelmed him. It would be better to die.

The cat arched its back and purred with pleasure, the sound was like a bubbling samovar. Yourii watched it attentively, and then began to walk up and down.

"My life's so wearisome, so horribly dreary.... Besides, I can't say if... No, no, I'd rather die than see her again!"

Sina had gone out of his life for ever. The future, cold, grey, void, lay before him, a long chain of loveless, hopeless days.

"No, I'd rather die!"

Just then, with heavy tread, the coachman passed, carrying a pail of water, and in it there floated leaves, dead, yellow leaves. The maid- servant appeared in the doorway, and called out to Yourii. For a long while he could not understand what she said.

"Yes, yes, all right!" he replied when at last he realized that she was telling him lunch was ready.

"Lunch?" he said to himself in horror. "To go into lunch! Everything just as before; to go on living and worrying as to what I ought to do about Sina, about my own life, and my own acts? So I'd better be quick, or else, if I go to lunch, there won't be time afterwards."

A strange desire to make haste dominated him, and he trembled violently in every limb. He felt conscious that nothing was going to happen, and yet he had a clear presentiment of approaching death; there was a buzzing in his ears from sheer terror.

With hands tucked under her white apron, the maidservant still stood motionless on the veranda, enjoying the soft autumnal air.

Like a thief, Yourii crept behind the oak-tree, so that no one should see him from the veranda, and with startling suddenness shot himself in the chest.

"Missed fire!" he thought with delight, longing to live, and dreading death. But above him he saw the topmost branches of the oak-tree against the azure sky, and the yellow cat that leapt away in alarm.

Uttering a shriek, the maid-servant rushed indoors. Immediately afterwards it seemed to Yourii as if he were surrounded by a huge crowd of people. Some one poured cold water on his head, and a yellow leaf stuck to his brow, much to his discomfort. He heard excited voices on all sides, and some one sobbing, and crying out: "Youra, Youra! Oh! why, why?"

"That's Lialia!" thought Yourii. Opening his eyes wide, he began to struggle violently, as in a frenzy he screamed:

"Send for the doctor--quick!"

But to his horror he felt that all was over--that now nothing could save him. The dead leaves sticking to his brow felt heavier and heavier, crushing his brain. He stretched out his neck in a vain effort to see more clearly, but the leaves grew and grew, till they had covered everything; and what then happened to him Yourii never knew.