Sanine by Mikhail Petrovich Artzybashev
Those who knew Yourii Svarogitsch, and those who did not, those who liked, as those who despised him, even those who had never thought about him were sorry, now that he was dead.
Nobody could understand why he had done it; though they all imagined that they knew, and that in their inmost souls they held of his thoughts a share. There seemed something so beautiful about suicide, of which tears, flowers, and noble words were the sequel. Of his own relatives not one attended the funeral. His father had had a paralytic stroke, and Lialia could not leave him for a moment. Riasantzeff alone represented the family, and had charge of all the burial-arrangements. It was this solitariness that to spectators appeared particularly sad, and gave a certain mournful grandeur to the personality of the deceased.
Many flowers, beautiful, scentless, autumn flowers, were brought and placed on the bier; in the midst of their red and white magnificence the face of Yourii lay calm and peaceful, showing no trace of conflict or of suffering.
When the coffin was borne past Sina's house, she and her friend Dubova joined the funeral-procession. Sina looked utterly dejected and unnerved, as if she were being led out to shameful execution. Although she felt convinced that Yourii had heard nothing of her disgrace, there was yet, as it seemed to her, a certain connection between that and his death which would always remain a mystery. The burden of unspeakable shame was hers to bear alone. She deemed herself utterly miserable and depraved.
Throughout the night she had wept, as in fancy she fondly kissed the face of her dead lover. When morning came her heart was full of hopeless love for Yourii, and of bitter hatred for Sanine. Her accidental liaison with the last-named resembled a hideous dream. All that Sanine had told her, and which at the moment she had believed, was now revolting to her. She had fallen over a precipice; and rescue there was none. When Sanine approached her she stared at him in horror and disgust before turning abruptly away.
As her cold fingers slightly touched his hand held out in hearty greeting, Sanine at once knew all that she thought and felt. Henceforth they could only be as strangers to each other. He bit his lip, and joined Ivanoff who followed at some distance, shaking his smooth fair hair.
"Hark at Peter Ilitsch!" said Sanine, "how he's forcing his voice!"
A long way ahead, immediately behind the coffin, they were chanting a dirge, and Peter Ilitsch's long-drawn, quavering notes filled the air.
"Funny thing, eh?" began Ivanoff. "A feeble sort of chap, and yet he goes and shoots himself all in a moment, like that!"
"It's my belief," replied Sanine, "that three seconds before the pistol went off he was uncertain whether to shoot himself or not. As he lived, so he died."
"Ah! well," said the other, "at any rate, he's found a place for himself."
This, to Ivanoff, as he tossed back his yellow hair, appeared to be the last word in explanation of the tragic occurrence. Personally, it soothed him much.
In the graveyard the scene was even more autumnal, where the trees seemed splashed with dull red gold, while here and there the grass showed green through the heaps of withered leaves. The tombstones and crosses looked whiter in this dull setting.
So the black earth received Yourii.
Just at that awful moment when the coffin disappeared from view and the earth became a barrier for ever between the quick and the dead, Sina uttered a piercing shriek. Her sobs echoed through the quiet burial- ground, painfully affecting the little group of silent mourners. She no longer cared to hide her secret from the others who now all guessed it, horrified that death should have separated this handsome young woman from her lover to whom she had longed to give all her youth and beauty, and who now lay dead in the grave.
They led her away, and the sound of her weeping gradually subsided. The grave was hastily filled in, a mound of earth being raised above it on which little green fir-trees were planted.
Schafroff grew restless.
"I say, somebody ought to make a speech. Gentlemen, this won't do! There ought to be a speech," he said, hurriedly accosting the bystanders in turn.
"Ask Sanine," was Ivanoff's malicious suggestion. Schafroff stared at the speaker in amazement, whose face wore an inscrutable expression.
"Sanine? Sanine? Where's Sanine?" he exclaimed. "Ah! Vladimir Petrovitch, will you say a few words? We can't go away without a speech."
"Make one yourself, then," replied Sanine morosely. He was listening to Sina, sobbing in the distance.
"If I could do so I would. He really was a very re... mark... able man, wasn't he? Do, please, say a word or two!"
Sanine looked hard at him, and replied almost angrily. "What is there to say? One fool less in the world. That's all!"
The bitter words fell with startling clearness on the ears of those present. Such was their amazement that they were at a loss for a reply, but Dubova, in a shrill voice, cried:
"Why?" asked Sanine, shrugging his shoulders. Dubova sought to shout at him, threatening him with her fists, but was restrained by several girls who surrounded her. The company broke up in disorder. Vehement sounds of protest were heard on every side, and like a group of withered leaves scattered by the wind, the crowd dispersed. Schafroff at first ran on in front, but soon afterwards came back again. Riasantzeff stood with others aside, and gesticulated violently.
Lost in his thoughts, Sanine gazed at the angry face of a person wearing spectacles, and then turned round to join Ivanoff, who appeared perplexed. When referring Schafroff to Sanine he had foreseen a contretemps of some sort, but not one of so serious a nature. While it amused him, he yet felt sorry that it had occurred. Not knowing what to say, he looked away, beyond the grave-stones and crosses, to the distant fields.
A young student stood near him, engaged in heated talk. Ivanoff froze him with a glance.
"I suppose you think yourself ornamental?" he said.
The lad blushed.
"That's not in the least funny," he replied.
"Funny be d----d! You clear off!"
There was such a wicked look in Ivanoff's eyes that the disconcerted youth soon went away.
Sanine watched this little scene and smiled.
"What fools they are!" he exclaimed.
Instantly Ivanoff felt ashamed that even for a moment he should have wavered.
"Come on!" he said. "Deuce take the lot of them!"
"All right! Let's go!"
They walked past Riasantzeff who scowled at them as they went towards the gate. At some distance Sanine noticed another group of young men whom he did not know and who stood, like a flock of sheep, with their heads close together. In their midst stood Schafroff, talking and gesticulating, but he became silent on seeing Sanine. The others all turned to look at the last-named. Their faces expressed honest indignation and a certain shy curiosity.
"They're plotting against you," said Ivanoff, somewhat amazed to see the baleful look in Sanine's eyes. Red as a lobster, Schafroff came forward, blinking his eyelids, and approached Sanine, who turned round sharply on his heel, as though he were ready to knock the first man down.
Schafroff probably perceived this, for he turned pale, and stopped at a respectful distance. The students and girls followed close at his heels like a flock of sheep behind a bell-wether.
"What else do you want?" asked Sanine, without raising his voice.
"We want nothing," replied Schafroff in confusion, "but all my fellow- comrades wish me to express their displeasure at--"
"Much I care about your displeasure!" hissed Sanine through his clenched teeth. "You asked me to say something about the deceased, and after I had said what I thought, you come and express to me your displeasure! Very good of you, I'm sure! If you weren't a pack of silly, sentimental boys, I would show you that I was right, and that Svarogitsch's life was an absolutely foolish one, for he worried himself about all sorts of useless things and died a fool's death, but you--well, you're all of you too dense and too narrow-minded for words! To the deuce with the lot of you! Be off, I say!"
So saying, he walked straight on, forcing the crowd to make way for him.
"Don't push, please!" croaked Schafroff, feebly protesting.
"Well of all the insolent ..." cried some one, but he did not finish his phrase.
"How is it you frighten people like that?" asked Ivanoff, as they walked down the street. "You're a perfect terror!"
"If such young fellows with their mad ideas about liberty were always to come bothering you," replied Sanine, "I expect that you would treat them in a much rougher way. Let them all go to hell!"
"Cheer up, my friend!" said Ivanoff, half in jest and half in earnest. "Do you know what we'll do? Buy some beer and drink to the memory of Yourii Svarogitsch. Shall we?"
"If you like," replied Sanine carelessly.
"By the time we get back all the others will have gone," continued Ivanoff, "and we'll drink at the side of the grave, giving honour to the dead and to ourselves enjoyment."
When they returned, not a living soul was to be seen The tomb-stones and crosses, erect and rigid, stood there as in mute expectation. From a heap of dry leaves a hideous black snake suddenly darted across the path.
"Reptile!" cried Ivanoff, shuddering.
Then, on to the grass beside the newly-made grave that smelt of humid mould and green fir-trees they flung their empty beer-bottles.