Chapter XLIV.
 

The lamps burned dimly in the suffocating atmosphere of the crowded rail way-carriage, shedding their fitful light on grimy, ragged passengers wedged tightly together, and wreathed in smoke. Sanine sat next to three peasants. As he got in, they were engaged in talk, and one half-hidden by the gloom, said:

"Things are bad, you say?"

"Couldn't be worse," replied Sanine's neighbour, an old grey-haired moujik, in a high, feeble voice. "They only think of themselves; they don't trouble about us. You may say what you like, but when it comes to fighting for your skin, the stronger always gets the best of it."

"Then, why make a fuss?" asked Sanine, who had guessed what was the subject of their grumbling.

The old man turned to him with a questioning wave of the hand.

"What else can we do?"

Sanine got up and changed his seat. He knew these peasants only too well, who lived like beasts, unable either to cope with their oppression or to destroy their oppressors. Vaguely hoping that some miracle might occur, in waiting for which millions and millions of their fellow-slaves had perished, they continued to lead their brutish existence.

Night had come. All were asleep except a little tradesman sitting opposite to Sanine, who was bullying his wife. She said nothing, but looked about her with fear in her eyes.

"Wait a bit, you cow, I'll soon show you!" he hissed.

Sanine had fallen asleep when a cry from the woman awoke him. The fellow quickly removed his hand, but not before Sanine could see that he had been maltreating his wife.

"What a brute you are!" exclaimed Sanine, angrily.

The man started backwards in alarm, as he blinked his small, wicked eyes, and grinned.

Sanine in disgust went out on to the platform at the rear of the train. As he passed through the corridor-carriages he saw crowds of passengers lying prostrate across each other. It was daybreak and their weary faces looked livid in the grey dawn-light which gave them a helpless, pained expression.

Standing on the platform Sanine drank in draughts of the cool morning air.

"What a vile thing man is!" he thought. To get away, if only for a short while, from all his fellow-men, from the train, with its foul air, and smoke, and din--it was for that he longed.

Eastward the dawn flamed red. Night's last pale, sickly shadows were merged and lost in the grey-blue horizon-line beyond the steppe. Sanine did not waste time in reflection, but, leaving his valise behind him, jumped off the foot-board.

With a noise like thunder the train rushed past him as he fell on to the soft, wet sand of the embankment. The red lamp on the last carriage was a long way off when he rose, laughing.

Sanine uttered a cry of joy. "That's good!" he exclaimed.

All around him was so free, so vast. Broad, level fields of grass lay on either side, stretching away to the misty horizon. Sanine drew a deep breath, as with bright eyes he surveyed the spacious landscape. Then he strode forward, facing the jocund, lustrous dawn; and, as the plain, awaking, assumed magic tints of blue and green beneath the wide dome of heaven; as the first eastern beams broke on his dazzled sight, it seemed to Sanine that he was moving onward; onward to meet the sun.

THE END