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Sanine by Michael Artzibashef

Part 7 out of 7

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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

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

"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

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

"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

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

"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

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.


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

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

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

"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

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

"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:

"How disgraceful!"

"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

"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

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

"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."

"Very well."

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

"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.


"Look here," said Sanine, as they walked down the street in the dusk.

"Well, what is it?"

"Come to the railway-station with me. I'm going away."

Ivanoff stood still.


"Because this place bores me."

"Something has scared you, eh?"

"Scared me? I'm going because I wish to go."

"Yes, but the reason?"

"My good fellow, don't ask silly questions. I want to go, and that's
enough. As long as one hasn't found people out, there is always a
chance that they may prove interesting. Take some of the folk here, for
instance Sina Karsavina, or Semenoff, or Lida even, who might have
avoided becoming commonplace. But oh! they bore me now. I'm tired of
them. I've put up with it all as long as I could; I can't stand it any

Ivanoff looked at him for a good while.

"Come, come!" he said. "You'll surely say good-bye to your people?"

"Not I! It's just they who bore me most."

"But what about luggage?"

"I haven't got much. If you'll stop in the garden, I'll go into my room
and hand you my valise through the window. Otherwise they'll see me,
and overwhelm me with questions as to why and wherefore. Besides, what
is there to say?"

"Oh! I see!" drawled Ivanoff, as with a gesture he seemed to bid the
other adieu. "I'm very sorry that you're going, my friend, but ... what
can I do?"

"Come with me."


"It doesn't matter where. We can see about that, later."

"But I've no money?"

Sanine laughed.

"Neither have I."

"No, no, you'd better go by yourself. School begins in a fortnight, and
I shall get back into the old groove."

Each looked straight into the other's eyes, and Ivanoff turned away in
confusion, as if he had seen a distorted reflection of his own face in
a mirror.

Crossing the yard, Sanine went indoors while Ivanoff waited in the dark
garden, with its sombre shadows and its odour of decay. The leaves
rustled under his feet as he approached Sanine's bedroom-window. When
Sanine passed through the drawing-room he heard voices on the veranda,
and he stopped to listen.

"But what do you want of me?" he could hear Lida saying. Her peevish,
languid tone surprised him.

"I want nothing," replied Novikoff irritably, "only it seems strange
that you should think you were sacrificing yourself for me, whereas--"

"Yes, yes, I know," said Lida, struggling with her tears.

"It is not I, but it is you that are sacrificing yourself. Yes, it's
you! What more would you have?"

Novikoff was annoyed.

"How little you understand my meaning!" he said. "I love you, and thus
it's no sacrifice. But if you think that our union implies a sacrifice
either on your part or on mine, how on earth are we going to live
together? Do try and understand me. We can only live together on one
condition, and that is, if neither of us imagines that there is any
sacrifice about it. Either we love each other, and our union is a
reasonable and natural one, or we don't love each other, and then--"

Lida suddenly began to cry.

"What's the matter?" exclaimed Novikoff, surprised and irritated. "I
can't make you out. I haven't said anything that could offend you.
Don't cry like that! Really, one can't say a single word!"

"I ... don't know," sobbed Lida, "but ..."

Sanine frowned, and went into his room.

"So that's as far as Lida has got!" he thought. "Perhaps, if she had
drowned herself, it would have been better, after all."

Underneath the window, Ivanoff could hear Sanine hastily packing his
things. There was a rustling of paper, and the sound of something that
had fallen on the floor.

"Aren't you coming?" he asked impatiently.

"In a minute," replied Sanine, as his pale face appeared at the window.

"Catch hold!"

The valise was promptly handed out to Ivanoff and Sanine leapt after

"Come along!"

They went swiftly through the garden, that lay dim and desolate in the
dusk. The fires of sunset had paled beyond the glimmering stream.

At the rail way-station all the signal-lamps had been lighted. A
locomotive was snorting and puffing. Men were running about, banging
doors and shouting at each other. A group of peasants who carried large
bundles filled one part of the platform.

At the refreshment-room Sanine and Ivanoff had a farewell drink.

"Here's luck, and a pleasant journey!" said Ivanoff.

Sanine smiled.

"My journeys are always the same," he said. "I don't expect anything
from life, and I don't ask for anything either. As for luck, there's
not much of that at the finish. Old age and death; that's about all."

They went out on to the platform, seeking a quiet place for their

"Well, good-bye!"


Hardly knowing why, they kissed each other.

There was a long whistle, and the train began to move.

"Ah! my boy. I had grown so fond of you," exclaimed Ivanoff suddenly.
"You're the only real man that I have ever met."

"And you're the only one that ever cared for me," said Sanine as,
laughing, he leapt on to the foot-board of a carriage as it rolled

"Off we go!" he cried. "Good-bye!"

The carriages hurried past Ivanoff as if, like Sanine, they had
suddenly resolved to get away. The red light appeared in the gloom, and
then seemed to become stationary. Ivanoff mournfully watched its
disappearance, and then sauntered homewards through the ill-lighted

"Shall I drown my sorrow?" he thought; and, as he entered the tavern,
the image of his own grey, tedious life like a ghost went in with him


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

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

"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.


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