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The Forged Coupon and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy

Part 5 out of 5

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Tsar. "They certainly deserve pity. It is a
dreadful life. But it cannot be helped. It is
their own fault."

But this thought had hardly come into his
head before HE, who was his guide, replied to
it.

"They are all here under lock and key by your
order. They have all been sentenced in your
name. But far from meriting their present con-
dition which is due to your human judgment, the
greater part of them are far better than you or
those who were their judges and who keep them
here. This one"--he pointed to the handsome,
curly-headed fellow--"is a murderer. I do not
consider him more guilty than those who kill in
war or in duelling, and are rewarded for their
deeds. He had neither education nor moral
guidance, and his life had been cast among thieves
and drunkards. This lessens his guilt, but he has
done wrong, nevertheless, in being a murderer.
He killed a merchant, to rob him. The other
man, the Jew, is a thief, one of a gang of thieves.
That uncommonly strong fellow is a horse-stealer,
and guilty also, but compared with others not as
culpable. Look!"--and suddenly the young
Tsar found himself in an open field on a vast
frontier. On the right were potato fields; the
plants had been rooted out, and were lying in
heaps, blackened by the frost; in alternate streaks
were rows of winter corn. In the distance a little
village with its tiled roofs was visible; on the left
were fields of winter corn, and fields of stubble.
No one was to be seen on any side, save a black
human figure in front at the border-line, a gun
slung on his back, and at his feet a dog. On the
spot where the young Tsar stood, sitting beside
him, almost at his feet, was a young Russian
soldier with a green band on his cap, and with his
rifle slung over his shoulders, who was rolling up
a paper to make a cigarette. The soldier was
obviously unaware of the presence of the young
Tsar and his companion, and had not heard them.
He did now turn round when the Tsar, who was
standing directly over the soldier, asked, "Where
are we?" "On the Prussian frontier," his guide
answered. Suddenly, far away in front of them,
a shot was fired. The soldier jumped to his feet,
and seeing two men running, bent low to the
ground, hastily put his tobacco into his pocket,
and ran after one of them. "Stop, or I'll
shoot!" cried the soldier. The fugitive, without
stopping, turned his head and called out something
evidently abusive or blasphemous.

"Damn you!" shouted the soldier, who put one
foot a little forward and stopped, after which,
bending his head over his rifle, and raising his
right hand, he rapidly adjusted something, took
aim, and, pointing the gun in the direction of the
fugitive, probably fired, although no sound was
heard. "Smokeless powder, no doubt," thought
the young Tsar, and looking after the fleeing man
saw him take a few hurried steps, and bending
lower and lower, fall to the ground and crawl on
his hands and knees. At last he remained lying
and did not move. The other fugitive, who was
ahead of him, turned round and ran back to
the man who was lying on the ground. He
did something for him and then resumed his
flight.

"What does all this mean? " asked the Tsar.

"These are the guards on the frontier, enforc-
ing the revenue laws. That man was killed to
protect the revenues of the State."

"Has he actually been killed? "

The guide again laid his hand upon the head of
the young Tsar, and again the Tsar lost conscious-
ness. When he had recovered his senses he found
himself in a small room--the customs office.
The dead body of a man, with a thin grizzled
beard, an aquiline nose, and big eyes with the
eyelids closed, was lying on the floor. His arms
were thrown asunder, his feet bare, and his thick,
dirty toes were turned up at right angles and stuck
out straight. He had a wound in his side, and
on his ragged cloth jacket, as well as on his blue
shirt, were stains of clotted blood, which had
turned black save for a few red spots here and
there. A woman stood close to the wall, so
wrapped up in shawls that her face could scarcely
be seen. Motionless she gazed at the aquiline
nose, the upturned feet, and the protruding eye-
balls; sobbing and sighing, and drying her tears at
long, regular intervals. A pretty girl of thirteen
was standing at her mother's side, with her eyes
and mouth wide open. A boy of eight clung to
his mother's skirt, and looked intensely at his dead
father without blinking.

From a door near them an official, an officer, a
doctor, and a clerk with documents, entered.
After them came a soldier, the one who had shot
the man. He stepped briskly along behind his
superiors, but the instant he saw the corpse he
went suddenly pale, and quivered; and dropping
his head stood still. When the official asked him
whether that was the man who was escaping across
the frontier, and at whom he had fired, he was
unable to answer. His lips trembled, and his
face twitched. "The s--s--s--" he began, but
could not get out the words which he wanted to
say. "The same, your excellency." The of-
ficials looked at each other and wrote something
down.

"You see the beneficial results of that same
system!"

In a room of sumptuous vulgarity two men sat
drinking wine. One of them was old and grey,
the other a young Jew. The young Jew was
holding a roll of bank-notes in his hand, and was
bargaining with the old man. He was buying
smuggled goods.

"You've got 'em cheap," he said, smiling.

"Yes--but the risk--"

"This is indeed terrible," said the young Tsar;
but it cannot be avoided. Such proceedings are
necessary."

His companion made no response, saying
merely, "Let us move on," and laid his hand
again on the head of the Tsar. When the Tsar
recovered consciousness, he was standing in a
small room lit by a shaded lamp. A woman was
sitting at the table sewing. A boy of eight was
bending over the table, drawing, with his feet
doubled up under him in the armchair. A stu-
dent was reading aloud. The father and daugh-
ter of the family entered the room noisily.

"You signed the order concerning the sale of
spirits," said the guide to the Tsar.

"Well?" said the woman.

"He's not likely to live."

"What's the matter with him?"

"They've kept him drunk all the time."

"It's not possible!" exclaimed the wife.

"It's true. And the boy's only nine years old,
that Vania Moroshkine."

"What did you do to try to save him?" asked
the wife.

"I tried everything that could be done. I gave
him an emetic and put a mustard-plaster on him.
He has every symptom of delirium tremens."

"It's no wonder--the whole family are drunk-
ards. Annisia is only a little better than the rest,
and even she is generally more or less drunk,"
said the daughter.

"And what about your temperance society?"
the student asked his sister.

"What can we do when they are given every
opportunity of drinking? Father tried to have
the public-house shut up, but the law is against
him. And, besides, when I was trying to convince
Vasily Ermiline that it was disgraceful to keep
a public-house and ruin the people with drink,
he answered very haughtily, and indeed got the
better of me before the crowd: 'But I have a
license with the Imperial eagle on it. If there
was anything wrong in my business, the Tsar
wouldn't have issued a decree authorising it.'
Isn't it terrible? The whole village has been
drunk for the last three days. And as for feast-
days, it is simply horrible to think of! It has
been proved conclusively that alcohol does no good
in any case, but invariably does harm, and it
has been demonstrated to be an absolute poison.
Then, ninety-nine per cent. of the crimes in the
world are committed through its influence. We
all know how the standard of morality and the
general welfare improved at once in all the coun-
tries where drinking has been suppressed--like
Sweden and Finland, and we know that it can be
suppressed by exercising a moral influence over
the masses. But in our country the class which
could exert that influence--the Government, the
Tsar and his officials--simply encourage drink.
Their main revenues are drawn from the continual
drunkenness of the people. They drink them-
selves--they are always drinking the health of
somebody: 'Gentlemen, the Regiment!' The
preachers drink, the bishops drink--"

Again the guide touched the head of the young
Tsar, who again lost consciousness. This time he
found himself in a peasant's cottage. The peas-
ant--a man of forty, with red face and blood-
shot eyes--was furiously striking the face of an
old man, who tried in vain to protect himself from
the blows. The younger peasant seized the beard
of the old man and held it fast.

"For shame! To strike your father--!"

"I don't care, I'll kill him! Let them send
me to Siberia, I don't care!"

The women were screaming. Drunken officials
rushed into the cottage and separated father and
son. The father had an arm broken and the son's
beard was torn out. In the doorway a drunken
girl was making violent love to an old besotted
peasant.

"They are beasts!" said the young Tsar.

Another touch of his guide's hand and the
young Tsar awoke in a new place. It was the
office of the justice of the peace. A fat, bald-
headed man, with a double chin and a chain round
his neck, had just risen from his seat, and was
reading the sentence in a loud voice, while a crowd
of peasants stood behind the grating. There was
a woman in rags in the crowd who did not rise.
The guard gave her a push.

"Asleep! I tell you to stand up!" The
woman rose.

"According to the decree of his Imperial
Majesty--" the judge began reading the sen-
tence. The case concerned that very woman.
She had taken away half a bundle of oats as she
was passing the thrashing-floor of a landowner.
The justice of the peace sentenced her to two
months' imprisonment. The landowner whose
oats had been stolen was among the audi-
ence. When the judge adjourned the court the
landowner approached, and shook hands, and the
judge entered into conversation with him. The
next case was about a stolen samovar. Then
there was a trial about some timber which had
been cut, to the detriment of the landowner.
Some peasants were being tried for having as-
saulted the constable of the district.

When the young Tsar again lost consciousness,
he awoke to find himself in the middle of a vil-
lage, where he saw hungry, half-frozen children
and the wife of the man who had assaulted the
constable broken down from overwork.

Then came a new scene. In Siberia, a tramp
is being flogged with the lash, the direct result of
an order issued by the Minister of justice. Again
oblivion, and another scene. The family of a
Jewish watchmaker is evicted for being too poor.
The children are crying, and the Jew, Isaaks, is
greatly distressed. At last they come to an ar-
rangement, and he is allowed to stay on in the
lodgings.

The chief of police takes a bribe. The gov-
ernor of the province also secretly accepts a bribe.
Taxes are being collected. In the village, while
a cow is sold for payment, the police inspector is
bribed by a factory owner, who thus escapes taxes
altogether. And again a village court scene, and
a sentence carried into execution--the lash!

"Ilia Vasilievich, could you not spare me
that?"

"No."

The peasant burst into tears. "Well, of
course, Christ suffered, and He bids us suffer
too."

Then other scenes. The Stundists--a sect
--being broken up and dispersed; the clergy re-
fusing first to marry, then to bury a Protestant.
Orders given concerning the passage of the Im-
perial railway train. Soldiers kept sitting in the
mud--cold, hungry, and cursing. Decrees is-
sued relating to the educational institutions of the
Empress Mary Department. Corruption ram-
pant in the foundling homes. An undeserved
monument. Thieving among the clergy. The
reinforcement of the political police. A woman
being searched. A prison for convicts who are
sentenced to be deported. A man being hanged
for murdering a shop assistant.

Then the result of military discipline: soldiers
wearing uniform and scoffing at it. A gipsy en-
campment. The son of a millionaire exempted
from military duty, while the only support of a
large family is forced to serve. The university:
a teacher relieved of military service, while the
most gifted musicians are compelled to perform
it. Soldiers and their debauchery--and the
spreading of disease.

Then a soldier who has made an attempt to
desert. He is being tried. Another is on trial
for striking an officer who has insulted his mother.
He is put to death. Others, again, are tried for
having refused to shoot. The runaway soldier
sent to a disciplinary battalion and flogged to
death. Another, who is guiltless, flogged, and
his wounds sprinkled with salt till he dies. One
of the superior officers stealing money belonging
to the soldiers. Nothing but drunkenness, de-
bauchery, gambling, and arrogance on the part of
the authorities.

What is the general condition of the people:
the children are half-starving and degenerate; the
houses are full of vermin; an everlasting dull
round of labour, of submission, and of sadness.
On the other hand: ministers, governors of prov-
inces, covetous, ambitious, full of vanity, and
anxious to inspire fear.

"But where are men with human feelings?"

"I will show you where they are."

Here is the cell of a woman in solitary confine-
ment at Schlusselburg. She is going mad. Here
is another woman--a girl--indisposed, violated
by soldiers. A man in exile, alone, embittered,
half-dead. A prison for convicts condemned to
hard labour, and women flogged. They are
many.

Tens of thousands of the best people. Some
shut up in prisons, others ruined by false educa-
tion, by the vain desire to bring them up as we
wish. But not succeeding in this, whatever might
have been is ruined as well, for it is made impos-
sible. It is as if we were trying to make buck-
wheat out of corn sprouts by splitting the ears.
One may spoil the corn, but one could never
change it to buckwheat. Thus all the youth of
the world, the entire younger generation, is being
ruined.

But woe to those who destroy one of these little
ones, woe to you if you destroy even one of
them. On your soul, however, are hosts of them,
who have been ruined in your name, all of those
over whom your power extends.

"But what can I do?" exclaimed the Tsar in
despair. "I do not wish to torture, to flog, to
corrupt, to kill any one! I only want the welfare
of all. Just as I yearn for happiness myself, so I
want the world to be happy as well. Am I actu-
ally responsible for everything that is done in my
name? What can I do? What am I to do to
rid myself of such a responsibility? What can I
do? I do not admit that the responsibility for all
this is mine. If I felt myself responsible for one-
hundredth part of it, I would shoot myself on the
spot. It would not be possible to live if that were
true. But how can I put an end, to all this evil?
It is bound up with the very existence of the
State. I am the head of the State! What am I
to do? Kill myself? Or abdicate? But that
would mean renouncing my duty. O God, O God,
God, help me!" He burst into tears and awoke.

"How glad I am that it was only a dream,"
was his first thought. But when he began to
recollect what he had seen in his dream, and to
compare it with actuality, he realised that the
problem propounded to him in dream remained
just as important and as insoluble now that he was
awake. For the first time the young Tsar became
aware of the heavy responsibility weighing on him,
and was aghast. His thoughts no longer turned
to the young Queen and to the happiness he had
anticipated for that evening, but became centred
on the unanswerable question which hung over
him: "What was to be done?"

In a state of great agitation he arose and went
into the next room. An old courtier, a co-worker
and friend of his father's, was standing there in
the middle of the room in conversation with the
young Queen, who was on her way to join her
husband. The young Tsar approached them, and
addressing his conversation principally to the old
courtier, told him what he had seen in his dream
and what doubts the dream had left in his mind.

"That is a noble idea. It proves the rare
nobility of your spirit," said the old man. "But
forgive me for speaking frankly--you are too
kind to be an emperor, and you exaggerate your
responsibility. In the first place, the state of
things is not as you imagine it to be. The people
are not poor. They are well-to-do. Those who
are poor are poor through their own fault. Only
the guilty are punished, and if an unavoidable
mistake does sometimes occur, it is like a thunder-
bolt--an accident, or the will of God. You have
but one responsibility: to fulfil your task coura-
geously and to retain the power that is given to
you. You wish the best for your people and God
sees that. As for the errors which you have com-
mitted unwittingly, you can pray for forgiveness,
and God will guide you and pardon you. All the
more because you have done nothing that demands
forgiveness, and there never have been and never
will be men possessed of such extraordinary qual-
ities as you and your father. Therefore all we
implore you to do is to live, and to reward our
endless devotion and love with your favour, and
every one, save scoundrels who deserve no happi-
ness, will be happy."

"What do you think about that?" the young
Tsar asked his wife.

"I have a different opinion," said the clever
young woman, who had been brought up in a free
country. "I am glad you had that dream, and I
agree with you that there are grave responsibili-
ties resting upon you. I have often thought about
it with great anxiety, and I think there is a simple
means of casting off a part of the responsibility
you are unable to bear, if not all of it. A large
proportion of the power which is too heavy for
you, you should delegate to the people, to its
representatives, reserving for yourself only the
supreme control, that is, the general direction of
the affairs of State."

The Queen had hardly ceased to expound her
views, when the old courtier began eagerly to
refute her arguments, and they started a polite
but very heated discussion.

For a time the young Tsar followed their argu-
ments, but presently he ceased to be aware of
what they said, listening only to the voice of him
who had been his guide in the dream, and who
was now speaking audibly in his heart.

"You are not only the Tsar," said the voice,
"but more. You are a human being, who only
yesterday came into this world, and will perchance
to-morrow depart out of it. Apart from your
duties as a Tsar, of which that old man is now
speaking, you have more immediate duties not by
any means to be disregarded; human duties, not
the duties of a Tsar towards his subjects, which
are only accidental, but an eternal duty, the duty
of a man in his relation to God, the duty toward
your own soul, which is to save it, and also, to
serve God in establishing his kingdom on earth.
You are not to be guarded in your actions either
by what has been or what will be, but only by
what it is your own duty to do.

***

He opened his eyes--his wife was awakening him.
Which of the three courses the young Tsar chose,
will be told in fifty years.

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