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The Cossacks: A Tale of 1852

graf Leo Tolstoy

  Produced by Steve Harris, Charles Franks and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.


  A Tale of 1852


  Leo Tolstoy (1863)

  Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

  Chapter I

  All is quiet in Moscow. The squeak of wheels is seldom heard in thesnow-covered street. There are no lights left in the windows and thestreet lamps have been extinguished. Only the sound of bells, borneover the city from the church towers, suggests the approach of morning.The streets are deserted. At rare intervals a night-cabman's sledgekneads up the snow and sand in the street as the driver makes his wayto another corner where he falls asleep while waiting for a fare. Anold woman passes by on her way to church, where a few wax candles burnwith a red light reflected on the gilt mountings of the icons. Workmenare already getting up after the long winter night and going to theirwork--but for the gentlefolk it is still evening.

  From a window in Chevalier's Restaurant a light--illegal at thathour--is still to be seen through a chink in the shutter. At theentrance a carriage, a sledge, and a cabman's sledge, stand closetogether with their backs to the curbstone. A three-horse sledge fromthe post-station is there also. A yard-porter muffled up and pinchedwith cold is sheltering behind the corner of the house.

  'And what's the good of all this jawing?' thinks the footman who sitsin the hall weary and haggard. 'This always happens when I'm on duty.'From the adjoining room are heard the voices of three young men,sitting there at a table on which are wine and the remains of supper.One, a rather plain, thin, neat little man, sits looking with tiredkindly eyes at his friend, who is about to start on a journey. Another,a tall man, lies on a sofa beside a table on which are empty bottles,and plays with his watch-key. A third, wearing a short, fur-lined coat,is pacing up and down the room stopping now and then to crack an almondbetween his strong, rather thick, but well-tended fingers. He keepssmiling at something and his face and eyes are all aglow. He speakswarmly and gesticulates, but evidently does not find the words he wantsand those that occur to him seem to him inadequate to express what hasrisen to his heart.

  'Now I can speak out fully,' said the traveller. 'I don't want todefend myself, but I should like you at least to understand me as Iunderstand myself, and not look at the matter superficially. You say Ihave treated her badly,' he continued, addressing the man with thekindly eyes who was watching him.

  'Yes, you are to blame,' said the latter, and his look seemed toexpress still more kindliness and weariness.

  'I know why you say that,' rejoined the one who was leaving. 'To beloved is in your opinion as great a happiness as to love, and if a manobtains it, it is enough for his whole life.'

  'Yes, quite enough, my dear fellow, more than enough!' confirmed theplain little man, opening and shutting his eyes.

  'But why shouldn't the man love too?' said the traveller thoughtfully,looking at his friend with something like pity. 'Why shouldn't onelove? Because love doesn't come ... No, to be beloved is a misfortune.It is a misfortune to feel guilty because you do not give something youcannot give. O my God!' he added, with a gesture of his arm. 'If it allhappened reasonably, and not all topsy-turvy--not in our way but in away of its own! Why, it's as if I had stolen that love! You think sotoo, don't deny it. You must think so. But will you believe it, of allthe horrid and stupid things I have found time to do in my life--andthere are many--this is one I do not and cannot repent of. Neither atthe beginning nor afterwards did I lie to myself or to her. It seemedto me that I had at last fallen in love, but then I saw that it was aninvoluntary falsehood, and that that was not the way to love, and Icould not go on, but she did. Am I to blame that I couldn't? What was Ito do?'

  'Well, it's ended now!' said his friend, lighting a cigar to master hissleepiness. 'The fact is that you have not yet loved and do not knowwhat love is.'

  The man in the fur-lined coat was going to speak again, and put hishands to his head, but could not express what he wanted to say.

  'Never loved! ... Yes, quite true, I never have! But after all, I havewithin me a desire to love, and nothing could be stronger than thatdesire! But then, again, does such love exist? There always remainssomething incomplete. Ah well! What's the use of talking? I've made anawful mess of life! But anyhow it's all over now; you are quite right.And I feel that I am beginning a new life.'

  'Which you will again make a mess of,' said the man who lay on the sofaplaying with his watch-key. But the traveller did not listen to him.

  'I am sad and yet glad to go,' he continued. 'Why I am sad I don'tknow.'

  And the traveller went on talking about himself, without noticing thatthis did not interest the others as much as it did him. A man is neversuch an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy. At such times itseems to him that there is nothing on earth more splendid andinteresting than himself.

  'Dmitri Andreich! The coachman won't wait any longer!' said a youngserf, entering the room in a sheepskin coat, with a scarf tied roundhis head. 'The horses have been standing since twelve, and it's nowfour o'clock!'

  Dmitri Andreich looked at his serf, Vanyusha. The scarf roundVanyusha's head, his felt boots and sleepy face, seemed to be callinghis master to a new life of labour, hardship, and activity.

  'True enough! Good-bye!' said he, feeling for the unfastened hook andeye on his coat.

  In spite of advice to mollify the coachman by another tip, he put onhis cap and stood in the middle of the room. The friends kissed once,then again, and after a pause, a third time. The man in the fur-linedcoat approached the table and emptied a champagne glass, then took theplain little man's hand and blushed.

  'Ah well, I will speak out all the same ... I must and will be frankwith you because I am fond of you ... Of course you love her--I alwaysthought so--don't you?'

  'Yes,' answered his friend, smiling still more gently.

  'And perhaps...'

  'Please sir, I have orders to put out the candles,' said the sleepyattendant, who had been listening to the last part of the conversationand wondering why gentlefolk always talk about one and the same thing.'To whom shall I make out the bill? To you, sir?' he added, knowingwhom to address and turning to the tall man.

  'To me,' replied the tall man. 'How much?'

  'Twenty-six rubles.'

  The tall man considered for a moment, but said nothing and put the billin his pocket.

  The other two continued their talk.

  'Good-bye, you are a capital fellow!' said the short plain man with themild eyes. Tears filled the eyes of both. They stepped into the porch.

  'Oh, by the by,' said the traveller, turning with a blush to the tallman, 'will you settle Chevalier's bill and write and let me know?'

  'All right, all right!' said the tall man, pulling on his gloves. 'HowI envy you!' he added quite unexpectedly when they were out in theporch.

  The traveller got into his sledge, wrapped his coat about him, andsaid: 'Well then, come along!' He even moved a little to make room inthe sledge for the man who said he envied him--his voice trembled.

  'Good-bye, Mitya! I hope that with God's help you...' said the tallone. But his wish was that the other would go away quickly, and so hecould not finish the sentence.

  They were silent a moment. Then someone again said, 'Good-bye,' and avoice cried, 'Ready,' and the coachman touched up the horses.

  'Hy, Elisar!' One of the friends called out, and the other coachman andthe sledge-drivers began moving, clicking their tongues and pulling atthe reins. Then the stiffened carriage-wheels rolled squeaking over thefrozen snow.

  'A fine fellow, that Olenin!' said one of the friends. 'But what anidea to go to the Caucasus--as a cadet, too! I wouldn't do
it foranything. ... Are you dining at the club to-morrow?'


  They separated.

  The traveller felt warm, his fur coat seemed too hot. He sat on thebottom of the sledge and unfastened his coat, and the three shaggypost-horses dragged themselves out of one dark street into another,past houses he had never before seen. It seemed to Olenin that onlytravellers starting on a long journey went through those streets. Allwas dark and silent and dull around him, but his soul was full ofmemories, love, regrets, and a pleasant tearful feeling.