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Odoevsky's Four Pathways into Modern FictionA Comparative Study$

Neil Cornwell

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780719082092

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719082092.001.0001

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(p.148) Appendix

(p.148) Appendix

Source:
Odoevsky's Four Pathways into Modern Fiction
Publisher:
Manchester University Press

Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky (1804–1869)

V.F. (or Vladimir) Odoevsky was the last member of a princely Russian family that traced its descent from Rurik (the Viking leader who founded Russia in the ninth century). Odoevsky is now mainly remembered, as will have been apparent here, as one of the best Russian Romantic storytellers (having been often called ‘the Russian Hoffmann’), specialising in the Gothic fantastic, as well as the author of society tales and, not least, of the unusual frame-tale novel, Russian Nights (1844).

Odoevsky was, though, a man of many talents and careers. He held various posts in government service in St Petersburg, and finally returned to his native Moscow in the 1860s as a senator. But he was also a musical expert (even inventing his own instrument) and a keen writer of educational works for the peasants (before Leo Tolstoy did this). In addition, he was an amateur scientist, directed a major library and a museum, and spent much of his mid-life on philanthropic work. He even wrote cookery articles, under the name ‘Mister Puff ’. He knew all the big cultural figures: in literary life from Pushkin and the young Dostoevsky to Tolstoy; and in musical life from Glinka to the young Tchaikovsky.

After his death, comparatively little attention was paid to Odoevsky's life and work until the republications and reassessments of the twentieth century. The main exception to this situation was his unfailing popularity as an author of chil-dren's stories.

(p.149) For details of works by and on Odoevsky, see the References at the ends of chapters. The translations which follow are by the present author.

Two Days in the Life of the Terrestrial Globe

There were a lot of guests at Countess B's. It was midnight, the candles were getting used up, and the conversational heat was weakening, along with the decreasing light. Already young girls were starting to talk over all the costumes for the next ball, the men had finished telling each other all the city news, the younger ladies had picked over all their acquaintances one by one, and the older ones had predicted the fates of several marriages. The gamblers had settled up amongst themselves and, having rejoined the social circle, had livened it up quite a bit with their tales of the mockery of fate, causing quite a few smiles and quite a few sighs, but soon this subject too had been exhausted. The hostess, who was extremely well versed in highlife chatter, any lull in which would be understood as boredom, was using all her skills to stir up garrulity in her tired guests. But all her efforts would have been in vain, had she not happened to glance out of the window. By good fortune, the comet was just then roaming over the starry sky and impelling astronomers to calculate, journalists to pontificate, simple folk to predict, and just about everyone else to have something to say about it. However, not one person from this entire company of gentry was as committed to it at this moment in time as Countess B. In one instant, coming to the Countess's rescue, the comet had jumped from the horizon right into her drawing room, and had forced its way through an unbelievable quantity of hats and bonnets – to be greeted by a similarly immeasurable quantity of different comments, some humorous and some regrettable. Some people were indeed afraid that this comet would play tricks on them; others, laughing, were convinced that it augured some wedding, or some divorce, and so on and so forth.

‘You must be joking,’ said one of the guests, who had spent his whole life in society, engaged in astronomy (par originalité), ‘you may joke, but I remember one astronomer declaring that (p.150) comets can come very close to the Earth, even collide with it – and then it would be no joke at all.’

‘Oh! How terrible!’ the ladies cried. ‘But tell us, what would happen then, when a comet hits the Earth? Will the Earth fall down?’ several voices muttered.

‘The Earth will be shattered to bits,’ said the society astronomer.

‘Oh, my God! And so that's when the social world will really be seen for what it is,’ said one rather aged lady.

‘Rest assured,’ replied the astronomer, ‘other scientists maintain that this cannot happen, and that the Earth gets one degree nearer to the Sun every hundred and fifty years and that the day will finally come when the Earth will get burned up by the Sun.’

‘Oh, stop, do stop,’ cried the ladies. ‘How awful!’

The astronomer's words attracted widespread attention; at this point, endless arguments began. There were no disasters, at that moment, to which the terrestrial globe was not being subjected. They were burning it in fire, drowning it in water, and all of this was being affirmed, of course, not through the testimony of any scientists, but by quoting the utterances of some dear deceased uncle, who had been a chamberlain, or some late aunt, who had been a lady of state, and so on.

‘Listen,’ the hostess finally exclaimed, ‘instead of arguing about it, let's, every one of us, write down on a piece of paper our thoughts on the subject, and then – why don’t we all guess who wrote down this or that opinion?’

‘Oh, yes! Yes, let's all write something,’ all the guests shouted…

‘How do you want us to write it?’ asked one young man timidly. ‘In French, or in Russian?’

Fidonc – mauvais genre!’ said the hostess. ‘Who in this day and age writes in French? Messieurs et Mesdames! You have to write in Russian.’

Paper was given out. Many sat down there and then at the table, but a lot of people, realising that things were stretching to an ink-well and to the Russian language, whispered into their neighbours’ ear that there were still a number of visits to be made – and promptly disappeared.

(p.151) When the writing had been finished, all the bits of paper were mixed up, and each person in turn read out their allotted piece. What follows is one of these conjectures, which seemed to us more remarkable than the rest, and which we here impart to our readers.

I

It had come about. The destruction of the terrestrial globe had begun. The astronomers have pronounced; the people's voice corroborates their view. This voice is implacable; it faithfully fulfils its promises. This comet, unprecedented until now, at an immeasurable speed accelerates towards the Earth. The sun only has to go down for this dreadful wayfarer to flare up. Delights are forgotten, misfortunes are forgotten, passions are stilled, desires have faded; there is neither peace nor activity, neither sleep nor wakefulness. Both day and night people of all callings, in all conditions, lament upon the squares, and their trembling, pale faces are illuminated by a crimson flame.

Huge towers were turned into an observatory. Day and night the gazes of astronomers were fixed on the sky. Everyone came running to them, as though to all-powerful gods. Their words went flying from mouth to mouth. Astronomy was turning into the popular science. Everyone was doing calculations of the size of the comet, and the speed of its motion. They were thirsting for mistakes in the astronomers’ computations, but didn’t find them.

‘Look here, just look,’ one person said, ‘yesterday it was no bigger than the Moon, but now it's twice the size… what's it going to be like tomorrow?’

‘Tomorrow it’ll run into the Earth and crush us,’ said another…

‘Couldn’t we go off to the other side of the globe?’ said a third person.

‘Couldn’t we construct defensive positions, to repulse it with machines?’ said a fourth. ‘What is the government thinking about?’

‘There's no way out!’ shouted one young man, out of puff. ‘I’ve just come from the tower – the scientists are saying that, (p.152) even before it runs into the Earth, there will be storms, earthquakes and the surface will be ablaze…’

‘Who will stand against the anger of God?’ exclaimed one elder.

Meanwhile time moves on and with it grow the size of the comet and public alarm as well. It is now getting visibly bigger. In the day, the sun shuts it out; at night it hangs over the Earth as a fiery cleft. Already a silent, awesome certainty had given way to despair. Neither groan nor lamentation was to be heard. The prisons were opened: the freed prisoners wander among the crowds with drooping heads. Rarely, only rarely, are the silence and the inaction interrupted: there's the cry of an infant who has been left without food, but then he will be silent again, admiring the awful heavenly spectacle; or now a father embraces the killer of his son.

But when the wind blows or thunder resounds, the crowd will start to stir – and everyone's lips are ready to mouth the question, but they fear to utter it.

In a secluded street of one European city an eighty-year-old man at his domestic hearth was cooking himself some food: suddenly his son runs in to him.

‘What are you doing, father?’ he exclaims.

‘What should I be doing?’ the old man replies calmly. ‘You’ve all left – you’re running about the streets, whereas I just go hungry…’

‘Father! Is it really the time now to be thinking about food?’

‘It's also exactly the time, as it always is…’

‘But our destruction…’

‘Calm down. This groundless fear will pass, as do all earthly calamities…’

‘But have you really completely lost your hearing and your vision?’

‘Quite the opposite; not only have I preserved both, but also something above that, which you don’t have: peace of spirit and strength of reason. Calm down, I say to you. The comet just appeared unexpectedly and will disappear likewise; and the destruction of the Earth is not at all as imminent as you think. (p.153) The Earth has still not achieved maturity… an inner feeling assures me of that…’

‘My dear father! Your whole life you’ve had a stronger belief in this feeling, or in your daydreams, than in reality! Are you really, even now, going to remain dedicated to imagination?’

‘The fear that I can see on your face, and the faces of those like you! This shabby fear is not compatible with the profound moment of demise…’

‘How dreadful!’ exclaimed the young man. ‘My father has completely lost his reason…’

At that same instant a terrible thunderbolt shook the territory, lightning flared, rain deluged down, a gale removed roofs from the buildings – the population threw themselves to the ground…

The night passed, the sky brightened, and a gentle Zephyr had dried the ground, which had been awash with rain… the people did not dare to raise their lowered heads; eventually they did take the liberty. They by now feel themselves to be in the guise of bodiless spirits… Finally they stand up and look about them: the same familiar places, the same bright sky, the same people. An involuntary motion lifts everyone's gaze to the sky: the comet was moving away from the skyline.

II

This brought on a collective feast of the terrestrial globe. There was no tempestuous joy at this feast; nor were loud ejaculations heard! Long since had lively merriment turned for them into silent delight, into the usual round. Long since had they stepped over the obstacles preventing a human being from being a human being. The memory had already gone of the times when crude matter could laugh at the efforts of the spirit, when need gave way to necessity. The times of imperfection and prejudice had long since passed, together with human diseases. The planet was the mighty dwelling place of only the most powerful tsars, so no one was surprised at nature's magnificent feast. Everyone awaited it, for long had the premonition of it appeared to the imagination of the chosen ones in (p.154) the form of a delightful vision. No one asked others anything about it; a triumphant thought shone across all faces and everyone could understand this mute eloquence. Quietly, the Earth drew near to the Sun, and an unburning warmth, like a fire of inspiration, extended across it. Just another moment – and the heavenly became the earthly, the earthly the heavenly: the Sun became the Earth and the Earth the Sun…

(1825)

The Witness

(dedicated to A.I. Koshelev)

… I jumped out of my carriage and kissed my native soil. The sound of a Russian Orthodox Church bell recalled me from that feeling of self-oblivion which overcomes the soul at the sight of the fatherland, specially after a separation from it of ten years. Not too far away, on a hillock, the walls of a monastery shone white. My tiredness forgotten, I rushed to the open gates of the place of worship, not with the cool curiosity of a traveller, but just as the infant rushes to the maternal embrace. This is every-one's experience, following a lengthy separation from the motherland.

Vespers had gone. Through the semicircular windows came the drawn out, crimson rays of the setting sun, playing in the clouds of church incense, settling in tiers on the gleaming gilt of the iconostasis – like a long, bitter prayer, stirred up by bloody passions, finally getting through to the awning surrounding the testament of the soul. The fresh evening air was percolating through the opened doors. Villagers were starting to leave the church; after them, in a black stream, stretched the monastic brethren. I remained stationary; the deserted church seemed to me even more majestic, even more auspicious. Its appearance promoted the kind of thoughts that disappear amidst a crowd, in the middle of stormy life, and which cannot be caught in words, but which speak so distinctly to the heart. An almost inaudible rustle made me aware that I was not (p.155) alone. In a distant corner I noticed a monk stretched out on a cold platform. An involuntary curiosity compelled me also to stay in the church. Eventually the recluse stood up; his face lit up in the rays of the sun.

The unknown figure seemed to recognise me as well. We came closer.

‘Is that you, Rostislav?’ ‘Is that you, Grigorii?’ – and we clasped each other around the neck. I recognised my old friend from active service, my old boyhood friend.

‘What does that garb signify? What is the meaning of your pale, exhausted face? Is that you, the bold hussar, the star of the Petersburg balls?’

The monk did not answer a word, but sighed deeply and led me to his cell. This is what he told me: ‘Shortly after your departure to other lands I went off on leave to see my family. At home I found my mother, who was already very weak and ill. I barely recognised my younger brother: at his age, a person changes so quickly – and I hadn’t seen him for five years. He was now about seventeen; he was a good-looking boy and was of a very pleasant youthful disposition. Mother didn’t want to let go of him. He was the one child of hers that she had fed herself, and you know how that relationship can produce between mother and child some sort of a mysterious, indissoluble, almost physical bond, which strengthens in the highest degree what is in any case a fervent maternal feeling, and does not disappear with the years. Viacheslav would have acceded completely to his mother's wishes. But once he had seen my splendid uniform, my moustache, and heard the stories about my regimental friends, the theatre, and all the enjoyments of Petersburg life – he forgot about his moth-er's wishes and his promises, and he began persistently asking her for permission to enter military service. To his entreaties I added my own. I described to our mother all the advantages that this way of life would bring him. I reminded her that we would each be there in support of the other; I promised that I would be permanently close to Viacheslav, to be for him not only a brother, but a father. After a drawn-out tussle, she called me over alone to her couch and said to me:

(p.156) “I am no longer able to resist your supplications. I do not wish for my children ever to be able to accuse me of preventing their happiness in life. Take Viacheslav with you. But, Rostislav, do not rejoice in my consent. You cannot comprehend the responsibility I am imposing on you. If I were able to get from this couch to the carriage, I would travel with you, but that would do no good. To me, in my state, it's all the same, whether it's seven hundred kilometres or seventeen metres: there's no way I would keep up with you. I would only be a hindrance to you in life, and you know that I do not belong to that category of mothers who, through some form of egoism, love to keep their children tied to them by a leash, knowing full well how utterly bored they are. Now, just listen: Viacheslav is an infant. He doesn’t know himself what he wants, he doesn’t know people, or life. But you, Rostislav, you are no longer a child. You have got through that stage of awful crisis when a person doesn’t have in the head a single thought of his own, when one cannot really be aware of anything, when any word spoken louder than the last one may lead one away from the straight and narrow. Naturally, you will have a strong influence on your brother. For a long time yet he will be thinking with your head, feeling with your heart, and living through your life. Take care of yourself, and take care of him. I won’t accept from you any excuses – for whatever he does, you will be responsible to me. In your dealings with your brother you must foresee everything, warn him of everything, and you will be answerable to me for his behaviour – both in this life, and in the next.”

These words are still sounding in my ears even now. Mother was deeply moved – and I was as well. In my heart I was firmly convinced that her trust in me was not at all misplaced, and I took a harrowing oath that I would fulfil her sacred bidding.

The end of my leave was approaching, and we pulled ourselves away from our mother's embraces. Viacheslav I had to get into the carriage almost unconscious: he was crying like a child.

I am not going to describe to you the first years of our Petersburg life. I could not complain about Viacheslav. He was a bit (p.157) frivolous, but still maintained a completely chaste soul, such a rare thing these days among young people. Trifling things upset him; and trifles amused him. He was all on the surface, saying anything that came into his head. At a happy moment he would jump on to tables and chairs; at a sad time he could not hold back the tears. Sometimes, for hours at a time, he would run around the room with Boksen, his young setter; and then he would say that they loved each other for being of the same character, for the one was just as mad as the other. And indeed, Boksen, who wouldn’t even let me near him, allowed Viacheslav to do everything with him that entered his empty head; and when, as used to happen, they got carried away by their playing, I had to summon up all my composure so as not to burst out laughing, or to get really angry. But, I must confess, I preferred my brother's childish simplicity to the premature guardedness of some of his comrades, who, it seemed, must have been diplomats in their cradles. I introduced him to quite a number of ladies; and I took him to balls. He danced diligently, with full and open enjoyment. His cheerful and transparent appearance could not help but please: the ladies ran after him without mercy, taking him for a complete child, and he, the prankster, as they say faisait le gros dos.1 I took a pride in him, watching him at it, like a father watching his infant.

Eventually the long and impatiently awaited day arrived: Viacheslav was commissioned with the rank of cornet. To imagine his joy is impossible. Unfamiliar with the decorous pretence of today's young men, he twirled himself unceasingly in front of the mirror, first to this side and then to that, in order the better to be able to see his epaulettes. Then he rushed over to embrace me, then he put on his three-cornered hat; then he dragged Boksen around by the paws. “Do you know, Boksen,” he said, “that I am now a cornet? Do you understand that? Do you realise that now you’ll be walking along Nevsky Prospect with me, with your master, the cornet?…” And it did seem as though Boksen understood him; at least he wagged his tail and answered Viacheslav's words with a loud bark. All these simple (p.158) incidences in our then life, all these words of Viacheslav's, are so alive in my memory.’

Tears rolled down from the recluse's eyelashes. He took a deep breath, and then seemed engrossed, probably trying to gather his thoughts; eventually he went on:

‘One of our comrades, Vetsky, had an elder brother, working in the civil service. I liked him a lot; he was a man of quite remarkable intelligence, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more awkward man. He had been physically somehow premature and from that suffered from very poor health. He was fully aware of his physical debility and for that reason permitted himself no excesses – not even any gymnastic exercises. He walked slowly, taking care with every step. His riding was such that no horseman could look at him without laughing. When the younger people pranced around at a fiery gallop, he would timidly enquire as to which was the most placid horse and painstakingly examine whether its girth had been properly strapped. Moreover, he had some sort of a speech impediment, which gave him a kind of drawl, almost a stammer. You can imagine the effect he produced in a young crowd of skilled riders, full of life and dash, often extending to recklessness.

Vetsky was a good companion. He was liked, but everyone considered it an obligation to make fun of him, of his delicate physique, his inhibitions, and his caution, which often stretched to timidity. Vetsky tolerated all these taunts with the greatest composure. Sometimes he would get out of things with a witty quip, and sometimes he would join in the laugh at his own expense, but more often he wouldn’t know what to reply to unexpected sallies, for it seemed that his mental capabilities could be just as inhibited as his physical ones. He belonged to that category of people easily knocked from their stride if words are slung at them, and who will often be at a complete loss for the first minute or two. But such a position was not a pleasant one for Vetsky, although he tried to cover his anger beneath an ever calm and cool exterior. It was obvious that he was expending every effort not to lose control of himself, repeating with a smile that getting angry made him unwell. After a while, I noticed that my brother made fun of Vetsky more than anyone, (p.159) but we were all so used to laughing at our tail-coat wearer, so used to seeing him as an amusing distraction, that I didn’t pay special attention to my brother's behaviour. It just seemed so natural to all of us. The thing was, as I found out afterwards, that Viacheslav became jealous of Vetsky over a certain beauty who, through some strange caprice, preferred our awkward eccentric to my skilful, handsome horseman.

New officers had to, as they say, wet their epaulettes. They took days sorting it all out, so as to organise a bash, first for one of them, then for another, but the rapid exodus of the regiments from barracks into the Petersburg environs compelled them to postpone their binges until such time as they would have moved completely into summer quarters. Finally the bingeing days began. You cannot have any conception of these. Ten years is an entire age in Russia. Gone are the days of the crude, unbridled orgies, which you can still remember. Young people now are in their senses, even after a bottle of wine. Today's orgies are orderly, respectable ones. A woman can attend them without blushing. But, despite that, as of old, champagne still has its effect on people, and blood will still go to the head from it. It may be true that now, they say, it's no longer a matter of honour to drink oneself under the table, but, in the old way, from wine a man becomes merrier, quicker, unpredictable in his moves and, in the old way, all his feelings become keener. Every thought, otherwise lying forgotten deep in the soul in a sober state, will magnify under a soaking of champagne, as though under a microscope.

This spree took place in a fairly small wooden country house. They didn’t stint on the champagne. Moreover, this spree was not the first one, and everyone's head, even that of Vetsky, was, as they used to say, at least half-cocked. It got to two o’clock in the morning. I felt suffocated, so I left the villa, and walked off around the countryside. As I now recall it, the night was a cool and bright one. With delight I drank in the fresh air, and admired the village view, which was already beginning to glow crimson from the first rays of dawn. It was quiet all round, but just one little house was lit up – the one with the feasting going on. Shadows scuttled across the windows; guffaws and the merry shouts of young people reached me.

(p.160) Suddenly… everything went quiet. I unwittingly shuddered at this sudden silence. My heart started beating strongly, just as though I had just heard some dreadfully bad news. Without being aware of my feelings, I involuntarily doubled my step on my way back to the villa. When I walked in, my foreboding proved justified. Inside the doorway I ran straight into Vetsky, a sword in his hands. He didn’t say a word to me, but was as white as a sheet, and was anxious to conceal an inner agitation under his indifferent smile.

I was told straight away what had happened in my absence: a frivolous, childish prank, but one which had to have a bloody end…

The young people had opened the window on to the yard. One of them took it into his head to jump out from it, and then another, and then a third one. Anyone falling would hurt himself, because the window was quite a high one. Amid general laughter, the risk aroused in the young folk a strange sense of self-esteem: everyone wanted to give it a try – would anyone break his neck in the course of this exploit?

“Well, how about you, then?” my brother had said to the older Vetsky, with a mocking smile.

“I am not intending to jump,” Vetsky replied coldly.

“That's no good! You’ve really got to jump.”

“I told you, I don’t want to.”

“You don’t want to jump,” my brother replied, flushed with wine, “because you’re a coward.”

“I wouldn’t advise you to repeat those words,” said Vetsky.

My poor brother himself didn’t remember what he said, or what he did.

“Not only will I repeat them,” he retorted, hands on hips, “but I shall make a point of telling Countess M——” (the lady that both were running after), “I shall say to her: your tender admirer he's a coward! Do you want to bet I don’t?”

Vetsky, notwithstanding all his capacity for composure, completely lost his temper. He grabbed my brother roughly by the arm and muttered:

“Just you dare, you lunatic!”

A blow with a glove across the face was the reply.

(p.161) What now was to be done? For a time I thought about reconciling the opponents, but how? Forcing my brother to apologise would be impossible: his pride had been inflamed by his officer's uniform. He realised himself that he had acted stupidly, but to begin his career with what he would have called an unworthy trick, to get cold feet – to this he would not agree. I myself at that time could not envisage this other than with horror. It remained for me to work on Vetsky. I was counting on his constant timidity, on his constant caution and good sense. At that moment of egoism, it seemed to me that it would cost nothing to leave this man under a yoke of universal scorn, just in order to save my brother. Restraining my own sense of pride, I went off to see our tail-coated civil servant.

When I entered his room, he was sitting at his writing table and calmly smoking a cigar. His composure alarmed me.

“I wanted to speak,” I said to him, “not with your second, but with you. You, as an intelligent man, must really see in my brother's behaviour nothing other than the prank of a mere boy, who doesn’t merit your attention.”

Vetsky gave me a look of surprise and replied with a smile.

“You can believe,” he said, “that I, more than anyone, regret your brother's behaviour. But allow me to say to you: you yourself are not thinking about what you’re saying: just tell me this – can this really be left without attention?”

These few words changed my way of thinking about Vetsky. I wanted to touch his inner feelings. I related to him all our family circumstances – our farewell to Mother, her words… I made no effort to spare Viacheslav, calling him a crazy, retarded child; I even uttered the word pardon.

“Allow me to ask you,” Vetsky said to me, with his usual cold smile, “are you offering me an apology in your brother's name, or in your own?”

I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say to him. He fixed me with a penetrating look.

“I quite understand your position. I know that your brother will not apologise to me, and that it's not possible for him to apologise to me. I really sympathise with you, and even with him. I am no swashbuckler; duels are not my business. My rule (p.162) in life has been always to avoid giving cause for any such thing, but,” he added emphatically, “never to back off, even a step, when danger is unavoidable. Put yourself in my position: how many times have I let go as jokes those sort of words from your brother, which from anyone else would have caused a couple of dozen duels? I spared him for his youth, and I can admit to you, I spared myself, for in life there are quite enough unpleasantnesses without that. And life is short: why sacrifice it over trivialities? But this is a more serious matter. Just think, yourself, what would become of me if, in addition to the generally held opinion about my excessive cautiousness, I should leave the present incident, as you put it, without attention? You know about society's prejudices: I would find no quarter anywhere on the globe. Fingers would be pointed at me. My only recourse would be to shoot myself, but that, you must agree, would be in contradiction to my cautiousness.”

These words were cold, plain and derisive. In accordance with my precepts at that time, I could not refute them.

“If that's the way it is,” I shouted back heatedly, “then, my dear sir, you will be having dealings with me.”

“If that be your pleasure,” replied Vetsky, flicking off the ash from his cigar, “but not before we have concluded our dealings with your little brother. However, you know yourself that, anyway, your brother, in all probability, would not agree to any such arrangement. Now, excuse me – I now have a number of letters to finish.”

With these words, he made a cold bow. I rushed out of the room with a feeling of despair in my heart.

Back in my quarters, Vetsky's second was waiting for me. He announced that he was charged not to agree to any proposals of reconciliation, except the one – that my brother should agree to apologise to Vetsky before the entire regimental officer corps. I don’t know about now, but certainly then, such a condition seemed completely impossible.

One last hope remained: Vetsky couldn’t shoot. I, in accordance with the precepts of the time, was my brother's natural second; I was the closest to him and such an undertaking seemed to me the inevitable duty of kinship and friendship. Thinking through all the conditions that might give some (p.163) advantage to my brother, I proposed that they should fire at twenty paces, with the first to shoot remaining at the barrier. I was relying on my brother's marksmanship. Vetsky's second willingly accepted my proposal. Hardly had we concluded this homicidal arrangement, when Viacheslav walked in. Boksen was jumping about in front of him with a joyful bark. My brother was trying to display a lack of concern and full composure. He played and jumped about with his dog as always, but I could see that inwardly he was anxious. Probably life was dangling itself before the youth in all its delights. Most certainly he didn’t want to part with it. I looked at his fresh and handsome face, and my heart just bled. In those few hours I aged twenty years.

Within a few minutes we were already at the place. The idea that I had brought my brother to within range of a lead bullet dominated all my capacities for thought and action. In vain did I wish to display the composure required for such occasions – I was quite beside myself. Vetsky's second had to carry out my duties. The decisive minute arrived. I tried to muster all my powers. I inspected Viacheslav's pistol. They were standing in their places. Vetsky was as cold as ice: a barely noticeable smile was visible on his clenched lips. It was as though he was standing by the fireplace at a dazzling reception. Glancing at Viacheslav, I noticed with horror that his hand was shaking.

The signal was given. The opponents slowly began to approach one another… The appearance of danger made Viacheslav forget all my advice – he fired… Vetsky wobbled, but he did not fall; the bullet had smashed his left shoulder.

Concealing his pain, he signalled to Viacheslav to approach the barrier. With an involuntary convulsive movement, my brother obeyed…

At that moment I froze to the spot; a cold sweat poured down me. I could see the slow approach of Vetsky, his aiming of the murderous cocking-piece, and I could see Vetsky's calm, inexorable expression. Now he was just two paces from my brother. I remembered Mother, her words and my promises, and I got into a state close to madness. It all went black, and I lost sense of everything: honour, conscience and the rules of society. I remembered just one thing: that they were killing my brother (p.164) right in front of me… I couldn’t bear this instant, and I threw myself at Viacheslav, grabbed him, shielded him with my own body, and shouted to Vetsky:

“Go on, shoot!”

Vetsky lowered his pistol.

“Is that really in the conditions agreed for the duel?” he said, calmly turning to his second.

A general cry of disapproval resounded from among those present. I was dragged away from my brother… A shot rang out – and Viacheslav dropped as though dead!

How can I tell you what was going on with me at that moment? I tore myself away from those holding me, rushed to Viacheslav and, unconscious of anything, looked at his grievous, dying torments. I saw his eyes closing for ever!… At this same instant, Boksen, on his broken lead, ran up to the bloody spot, landed on Viacheslav, howled and licked at his wound.

This sight brought me back to myself. I leaped over, and grabbed at the pistol, but Vetsky, weakened from his wound, was already lying unconscious on a stretcher. Burning for vengeance, I would have thrown myself at the wounded man, ready to tear him to pieces, but the others stopped me… As though through a dream, there rang in my ears reproaches and condemnations from my fellow-officers…’

‘What more is there to tell you?’ the recluse went on. ‘You know about the consequences of duels. But the punishment for my misdemeanour to me was nothing: my punishment was in my heart. My life was at an end. I wished for only one thing: either to lose my unneeded life in battle with an enemy, or to bury myself alive. I was not favoured with the first honour. Here, far from my native parts, not known to anyone, I am trying through lamentation and sorrow to stifle the voice of my own heart. But to this day dreadful visions awaken me at night… my mother, dying in despair… and in my ears ring the terrible words of the scripture: “Cain, where is thy brother?” ’

(1839)

Notes:

(1) Gave himself airs (Fr.) [author's note].