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- Rudin - 32/32 -
said was not mere words. These white hairs, brother, these wrinkles, these ragged elbows--they are not mere words. You have always been hard on me, Mihail, and you were right; but now is not a time to be hard, when all is over, when there's no oil left in the lamp, and the lamp itself is broken, and the wick is just smouldering out. Death, brother, should reconcile at last . . .'
Lezhnyov jumped up.
'Rudin!' he cried, 'why do you speak like that to me? How have I deserved it from you? Am I such a judge, and what kind of a man should I be, if at the sight of your hollow cheeks and wrinkles, "mere words" could occur to my mind? Do you want to know what I think of you, Dmitri? Well! I think: here is a man--with his abilities, what might he not have attained to, what worldly advantages might he not have possessed by now, if he had liked! . . . and I meet him hungry and homeless . . . .'
'I rouse your compassion,' Rudin murmured in a choked voice.
'No, you are wrong. You inspire respect in me--that is what I feel. Who prevented you from spending year after year at that landowner's, who was your friend, and who would, I am fully persuaded, have made provision for you, if you had only been willing to humour him? Why could you not live harmoniously at the gymnasium, why have you--strange man!--with whatever ideas you have entered upon an undertaking, infallibly every time ended by sacrificing your personal interests, ever refusing to take root in any but good ground, however profitable it might be?'
'I was born a rolling stone,' Rudin said, with a weary smile. 'I cannot stop myself.'
'That is true; but you cannot stop, not because there is a worm gnawing you, as you said to me at first. . . . It is not a worm, not the spirit of idle restlessness--it is the fire of the love of truth that burns in you, and clearly, in spite of your failings; it burns in you more hotly than in many who do not consider themselves egoists and dare to call you a humbug perhaps. I, for one, in your place should long ago have succeeded in silencing that worm in me, and should have given in to everything; and you have not even been embittered by it, Dmitri. You are ready, I am sure, to-day, to set to some new work again like a boy.'
'No, brother, I am tired now,' said Rudin. 'I have had enough.'
'Tired! Any other man would have been dead long ago. You say that death reconciles; but does not life, don't you think, reconcile? A man who has lived and has not grown tolerant towards others does not deserve to meet with tolerance himself. And who can say he does not need tolerance? You have done what you could, Dmitri . . . you have struggled so long as you could . . . what more? Our paths lay apart,' . . .
'You were utterly different from me,' Rudin put in with a sigh.
'Our paths lay apart,' continued Lezhnyov, 'perhaps exactly because, thanks to my position, my cool blood, and other fortunate circumstances, nothing hindered me from being a stay-at-home, and remaining a spectator with folded hands; but you had to go out into the world, to turn up your shirt-sleeves, to toil and labour. Our paths lay apart--but see how near one another we are. We speak almost the same language, with half a hint we understand one another, we grew up on the same ideas. There is little left us now, brother; we are the last of the Mohicans! We might differ and even quarrel in old days, when so much life still remained before us; but now, when the ranks are thinned about us, when the younger generation is coming upon us with other aims than ours, we ought to keep close to one another! Let us clink glasses, Dmitri, and sing as of old, _Gaudeamus igitur_!'
The friends clinked their glasses, and sang the old student song in strained voices, all out of tune, in the true Russian style.
'So you are going now to your country place,' Lezhnyov began again. 'I don't think you will stay there long, and I cannot imagine where and how you will end. . . . But remember, whatever happens to you, you have always a place, a nest where you can hide yourself. That is my home,--do you hear, old fellow? Thought, too, has its veterans; they, too, ought to have their home.'
Rudin got up.
'Thanks, brother,' he said, 'thanks! I will not forget this in you. Only I do not deserve a home. I have wasted my life, and have not served thought, as I ought.'
'Hush!' said Lezhnyov. 'Every man remains what Nature has made him, and one cannot ask more of him! You have called yourself the Wandering Jew. . . . But how do you know,--perhaps it was right for you to be ever wandering, perhaps in that way you are fulfilling a higher calling than you know; popular wisdom says truly that we are all in God's hands. You are going, Dmitri,' continued Lezhnyov, seeing that Rudin was taking his hat 'You will not stop the night?'
'Yes, I am going! Good-bye. Thanks. . . . I shall come to a bad end.'
'God only knows. . . . You are resolved to go?'
'Yes, I am going. Good-bye. Do not remember evil against me.'
'Well, do not remember evil against me either,--and don't forget what I said to you. Good-bye.' . . .
The friends embraced one another. Rudin went quickly away.
Lezhnyov walked up and down the room a long while, stopped before the window thinking, and murmured half aloud, 'Poor fellow!' Then sitting down to the table, he began to write a letter to his wife.
But outside a wind had risen, and was howling with ill-omened moans, and wrathfully shaking the rattling window-panes. The long autumn night came on. Well for the man on such a night who sits under the shelter of home, who has a warm corner in safety. . . . And the Lord help all homeless wanderers!
On a sultry afternoon on the 26th of July in 1848 in Paris, when the Revolution of the _ateliers nationaux_ had already been almost suppressed, a line battalion was taking a barricade in one of the narrow alleys of the Faubourg St Antoine. A few gunshots had already broken it; its surviving defenders abandoned it, and were only thinking of their own safety, when suddenly on the very top of the barricade, on the frame of an overturned omnibus, appeared a tall man in an old overcoat, with a red sash, and a straw hat on his grey dishevelled hair. In one hand he held a red flag, in the other a blunt curved sabre, and as he scrambled up, he shouted something in a shrill strained voice, waving his flag and sabre. A Vincennes tirailleur took aim at him--fired. The tall man dropped the flag--and like a sack he toppled over face downwards, as though he were falling at some one's feet. The bullet had passed through his heart.
'_Tiens_!' said one of the escaping revolutionists to another, '_on vient de tuer le Polonais_!
'_Bigre_!' answered the other, and both ran into the cellar of a house, the shutters of which were all closed, and its wall streaked with traces of powder and shot.
This 'Polonais' was Dmitri Rudin.
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