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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cossacks - Chapter 1
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The Cossacks - Chapter 1 Post by :ebizwhiz Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :2652

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The Cossacks - Chapter 1

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

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

'And what's the good of all this jawing?' thinks the footman who
sits in 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 tired kindly 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 almond between his strong,
rather thick, but well-tended fingers. He keeps smiling at
something and his face and eyes are all aglow. He speaks warmly
and gesticulates, but evidently does not find the words he wants
and those that occur to him seem to him inadequate to express what
has risen to his heart.

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

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

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

'Yes, quite enough, my dear fellow, more than enough!' confirmed
the plain 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 one love? 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 you cannot give. O my God!' he added,
with a gesture of his arm. 'If it all happened reasonably, and not
all topsy-turvy--not in our way but in a way of its own! Why, it's
as if I had stolen that love! You think so too, don't deny it. You
must think so. But will you believe it, of all the horrid and
stupid things I have found time to do in my life--and there are
many--this is one I do not and cannot repent of. Neither at the
beginning nor afterwards did I lie to myself or to her. It seemed
to me that I had at last fallen in love, but then I saw that it
was an involuntary falsehood, and that that was not the way to
love, and I could not go on, but she did. Am I to blame that I
couldn't? What was I to do?'

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

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

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

'Which you will again make a mess of,' said the man who lay on the
sofa playing 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't

And the traveller went on talking about himself, without noticing
that this did not interest the others as much as it did him. A man
is never such an egotist as at moments of spiritual ecstasy. At
such times it seems to him that there is nothing on earth more
splendid and interesting than himself.

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

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

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

In spite of advice to mollify the coachman by another tip, he put
on his 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-lined coat approached the table and emptied a champagne glass,
then took the plain little man's hand and blushed.

'Ah well, I will speak out all the same ... I must and will be
frank with you because I am fond of you ... Of course you love
her--I always thought 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
sleepy attendant, who had been listening to the last part of the
conversation and wondering why gentlefolk always talk about one
and the same thing. 'To whom shall I make out the bill? To you,
sir?' he added, knowing whom to address and turning to the tall

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

'Twenty-six rubles.'

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

The other two continued their talk.

'Good-bye, you are a capital fellow!' said the short plain man
with the mild 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
tall man, 'will you settle Chevalier's bill and write and let me

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

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

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

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

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

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


They separated.

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

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'I'm fond of them, very fond! ... First-rate fellows! ... Fine!'he kept repeating, and felt ready to cry. But why he wanted tocry, who were the first-rate fellows he was so fond of--was morethan he quite knew. Now and then he looked round at some house andwondered why it was so curiously built; sometimes he beganwondering why the post-boy and Vanyusha, who were so differentfrom himself, sat so near, and together with him were being jerkedabout and swayed by the tugs the side-horses gave at the frozentraces, and again he repeated: 'First rate ... very fond!' andonce he even said: 'And

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I should wish to place upon record here our gratitude to all ourfriends upon the Amazon for the very great kindness andhospitality which was shown to us upon our return journey. Very particularly would I thank Senhor Penalosa and other officialsof the Brazilian Government for the special arrangements by whichwe were helped upon our way, and Senhor Pereira of Para, to whoseforethought we owe the complete outfit for a decent appearance inthe civilized world which we found ready for us at that town. It seemed a poor return for all the courtesy which we encounteredthat we should deceive our hosts and