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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cossacks - Chapter 23
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The Cossacks - Chapter 23 Post by :morna Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :3083

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The Cossacks - Chapter 23

Olenin's life went on with monotonous regularity. He had little
intercourse with the commanding officers or with his equals. The
position of a rich cadet in the Caucasus was peculiarly
advantageous in this respect. He was not sent out to work, or for
training. As a reward for going on an expedition he was
recommended for a commission, and meanwhile he was left in peace.
The officers regarded him as an aristocrat and behaved towards him
with dignity. Cardplaying and the officers' carousals accompanied
by the soldier-singers, of which he had had experience when he was
with the detachment, did not seem to him attractive, and he also
avoided the society and life of the officers in the village. The
life of officers stationed in a Cossack village has long had its
own definite form. Just as every cadet or officer when in a fort
regularly drinks porter, plays cards, and discusses the rewards
given for taking part in the expeditions, so in the Cossack
villages he regularly drinks chikhir with his hosts, treats the
girls to sweet-meats and honey, dangles after the Cossack women,
and falls in love, and occasionally marries there. Olenin always
took his own path and had an unconscious objection to the beaten
tracks. And here, too, he did not follow the ruts of a Caucasian
officer's life.

It came quite naturally to him to wake up at daybreak. After
drinking tea and admiring from his porch the mountains, the
morning, and Maryanka, he would put on a tattered ox-hide coat,
sandals of soaked raw hide, buckle on a dagger, take a gun, put
cigarettes and some lunch in a little bag, call his dog, and soon
after five o'clock would start for the forest beyond the village.
Towards seven in the evening he would return tired and hungry with
five or six pheasants hanging from his belt (sometimes with some
other animal) and with his bag of food and cigarettes untouched.
If the thoughts in his head had lain like the lunch and cigarettes
in the bag, one might have seen that during all those fourteen
hours not a single thought had moved in it. He returned morally
fresh, strong, and perfectly happy, and he could not tell what he
had been thinking about all the time. Were they ideas, memories,
or dreams that had been flitting through his mind? They were
frequently all three. He would rouse himself and ask what he had
been thinking about; and would see himself as a Cossack working in
a vineyard with his Cossack wife, or an abrek in the mountains, or
a boar running away from himself. And all the time he kept peering
and watching for a pheasant, a boar, or a deer.

In the evening Daddy Eroshka would be sure to be sitting with him.
Vanyusha would bring a jug of chikhir, and they would converse
quietly, drink, and separate to go quite contentedly to bed. The
next day he would again go shooting, again be healthily weary,
again they would sit conversing and drink their fill, and again be
happy. Sometimes on a holiday or day of rest Olenin spent the
whole day at home. Then his chief occupation was watching
Maryanka, whose every movement, without realizing it himself, he
followed greedily from his window or his porch. He regarded
Maryanka and loved her (so he thought) just as he loved the beauty
of the mountains and the sky, and he had no thought of entering
into any relations with her. It seemed to him that between him and
her such relations as there were between her and the Cossack
Lukashka could not exist, and still less such as often existed
between rich officers and other Cossack girls. It seemed to him
that if he tried to do as his fellow officers did, he would
exchange his complete enjoyment of contemplation for an abyss of
suffering, disillusionment, and remorse. Besides, he had already
achieved a triumph of self-sacrifice in connexion with her which
had given him great pleasure, and above all he was in a way afraid
of Maryanka and would not for anything have ventured to utter a
word of love to her lightly.

Once during the summer, when Olenin had not gone out shooting but
was sitting at home, quite unexpectedly a Moscow acquaintance, a
very young man whom he had met in society, came in.

'Ah, mon cher, my dear fellow, how glad I was when I heard that
you were here!' he began in his Moscow French, and he went on
intermingling French words in his remarks. 'They said, "Olenin".
What Olenin? and I was so pleased.... Fancy fate bringing us
together here! Well, and how are you? How? Why?' and Prince
Beletski told his whole story: how he had temporarily entered the
regiment, how the. Commander-in-Chief had offered to take him as
an adjutant, and how he would take up the post after this campaign
although personally he felt quite indifferent about it.

'Living here in this hole one must at least make a career--get a
cross--or a rank--be transferred to the Guards. That is quite
indispensable, not for myself but for the sake of my relations and
friends. The prince received me very well; he is a very decent
fellow,' said Beletski, and went on unceasingly. 'I have been
recommended for the St. Anna Cross for the expedition. Now I shall
stay here a bit until we start on the campaign. It's capital here.
What women! Well, and how are you getting on? I was told by our
captain, Startsev you know, a kind-hearted stupid creature....
Well, he said you were living like an awful savage, seeing no one!
I quite understand you don't want to be mixed up with the set of
officers we have here. I am so glad now you and I will be able to
see something of one another. I have put up at the Cossack
corporal's house. There is such a girl there. Ustenka! I tell you
she's just charming.'

And more and more French and Russian words came pouring forth from
that world which Olenin thought he had left for ever. The general
opinion about Beletski was that he was a nice, good-natured
fellow. Perhaps he really was; but in spite of his pretty, good-
natured face, Olenin thought him extremely unpleasant. He seemed
just to exhale that filthiness which Olenin had forsworn. What
vexed him most was that he could not--had not the strength--
abruptly to repulse this man who came from that world: as if that
old world he used to belong to had an irresistible claim on him.
Olenin felt angry with Beletski and with himself, yet against his
wish he introduced French phrases into his own conversation, was
interested in the Commander-in-Chief and in their Moscow
acquaintances, and because in this Cossack village he and Beletski
both spoke French, he spoke contemptuously of their fellow
officers and of the Cossacks, and was friendly with Beletski,
promising to visit him and inviting him to drop in to see him.
Olenin however did not himself go to see Beletski. Vanyusha for
his part approved of Beletski, remarking that he was a real
gentleman.

Beletski at once adopted the customary life of a rich officer in a
Cossack village. Before Olenin's eyes, in one month he came to be
like an old resident of the village; he made the old men drunk,
arranged evening parties, and himself went to parties arranged by
the girls--bragged of his conquests, and even got so far that, for
some unknown reason, the women and girls began calling him
grandad, and the Cossacks, to whom a man who loved wine and women
was clearly understandable, got used to him and even liked him
better than they did Olenin, who was a puzzle to them.

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The Captain and the head of the village rode away, and Olenin, toplease Lukashka as well as to avoid going back alone through thedark forest, asked the corporal to give Lukashka leave, and thecorporal did so. Olenin thought that Lukashka wanted to seeMaryanka and he was also glad of the companionship of such apleasant-looking and sociable Cossack. Lukashka and Maryanka heinvoluntarily united in his mind, and he found pleasure inthinking about them. 'He loves Maryanka,' thought Olenin, 'and Icould love her,' and a new and powerful emotion of tendernessovercame him as they walked homewards together through the darkforest. Lukashka too felt
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