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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cossacks - Chapter 33
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The Cossacks - Chapter 33 Post by :SLHoffman Category :Long Stories Author :Leo Tolstoy Date :December 2010 Read :2742

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The Cossacks - Chapter 33

It was late when he awoke the next day. His hosts were no longer
in. He did not go shooting, but now took up a book, and now went
out into the porch, and now again re-entered the hut and lay down
on the bed. Vanyusha thought he was ill.

Towards evening Olenin got up, resolutely began writing, and wrote
on till late at night. He wrote a letter, but did not post it
because he felt that no one would have understood what he wanted
to say, and besides it was not necessary that anyone but himself
should understand it. This is what he wrote:

'I receive letters of condolence from Russia. They are afraid that
I shall perish, buried in these wilds. They say about me: "He will
become coarse; he will be behind the times in everything; he will
take to drink, and who knows but that he may marry a Cossack
girl." It was not for nothing, they say, that Ermolov declared:
"Anyone serving in the Caucasus for ten years either becomes a
confirmed drunkard or marries a loose woman." How terrible! Indeed
it won't do for me to ruin myself when I might have the great
happiness of even becoming the Countess B---'s husband, or a Court
chamberlain, or a Marechal de noblesse of my district. Oh, how
repulsive and pitiable you all seem to me! You do not know what
happiness is and what life is! One must taste life once in all its
natural beauty, must see and understand what I see every day
before me--those eternally unapproachable snowy peaks, and a
majestic woman in that primitive beauty in which the first woman
must have come from her creator's hands--and then it becomes clear
who is ruining himself and who is living truly or falsely--you or
I. If you only knew how despicable and pitiable you, in your
delusions, seem to me! When I picture to myself--in place of my
hut, my forests, and my love--those drawing-rooms, those women
with their pomatum-greased hair eked out with false curls, those
unnaturally grimacing lips, those hidden, feeble, distorted limbs,
and that chatter of obligatory drawing-room conversation which has
no right to the name--I feel unendurably revolted. I then see
before me those obtuse faces, those rich eligible girls whose
looks seem to say:

"It's all right, you may come near though I am rich and eligible"-
-and that arranging and rearranging of seats, that shameless
match-making and that eternal tittle-tattle and pretence; those
rules--with whom to shake hands, to whom only to nod, with whom to
converse (and all this done deliberately with a conviction of its
inevitability), that continual ennui in the blood passing on from
generation to generation. Try to understand or believe just this
one thing: you need only see and comprehend what truth and beauty
are, and all that you now say and think and all your wishes for me
and for yourselves will fly to atoms! Happiness is being with
nature, seeing her, and conversing with her. "He may even (God
forbid) marry a common Cossack girl, and be quite lost socially" I
can imagine them saying of me with sincere pity! Yet the one thing
I desire is to be quite "lost" in your sense of the word. I wish
to marry a Cossack girl, and dare not because it would be a height
of happiness of which I am unworthy.

'Three months have passed since I first saw the Cossack girl,
Maryanka. The views and prejudices of the world I had left were
still fresh in me. I did not then believe that I could love that
woman. I delighted in her beauty just as I delighted in the beauty
of the mountains and the sky, nor could I help delighting in her,
for she is as beautiful as they. I found that the sight of her
beauty had become a necessity of my life and I began asking myself
whether I did not love her. But I could find nothing within myself
at all like love as I had imagined it to be. Mine was not the
restlessness of loneliness and desire for marriage, nor was it
platonic, still less a carnal love such as I have experienced. I
needed only to see her, to hear her, to know that she was near--
and if I was not happy, I was at peace.

'After an evening gathering at which I met her and touched her, I
felt that between that woman and myself there existed an
indissoluble though unacknowledged bond against which I could not
struggle, yet I did struggle. I asked myself: "Is it possible to
love a woman who will never understand the profoundest interests
of my life? Is it possible to love a woman simply for her beauty,
to love the statue of a woman?" But I was already in love with
her, though I did not yet trust to my feelings.

'After that evening when I first spoke to her our relations
changed. Before that she had been to me an extraneous but majestic
object of external nature: but since then she has become a human
being. I began to meet her, to talk to her, and sometimes to go to
work for her father and to spend whole evenings with them, and in
this intimate intercourse she remained still in my eyes just as
pure, inaccessible, and majestic. She always responded with equal
calm, pride, and cheerful equanimity. Sometimes she was friendly,
but generally her every look, every word, and every movement
expressed equanimity--not contemptuous, but crushing and
bewitching. Every day with a feigned smile on my lips I tried to
play a part, and with torments of passion and desire in my heart I
spoke banteringly to her. She saw that I was dissembling, but
looked straight at me cheerfully and simply. This position became
unbearable. I wished not to deceive her but to tell her all I
thought and felt. I was extremely agitated. We were in the
vineyard when I began to tell her of my love, in words I am now
ashamed to remember. I am ashamed because I ought not to have
dared to speak so to her because she stood far above such words
and above the feeling they were meant to express. I said no more,
but from that day my position has been intolerable. I did not wish
to demean myself by continuing our former flippant relations, and
at the same time I felt that I had not yet reached the level of
straight and simple relations with her. I asked myself
despairingly, "What am I to do?" In foolish dreams I imagined her
now as my mistress and now as my wife, but rejected both ideas
with disgust. To make her a wanton woman would be dreadful. It
would be murder. To turn her into a fine lady, the wife of Dmitri
Andreich Olenin, like a Cossack woman here who is married to one
of our officers, would be still worse. Now could I turn Cossack
like Lukashka, and steal horses, get drunk on chikhir, sing
rollicking songs, kill people, and when drunk climb in at her
window for the night without a thought of who and what I am, it
would be different: then we might understand one another and I
might be happy.

'I tried to throw myself into that kind of life but was still more
conscious of my own weakness and artificiality. I cannot forget
myself and my complex, distorted past, and my future appears to me
still more hopeless. Every day I have before me the distant snowy
mountains and this majestic, happy woman. But not for me is the
only happiness possible in the world; I cannot have this woman!
What is most terrible and yet sweetest in my condition is that I
feel that I understand her but that she will never understand me;
not because she is inferior: on the contrary she ought not to
understand me. She is happy, she is like nature: consistent, calm,
and self-contained; and I, a weak distorted being, want her to
understand my deformity and my torments! I have not slept at
night, but have aimlessly passed under her windows not rendering
account to myself of what was happening to me. On the 18th our
company started on a raid, and I spent three days away from the
village. I was sad and apathetic, the usual songs, cards,
drinking-bouts, and talk of rewards in the regiment, were more
repulsive to me than usual. Yesterday I returned home and saw her,
my hut. Daddy Eroshka, and the snowy mountains, from my porch, and
was seized by such a strong, new feeling of joy that I understood
it all. I love this woman; I feel real love for the first and only
time in my life. I know what has befallen me. I do not fear to be
degraded by this feeling, I am not ashamed of my love, I am proud
of it. It is not my fault that I love. It has come about against
my will. I tried to escape from my love by self-renunciation, and
tried to devise a joy in the Cossack Lukashka's and Maryanka's
love, but thereby only stirred up my own love and jealousy. This
is not the ideal, the so-called exalted love which I have known
before; not that sort of attachment in which you admire your own
love and feel that the source of your emotion is within yourself
and do everything yourself. I have felt that too. It is still less
a desire for enjoyment: it is something different. Perhaps in her
I love nature: the personification of all that is beautiful in
nature; but yet I am not acting by my own will, but some elemental
force loves through me; the whole of God's world, all nature,
presses this love into my soul and says, "Love her." I love her
not with my mind or my imagination, but with my whole being.
Loving her I feel myself to be an integral part of all God's joyous
world. I wrote before about the new convictions to which my solitary
life had brought me, but no one knows with what labour they shaped
themselves within me and with what joy I realized them and saw a
new way of life opening out before me; nothing was dearer to me than
those convictions... Well! ... love has come and neither they nor any
regrets for them remain! It is even difficult for me to believe that
I could prize such a one-sided, cold, and abstract state of mind.
Beauty came and scattered to the winds all that laborious inward toil,
and no regret remains for what has vanished! Self-renunciation is
all nonsense and absurdity! That is pride, a refuge from well-merited
unhappiness, and salvation from the envy of others' happiness: "Live
for others, and do good!"--Why? when in my soul there is only love for
myself and the desire to love her and to live her life with her?
Not for others, not for Lukashka, I now desire happiness. I do not
now love those others. Formerly I should have told myself that
this is wrong. I should have tormented myself with the questions:
What will become of her, of me, and of Lukashka? Now I don't care.
I do not live my own life, there is something stronger than me
which directs me. I suffer; but formerly I was dead and only now
do I live. Today I will go to their house and tell her
everything.'

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Late that evening, after writing this letter, Olenin went to hishosts' hut. The old woman was sitting on a bench behind the ovenunwinding cocoons. Maryanka with her head uncovered sat sewing bythe light of a candle. On seeing Olenin she jumped up, took herkerchief and stepped to the oven. 'Maryanka dear,' said hermother, 'won't you sit here with me a bit?' 'No, I'm bareheaded,'she replied, and sprang up on the oven. Olenin could only see aknee, and one of her shapely legs hanging down from the oven. Hetreated the old woman to tea. She treated her guest to clotted creamwhich she
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He stopped once or twice, listening to the ringing laughter ofMaryanka and Ustenka who, having come together, were shoutingsomething. Olenin spent the whole evening hunting in the forestand returned home at dusk without having killed anything. Whencrossing the road he noticed her open the door of the outhouse,and her blue smock showed through it. He called to Vanyusha veryloud so as to let her know that he was back, and then sat down inthe porch in his usual place. His hosts now returned from thevineyard; they came out of the outhouse and into their hut, butdid not ask of the latch
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