My first knowledge that I was on the wrong trail came when
Bidding the captain enter into a conversation with the murderer and setting three Cossacks at the door ready to force it open and rush to my aid at a given signal, I walked round the hut and approached the fatal window. My heart was beating violently.
"Aha, you cursed wretch!" cried the captain. "Are you laughing at us, eh? Or do you think that we won't be able to get the better of you?"
He began to knock at the door with all his might. Putting my eye to the chink, I followed the movements of the Cossack, who was not expecting an attack from that direction. I pulled the shutter away suddenly and threw myself in at the window, head foremost. A shot rang out right over my ear, and the bullet tore off one of my epaulettes. But the smoke which filled the room prevented my adversary from finding the sabre which was lying beside him. I seized him by the arms; the Cossacks burst in; and three minutes had not elapsed before they had the criminal bound and led off under escort.
The people dispersed, the officers congratulated me -- and indeed there was cause for congratula- tion.
After all that, it would hardly seem possible to avoid becoming a fatalist? But who knows for certain whether he is convinced of anything or not? And how often is a deception of the senses or an error of the reason accepted as a conviction! . . . I prefer to doubt everything. Such a disposition is no bar to decision of character; on the contrary, so far as I am concerned, I always advance more boldly when I do not know what is awaiting me. You see, nothing can happen worse than death -- and from death there is no escape.
On my return to the fortress I related to Maksim Maksimych all that I had seen and experienced; and I sought to learn his opinion on the subject of predestination.
At first he did not understand the word. I explained it to him as well as I could, and then he said, with a significant shake of the head:
"Yes, sir, of course! It was a very ingenious trick! However, these Asiatic pistols often miss fire if they are badly oiled or if you don't press hard enough on the trigger. I confess I don't like the Circassian carbines either. Some- how or other they don't suit the like of us: the butt end is so small, and any minute you may get your nose burnt! On the other hand, their sabres, now -- well, all I need say is, my best respects to them!"