was the center of attraction, but whether I thought or
"Well? Have you begun to believe in pre- destination?
"I do believe in it; only I cannot understand now why it appeared to me that you must inevitably die to-day!"
And this same man, who, such a short time before, had with the greatest calmness aimed a pistol at his own forehead, now suddenly fired up and became embarrassed.
"That will do, though!" he said, rising to his feet. "Our wager is finished, and now your observations, it seems to me, are out of place."
He took up his cap and departed. The whole affair struck me as being strange -- and not without reason. Shortly after that, all the officers broke up and went home, discussing Vulich's freaks from different points of view, and, doubt- less, with one voice calling me an egoist for having taken up a wager against a man who wanted to shoot himself, as if he could not have found a convenient opportunity without my intervention.
I returned home by the deserted byways of the village. The moon, full and red like the glow of a conflagration, was beginning to make its appear- ance from behind the jagged horizon of the house-tops; the stars were shining tranquilly in the deep, blue vault of the sky; and I was struck by the absurdity of the idea when I recalled to mind that once upon a time there were some exceed- ingly wise people who thought that the stars of heaven participated in our insignificant squabbles for a slice of ground, or some other imaginary rights. And what then? These lamps, lighted, so they fancied, only to illuminate their battles and triumphs, are burning with all their former brilliance, whilst the wiseacres themselves, to- gether with their hopes and passions, have long been extinguished, like a little fire kindled at the edge of a forest by a careless wayfarer! But, on the other hand, what strength of will was lent them by the conviction that the entire heavens, with their innumerable habitants, were looking at them with a sympathy, unalterable, though mute! . . . And we, their miserable descendants, roaming over the earth, without faith, without pride, without enjoyment, and without terror -- except that involuntary awe which makes the heart shrink at the thought of the inevitable end -- we are no longer capable of great sacrifices, either for the good of mankind or even for our own happiness, because we know the impossibility of such happiness; and, just as our ancestors used to fling themselves from one delusion to another, we pass indifferently from doubt to doubt, without possessing, as they did, either hope or even that vague though, at the same time, keen enjoyment which the soul encounters at every struggle with mankind or with destiny.
These and many other similar thoughts passed through my mind, but I did not follow them up, because I do not like to dwell upon abstract ideas -- for what do they lead to? In my early youth I was a dreamer; I loved to hug to my bosom the images -- now gloomy, now rainbow- hued -- which my restless and eager imagination drew for me. And what is there left to me of all these? Only such weariness as might be felt after a battle by night with a phantom -- only a con- fused memory full of regrets. In that vain contest I have exhausted the warmth of soul and firmness of will indispensable to an active life. I have entered upon that life after having already lived through it in thought, and it has become wearisome and nauseous to me, as the reading of a bad imitation of a book is to one who has long been familiar with the original.
The events of that evening produced a some- what deep impression upon me and excited my nerves. I do not know for certain whether I now believe in predestination or not, but on that evening I believed in it firmly. The proof was startling, and I, notwithstanding that I had laughed at our forefathers and their obliging astrology, fell involuntarily into their way of thinking. However, I stopped myself in time from following that dangerous road, and, as I have made it a rule not to reject anything decisively and not to trust anything blindly, I cast meta- physics aside and began to look at what was beneath my feet. The precaution was well-timed. I only just escaped stumbling over something thick and soft, but, to all appearance, inanimate. I bent down to see what it was, and, by the light of the moon, which now shone right upon the road, I perceived that it was a pig which had been cut in two with a sabre. . . I had hardly time to examine it before I heard the sound of steps, and two Cossacks came running out of a byway. One of them came up to me and enquired whether I had seen a drunken Cossack chasing a pig. I informed him that I had not met the Cossack and pointed to the unhappy victim of his rabid bravery.