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THE COSSACKS

A Tale of 1852


By

Leo Tolstoy (1863)



Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude




Chapter I


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 say.

'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 life.'

'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
know.'

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 activity.

'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 man.

'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 know?'

'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 trembled.

'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 horses.

'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?'

'Yes.'

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 feeling.




Chapter II


'I'm fond of them, very fond! ... First-rate fellows! ... Fine!' he
kept repeating, and felt ready to cry. But why he wanted to cry, who
were the first-rate fellows he was so fond of - was more than he quite
knew. Now and then he looked round at some house and wondered why it
was so curiously built; sometimes he began wondering why the post-boy
and Vanyusha, who were so different from himself, sat so near, and
together with him were being jerked about and swayed by the tugs the
side-horses gave at the frozen traces, and again he repeated: 'First
rate ... very fond!' and once he even said: 'And how it seizes one ...
excellent!' and wondered what made him say it. 'Dear me, am I drunk?'
he asked himself. He had had a couple of bottles of wine, but it was
not the wine alone that was having this effect on Olenin. He remembered
all the words of friendship heartily, bashfully, spontaneously (as he
believed) addressed to him on his departure. He remembered the clasp of
hands, glances, the moments of silence, and the sound of a voice
saying, 'Good-bye, Mitya!' when he was already in the sledge. He
remembered his own deliberate frankness. And all this had a touching
significance for him. Not only friends and relatives, not only people
who had been indifferent to him, but even those who did not like him,
seemed to have agreed to become fonder of him, or to forgive him,
before his departure, as people do before confession or death. 'Perhaps
I shall not return from the Caucasus,' he thought. And he felt that he
loved his friends and some one besides. He was sorry for himself. But
it was not love for his friends that so stirred and uplifted his heart
that he could not repress the meaningless words that seemed to rise of
themselves to his lips; nor was it love for a woman (he had never yet
been in love) that had brought on this mood. Love for himself, love
full of hope - warm young love for all that was good in his own soul
(and at that moment it seemed to him that there was nothing but good in
it) - compelled him to weep and to mutter incoherent words.

Olenin was a youth who had never completed his university course, never
served anywhere (having only a nominal post in some government office
or other), who had squandered half his fortune and had reached the age
of twenty-four without having done anything or even chosen a career. He
was what in Moscow society is termed un jeune homme.

At the age of eighteen he was free - as only rich young Russians in the
'forties who had lost their parents at an early age could be. Neither
physical nor moral fetters of any kind existed for him; he could do as
he liked, lacking nothing and bound by nothing. Neither relatives, nor
fatherland, nor religion, nor wants, existed for him. He believed in
nothing and admitted nothing. But although he believed in nothing he
was not a morose or blase young man, nor self-opinionated, but on the
contrary continually let himself be carried away. He had come to the
conclusion that there is no such thing as love, yet his heart always
overflowed in the presence of any young and attractive woman. He had
long been aware that honours and position were nonsense, yet
involuntarily he felt pleased when at a ball Prince Sergius came up and
spoke to him affably. But he yielded to his impulses only in so far as
they did not limit his freedom. As soon as he had yielded to any
influence and became conscious of its leading on to labour and
struggle, he instinctively hastened to free himself from the feeling or
activity into which he was being drawn and to regain his freedom. In
this way he experimented with society-life, the civil service, farming,
music - to which at one time he intended to devote his life - and even
with the love of women in which he did not believe. He meditated on the
use to which he should devote that power of youth which is granted to
man only once in a lifetime: that force which gives a man the power of
making himself, or even - as it seemed to him - of making the universe,
into anything he wishes: should it be to art, to science, to love of
woman, or to practical activities? It is true that some people are
devoid of this impulse, and on entering life at once place their necks
under the first yoke that offers itself and honestly labour under it
for the rest of their lives. But Olenin was too strongly conscious of
the presence of that all-powerful God of Youth - of that capacity to be
entirely transformed into an aspiration or idea - the capacity to wish
and to do - to throw oneself headlong into a bottomless abyss without
knowing why or wherefore. He bore this consciousness within himself,
was proud of it and, without knowing it, was happy in that
consciousness. Up to that time he had loved only himself, and could not
help loving himself, for he expected nothing but good of himself and
had not yet had time to be disillusioned. On leaving Moscow he was in
that happy state of mind in which a young man, conscious of past
mistakes, suddenly says to himself, 'That was not the real thing.' All
that had gone before was accidental and unimportant. Till then he had
not really tried to live, but now with his departure from Moscow a new
life was beginning - a life in which there would be no mistakes, no
remorse, and certainly nothing but happiness.

It is always the case on a long journey that till the first two or
three stages have been passed imagination continues to dwell on the
place left behind, but with the first morning on the road it leaps to
the end of the journey and there begins building castles in the air. So
it happened to Olenin.

After leaving the town behind, he gazed at the snowy fields and felt
glad to be alone in their midst. Wrapping himself in his fur coat, he
lay at the bottom of the sledge, became tranquil, and fell into a doze.
The parting with his friends had touched him deeply, and memories of
that last winter spent in Moscow and images of the past, mingled with
vague thoughts and regrets, rose unbidden in his imagination.

He remembered the friend who had seen him off and his relations with
the girl they had talked about. The girl was rich. "How could he love
her knowing that she loved me?" thought he, and evil suspicions crossed
his mind. "There is much dishonesty in men when one comes to reflect."
Then he was confronted by the question: "But really, how is it I have
never been in love? Every one tells me that I never have. Can it be
that I am a moral monstrosity?" And he began to recall all his
infatuations. He recalled his entry into society, and a friend's sister
with whom he spent several evenings at a table with a lamp on it which
lit up her slender fingers busy with needlework, and the lower part of
her pretty delicate face. He recalled their conversations that dragged
on like the game in which one passes on a stick which one keeps alight
as long as possible, and the general awkwardness and restraint and his
continual feeling of rebellion at all that conventionality. Some voice
had always whispered: "That's not it, that's not it," and so it had
proved. Then he remembered a ball and the mazurka he danced with the
beautiful D - - . "How much in love I was that night and how happy! And
how hurt and vexed I was next morning when I woke and felt myself still
free! Why does not love come and bind me hand and foot?" thought he.
"No, there is no such thing as love! That neighbour who used to tell
me, as she told Dubrovin and the Marshal, that she loved the stars, was
not IT either." And now his farming and work in the country recurred to
his mind, and in those recollections also there was nothing to dwell on
with pleasure. "Will they talk long of my departure?" came into his
head; but who "they" were he did not quite know. Next came a thought
that made him wince and mutter incoherently. It was the recollection of
M. Cappele the tailor, and the six hundred and seventy-eight rubles he
still owed him, and he recalled the words in which he had begged him to
wait another year, and the look of perplexity and resignation which had
appeared on the tailor's face. 'Oh, my God, my God!' he repeated,
wincing and trying to drive away the intolerable thought. 'All the same
and in spite of everything she loved me,' thought he of the girl they
had talked about at the farewell supper. 'Yes, had I married her I
should not now be owing anything, and as it is I am in debt to
Vasilyev.' Then he remembered the last night he had played with
Vasilyev at the club (just after leaving her), and he recalled his
humiliating requests for another game and the other's cold refusal. 'A
year's economizing and they will all be paid, and the devil take
them!'... But despite this assurance he again began calculating his
outstanding debts, their dates, and when he could hope to pay them off.
'And I owe something to Morell as well as to Chevalier,' thought he,
recalling the night when he had run up so large a debt. It was at a
carousel at the gipsies arranged by some fellows from Petersburg:
Sashka B - -, an aide-de-camp to the Tsar, Prince D - -, and that pompous
old - - . 'How is it those gentlemen are so self-satisfied?' thought he,
'and by what right do they form a clique to which they think others
must be highly flattered to be admitted? Can it be because they are on
the Emperor's staff? Why, it's awful what fools and scoundrels they
consider other people to be! But I showed them that I at any rate, on
the contrary, do not at all want their intimacy. All the same, I fancy
Andrew, the steward, would be amazed to know that I am on familiar
terms with a man like Sashka B - -, a colonel and an aide-de-camp to the
Tsar! Yes, and no one drank more than I did that evening, and I taught
the gipsies a new song and everyone listened to it. Though I have done
many foolish things, all the same I am a very good fellow,' thought he.

Morning found him at the third post-stage. He drank tea, and himself
helped Vanyusha to move his bundles and trunks and sat down among them,
sensible, erect, and precise, knowing where all his belongings were,
how much money he had and where it was, where he had put his passport
and the post-horse requisition and toll-gate papers, and it all seemed
to him so well arranged that he grew quite cheerful and the long
journey before him seemed an extended pleasure-trip.

All that morning and noon he was deep in calculations of how many
versts he had travelled, how many remained to the next stage, how many
to the next town, to the place where he would dine, to the place where
he would drink tea, and to Stavropol, and what fraction of the whole
journey was already accomplished. He also calculated how much money he
had with him, how much would be left over, how much would pay off all
his debts, and what proportion of his income he would spend each month.
Towards evening, after tea, he calculated that to Stavropol there still
remained seven-elevenths of the whole journey, that his debts would
require seven months' economy and one-eighth of his whole fortune; and
then, tranquillized, he wrapped himself up, lay down in the sledge, and
again dozed off. His imagination was now turned to the future: to the
Caucasus. All his dreams of the future were mingled with pictures of
Amalat-Beks, Circassian women, mountains, precipices, terrible
torrents, and perils. All these things were vague and dim, but the love
of fame and the danger of death furnished the interest of that future.
Now, with unprecedented courage and a strength that amazed everyone, he
slew and subdued an innumerable host of hillsmen; now he was himself a
hillsman and with them was maintaining their independence against the
Russians. As soon as he pictured anything definite, familiar Moscow
figures always appeared on the scene. Sashka B - -fights with the
Russians or the hillsmen against him. Even the tailor Cappele in some
strange way takes part in the conqueror's triumph. Amid all this he
remembered his former humiliations, weaknesses, and mistakes, and the
recollection was not disagreeable. It was clear that there among the
mountains, waterfalls, fair Circassians, and dangers, such mistakes
could not recur. Having once made full confession to himself there was
an end of it all. One other vision, the sweetest of them all, mingled
with the young man's every thought of the future - the vision of a woman.

And there, among the mountains, she appeared to his imagination as a
Circassian slave, a fine figure with a long plait of hair and deep
submissive eyes. He pictured a lonely hut in the mountains, and on the
threshold she stands awaiting him when, tired and covered with dust,
blood, and fame, he returns to her. He is conscious of her kisses, her
shoulders, her sweet voice, and her submissiveness. She is enchanting,
but uneducated, wild, and rough. In the long winter evenings he begins
her education. She is clever and gifted and quickly acquires all the
knowledge essential. Why not? She can quite easily learn foreign
languages, read the French masterpieces and understand them: Notre Dame
de Paris, for instance, is sure to please her. She can also speak
French. In a drawing-room she can show more innate dignity than a lady
of the highest society. She can sing, simply, powerfully, and
passionately.... 'Oh, what nonsense!' said he to himself. But here they
reached a post-station and he had to change into another sledge and
give some tips. But his fancy again began searching for the 'nonsense'
he had relinquished, and again fair Circassians, glory, and his return
to Russia with an appointment as aide-de-camp and a lovely wife rose
before his imagination. 'But there's no such thing as love,' said he to
himself. 'Fame is all rubbish. But the six hundred and seventy-eight
rubles? ... And the conquered land that will bring me more wealth than
I need for a lifetime? It will not be right though to keep all that
wealth for myself. I shall have to distribute it. But to whom? Well,
six hundred and seventy-eight rubles to Cappele and then we'll see.'
... Quite vague visions now cloud his mind, and only Vanyusha's voice
and the interrupted motion of the sledge break his healthy youthful
slumber. Scarcely conscious, he changes into another sledge at the next
stage and continues his journey.

Next morning everything goes on just the same: the same kind of
post-stations and tea-drinking, the same moving horses' cruppers, the
same short talks with Vanyusha, the same vague dreams and drowsiness,
and the same tired, healthy, youthful sleep at night.




Chapter III


The farther Olenin travelled from Central Russia the farther he left
his memories behind, and the nearer he drew to the Caucasus the lighter
his heart became. "I'll stay away for good and never return to show
myself in society," was a thought that sometimes occurred to him.
"These people whom I see here are NOT people. None of them know me and
none of them can ever enter the Moscow society I was in or find out
about my past. And no one in that society will ever know what I am
doing, living among these people." And quite a new feeling of freedom
from his whole past came over him among the rough beings he met on the
road whom he did not consider to be PEOPLE in the sense that his Moscow
acquaintances were. The rougher the people and the fewer the signs of
civilization the freer he felt. Stavropol, through which he had to
pass, irked him. The signboards, some of them even in French, ladies in
carriages, cabs in the marketplace, and a gentleman wearing a fur cloak
and tall hat who was walking along the boulevard and staring at the
passersby, quite upset him. "Perhaps these people know some of my
acquaintances," he thought; and the club, his tailor, cards, society
... came back to his mind. But after Stavropol everything was
satisfactory - wild and also beautiful and warlike, and Olenin felt
happier and happier. All the Cossacks, post-boys, and post-station
masters seemed to him simple folk with whom he could jest and converse


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