Sevastopol : Chapter 21

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1888

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(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...for no social system can be durable or stable, under which the majority does not enjoy equal rights but is kept in a servile position, and is bound by exceptional laws. Only when the laboring majority have the same rights as other citizens, and are freed from shameful disabilities, is a firm order of society possible." (From : "To the Czar and His Assistants," by Leo Tolstoy, ....)
• "It is necessary that men should understand things as they are, should call them by their right names, and should know that an army is an instrument for killing, and that the enrollment and management of an army -- the very things which Kings, Emperors, and Presidents occupy themselves with so self-confidently -- is a preparation for murder." (From : "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'," by Leo Tolstoy, August 8,....)
• "You are surprised that soldiers are taught that it is right to kill people in certain cases and in war, while in the books admitted to be holy by those who so teach, there is nothing like such a permission..." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)

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Chapter 21

XXI.

After the lapse of about ten minutes, the soldiers began to change about and to converse together. The most important personages among them—the two gun-sergeants—placed themselves nearest the officer's light and bed;—one was old and gray-haired, with every possible medal and cross except the George;—the other was young, a militia-man, who smoked cigarettes, which he was rolling. The drummer, as usual, assumed the duty of waiting on the officer. The bombardiers and cavalrymen sat next, and then farther away, in the shadow of the entrance, the underlings took up their post. They too began to talk among themselves. It was caused by the hasty entrance of a man into the casemate.

“How now, brother! couldn't you stay in the street? Didn't the girls sing merrily?” said a voice.

[Pg 230]

“They sing such marvelous songs as were never heard in the village,” said the man who had fled into the casemate, with a laugh.

“But Vasin does not love bombs—ah, no, he does not love them!” said one from the aristocratic corner.

“The idea! It's quite another matter when it's necessary,” drawled the voice of Vasin, who made all the others keep silent when he spoke: “since the 24th, the firing has been going on desperately; and what is there wrong about it? You'll get killed for nothing, and your superiors won't so much as say ‘Thank you!’ for it.”

At these words of Vasin, all burst into a laugh.

“There's Melnikoff, that fellow who will sit outside the door,” said some one.

“Well, send him here, that Melnikoff,” added the old gunner; “they will kill him, for a fact, and that to no purpose.”

“Who is this Melnikoff?” asked Volodya.

[Pg 231]

“Why, Your Honor, he's a stupid soldier of ours. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, and now he keeps walking about outside. Please to take a look at him; he looks like a bear.”

“He knows a spell,” said the slow voice of Vasin, from the corner.

Melnikoff entered the bomb-proof. He was fat (which is extremely rare among soldiers), and a sandy-complexioned, handsome man, with a huge, bulging forehead and prominent, light blue eyes.

“Are you afraid of the bombs?” Volodya asked him.

“What is there about the bombs to be afraid of!” replied Melnikoff, shrugging his shoulders and scratching his head, “I know that I shall not be killed by a bomb.”

“So you would like to go on living here?”

“Why, of course, I would. It's jolly here!” he said, with a sudden outburst of laughter.

“Oh, then you must be detailed for the sortie! I'll tell the general so, if you like?” said Volodya, although he was not acquainted with a single general there.

“Why shouldn't I like! I do!”

And Melnikoff disappeared behind the others.

“Let's have a game of noski,[M] children! Who has cards?” rang out his brisk voice.

[Pg 232]

And, in fact, it was not long before a game was started in the back corner, and blows on the nose, laughter, and calling of trumps were heard.

Volodya drank some tea from the samovár, which the drummer served for him, treated the gunners, jested, chatted with them, being desirous of winning popularity, and felt very well content with the respect which was shown him. The soldiers, too, perceiving that the gentleman put on no airs, began to talk together.

One declared that the siege of Sevastopol would soon come to an end, because a trustworthy man from the fleet had said that the emperor's brother Constantine was coming to our relief with the 'Merican fleet, and there would soon be an agreement that there should be no firing for two weeks, and that a rest should be allowed, and if any one did fire a shot, every discharge would have to be paid for at the rate of seventy-five kopecks each.

Vasin, who, as Volodya had already noticed, was a little fellow, with large, kindly eyes, and side-whiskers, related, amid a general silence at first, and afterwards amid general laughter, how, when he had gone home on leave, they had been glad at first to see him, but afterwards his father[Pg 233] had begun to send him off to work, and the lieutenant of the foresters' corps sent his drozhki for his wife.

All this amused Volodya greatly. He not only did not experience the least fear or inconvenience from the closeness and heavy air in the bomb-proof, but he felt in a remarkably cheerful and agreeable frame of mind.

Many of the soldiers were already snoring. Vlang had also stretched himself out on the floor, and the old gun-sergeant, having spread out his cloak, was crossing himself and muttering his prayers, preparatory to sleep, when Volodya took a fancy to step out of the bomb-proof, and see what was going on outside.

“Take your legs out of the way!” cried one soldier to another, as soon as he rose, and the legs were pressed aside to make way for him.

Vlang, who appeared to be asleep, suddenly raised his head, and seized Volodya by the skirt of his coat.

“Come, don't go! how can you!” he began, in a tearfully imploring tone.[Pg 234] “You don't know about things yet; they are firing at us out there all the time; it is better here.”

But, in spite of Vlang's entreaties, Volodya made his way out of the bomb-proof, and seated himself on the threshold, where Melnikoff was already sitting.

The air was pure and fresh, particularly after the bomb-proof—the night was clear and still. Through the roar of the discharges could be heard the sounds of cart-wheels, bringing gabions, and the voices of the men who were at work on the magazine. Above their heads was the lofty, starry sky, across which flashed the fiery streaks caused by the bombs; an arshin away, on the left, a tiny opening led to another bomb-proof, through which the feet and backs of the soldiers who lived there were visible, and through which their voices were audible; in front, the elevation produced by the powder-vault could be seen, and athwart it flitted the bent figures of men, and upon it, at the very summit, amid the bullets and the bombs which whistled past the spot incessantly, stood a tall form in a black paletot, with his hands in his pockets, and feet treading down the earth, which other men were fetching in sacks. Often a bomb would fly over, and burst close to the cave. The soldiers engaged in bringing the earth bent over[Pg 235] and ran aside; but the black figure never moved; went on quietly stamping down the dirt with his feet, and remained on the spot in the same attitude as before.

“Who is that black man?” inquired Volodya of Melnikoff.

“I don't know; I will go and see.”

“Don't go! it is not necessary.”

But Melnikoff, without heeding him, walked up to the black figure, and stood beside him for a tolerably long time, as calm and immovable as the man himself.

“That is the man who has charge of the magazine, Your Honor!” he said, on his return. “It has been pierced by a bomb, so the infantry-men are fetching more earth.”

Now and then, a bomb seemed to fly straight at the door of the bomb-proof. On such occasions, Volodya shrank into the corner, and then peered forth again, gazing upwards, to see whether another was not coming from some direction. Although Vlang, from the interior of the bomb-proof, repeatedly besought Volodya to come back, the latter sat on the threshold for three hours, and experienced a sort of satisfaction in[Pg 236] thus tempting fate and in watching the flight of the bombs. Towards the end of the evening, he had learned from what point most of the firing proceeded, and where the shots struck.

[Pg 237]

From : Gutenberg.org

Chronology

November 30, 1887 :
Chapter 21 -- Publication.

February 18, 2017 17:34:12 :
Chapter 21 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

March 19, 2019 15:03:52 :
Chapter 21 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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