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The Seven Who Were Hanged By Leonid Andreyev Characters: 16275

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Just as Tanya Kovalchuk had thought all her life only of others and never of herself, so now she suffered and grieved painfully, but only for her comrades. She pictured death, only as awaiting them, as something tormenting only to Sergey Golovin, to Musya, to the others-as for herself, it did not concern her.

As a recompense for her firmness and restraint in the courtroom she wept for long hours, as old women who have experienced great misery, or as very sympathetic and kind-hearted young people know how to weep. And the fear that perhaps Seryozha was without tobacco or Werner without the strong tea to which he was accustomed, in addition to the fact that they were to die, caused her no less pain than the idea of the execution itself. Death was something inevitable and even unimportant, of which it was not worth while to think; but for a man in prison, before his execution, to be left without tobacco-that was altogether unbearable. She recalled and went over in her mind all the pleasant details of their life together, and then she grew faint with fear when she pictured to herself the meeting between Sergey and his parents.

She felt particularly sorry for Musya. It had long seemed to her that Musya loved Werner, and although this was not a fact, she still dreamed of something good and bright for both of them. When she had been free, Musya had worn a silver ring, on which was the design of a skull, bones, and a crown of thorns about them. Tanya Kovalchuk had often looked upon the ring as a symbol of doom, and she would ask Musya, now in jest, now in earnest, to remove the ring.

"Make me a present of it," she had begged.

"No, Tanechka, I will not give it to you. But perhaps you will soon have another ring upon your finger."

For some reason or other they all in turn had thought that she would doubtless soon marry, and this had offended her-she wanted no husband. And recalling these half-jesting conversations with Musya, and the fact that now Musya was actually condemned to death, she choked with tears in her maternal pity. And each time the clock struck she raised her tear-stained face and listened-how were they in the other cells receiving this drawn-out, persistent call of death?

But Musya was happy.

With her hands folded behind her back, dressed in a prisoner's garb which was much too large for her, and which made her look very much like a man-like a stripling dressed in some one else's clothes-she paced her cell evenly and tirelessly. The sleeves of the coat were too long for her, and she turned them up, and her thin, almost childish, emaciated hands peeped out of the wide holes like a beautiful flower out of a coarse earthen jug. The rough material of the coat rubbed her thin white neck, and sometimes Musya would free her throat with both hands and would cautiously feel the spot where the irritated skin was red and smarted.

Musya paced the cell, and, blushing in agitation, she imagined that she was justifying herself before the people. She tried to justify herself for the fact that she, who was so young, so insignificant, who had done so little, and who was not at all a heroine, was yet to undergo the same honorable and beautiful death by which real heroes and martyrs had died before her. With unshakable faith in human kindness, in their compassion, in their love, she pictured to herself how people were now agitated on her account, how they suffered, how they pitied her, and she felt so ashamed that she blushed, as if, by dying upon the scaffold, she had committed some tremendous, awkward blunder.

At the last meeting with their counsel she had asked him to bring her poison, but suddenly she had changed her mind. What if he and the others, she thought, should consider that she was doing it merely to become conspicuous, or out of cowardice, that instead of dying modestly and unnoticed, she was attempting to glorify herself. And she added hastily:

"No, it isn't necessary."

And now she desired but one thing-to be able to explain to people, to prove to them so that they should have not the slightest doubt that she was not at all a heroine, that it was not terrible to die, that they should not feel sorry for her, nor trouble themselves about her. She wished to be able to explain to them that she was not at all to blame that she, who was so young and so insignificant, was to undergo such a martyr's death, and that so much trouble should be made on her account.

Like a person who is actually accused of a crime, Musya sought justification. She endeavored to find something that would at least make her sacrifice more momentous, which might give it real value. She reasoned:

"Of course, I am young and could have lived for a long time. But-"

And as a candle darkens in the glare of the rising sun, so her youth and her life seemed dull and dark compared to that great and resplendent radiance which would shine above her simple head. There was no justification.

But perhaps that peculiar something which she bore in her soul-boundless love, boundless eagerness to do great deeds, her boundless contempt for herself-was a justification in itself. She felt that she was really not to blame that she was hindered from doing the things she could have done, which she had wished to do-that she had been smitten upon the threshold of the temple, at the foot of the altar.

But if that were so, if a person is appreciated not only for what he has done, but also for what he had intended to do-then-then she was worthy of the crown of the martyr!

"Is it possible?" thought Musya bashfully. "Is it possible that I am worthy of it? That I deserve that people should weep for me, should be agitated over my fate, over such a little and insignificant girl?"

And she was seized with sudden joy. There were no doubts, no hesitations-she was received into their midst-she entered justified the ranks of those noble people who always ascend to heaven through fires, tortures and executions. Bright peace and tranquillity and endless, calmly radiant happiness! It was as if she had already departed from earth and was nearing the unknown sun of truth and life, and was in-corporeally soaring in its light.

"And that is-Death? That is not Death!" thought Musya blissfully.

And if scientists, philosophers and hangmen from the world over should come to her cell, spreading before her books, scalpels, axes and nooses, and were to attempt to prove to her that Death existed, that a human being dies and is killed, that there is no immortality, they would only surprise her. How could there be no deathlessness, since she was already deathless? Of what other deathlessness, of what other death, could there be a question, since she was already dead and immortal, alive in death, as she had been dead in life?

And if a coffin were brought into her cell with her own decomposing body in it, and she were told:

"Look! That is you!"

She would look and would answer:

"No, it is not I."

And if they should attempt to convince her, frightening her by the ominous sight of her own decomposed body, that it was she-she, Musya, would answer with a smile:

"No. You think that it is I, but it isn't. I am the one you are speaking to; how can I be the other one?"

"But you will die and become like that."

"No, I will not die."

"You will be executed. Here is the noose."

"I will be executed, but I will not die. How can I die, when I am already-now-immortal?"

And the scientists and philosophers and hangmen would retreat, speaking-with a shudder:

"Do not touch this place. It is holy." What else was Musya thinking about? She was thinking of many things, for to her the thread of life was not broken by Death, but kept winding along calmly and evenly. She thought of her comrades, of those who were far away, and who in pain and sorrow were living through the execution together with them, and of those near by who were to mount the scaffold with her. She was surprised at Vasily-that he should have been so disturbed-he, who had always been so brave, and who had jested with Death. Thus, only on Tuesda

y morning, when all together they had attached explosive projectiles to their belts, which several hours later were to tear them into pieces, Tanya Kovalchuk's hands had trembled with nervousness, and it had become necessary to put her aside, while Vasily jested, made merry, turned about, and was even so reckless that Werner had said sternly:

"You must not be too familiar with Death."

What was he afraid of now? But this incomprehensible fear was so foreign to Musya's soul that she ceased searching for the cause of it-and suddenly she was seized with a desperate desire to see Seryozha Golovin, to laugh with him. She meditated a little while, and then an even more desperate desire came over her to see Werner and to convince him of something. And imagining to herself that Werner was in the next cell, driving his heels into the ground with his distinct, measured steps, Musya spoke, as if addressing him:

"No, Werner, my dear; it is all nonsense; it isn't at all important whether or not you are killed. You are a sensible man, but you seem to be playing chess, and that by taking one figure after another the game is won. The important thing, Werner, is that we ourselves are ready to die. Do you understand? What do those people think? That there is nothing more terrible than death. They themselves have invented Death, they are themselves afraid of it, and they try to frighten us with it. I should like to do this-I should like to go out alone before a whole regiment of soldiers and fire upon them with a revolver. It would not matter that I would be alone, while they would be thousands, or that I might not kill any of them. It is that which is important-that they are thousands. When thousands kill one, it means that the one has conquered. That is true, Werner, my dear...."

But this, too, became so clear to her that she did not feel like arguing further-Werner must understand it himself. Perhaps her mind simply did not want to stop at one thought-just as a bird that soars with ease, which sees endless horizons, and to which all space, all the depth, all the joy of the soft and caressing azure are accessible. The bell of the clock rang unceasingly, disturbing the deep silence. And into this harmonious, remote, beautiful sound the thoughts of the people flowed, and also began to ring for her; and the smoothly gliding images turned into music. It was just as if, on a quiet, dark night, Musya was riding along a broad, even road, while the easy springs of the carriage rocked her and the little bells tinkled. All alarm and agitation had passed, the fatigued body had dissolved in the darkness, and her joyously wearied fancy calmly created bright images, carried away by their color and their peaceful tranquillity. Musya recalled three of her comrades who had been hanged but a short time before, and their faces seemed bright and happy and near to her-nearer than those in life. Thus does a man think with joy in the morning of the house of his friends where he is to go in the evening, and a greeting rises to his smiling lips.

Musya became very tired from walking. She lay down cautiously on the cot and continued to dream with slightly closed eyes. The clock-bell rang unceasingly, stirring the mute silence, and bright, singing images floated calmly before her. Musya thought:

"Is it possible that this is Death? My God! How beautiful it is! Or is it Life? I do not know. I do not know. I will look and listen."

Her hearing had long given way to her imagination-from the first moment of her imprisonment. Inclined to be very musical, her ear had become keen in the silence, and on this background of silence, out of the meagre bits of reality, the footsteps of the guards in the corridors, the ringing of the clock, the rustling of the wind on the iron roof, the creaking of the lantern-it created complete musical pictures. At first Musya was afraid of them, brushed them away from her as if they were the hallucinations of a sickly mind. But later she understood that she herself was well, and that this was no derangement of any kind-and she gave herself up to the dreams calmly.

And now, suddenly, she seemed to hear clearly and distinctly the sounds of military music. In astonishment, she opened her eyes, lifted her head-outside the window was black night, and the clock was striking. "Again," she thought calmly, and closed her eyes. And as soon as she did so the music resounded anew. She could hear distinctly how the soldiers, a whole regiment, were coming from behind the corner of the fortress, on the right, and now they were passing her window. Their feet beat time with measured steps upon the frozen ground: One-two! One-two! She could even hear at times the leather of the boots creaking, how suddenly some one's foot slipped and immediately recovered its steps. And the music came ever nearer-it was an entirely unfamiliar but a very loud and spirited holiday march. Evidently there was some sort of celebration in the fortress.

Now the band came up alongside of her window and the cell was filled with merry, rhythmic, harmoniously blended sounds. One large brass trumpet brayed harshly out of tune, now too late, now comically running ahead-Musya could almost see the little soldier playing it, a great expression of earnestness on his face-and she laughed.

Then everything moved away. The footsteps died out-One-two! One-two! At a distance the music sounded still more beautiful and cheerful. The trumpet resounded now and then with its merry, loud brass voice, out of tune,-and then everything died away. And the clock on the tower struck again, slowly, mournfully, hardly stirring the silence.

"They are gone!" thought Musya, with a feeling of slight sadness. She felt sorry for the departing sounds, which had been so cheerful and so comical. She was even sorry for the departed little soldiers, because those busy soldiers, with their brass trumpets and their creaking boots, were of an entirely different sort, not at all like those at whom she had felt like firing a revolver.

"Come again!" she begged tenderly. And more came. The figures bent over her, they surrounded her in a transparent cloud and lifted her up, where the migrating birds were soaring and screaming, like heralds. On the right of her, on the left, above and below her-they screamed like heralds. They called, they announced from afar their flight. They flapped their wide wings and the darkness supported them, even as the light had supported them. And on their convex breasts, cleaving the air asunder, the city far below reflected a blue light. Musya's heart beat ever more evenly, her breathing grew ever more calm and quiet. She was falling asleep. Her face looked fatigued and pale. Beneath her eyes were dark circles, her girlish, emaciated hands seemed so thin,-but upon her lips was a smile. To-morrow, with the rise of the sun, this human face would be distorted with an inhuman grimace, her brain would be covered with thick blood, and her eyes would bulge from their sockets and look glassy,-but now she slept quietly and smiled in her great immortality.

Musya fell asleep.

And the life of the prison went on, deaf and sensitive, blind and sharp-sighted, like eternal alarm itself. Somewhere people were walking. Somewhere people were whispering. A gun clanked. It seemed as if some one shouted. Perhaps no one shouted at all-perhaps it merely seemed so in the silence.

The little casement window in the door opened noiselessly. A dark, mustached face appeared in the black hole. For a long time it stared at Musya in astonishment-and then disappeared as noiselessly as it had appeared.

The bells rang and sang, for a long time, painfully. It seemed as if the tired Hours were climbing up a high mountain toward midnight, and that it was becoming ever harder and harder to ascend. They fall, they slip, they slide down with a groan-and then again, they climb painfully toward the black height.

Somewhere people were walking. Somewhere people were whispering. And they were already harnessing the horses to the black carriages without lanterns.

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