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   Chapter 10 THE WALLS ARE FALLING

The Seven Who Were Hanged By Leonid Andreyev Characters: 10755

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The unidentified man, who called himself Werner, was tired of life and struggle. There was a time when he loved life very dearly, when he enjoyed the theater, literature and social intercourse. Endowed with an excellent memory and a firm will, he had mastered several European languages and could easily pass for a German, a Frenchman or an Englishman. He usually spoke German with a Bavarian accent, but when he felt like it, he could speak like a born Berliner. He was fond of dress, his manners were excellent and he alone, of all the members of the organization, dared attend the balls given in high society, without running the risk of being recognized as an outsider.

But for a long time, altogether unnoticed by his comrades, there had ripened in his soul a dark contempt for mankind; contempt mingled with despair and painful, almost deadly fatigue. By nature rather a mathematician than a poet, he had not known until now any inspiration, any ecstasy and at times he felt like a madman, looking for the squaring of a circle in pools of human blood. The enemy against whom he struggled every day could not inspire him with respect. It was a dense net of stupidity, treachery and falsehood, vile insults and base deceptions. The last incident which seemed to have destroyed in him forever the desire to live, was the murder of the provocateur which he had committed by order of the organization. He had killed him in cold blood, but when he saw that dead, deceitful, now calm, and after all pitiful, human face, he suddenly ceased to respect himself and his work. Not that he was seized with a feeling of repentance, but he simply stopped appreciating himself. He became uninteresting to himself, unimportant, a dull stranger. But being a man of strong, unbroken will-power, he did not leave the organization. He remained outwardly the same as before, only there was something cold, yet painful in his eyes. He never spoke to anyone of this.

He possessed another rare quality: just as there are people who have never known headaches, so Werner had never known fear. When other people were afraid, he looked upon them without censure but also without any particular compassion, just as upon a rather contagious illness from which, however, he himself had never suffered. He felt sorry for his comrades, especially for Vasya Kashirin; but that was a cold, almost official pity, which even some of the judges may have felt at times.

Werner understood that the execution was not merely death, that it was something different,-but he resolved to face it calmly, as something not to be considered; to live until the end as if nothing had happened and as if nothing could happen. Only in this way could he express his greatest contempt for capital punishment and preserve his last freedom of the spirit which could not be torn away from him. At the trial-and even his comrades who knew well his cold, haughty fearlessness would perhaps not have believed this,-he thought neither of death nor of life,-but concentrated his attention deeply and coolly upon a difficult chess game which he was playing. A superior chess player, he had started this game on the first day of his imprisonment and continued it uninterruptedly. Even the sentence condemning him to death by hanging did not remove a single figure from his imaginary chessboard. Even the knowledge that he would not be able to finish this game, did not stop him; and the morning of the last day that he was to remain on earth he started by correcting a not altogether successful move he had made on the previous day. Clasping his lowered hands between his knees, he sat for a long time motionless, then he rose and began to walk, meditating. His walk was peculiar: he leaned the upper part of his body slightly forward and stamped the ground with his heels firmly and distinctly. His steps usually left deep, plain imprints even on dry ground. He whistled softly, in one breath, a simple Italian melody, which helped his meditation.

But this time for some reason or other the thing did not work well. With an unpleasant feeling that he had made some important, even grave blunder, he went back several times and examined the game almost from the beginning. He found no blunder, yet the feeling about a blunder committed not only failed to leave him, but even grew ever more intense and unpleasant. Suddenly an unexpected and offensive thought came into his mind: Did the blunder perhaps consist in his playing chess simply because he wanted to distract his attention from the execution and thus shield himself against the fear of death which is apparently inevitable in every person condemned to death?

"No. What for?" he answered coldly and closed calmly his imaginary chessboard. And with the same concentration with which he had played chess, he tried to give himself an account of the horror and the helplessness of his situation. As though he were going through a strict examination, he looked over the cell, trying not to let anything escape. He counted the hours that remained until the execution, made for himself an approximate and quite exact picture of the execution itself and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well?" he said to some one half-questioningly. "Here it is. Where is the fear?"

Indeed there was no fear. Not only was it not there, but something entirely different, the reverse of fear

, developed-a sensation of confused, but enormous and savage joy. And the error, which he had not yet discovered, no longer called forth in him vexation or irritation,-it seemed to speak loudly of something good and unexpected, as though he had believed a dear friend of his to be dead, and that friend turned out to be alive, safe and sound and laughing.

Werner again shrugged his shoulders and felt his pulse,-his heart was beating faster than usual, but soundly and evenly, with a specially ringing throb. He looked about once more, attentively, like a novice for the first time in prison,-examined the walls, the bolts, the chair which was screwed to the floor, and thought:

"Why do I feel so easy, so joyous and free? Yes, so free? I think of the execution to-morrow-and I feel as though it is not there. I look at the walls-and I feel as though they are not here, either. And I feel so free, as though I were not in prison, but had just come out of some prison where I had spent all my life. What does this mean?"

His hands began to tremble,-something Werner had not experienced before. His thoughts fluttered ever more furiously. It was as if tongues of fire had flashed up in his mind, and the fire wanted to burst forth and illumine the distance which was still dark as night. Now the light pierced through and the widely illuminated distance began to shine.

The fatigue that had tormented Werner during the last two years had disappeared; the dead, cold, heavy serpent with its closed eyes and mouth clinched in death, had fallen away from his breast. Before the face of death, beautiful Youth came back to him physically. Indeed, it was more than beautiful Youth. With that wonderful clarity of the spirit which in rare moments comes over man and lifts him to the loftiest peaks of meditation, Werner suddenly perceived both life and death, and he was awed by the splendor of the unprecedented spectacle. It seemed to him that he was walking along the highest mountain-ridge, which was narrow like the blade of a knife, and on one side he saw Life, on the other side-Death,-like two sparkling, deep, beautiful seas, blending in one boundless, broad surface at the horizon.

"What is this? What a divine spectacle!" he said slowly, rising involuntarily and straightening himself, as if in the presence of a supreme being. And destroying the walls, space and time with the impetuosity of his all-penetrating look, he cast a wide glance somewhere into the depth of the life he was to forsake.

And life appeared to him in a new light. He did not strive, as before, to clothe in words that which he had seen; nor were there such words in the still poor, meager human language. That small, cynical and evil feeling which had called forth in him a contempt for mankind and at times even an aversion for the sight of a human face, had disappeared completely. Thus, for a man who goes up in an airship, the filth and litter of the narrow streets disappear and that which was ugly becomes beautiful.

Unconsciously Werner stepped over to the table and leaned his right hand on it. Proud and commanding by nature, he had never before assumed such a proud, free, commanding pose, had never turned his head and never looked as he did now,-for he had never yet been as free and dominant as he was here in the prison, with but a few hours from execution and death.

Now men seemed new to him,-they appeared amiable and charming to his clarified vision. Soaring over time, he saw clearly how young mankind was, that but yesterday it had been howling like a beast in the forests; and that which had seemed to him terrible in human beings, unpardonable and repulsive, suddenly became very dear to him,-like the inability of a child to walk as grown people do, like a child's unconnected lisping, flashing with sparks of genius; like a child's comical blunders, errors and painful bruises.

"My dear people!" Werner suddenly smiled and at once lost all that was imposing in his pose; he again became a prisoner who finds his cell narrow and uncomfortable under lock, and he was tired of the annoying, searching eye staring at him through the peephole in the door. And, strange to say, almost instantly he forgot all that he had seen a little while before so clearly and distinctly; and, what is still stranger, he did not even make an effort to recall it. He simply sat down as comfortably as possible, without the usual stiffness of his body, and surveyed the walls and the bars with a faint and gentle, strange, un-Werner-like smile. Still another new thing happened to Werner,-something that had never happened to him before: he suddenly started to weep.

"My dear comrades!" he whispered, crying bitterly. "My dear comrades!"

By what mysterious ways did he change from the feeling of proud and boundless freedom to this tender and passionate compassion? He did not know, nor did he think of it. Did he pity his dear comrades, or did his tears conceal something else, a still loftier and more passionate feeling?-His suddenly revived and rejuvenated heart did not know this either. He wept and whispered:

"My dear comrades! My dear, dear comrades!"

In this man, who was bitterly weeping and smiling through tears, no one could have recognized the cold and haughty, weary, yet daring Werner-neither the judges, nor the comrades, nor even he himself.

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