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Short Stories

Vsevolod Garshin

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A collection of seventeen short stories by Russian author Vsevolod Garshin. Includes the following stories: Coward; Four Days; An Incident; A Very Short Romance; The Meeting; Officer and Soldier-Servant; A Night; Attalea Princeps; From the Reminiscences of Private Ivanoff; 'Make Believe'; The Bears; The Scarlet Blossom; A Toad and a Rose; Nadejda Nicolaievna; The Action at Aislar; The Frog who Travelled; and, The Signal.

This book has 321 pages in the PDF version. These translations by Rowland Smith were originally published around 1912.

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Excerpt from 'Short Stories'

The war is decidedly giving me no rest. I see clearly that it is dragging, and when it will end is very difficult to foretell. Our soldiers are as splendid as ever, but the enemy has proved far from being as weak as we thought, and now, four months from the declaration of war, no decisive success has been gained by our side. In the meanwhile every extra day claims its hundreds of victims. Is it my nerves which cause the telegrams merely stating the numbers of killed and wounded to affect me far more than those around me? Somebody will calmly read out: “Our losses insignificant; officers, wounded, so many, giving names; rank and file, killed, 50; wounded, 100,” and even rejoice that the numbers are so small; but to me the reading of such news immediately brings the whole bloody picture before my eyes. Fifty dead, one hundred maimed—this is “insignificant!” Why are we so horrified when the newspapers inform us of some murder where the victims are few? Why does not the sight of corpses riddled with bullets lying on a battlefield strike us with the same horror as the interior of a house ransacked by murder? Why does a catastrophe costing the lives of some scores of persons cause all Russia to cry out, whilst nobody pays any attention to advanced-guard skirmishes with “insignificant” losses, also of some scores of men?

A few days ago Lvoff, a medical student and a friend of mine, with whom I often argue about the war, said to me: “Well, we shall see, my peaceful friend, what will become of your humanitarian convictions when you are called up and are obliged to fire at people.”

“Me, Vassili Petrovich? They will not call me up. I am in the Militia Reserve.”

“That may be, but if the war drags on it will affect the Militia as well. Do not be too sure about it. Your turn will come.”

My heart seemed to contract. How was it that this thought had not come into my head before? Of course the Militia will be called up. There was nothing impossible in that. “If the war drags on,” and it is sure to drag on. Even if this war does not last long it is all the same, some other war will commence. Why not have a war? Why not perform great exploits? It seems to me that the present war is only the forerunner of future wars from which I shall not escape, nor my little brother, nor even my sister’s baby boy. And my turn will come very soon.

What will become of your “ego”? Your whole being protests against the war, but nevertheless the war will compel you to shoulder a rifle, and go to die… and kill.… No, it is impossible! I am a quiet, kindhearted young man who has up till now known only his books, the lecture-room, the family circle, and one or two close friends; who has dreamt in one or two years’ time of beginning other work, the labour of love and of truth. I have been accustomed to regard this world objectively, accustomed to place it before me. I have imagined I understood all the evil in it, and so would be able to avoid this evil. But now I see my whole building of tranquillity destroyed, and I see myself automatically fitting on to my shoulders those same tatters, holes, and stains which I have hitherto only looked at. And no kind of development, no self-knowledge, no knowledge of the world, no kind of spiritual liberty will give me a pitiful physical liberty—the liberty to dispose of my own body.

Lvoff laughs when I begin to expound my views against the war to him.

“My dear old chap, look at things more simply, life will be easier then,” says he. “Do you think that this carnage is to my taste? Apart from the fact that it will bring misfortune on all, it also affects me personally. It will not let me finish my studies. They will reduce the term of the courses, and send us out to cut off legs and arms. For all that I do not worry myself with fruitless reflections on the horrors of war, because, whatever I may think, I can do nothing to abolish it. Surely it is better not to think about it, but to mind one’s own business? If they send us to treat the wounded, I shall go and do so. What is to be done in such a time as this? One must sacrifice oneself. By the way, do you know that Masha is going as a hospital nurse?”

“Not really?”

“The day before yesterday she made up her mind, and today has gone to practise bandaging. I did not try to dissuade her, but only asked her how she intends to arrange about her studies.

“‘Afterwards,’ she says… ‘I will study afterwards if I am alive.’ Never mind; let her go as a nurse. It will do her good.”

“And what about Kuzma Thomich?”

“Kuzma says nothing, only he has become almost ferociously gloomy, and has quite given up studying. I am glad for his sake that my sister is going. He is simply wasting away, and is in torture. He follows her like her shadow and does nothing. Well—it is love!” and Vassili Petrovich shook his head. “He has rushed off now to escort her home, as if she has not always gone about alone!”

“It seems to me, Vassili Petrovich, that it is a pity he lives with you.”

“Of course it is a pity, but who could have foreseen this? For myself and sister this lodging is too large. There was one room too many. Why not let it to a nice man? And a nice man took it and has fallen in love. And I am sorry, and it is sad for her. How is Kuzma beneath her? He is a kind, intelligent, good chap. But she literally does not seem to notice him. But now make yourself scarce. I have no time to waste. If you want to see my sister and Kuzma, wait in the dining-room. They will be back soon.”

“No, Vassili Petrovich, I also have no time to spare. Goodbye.”

I had only just got into the street when I saw Mary Petrovna and Kuzma. They were coming along without speaking. Mary Petrovna in front, with a determined, concentrated expression on her face, and Kuzma a little to one side behind her, literally not daring to walk alongside her, but from time to time casting a hurried glance towards her face. They passed by without seeing me.

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