The Schoolmaster and Other Stories
IT happened not so long ago in the Moscow circuit court. The jurymen, left in the court
for the night, before lying down to sleep fell into conversation about strong impressions.
They were led to this discussion by recalling a witness who, by his own account, had
begun to stammer and had gone grey owing to a terrible moment. The jurymen decided
that before going to sleep, each one of them should ransack among his memories and tell
something that had happened to him. Man's life is brief, but yet there is no man who
cannot boast that there have been terrible moments in his past.
One juryman told the story of how he was nearly drowned; another described how, in a
place where there were neither doctors nor chemists, he had one night poisoned his own
son through giving him zinc vitriol by mistake for soda. The child did not die, but the
father nearly went out of his mind. A third, a man not old but in bad health, told how he
had twice attempted to commit suicide: the first time by shooting himself and the second
time by throwing himself before a train.
The fourth, a foppishly dressed, fat little man, told us the following story:
"I was not more than twenty-two or twenty-three when I fell head over ears in love with
my present wife and made her an offer. Now I could with pleasure thrash myself for my
early marriage, but at the time, I don't know what would have become of me if Natasha
had refused me. My love was absolutely the real thing, just as it is described in novels--
frantic, passionate, and so on. My happiness overwhelmed me and I did not know how to
get away from it, and I bored my father and my friends and the servants, continually
talking about the fervour of my passion. Happy people are the most sickening bores. I
was a fearful bore; I feel ashamed of it even now. . . .
"Among my friends there was in those days a young man who was beginning his career
as a lawyer. Now he is a lawyer known all over Russia; in those days he was only just
beginning to gain recognition and was not rich and famous enough to be entitled to cut an
old friend when he met him. I used to go and see him once or twice a week. We used to
loll on sofas and begin discussing philosophy.
"One day I was lying on his sofa, arguing that there was no more ungrateful profession
than that of a lawyer. I tried to prove that as soon as the examination of witnesses is over
the court can easily dispense with both the counsels for the prosecution and for the
defence, because they are neither of them necessary and are only in the way. If a grown-
up juryman, morally and mentally sane, is convinced that the ceiling is white, or that
Ivanov is guilty, to struggle with that conviction and to vanquish it is beyond the power
of any Demosthenes. Who can convince me that I have a red moustache when I know
that it is black? As I listen to an orator I may perhaps grow sentimental and weep, but my
fundamental conviction, based for the most part on unmistakable evidence and fact, is not
changed in the least. My lawyer maintained that I was young and foolish and that I was
talking childish nonsense. In his opinion, for one thing, an obvious fact becomes still