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The Revolutionist

by Mikhail P. Artsybashev

I II III IV

II

The day was as bright and white, but the spring was already advanced.
The wet soil smelt of spring. Clear cold water ran everywhere from
under the loose, thawing snow. The branches of the trees were springy
and elastic. For miles and miles around, the country opened up in
clear azure stretches.

Yet the clearness and the joy of the spring day were not in the
village. They were somewhere outside the village, where there were no
people—in the fields, the woods and the mountains. In the village the
air was stifling, heavy and terrible as in a nightmare.

Gabriel Andersen stood in the road near a crowd of dark, sad,
absent-minded people and craned his neck to see the preparations for
the flogging of seven peasants.

They stood in the thawing snow, and Gabriel Andersen could not
persuade himself that they were people whom he had long known and
understood. By that which was about to happen to them, the shameful,
terrible, ineradicable thing that was to happen to them, they were
separated from all the rest of the world, and so were unable to feel
what he, Gabriel Andersen, felt, just as he was unable to feel what
they felt. Round them were the soldiers, confidently and beautifully
mounted on high upon their large steeds, who tossed their wise heads
and turned their dappled wooden faces slowly from side to side,
looking contemptuously at him, Gabriel Andersen, who was soon to
behold this horror, this disgrace, and would do nothing, would not
dare to do anything. So it seemed to Gabriel Andersen; and a sense of
cold, intolerable shame gripped him as between two clamps of ice
through which he could see everything without being able to move, cry
out or utter a groan.

They took the first peasant. Gabriel Andersen saw his strange,
imploring, hopeless look. His lips moved, but no sound was heard, and
his eyes wandered. There was a bright gleam in them as in the eyes of
a madman. His mind, it was evident, was no longer able to comprehend
what was happening.

And so terrible was that face, at once full of reason and of madness,
that Andersen felt relieved when they put him face downward on the
snow and, instead of the fiery eyes, he saw his bare back
glistening—a senseless, shameful, horrible sight.

The large, red-faced soldier in a red cap pushed toward him, looked
down at his body with seeming delight, and then cried in a clear
voice:

"Well, let her go, with God's blessing!"

Andersen seemed not to see the soldiers, the sky, the horses or the
crowd. He did not feel the cold, the terror or the shame. He did not
hear the swish of the knout in the air or the savage howl of pain and
despair. He only saw the bare back of a man's body swelling up and
covered over evenly with white and purple stripes. Gradually the bare
back lost the semblance of human flesh. The blood oozed and squirted,
forming patches, drops and rivulets, which ran down on the white,
thawing snow.

Terror gripped the soul of Gabriel Andersen as he thought of the
moment when the man would rise and face all the people who had seen
his body bared out in the open and reduced to a bloody pulp. He closed
his eyes. When he opened them, he saw four soldiers in uniform and red
hats forcing another man down on the snow, his back bared just as
shamefully, terribly and absurdly—a ludicrously tragic sight.

Then came the third, the fourth, and so on, to the end.

And Gabriel Andersen stood on the wet, thawing snow, craning his neck,
trembling and stuttering, though he did not say a word. Dank sweat
poured from his body. A sense of shame permeated his whole being. It
was a humiliating feeling, having to escape being noticed so that they
should not catch him and lay him there on the snow and strip him
bare—him, Gabriel Andersen.

The soldiers pressed and crowded, the horses tossed their heads, the
knout swished in the air, and the bare, shamed human flesh swelled up,
tore, ran over with blood, and curled like a snake. Oaths, wild
shrieks rained upon the village through the clean white air of that
spring day.

Andersen now saw five men's faces at the steps of the town hall, the
faces of those men who had already undergone their shame. He quickly
turned his eyes away. After seeing this a man must die, he thought.

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