But he does not imagine this. On the whole, he is not fond of thinking—and it is well that he does not.
“There, now, to-morrow, to-morrow!” he comforts himself—until that “to-morrow” over-throws him into the grave.
Well—and once in the grave,—one ceases, willy-nilly, to think.
I dreamed that I had entered a vast subterranean chamber with a lofty, arched roof. It was completely filled by some sort of even light, also subterranean.
In the very centre of the chamber sat a majestic woman in a flowing robe green in hue. With her head bowed on her hand, she seemed to be immersed in profound meditation.
I immediately understood that this woman was Nature itself,—and reverent awe pierced my soul with an instantaneous chill.
I approached the seated woman, and making a respectful obeisance, “O our common mother,” I exclaimed, “what is the subject of thy meditation? Art thou pondering the future destinies of mankind? As to how it is to attain the utmost possible perfection and bliss?”
The woman slowly turned her dark, lowering eyes upon me. Her lips moved, and a stentorian voice, like unto the clanging of iron, rang out:
“I am thinking how I may impart more power to the muscles in the legs of a flea, so that it may more readily escape from its enemies. The equilibrium of attack and defence has been destroyed.... It must be restored.”
“What!” I stammered, in reply.—“So that is what thou art thinking about? But are not we men thy favourite children?”
The woman knit her brows almost imperceptibly.—“All creatures are my children,” she said, “and I look after all of them alike,—and I annihilate them in identically the same way.”
“But good ... reason ... justice....” I stammered again.
“Those are the words of men,” rang out the iron voice. “I know neither good nor evil.... Reason is no law to me—and what is justice?—I have given thee life,—I take it away and give it to others; whether worms or men ... it makes no difference to me.... But in the meantime, do thou defend thyself, and hinder me not!”
I was about to answer ... but the earth round about me uttered a dull groan and trembled—and I awoke.
“It happened in the year 1803,” began my old friend, “not long before Austerlitz. The regiment of which I was an officer was quartered in Moravia.
“We were strictly forbidden to harry and oppress the inhabitants; and they looked askance on us as it was, although we were regarded as allies.
“I had an orderly, a former serf of my mother’s, Egor by name. He was an honest and peaceable fellow; I had known him from his childhood and treated him like a friend.
“One day, in the house where I dwelt, abusive shrieks and howls arose: the housewife had been robbed of two hens, and she accused my orderly of the theft. He denied it, and called upon me to bear witness whether ’he, Egor Avtamonoff, would steal!’ I assured the housewife of Egor’s honesty, but she would listen to nothing.