“To-day ... at once.”
“Why art thou in such a hurry?”
“Uncle! my motto has always been ‘Hurry! Hurry!’”
“But what is thy motto now?”
“It is the same now.... Only ‘Hurry—to good!’”
So Misha went away, leaving me to meditate over the mutability of human destinies.
But he speedily reminded me of his existence. A couple of months after his visit I received a letter from him,—the first of those letters with which he afterward favoured me. And note this peculiarity: I have rarely beheld a neater, more legible handwriting than was possessed by this unmethodical man. The style of his letters also was very regular, and slightly florid. The invariable appeals for assistance alternated with promises of amendment, with honourable words and with oaths.... All this appeared to be—and perhaps was—sincere. Misha’s signature at the end of his letters was always accompanied by peculiar flourishes, lines and dots, and he used a great many exclamation-points. In that first letter Misha informed me of a new “turn in his fortune.” (Later on he called these turns “dives” ... and he dived frequently.) He had gone off to the Caucasus to serve the Tzar and fatherland “with his breast,” in the capacity of a yunker. And although a certain benevolent aunt had commiserated his poverty-stricken condition and had sent him an insignificant sum, nevertheless he asked me to help him to equip himself. I complied with his request, and for a period of two years thereafter I heard nothing about him. I must confess that I entertained strong doubts as to his having gone to the Caucasus. But it turned out that he really had gone thither, had entered the T—— regiment as yunker, through influence, and had served in it those two years. Whole legends were fabricated there about him. One of the officers in his regiment communicated them to me.
I learned a great deal which I had not expected from him. I was not surprised, of course, that he had proved to be a poor, even a downright worthless military man and soldier; but what I had not expected was, that he had displayed no special bravery; that in battle he wore a dejected and languid aspect, as though he were partly bored, partly daunted. All discipline oppressed him, inspired him with sadness; he was audacious to recklessness when it was a question of himself personally; there was no wager too crazy for him to accept; but do evil to others, kill, fight, he could not, perhaps because he had a good heart,—and perhaps because his “cotton-wool” education (as he expressed it) had enervated him. He was ready to exterminate himself in any sort of way at any time.... But others—no. “The devil only can make him out,” his comrades said of him:—“he’s puny, a rag—–and what a reckless fellow he is—a regular dare-devil!”—I happened afterward to ask Misha what evil spirit prompted him, made him indulge in drinking-bouts, risk his life, and so forth. He always had one answer: “Spleen.”