“‘Come,’ he said, in measured tones. ‘This is the moment.’ He paused for a long time, then with the same distinctness went on: ’On my word of honour, all faith is dead in me.’
“His voice lost suddenly its self-possession. After waiting a little while he added in a murmur: ‘And even my courage.... Upon my honour.’
“Another long pause ensued before, with a great effort, he whispered hoarsely: ’Isn’t this enough to move a heart of stone? Am I to go on my knees to you?’
“Again a deep silence fell upon the three of us. Then the French officer flung his last word of anger at Tomassov.
“Not a feature of the poor fellow moved. I made up my mind to go and fetch a couple of our troopers to lead that miserable prisoner away to the village. There was nothing else for it. I had not moved six paces towards the group of horses and orderlies in front of our squadron when... but you have guessed it. Of course. And I, too, I guessed it, for I give you my word that the report of Tomassov’s pistol was the most insignificant thing imaginable. The snow certainly does absorb sound. It was a mere feeble pop. Of the orderlies holding our horses I don’t think one turned his head round.
“Yes. Tomassov had done it. Destiny had led that De Castel to the man who could understand him perfectly. But it was poor Tomassov’s lot to be the predestined victim. You know what the world’s justice and mankind’s judgment are like. They fell heavily on him with a sort of inverted hypocrisy. Why! That brute of an adjutant, himself, was the first to set going horrified allusions to the shooting of a prisoner in cold blood! Tomassov was not dismissed from the service of course. But after the siege of Dantzig he asked for permission to resign from the army, and went away to bury himself in the depths of his province, where a vague story of some dark deed clung to him for years.
“Yes. He had done it. And what was it? One warrior’s soul paying its debt a hundredfold to another warrior’s soul by releasing it from a fate worse than death—the loss of all faith and courage. You may look on it in that way. I don’t know. And perhaps poor Tomassov did not know himself. But I was the first to approach that appalling dark group on the snow: the Frenchman extended rigidly on his back, Tomassov kneeling on one knee rather nearer to the feet than to the Frenchman’s head. He had taken his cap off and his hair shone like gold in the light drift of flakes that had begun to fall. He was stooping over the dead in a tenderly contemplative attitude. And his young, ingenuous face, with lowered eyelids, expressed no grief, no sternness, no horror—but was set in the repose of a profound, as if endless and endlessly silent, meditation.”