This time, when he came, there could at once be felt in him, after long living in camps, that rapid change in age, which so often imperceptibly and rapidly transforms a boy into a youth. He had already finished the cadet academy and with pride counted himself a junker; although he still walked around in a cadet’s uniform, with aversion. He had grown taller, had become better formed and more adroit; the camp life had done him good. He spoke in a bass, and during these months to his most great pride the nipples of his breast had hardened; the most important—he already knew about this—and undeniable sign of virile maturity. Now, in the meanwhile, until the eyes-front severities of a military school, he had a period of alluring freedom. Already he was permitted to smoke at home, in the presence of grown-ups; and even his father had himself presented him with a leather cigar case with his monogram, and also, in the elevation of family joy, had assigned him fifteen roubles monthly salary.
And it was just here—at Anna Markovna’s—that he had come to know woman for the first time—the very same Jennka.
The fall of innocent souls in houses of ill-fame, or with street solitaries, is fulfilled far more frequently than it is usually thought. When not green youths only, but even honourable men of fifty, almost grandfathers, are interrogated about this ticklish matter, they will tell you, sure enough, the ancient stencilled lie of how they had been seduced by a chambermaid or a governess. But this is one of those lingering, queer lies, going back into the depth of past decades, which are almost never noticed by a single one of the professional observers, and in any case are not described by any one.
If each one of us will try, to put it pompously, to put his hand on his heart, then every one will catch himself in the fact, that having once in childhood said some sort of boastful or touching fiction, which had success, and having repeated it for that reason two and five and ten times more—he afterwards cannot get rid of it all his life, and repeats with entire firmness by now a history which had never been; a firmness such that in the very end he believes the story. With time Kolya also narrated to his comrades how his aunt once removed, a young woman of the world had seduced him. It must be said, however, that the intimate proximity to this lady—a large, dark-eyed, white faced, sweetly fragrant southern woman—did really exist; but existed only in Kolya’s imagination, in those sad, tragic and timid minutes of solitary sexual enjoyments, through which pass if not a hundred percent of all men, then ninety-nine, in any case.
Having experienced mechanical sexual excitements very early, approximately since nine or nine years and a half, Kolya did not at all have the least understanding of the significance of that end of being in love or of courtship, which is so horrible on the face of it, if it be looked at impartially, or if it be explained scientifically. Unfortunately, there was at that time near him not a one of the present progressive and learned ladies who, having turned away the neck of the classic stork, and torn up by the roots the cabbage underneath which children are found, recommend that the great mystery of love and generation be explained to children in lectures, through comparisons and assimilations, mercilessly and in a well-nigh graphic manner.