Chapter 5

IN THE EVENING of the same day a lively discussion was taking place in Denisov’s quarters between some officers of the squadron.

“But I tell you, Rostov, that you must apologise to the colonel,” the tall staff-captain was saying, addressing Rostov, who was crimson with excitement. The staff-captain, Kirsten, a man with grizzled hair, immense whiskers, thick features and a wrinkled face, had been twice degraded to the ranks for affairs of honour, and had twice risen again to holding a commission.

“I permit no one to tell me I’m lying!” cried Rostov. “He told me I was lying and I told him he was lying. And there it rests. He can put me on duty every day, he can place me under arrest, but no one can compel me to apologise, because if he, as the colonel, considers it beneath his dignity to give me satisfaction, then …”

“But you wait a bit, my good fellow; you listen to me,” interrupted the staff-captain in his bass voice, calmly stroking his long whiskers. “You tell the colonel in the presence of other officers that an officer has stolen—”

“I’m not to blame for the conversation being in the presence of other officers. Possibly I ought not to have spoken before them, but I’m not a diplomatist. That’s just why I went into the hussars; I thought that here I should have no need of such finicky considerations, and he tells me I’m a liar … so let him give me satisfaction.”

“That’s all very fine, no one imagines that you’re a coward; but that’s not the point. Ask Denisov if it’s not utterly out of the question for an ensign to demand satisfaction of his colonel?”

Denisov was biting his moustache with a morose air, listening to the conversation, evidently with no desire to take part in it. To the captain’s question, he replied by a negative shake of the head.

“You speak to the colonel in the presence of other officers of this dirty business,” pursued the staff-captain. “Bogdanitch” (Bogdanitch was what they called the colonel) “snubbed you …”

“No, he didn’t. He said I was telling an untruth.”

“Quite so, and you talked nonsense to him, and you must apologise.”

“Not on any consideration!” shouted Rostov.

“I shouldn’t have expected this of you,” said the staff-captain seriously and severely. “You won’t apologise, but, my good sir, it’s not only him, but all the regiment, all of us, that you’ve acted wrongly by; you’re to blame all round. Look here; if you’d only thought it over, and taken advice how to deal with the matter, but you must go and blurt it all straight out before the officers. What was the colonel to do then? Is he to bring the officer up for trial and disgrace the whole regiment? On account of one scoundrel is the whole regiment to be put to shame? Is that the thing for him to do, to your thinking? It is not to our thinking. And Bogdanitch did the right thing. He told you that you were telling an untruth. It’s unpleasant, but what could he do? you brought it on yourself. And now when they try to smooth the thing over, you’re so high and mighty, you won’t apologise, and want to have the whole story out. You’re huffy at being put on duty, but what is it for you to apologise to an old and honourable officer! Whatever Bogdanitch may be, any way he’s an honourable and gallant old colonel; you’re offended at that, but disgracing the regiment’s nothing to you.” The staff-captain’s voice began to quaver. “You, sir, have been next to no time in the regiment; you’re here to-day, and to-morrow you’ll be passed on somewhere as an adjutant; you don’t care a straw for people saying: ‘There are thieves among the Pavlograd officers!’ But we do care! Don’t we, Denisov? Do we care?”

Denisov still did not speak or stir; his gleaming black eyes glanced now and then at Rostov.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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