Vsevolod Garshin (1855-1888)
Garshin was all his life subject to melancholia. His work, consisting of only a score of stories, was influenced by his condition, and by his experiences in the Servian and Turkish wars. In 1888, sick with physical and mental torture, he killed himself. Garshin’s stark realism has that pitifully beautiful quality which makes his stories endure. They are pessimistic but never morbid.
Semyon Ivanov was a track-walker. His hut was ten versts away from a railroad station in one direction and twelve versts away in the other. About four versts away there was a cotton mill that had opened the year before, and its tall chimney rose up darkly from behind the forest. The only dwellings around were the distant huts of the other track-walkers.
Semyon Ivanov’s health had been completely shattered. Nine years before he had served right through the war as servant to an officer. The sun had roasted him, the cold frozen him, and hunger famished him on the forced marches of forty and fifty versts a day in the heat and the cold and the rain and the shine. The bullets had whizzed about him, but, thank God! none had struck him!
Semyon’s regiment had once been on the firing line. For a whole week there had been skirmishing with the Turks, only a deep ravine separating the two hostile armies; and from mom till eve there had been a steady cross-fire. Thrice daily Semyon carried a steaming samovar and his officer’s meals from the camp kitchen to the ravine. The bullets hummed about him and rattled viciously against the rocks. Semyon was terrified and cried sometimes, but still he kept right on. The officers were pleased with him, because he always had hot tea ready for them.
He returned from the campaign with limbs unbroken but crippled with rheumatism. He had experienced no little sorrow since then. He arrived home to find his father, an old man, and his little four-year- old son had died. Semyon remained alone with his wife. They could not do much. It was difficult to plow with rheumatic arms and legs. They could no longer stay in their village, so they started off to seek their fortune in new places.
They stayed for a short time on the line, in Kherson and Donshchina, but nowhere found luck. Then the wife went out to service, and Semyon continued to travel about. Once he happened to ride on an engine, and at one of the stations the face of the station-master seemed familiar to him. Semyon looked at the station-master and the station-master looked at Semyon, and they recognized each other. He had been an officer in Semyon’s regiment.