"Mmmm . . . 'The heartfelt gratitude of all Muscovites . . .' Where are our own Russian Owens and Astairs? . . . All right, enough of that. God bless all the orphans. . . . Now, what have we here?
A cynical escapade
"Hmm, this is curious:
Yesterday the Alexander Gardens were the scene of a sad incident only too distinctly typical of the cynical outlook and man ners of modern youth, when Mr. N., a handsome young fellow of twenty-three, a student at Moscow University, and the sole heir to a fortune of millions, shot himself dead in full view of the promenading public.
According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, before committing this reckless act, N. swaggered and boasted to the onlookers, brandishing a revolver in the air. The eyewitnesses at first took his behavior for mere drunken bravado. N., however, was in earnest and he proceeded to shoot himself through the head, expiring on the spot. From a note of outrageously atheistic import which was discovered in the pocket of the suicide, it is apparent that N.'s action was not merely the outcome of some momentary impulse or a consequence of delirium tremens. It would appear that the fashionable epidemic of pointless suicides, which had thus far remained the scourge of Petropolis, has finally spread to the walls of Old Mother Moscow. O tempora, o mores! To what depths of unbelief and nihilism have our gilded youth descended if they would make a vulgar spectacle even of their own deaths? If our homegrown Brutuses adopt such an attitude to their own lives, then how can we be surprised if they care not a brass kopek for the lives of other, incomparably more worthy individuals? How apropos in this connection are the words of that most venerable of authors, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, in his new book published in May, A Writer's Journal: "Dear, good, honest people (for all of this is within you!), what realm is this into which you are withdrawing? What has made the dark silence of the grave so dear to you? Look, the spring sun is bright in the sky, the trees have spread their leaves, but you are weary before your life has even begun."
Xavier Grushin sniffed with feeling and cast a strict sideways glance at his young assistant in case he might have noticed, then continued speaking in a distinctly cooler voice. "Well, and so on and so forth. But the times really don't have anything at all to do with it. There's nothing new to all of this. We've had a saying for these types in the land of Rus since ancient times: 'Just don't know when they're well off.' A fortune of millions? Now who might that be? And see what scoundrels our precinct chiefs arethey put all sorts of rubbish in their reports, but they haven't bothered to include this. So much for their summary of municipal incidents! But then I suppose it's an open-and-shut case: he shot himself in front of witnesses. . . . All the same, it's a curious business. The Alexander Gardens. That'll be the City Precinct, second station. I'll tell you what, young Mr. Fandorin, as a personal favor to me, get yourself smartly across there to Mokhovaya Street. Tell them it's for purposes of observation and what have you. Find out who this N. was. And most important of all, my dear young fellow, be sure to make a copy of that farewell note. I'll show it to my Yevdokia Andreevna this eveningshe has a fondness for such sentimental stuff. And don't you keep me waiting eitherget yourself back here as quick as you can."
Xavier Grushin's final words were already addressed to the back of the young collegiate registrar, who was in such great haste to forsake his dreary oilcloth-covered desk that he nearly forgot his peaked cap.
Excerpted from The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin Copyright© 2003 by Boris Akunin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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