"Beat him! . . . Let the traitor perish and not disgrace the Russian name!" shouted Rostopchin."Cut him down. I command it."
Hearing not so much the words as the angry tone of Rostopchin's voice, the crowd moaned and heaved forward, but again paused.
"Count!" exclaimed the timid yet theatrical voice of Vereshchagin in the midst of the momentary silence that ensued,"Count! One God is above us both . . . ." He lifted his head and again the thick vein in his thin neck filled with blood and the color rapidly came and went in his face.
He did not finish what he wished to say.
"Cut him down! I command it . . ." shouted Rostopchin, suddenly growing pale like Vereshchagin.
"Draw sabers!" cried the dragoon officer, drawing his own.
Another still stronger wave flowed through the crowd and reaching the front ranks carried it swaying to the very steps of the porch. The tall youth, with a stony look on his face, and rigid and uplifted arm, stood beside Vereshchagin.
"Saber him!" the dragoon officer almost whispered.
And one of the soldiers, his face all at once distorted with fury, struck Vereshchagin on the head with the blunt side of his saber.
"Ah!" cried Vereshchagin in meek surprise, looking round with a frightened glance as if not understanding why this was done to him. A similar moan of surprise and horror ran through the crowd."O Lord!" exclaimed a sorrowful voice.
But after the exclamation of surprise that had escaped from Vereshchagin he uttered a plaintive cry of pain, and that cry was fatal. The barrier of human feeling, strained to the utmost, that had held the crowd in check suddenly broke. The crime had begun and must now be completed. The plaintive moan of reproach was drowned by the threatening and angry roar of the crowd. Like the seventh and last wave that shatters a ship, that last irresistible wave burst from the rear and reached the front ranks, carrying them off their feet and engulfing them all. The dragoon was about to repeat his blow. Vereshchagin with a cry of horror, covering his head with his hands, rushed toward the crowd. The tall youth, against whom he stumbled, seized his thin neck with his hands and, yelling wildly, fell with him under the feet of the pressing, struggling crowd.
Some beat and tore at Vereshchagin, others at the tall youth. And the screams of those that were being trampled on and of those who tried to rescue the tall lad only increased the fury of the crowd. It was a long time before the dragoons could extricate the bleeding youth, beaten almost to death. And for a long time, despite the feverish haste with which the mob tried to end the work that had been begun, those who were hitting, throttling, and tearing at Vereshchagin were unable to kill him, for the crowd pressed from all sides, swaying as one mass with them in the center and rendering it impossible for them either to kill him or let him go.
"Hit him with an ax, eh! . . . Crushed? . . . Traitor, he sold Christ . . . . Still alive . . . tenacious . . . serves him right! Torture serves a thief right. Use the hatchet! . . . What — still alive?"
Only when the victim ceased to struggle and his cries changed to a long-drawn, measured death rattle did the crowd around his prostrate, bleeding corpse begin rapidly to change places. Each one came up, glanced at what had been done, and with horror, reproach, and astonishment pushed back again.
"O Lord! The people are like wild beasts! How could he be alive?" voices in the crowd could be heard saying."Quite a young fellow too . . . must have been a merchant's son. What men! . . . and they say he's not the right one . . . . How not the right one? . . . O Lord! And there's another has been beaten too — they say he's nearly done for . . . . Oh, the people . . . Aren't they afraid of sinning? . . ." said the same mob now, looking with pained distress at the dead body with its long, thin, half-severed neck and its livid face stained with blood and dust.
A painstaking police officer, considering the presence of a corpse in his excellency's courtyard unseemly, told the dragoons to take it away. Two dragoons took it by its distorted legs and dragged it along the ground. The gory, dust-stained, half-shaven head with its long neck trailed twisting along the ground. The crowd shrank back from it.
At the moment when Vereshchagin fell and the crowd closed in with savage yells and swayed about him, Rostopchin suddenly turned pale and, instead of going to the back entrance where his carriage awaited him, went with hurried steps and bent head, not knowing where and why, along the passage leading to the rooms on the ground floor. The count's face was white and he could not control the feverish twitching of his lower jaw.
"This way, your excellency . . . Where are you going? . . . This way, please . . ." said a trembling, frightened voice behind him.
Count Rostopchin was unable to reply and, turning obediently, went in the direction indicated. At the back entrance stood his caleche. The distant roar of the yelling crowd was audible even there. He hastily took his seat and told the coachman to drive him to his country house in Sokolniki.
When they reached the Myasnitski Street and could no longer hear the shouts of the mob, the count began to repent. He remembered with dissatisfaction the agitation and fear he had betrayed before his subordinates."The mob is terrible — disgusting," he said to himself in French."They are like wolves whom nothing but flesh can appease.""Count! One God is above us both!" — Vereshchagin's words suddenly recurred to him, and a disagreeable shiver ran down his back. But this was only a momentary feeling and Count Rostopchin smiled disdainfully at himself."I had other duties," thought he."The people had to be appeased. Many other victims have perished and are perishing for the public good" — and he began thinking of his social duties to his family and to the city entrusted to him, and of himself — not himself as Theodore Vasilyevich Rostopchin (he fancied that Theodore Vasilyevich Rostopchin was sacrificing himself for the public good) but himself as governor, the representative of authority and of the Tsar."Had I been simply Theodore Vasilyevich my course of action would have been quite different, but it was my duty to safeguard my life and dignity as commander in chief."
Lightly swaying on the flexible springs of his carriage and no longer hearing the terrible sounds of the crowd, Rostopchin grew physically calm and, as always happens, as soon as he became physically tranquil his mind devised reasons why he should be mentally tranquil too. The thought which tranquillized Rostopchin was not a new one. Since the world began and men have killed one another no one has ever committed such a crime against his fellow man without comforting himself with this same idea. This idea is le bien public, the hypothetical welfare of other people.
To a man not swayed by passion that welfare is never certain, but he who commits such a crime always knows just where that welfare lies. And Rostopchin now knew it.
Not only did his reason not reproach him for what he had done, but he even found cause for self-satisfaction in having so successfully contrived to avail himself of a convenient opportunity to punish a criminal and at the same time pacify the mob.
"Vereshchagin was tried and condemned to death," thought Rostopchin (though the Senate had only condemned Vereshchagin to hard labor),"he was a traitor and a spy. I could not let him go unpunished and so I have killed two birds with one stone: to appease the mob I gave them a victim and at the same time punished a miscreant."
Having reached his country house and begun to give orders about domestic arrangements, the count grew quite tranquil.
Half an hour later he was driving with his fast horses across the Sokolniki field, no longer thinking of what had occurred but considering what was to come. He was driving to the Yauza bridge where he had heard that Kutuzov was. Count Rostopchin was mentally preparing the angry and stinging reproaches he meant to address to Kutuzov for his deception. He would make that foxy old courtier feel that the responsibility for all the calamities that would follow the abandonment of the city and the ruin of Russia (as Rostopchin regarded it) would fall upon his doting old head. Planning beforehand what he would say to Kutuzov, Rostopchin turned angrily in his caleche and gazed sternly from side to side.