The Seven Who Were Hanged

The Seven Who Were Hanged

THE SEVEN WHO WERE HANGED LEONID ANDREYEV In "Red Laughter" he depicted the horrors of war as few men had ever before done it. He dipped his pen into the blood of Russia and wrote the tragedy of the Manchurian war. In his "Life of Man" Andreyev produced a great imaginative "morality" play which has been ranked by European critics with some of the greatest dramatic masterpieces. The story of "The Seven Who Were Hanged" is thus far his most important achievement. The keen psychological insight and the masterly simplicity with which Andreyev has penetrated and depicted each of the tragedies of the seven who were hanged place him in the same class as an artist with Russia's greatest masters of fiction Dostoyevsky Turgenev and Tolstoy. I consider myself fortunate to be able to present to the English-reading public this remarkable work which has already produced a profound impression in Europe and which I believe is destined for a long time to come to play an important part in opening the eyes of the world to the horrors perpetrated in Russia and to the violence and iniquity of the destruction of human life whatever the error or the crime. New York. HERMAN BERNSTEIN. INTRODUCTION [Translation of the Foregoing Letter in Russian] I am very glad that "The Story of the Seven Who Were Hanged" will be read in English. The misfortune of us all is that we know so little even nothing about one another-neither about the soul nor the life the sufferings the habits the inclinations the aspirations of one another. Literature which I have the honor to serve is dear to me just because the noblest task it sets before itself is that of wiping out boundaries and distances. As in a hard shell every human being is enclosed in a cover of body dress and life. Who is man? We may only conjecture. What constitutes his joy or his sorrow? We may guess only by his acts which are oft-times enigmatic; by his laughter and by his tears which are often entirely incomprehensible to us. And if we Russians who live so closely together in constant misery understand one another so poorly that we mercilessly put to death those who should be pitied or even rewarded and reward those who should be punished by contempt and anger -how much more difficult is it for you Americans to understand distant Russia? But then it is just as difficult for us Russians to understand distant America of which we dream in our youth and over which we ponder so deeply in our years of maturity. The Jewish massacres and famine; a Parliament and executions; pillage and the greatest heroism; "The Black Hundred" and Leo Tolstoy-what a mixture of figures and conceptions what a fruitful source for all kinds of misunderstandings! The truth of life stands aghast in silence and its brazen falsehood is loudly shouting uttering pressing painful questions: "With whom shall I sympathize? Whom shall I trust? Whom shall I love?" In the story of "The Seven Who Were Hanged" I attempted to give a sincere and unprejudiced answer to some of these questions. That I have treated ruling and slaughtering Russia with restraint and mildness may best be gathered from the fact that the Russian censor has permitted my book to circulate. This is sufficient evidence when we recall how many books brochures and newspapers have found eternal rest in the peaceful shade of the police stations where they have risen to the patient sky in the smoke and flame of bonfires. But I did not attempt to condemn the Government the fame of whose wisdom and virtues has already spread far beyond the boundaries of our unfortunate fatherland. Modest and bashful far beyond all measure of her virtues Russia would sincerely wish to forego this honor but unfortunately the free press of America and Europe has not spared her modesty and has given a sufficiently clear picture of her glorious activities. Perhaps I am wrong in this: it is possible that many honest people in America believe in the purity of the Russian Government's intentions--but this question is of such importance that it requires a special treatment for which it is necessary to have both time and calm of soul. But there is no calm soul in Russia. My task was to point out the horror and the iniquity of capital punishment under any circumstances. The horror of capital punishment is great when it falls to the lot of courageous and honest people whose only guilt is their excess of love and the sense of righteousness-in such instances conscience revolts. But the rope is still more horrible when it forms the noose around the necks of weak and ignorant people. And however strange it may appear I look with a lesser grief and suffering upon the execution of the revolutionists such as Werner and Musya than upon the strangling of ignorant murderers miserable in mind and heart like Yanson and Tsiganok. Even the last mad horror of inevitably approaching execution Werner can offset by his enlightened mind and his iron will and Musya by her purity and her innocence. * * * But how are the weak and the sinful to face it if not in madness with the most violent shock to the very foundation of their souls? And these people now that the Government has steadied its hands through its experience with the revolutionists are being hanged throughout Russia-in some places one at a time in others ten at once. Children at play come upon badly buried bodies and the crowds which gather look with horror upon the peasants' boots that are sticking out of the ground; prosecutors who have witnessed these executions are becoming insane and are taken away to hospitals-while the people are being hanged-being hanged. I am deeply grateful to you for the task you have undertaken in translating this sad story. Knowing the sensitiveness of the American people who at one time sent across the ocean steamers full of bread for famine-stricken Russia I am convinced that in this case our people in their misery and bitterness will also find understanding and sympathy. And if my truthful story about seven of the thousands who were hanged will help toward destroying at least one of the barriers which separate one nation from another one human being from another one soul from another soul I shall consider myself happy. Respectfully yours LEONID ANDREYEV. THE SEVEN WHO WERE HANGED CHAPTER I AT ONE O'CLOCK YOUR EXCELLENCY! As the Minister was a very stout man inclined to apoplexy they feared to arouse in him any dangerous excitement and it was with every possible precaution that they informed him that a very serious attempt upon his life had been planned. When they saw that he received the news calmly even with a smile they gave him also the details. The attempt was to be made on the following day at the time that he was to start out with his official report; several men terrorists plans had already been betrayed by a provocateur and who were now under the vigilant surveillance of detectives were to meet at one o'clock in the afternoon in front of his house and armed with bombs and revolvers were to wait till he came out. There the terrorists were to be trapped. "Wait!" muttered the Minister perplexed. "How did they know that I was to leave the house at one o'clock in the afternoon with my report when I myself learned of it only the day before yesterday?" The Chief of the Guards stretched out his arms with a shrug. "Exactly at one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency" he said. Half surprised half commending the work of the police who had managed everything skilfully the Minister shook his head a morose smile upon his thick dark lips and still smiling obediently and not desiring to interfere with the plans of the police he hastily made ready and went out to pass the night in some one else's hospitable palace. His wife and his two children were also removed from the dangerous house before which the bomb-throwers were to gather upon the following day. While the lights were burning in the palace and courteous familiar faces were bowing to him smiling and expressing their concern the dignitary experienced a sensation of pleasant excitement-he felt as if he had already received or was soon to receive some great and unexpected reward. But the people went away the lights were extinguished and through the mirrors the lace-like and fantastic reflection of the electric lamps on the street quivered across the ceiling and over the walls. A stranger in the house with its paintings its statues and its silence the light-itself silent and indefinite-awakened painful thoughts in him as to the vanity of bolts and guards and walls. And then in the dead of night in the silence and solitude of a strange bedroom a sensation of unbearable fear swept over the dignitary. He had some kidney trouble and whenever he grew strongly agitated his face his hands and his feet became swollen. Now rising like a mountain of bloated flesh above the taut springs of the bed he felt with the anguish of a sick man his swollen face which seemed to him to belong to some one else. Unceasingly he kept thinking of the cruel fate which people were preparing for him. He recalled one after another all the recent horrible instances of bombs that had been thrown at men of even greater eminence than himself; he recalled how the bombs had torn bodies to pieces had spattered brains over dirty brick walls had knocked teeth from their roots. And influenced by these meditations it seemed to him that his own stout sickly body outspread on the bed was already experiencing the fiery shock of the explosion. He seemed to be able to feel his arms being severed from the shoulders his teeth knocked out his brains scattered into particles his feet growing numb lying quietly their toes upward like those of a dead man. He stirred with an effort breathed loudly and coughed in order not to seem to himself to resemble a corpse in any way. He encouraged himself with the live noise of the grating springs of the rustling blanket; and to assure himself that he was actually alive and not dead he uttered in a bass voice loudly and abruptly in the silence and solitude of the bedroom: "Molodtsi! Molodtsi! Molodtsi! (Good boys)!" He was praising the detectives the police and the soldiers-all those who guarded his life and who so opportunely and so cleverly had averted the assassination. But even though he stirred even though he praised his protectors even though he forced an unnatural smile in order to express his contempt for the foolish unsuccessful terrorists he nevertheless did not believe in his safety he was not sure that his life would not leave him suddenly at once. Death which people had devised for him and which was only in their minds in their intention seemed to him to be already standing there in the room. It seemed to him that Death would remain standing there and would not go away until those people had been captured until the bombs had been taken from them until they had been placed in a strong prison. There Death was standing in the corner and would not go away-it could not go away even as an obedient sentinel stationed on guard by a superior's will and order. "At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!" this phrase kept ringing changing its tone continually: now it was cheerfully mocking now angry now dull and obstinate. It sounded as if a hundred wound-up gramophones had been placed in his room and all of them one after another were shouting with idiotic repetition the words they had been made to shout: "At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!" And suddenly this one o'clock in the afternoon to-morrow which but a short while ago was not in any way different from other hours which was only a quiet movement of the hand along the dial of his gold watch assumed an ominous finality sprang out of the dial began to live separately stretched itself into an enormously huge black pole which cut all life in two. It seemed as if no other hours had existed before it and no other hours would exist after it-as if this hour alone insolent and presumptuous had a right to a certain peculiar existence. "Well what do you want?" asked the Minister angrily muttering between his teeth. The gramophone shouted: "At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!" and the black pole smiled and bowed. Gnashing his teeth the Minister rose in his bed to a sitting posture leaning his face on the palms of his hands-he positively could not sleep on that dreadful night. Clasping his face in his swollen perfumed palms he pictured to himself with horrifying clearness how on the following morning not knowing anything of the plot against his life he would have risen would have drunk his coffee not knowing anything and then would have put on his coat in the hallway. And neither he nor the doorkeeper who would have handed him his fur coat nor the lackey who would have brought him the coffee would have known that it was utterly useless to drink coffee and to put on the coat since a few instants later everything- the fur coat and his body and the coffee within it-would be destroyed by an explosion would be seized by death. The doorkeeper would have opened the glass door. ... He the amiable kind gentle doorkeeper with the blue typical eyes of a soldier and with medals across his breast- he himself with his own hands would have opened the terrible door opened it because he knew nothing. Everybody would have smiled because they did not know anything. "Oho!" he suddenly said aloud and slowly removed his hands from his face. Peering into the darkness far ahead of him with a fixed strained look he outstretched his hand just as slowly felt the button on the wall and pressed it. Then he arose and without putting on his slippers walked in his bare feet over the rug in the strange unfamiliar bedroom found the button of another lamp upon the wall and pressed it. It became light and pleasant and only the disarranged bed with the blanket which had slipped off to the floor spoke of the horror not altogether past. In his night-clothes with his beard disheveled by his restless movements with his angry eyes the dignitary resembled any other angry old man who suffered with insomnia and shortness of breath. It was as if the death which people were preparing for him had made him bare had torn away from him the magnificence and splendor which had surrounded him-and it was hard to believe that it was he who had so much power that his body was but an ordinary plain human body that must have perished terribly in the flame and roar of a monstrous explosion. Without dressing himself and not feeling the cold he sat down in the first armchair he found stroking his disheveled beard and fixed his eyes in deep calm thoughtfulness upon the unfamiliar plaster figures of the ceiling. So that was the trouble! That was why he had trembled in fear and had become so agitated! That was why Death seemed to stand in the corner and would not go away could not go away! "Fools!" he said emphatically with contempt. "Fools!" he repeated more loudly and turned his head slightly toward the door that those to whom he was referring might hear it. He was referring to those whom he had praised hut a moment before who in the excess of their zeal had told him of the plot against his life. "Of course" he thought deeply an easy convincing idea arising in his mind. "Now that they have told me I know and feel terrified but if I had not been told I would not have known anything and would have drunk my coffee calmly. After that Death would have come-but then am I so afraid of Death? Here have I been suffering with kidney trouble and I must surely die from it some day and yet I am not afraid-because I do not know anything. And those fools told me: 'At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!' and they thought I would be glad. But instead of that Death stationed itself in the corner and would not go away. It would not go away because it was my thought. It is not death that is terrible but the knowledge of it: it would be utterly impossible to live if a man could know exactly and definitely the day and hour of his death. And the fools cautioned me: 'At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!' " He began to feel light-hearted and cheerful as if some one had told him that he was immortal that he would never die. And feeling himself again strong and wise amidst the herd of fools who had so stupidly and impudently broken into the mystery of the future he began to think of the bliss of ignorance and his thoughts were the painful thoughts of an old sick man who had gone through endless experience. It was not given to any living being-man or beast -to know the day and hour of death. Here had he been ill not long ago and the physicians told him that he must expect the end that he should make his final arrangements-but he had not believed them and he remained alive. In his youth he had become entangled in an affair and had resolved to end his life; he had even loaded the revolver had "written his letters and had fixed upon 'the hour for suicide-but before the very end he had suddenly changed his mind. It would always be thus-at the very last moment something would change an unexpected accident would befall-no one could tell when he would die. "At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!" those kind asses had said to him and although they had told him of it only that death might he averted the mere knowledge of its possibility at a certain hour again filled him with horror. It was probable that some day he should be assassinated but it would not happen to-morrow-it would not happen to-morrow-and he could sleep undisturbed as if he were really immortal. Fools-they did not know what a great law they had dislodged what an abyss they had opened when they said in their idiotic kindness: "At one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency!" "No not at one o'clock in the afternoon your Excellency but no one knows when. No one knows when! What?" "Nothing" answered Silence "nothing." "But you did say something." "Nothing nonsense. I say: to-morrow at one o'clock in the afternoon!" There was a sudden acute pain in his heart-and he understood that he would have neither sleep nor peace nor joy until that accursed black hour standing out of the dial should have passed. Only the shadow of the knowledge of something which no living being could know stood there in the corner and that was enough to darken the world and envelop him with the impenetrable gloom of horror. The once disturbed fear of death diffused through his body penetrated into his bones. He no longer feared the murderers of the next day-they had vanished they had been forgotten they had mingled with the crowd of hostile faces and incidents which surrounded his life. He now feared something sudden and inevitable-an apoplectic stroke heart failure some foolish thin little vessel which might suddenly fail to withstand the pressure of the blood and might burst like a tight glove upon swollen fingers. His short thick neck seemed terrible to him. It became unbearable for him to look upon his short swollen ringers-to feel how short they were and how they were filled with the moisture of death. And if before when it was dark he had had to stir in order not to resemble a corpse now in the bright cold inimical dreadful light he was so filled with horror that he could not move in order to get a cigarette or to ring for some one. His nerves were giving way. Each one of them seemed as if it were a bent wire at the top of which there was a small head with mad wide-open frightened eyes and a convulsively gaping speechless mouth. He could not draw his breath. Suddenly in the darkness amidst the dust and cobwebs somewhere upon the ceiling an electric bell came to life. The small metallic tongue agitatedly in terror kept striking the edge of the ringing cap became silent-and again quivered in an unceasing frightened din. His Excellency was ringing his bell in his own room. People began to run. Here and there in the shadows upon the walls lamps flared up -there were not enough of them to give light but there were enough to cast shadows. The shadows appeared everywhere; they rose in the corners they stretched across the ceiling; tremulously clinging to each and every elevation they covered the walls. And it was hard to understand where all these innumerable deformed silent shadows- voiceless souls of voiceless objects-had been before. A deep trembling voice said something loudly. Then the doctor was hastily summoned by telephone; the dignitary was collapsing. The wife of his Excellency was also called. CHAPTER II CONDEMNED TO BE HANGED Everything befell as the police had foretold. Four terrorists three men and a woman armed with bombs infernal machines and revolvers were seized at the very entrance of the house and another woman was later found and arrested in the house where the conspiracy had been hatched. She was its mistress. At the same time a great deal of dynamite and half finished bomb explosives were seized. All those arrested were very young; the eldest of the men was twenty-eight years old the younger of the women was only nineteen. They were tried in the same fortress in which they were imprisoned after the arrest; they were tried swiftly and secretly as was done during that unmerciful time. At the trial all of them were calm but very serious and thoughtful. Their contempt for the judges was so intense that none of them wished to emphasize his daring by even a superfluous smile or by a feigned expression of cheerfulness. Each was simply as calm as was necessary to hedge in his soul from curious evil and inimical eyes the great gloom that precedes death. Sometimes they refused to answer questions; sometimes they answered briefly simply and precisely as though they were answering not the judge but statisticians for the purpose of supplying information for ...