‘My friends,’ he cried, having run down again to the meadow by the shore, ‘my friends, good-bye. I shall remain for good in that house over there. We can't travel together any longer. I shall go no farther. I am not going anywhere. Good-bye!’
‘How is that?’ said the leader in a queer voice, after a short pause, during which the smile on the lips of Vasili Ivanovich slowly faded, while the people who had been sitting on the grass half-rose and stared at him with stony eyes.
‘But why?’ he faltered. ‘It is here that ...’
‘Silence!’ the post-office clerk suddenly bellowed with extraordinary force. ‘Come to your senses, you drunken swine!’
‘Wait a moment, gentlemen,’ said the leader, and, having passed his tongue over his lips, he turned to Vasili Ivanovich.
‘You probably have been drinking,’ he said quietly. ‘Or have gone out of your mind. You are taking a pleasure trip with us. Tomorrow, according to the appointed itinerary,—look at your ticket,—we are all returning to Berlin. There can be no question of anyone—in this case you—refusing to continue this communal journey. We were singing today a certain song—try and remember what it said. That's enough now! Come, children, we are going on.’
‘There will be beer at Ewald,’ said Schramm in a caressing voice. ‘Five hours by train. Walks. A hunting lodge. Coal mines. Lots of interesting things.’
‘I shall complain,’ wailed Vasili Ivanovich. ‘Give me back my bag. I have the right to remain where I want. Oh, but this is nothing less than an invitation to a beheading’ —he told me he cried when they seized him by the arms.
‘If necessary we shall carry you,’ said the leader grimly, ‘but that is not likely to be pleasant for you. I am responsible for each of you, and shall bring back each of you, alive or dead.'
Swept along a forest road as in a hideous fairy tale, squeezed, twisted, Vasili Ivanovich could not even turn around, and only felt how the radiance behind his back receded, fractured by trees, and then it was no longer there, and all around the dark firs fretted but could not interfere. As soon as everyone had got into the car and the train had pulled off, they began to beat him—they beat him a long time, and with a good deal of inventiveness. It occurred to them, among other things, to use a corkscrew on his palms; then on his feet. The post-office clerk, who had been to Russia, fashioned a knout out of a stick and a belt, and began to use it with devilish dexterity. Atta boy! The other men relied more on their iron heels, whereas the women were satisfied to pinch and to slap. All had a wonderful time.
After returning to Berlin, he called on me; was much changed; sat down quietly, putting his hands on his knees; told his story; kept on repeating that he must resign his position, begged me to let him go, insisted that he could not continue, that he had not the strength to belong to mankind any longer. Of course, I let him go.