Youth (1856)/ X.



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Youth by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by C. J. Hogarth.
X. The Examination In History

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X.

THE EXAMINATION IN HISTORY

"I konin and Tenieff!" suddenly shouted some one from the professors' end of the hall.

"Go on, Ikonin! You are being called," said a tall, red-faced gymnasium student near me. "But who is this BARtenieff or MORtenieff or somebody? I don't know him."

"It must be you," whispered St. Jerome loudly in my ear.

"MY name is IRtenieff," I said to the red-faced student. "Do you think that was the name they were calling out?"

"Yes. Why on earth don't you go up? " he replied. "Lord, what a dandy!" he added under his breath, yet not so quietly but that I failed to hear the words as they came wafted to me from below the desk. In front of me walked Ikonin--a tall young man of about twenty-five, who was one of those whom I had classed as oldish men. He wore a tight brown frockcoat and a blue satin tie, and had wisps of flaxen hair carefully brushed over his collar in the peasant style. His appearance had already caught my attention when we were sitting among the desks, and had given me an impression that he was not bad-looking. Also I had noticed that he was very talkative. Yet what struck me most about his physiognomy was a tuft, of queer red hairs which he had under his chin, as well as, still more, a strange habit of continually unbuttoning his waistcoat and scratching his chest under his shirt.

Behind the table to which we were summoned sat three Professors, none of whom acknowledged our salutations. A youngish professor was shuffling a bundle of tickets like a pack of cards; another one, with a star on his frockcoat, was gazing hard at a gymnasium student, who was repeating something at great speed about Charles the Great, and adding to each of his sentences the word nakonetz [= the English colloquialism "you know."] while a third one--an old man in spectacles--proceeded to bend his head down as we approached, and, peering at us through his glasses, pointed silently to the tickets. I felt his glance go over both myself and Ikonin, and also felt sure that something about us had displeased him (perhaps it was Ikonin's red hairs), for, after taking another look at the pair of us, he motioned impatiently to us to be quick in taking our tickets. I felt vexed and offended-firstly, because none of the professors had responded to our bows, and, secondly, because they evidently coupled me with Ikonin under the one denomination of "candidates," and so were condemning me in advance on account of Ikonin's red hairs. I took my ticket boldly and made ready to answer, but the professor's eye passed over my head and alighted upon Ikonin. Accordingly, I occupied myself in reading my ticket. The questions printed on it were all familiar to me, so, as I silently awaited my turn, I gazed at what was passing near me, Ikonin seemed in no way diffident--rather the reverse, for, in reaching for his ticket, he threw his body half-way across the table. Then he gave his long hair a shake, and rapidly conned over what was written on his ticket. I think he had just opened his mouth to answer when the professor with the star dismissed the gymnasium student with a word of commendation, and then turned and looked at Ikonin. At once the latter seemed taken back, and stopped short. For about two minutes there was a dead silence.

"Well?" said the professor in the spectacles.

Once more Ikonin opened his mouth, and once more remained silent.

" Come! You are not the only one to be examined. Do you mean to answer or do you not?" said the youngish professor, but Ikonin did not even look at him. He was gazing fixedly at his ticket and uttered not a single word. The professor in the spectacles scanned him through his glasses, then over them, then without them (for, indeed, he had time to take them off, to wipe their lenses carefully, and to replace them). Still not a word from Ikonin. All at once, however, a smile spread itself over his face, and he gave his long hair another shake. Next he reached across the table, laid down his ticket, looked at each of the professors in turn and then at myself, and finally, wheeling round on his heels, made a gesture with his hand and returned to the desks. The professors stared blankly at one another.

"Bless the fellow!" said the youngish professor. "What an original!"

It was now my turn to move towards the table, but the professors went on talking in undertones among themselves, as though they were unaware of my presence. At the moment, I felt firmly persuaded that the three of them were engrossed solely with the question of whether I should merely PASS the examination or whether I should pass it WELL, and that it was only swagger which made them pretend that they did not care either way, and behave as though they had not seen me.

When at length the professor in the spectacles turned to me with an air of indifference, and invited me to answer, I felt hurt, as I looked at him, to think that he should have so undeceived me: wherefore I answered brokenly at first. In time, however, things came easier to my tongue, and, inasmuch as all the questions bore upon Russian history (which I knew thoroughly), I ended with eclat, and even went so far, in my desire to convince the professors that I was not Ikonin and that they must not in anyway confound me with him, as to offer to draw a second ticket. The professor in the spectacles, however, merely nodded his head, said "That will do," and marked something in his register. On returning to the desks, I at once learnt from the gymnasium men (who somehow seemed to know everything) that I had been placed fifth.


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