“Anton, my dear fellow,” the other, said, “well, you understand what I mean; God knows. You may be sure . . . confound it all!”

The second bell sounded, and then the third. The sympathizing friend stepped out of the carriage, and, as the train started, he waved an odd kind of farewell greeting, as if he were threatening him with his fists.

In the carriage were a number of poor people, Jews, women with enormously wide cloaks, who had elbowed their way to their seats, and sat chattering or smoking.

The student stood up and looked out of the window without seeing. Lines of sparks like living fire passed by the grimy window-pane, and balls of vapor and smoke, resembling large tufts of wool, were dashed to pieces and hurried to the ground by the wind. The smoke curled round the small shrubs growing close to the ground, moistened by the rain in the valley. The dusk of the autumn day spread a dim light over the landscape, and produced an effect of indescribable melancholy. Poor boy! Poor boy!

Bounds of conscious thought

The loneliness of boundless sorrow was expressed in his weary look as he gazed out of the window. I knew that the pivot on which all his emotions turned was the anxiety of uncertainty, and that beyond the bounds of conscious thought an unknown loom was weaving for him a shadowy thread of hope. He saw, he heard nothing, while his vacant eyes followed the balls of smoke. As the train traveled along, I knew that he was miserable, tired out, that he would have liked to cry quietly. The thread of hope wound itself round his heart: Who could tell? perhaps his father was recovering, perhaps all would be well.

Suddenly (I knew it would come), the blood rushed from his face, his lips went pale and tightened; he was gazing into the far distance with wide-open eyes. It was as if a threatening hand, piercing the grief, loneliness and dread that weighed on him, was pointing at him, as if the wind were rousing him with the cry: “Beware!” His thread of hope was strained to breaking-point, and the naked truth, which he had not quite faced till that minute, struck him through the heart like a sword.

Had I approached him at that instant, and told him I was an omniscient spirit and knew his village well, and that his father was not lying dead, he would have fallen at my feet and believed, and I should have done him an infinite kindness.

But I did not speak to him, and I did not take his hand. All I wished to do was merely to watch him with the interest and insatiable curiosity which the human heart ever arouses in me.

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