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Huilunsoittaja

Anton: Chapter 24, Part I

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It was a bitterly chill night one October, and it seemed winter was arriving early. Flurries were in the air, and the wind was biting. Not that it mattered to Anton, he stayed in the clubs all night, even if he fell asleep there sometimes.
But this night was different. He had a premonition that something was going to happen to him. For the first time in a long time, he decided not to waste himself but drank sparingly.
"Maybe... Katerina will come tonight... but why would she come? It's so cold. But it's not too late, only 9."
This evening, he only gambled a little, and instead decided to do something he didn't do as often. He joined a debate among some savants of the club, because they were talking of a very interesting subject.
As is usual, 2 men of high education were pitted against each other, and their friends sat on either sides of them of a round table. More men stood around the edges. Only the 2 men spoke, although some commented once in a while, or asked a question. The subject at hand was philosophical.
"This is my view of it all," a middle-aged man in a black coat was saying, "I don't find that it is evil to want happiness. I think most here would say that we humans were built to look for pleasure, and so it is not only a matter of trivial pursuit but our survival that we look for pleasure."
"Need for Pleasure is not always arising from the correct desires," replied a slightly younger man wearing a brown coat. "I believe desiring pleasure leads to evil consequences. Looking for one good thing leads to finding a worse thing behind it! That's why I don't want to look for pleasure. It can come to me as I will, and I will be grateful, but it will only pain me to strive for it. And besides, aren't things like covetousness, lust, and all other sorts of inordinate desires lead to wrong ends, particularly things that hurt not only the individual, but the overall human race?" Many began to murmur agreement.
"Can you give me an example of this?" the black coated man asked.
"I will, and many if you want."
"No, just one."
"Well... see, a man wants to buy a property. He has his own, but it's not enough for him, he wants more. He may want it so much that if he doesn't have the money, he will challenge even his own morality to get this property, because he knows that buying it will lead him to have a beautiful lot which to expand his business, create more wealth, and make him more happy. Thus, the man will fight to get what he wants, because he wants happiness. But then, say the owner of the land doesn't want to give it away. What will the man do? He may bribe, threaten, even incriminate his opponent to get what he wants. Isn't there such a story in the Bible?"
"Yes, about King Ahab of Israel wanting a certain Vineyard."
"Well, there you go. Pleasure leads to pain, pain for another individual who had nothing to do with the other man's plans. Now... what do you say to that?"
"I will say only this," the black coated man leaned over the table and looked the brown coated man in the eyes who seemed quite pleased with himself. "I will say only this... that man is settling for less."
This caused an enormous stir in the crowd around, saying it was a foolish answer and objecting but others agreeing. Anton watched this all silently, and it greatly interested him. A man standing spoke up.
"How can you mean this man would settle for less? He's getting what he wants, isn't he? How could he get something in the same circumstance that would be better?"
"Do you think buying that single piece of more property would make him perfectly happy?"
"Well, perhaps not perfectly, but enough."
"Enough isn't enough. He will certainly want more land, and if he could, he would desire to own the whole world. And still perhaps he wouldn't be happy."
"So then you prove me stance! Why search for pleasure when it will only hurt you more?" A large number of people exclaimed their support of the brown-coated man.
"I wasn't finished," the black-coated man said patiently.
"Well, go on then."
"I have a question for you. Say, this man were to desire a piece of property, and from great fortune, it suddenly comes into his hands for free, because the former owner died and since there was no will or family, it passed on to him automatically. It wasn't by his own cunning or skill that he acquired the land. So... whom does he give credit to? To whom does he thank?"
The brown-coated man frowned. "What need is there to thank anyone?"
"Because he didn't deserve it."
"Well... I still don't think anyone."
"And thus, you prove my point. That the man had a good desire, but his motive was really to increase his value of his own skills, and thus what he actually wanted was spoiled with ingratitude."
Many frowned disapprovingly at his remark.
"I still don't understand what you're going for, my good sir," the brown-coated man replied, furrowing his brow.
"If he was on a road to finding true pleasure, regardless of what he wanted to make him happy, it wouldn't matter how, if it was through his power or not. Because he knew that God gave it to him, and so he would be content with whatever he had."
There was another outcry to this remark, and the brown-coated man immediately jumped upon it.
"So this is a matter of religion then? I can assure you that you don't need religion to find pleasure or be happy, and if you're saying that's not so, I am categorically opposed to you." He sat back in his chair with a triumphant smile, and many approved aloud.
"This is not a question of religion now, or is it? I am talking about what it means to be a true hedonist."
"I am more hedonistic than any snobbish religious proselyte!"
"But you just said you don't look for pleasure. You are thus a Stoic. I am a true Hedonist because I do search for pleasure. It only matters where and who you find this pleasure in."
Again, more people stole glances at each other in confusion and disapproval. Anton watched this all in silence, and he was genuinely fascinated.
"You are right there, my good sir," the brown-coated man acceded. "But surely people are perfectly happy going after their own desires."
"Not when you realize you could be following the desire of another that you truly love, because they truly love you and are beyond the imperfections of mortal Man. God is above all worth desiring."
"That is your opinion," the brown-coated man replied gruffly.
"And it is the right one. I don't mean to brag, but I know what it means to be truly happy when you are happy in the One who deserves the credit and glory for what they've done for you in perfect love."
A new sensation came over some of the people. "That's well said," Anton heard someone whisper to another near him.
"There is no person like that. That is a figment of your imagination, imbedded into you by others."
"Or... it's a Hope that one can only dream of for some, but is reality for others."
Anton stared in amazement at this, and had to speak up.
"What if one has been given a desire by God by which He failed to satisfy in this life?" Everyone turned to him in surprise.
The man in the black coat turned to Anton and smiled.
"He didn't fail to satisfy it, He simply made you long for it. Then He will satisfy it in the next life, if you truly believe."
"What if it can't be possible in the next life?"
"Why ever not?"
"Because there is no marriage in heaven, so I've heard."
The man in the black coat frowned.
"Perhaps then it's something you must let go of."
"No!" Anton suddenly cried. "I was meant to have my desire, it's all my life was meant for! I have been tormented for the destruction of my dream half my life! And yet... I love my torment," he smiled sickly.
Everyone stared at him with shock.
"To find pleasure in torment... yes... I admit that is one of the most powerful," the black-coated man replied softly. "So then, you are speaking of an individual, who you are determined will give you happiness. Who is that?"
"Katerina," Anton said softly, and with much reverence.
The black-coated man stood up in a flash. Everyone around him murmured and recoiled away in surprise.
"You!" the man cried out with the greatest shock of everyone. His eyes were on fire, but not from anger. It was almost terror.
"What about me? Who are you?" Anton asked without emotion.
The man said nothing but continued staring, as if Anton was a ghost. Everyone frowned, and started whispering and asking each other what this was all about.
"Who are you?" Anton asked again. "Do you know Katerina... no... don't tell me! She's dead isn't she?"
"No," the man finally managed to say, "No... she's very much alive."
"Then you know where she is?" Anton closed in near him. "Tell me where she is." His eyes were glittering, but it was something abnormal, even animal.
"Here I am," a woman's grave voice came behind him.
20 paces away at the entrance to the room stood Katerina Karlovna in a jet black dress. She had aged, but it was a look of maturity and not frailty. Her face was stern and beautiful still, like a goddess. Katerina had listened to most of the conversation herself, but when she heard Anton's voice, she made her move finally to be seen.
Their eyes met yet again after a very long absence. A great hush came over the room, as people sitting at all the tables were aware of a great confrontation.
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