Among the company was a friend of mine, a boy named Tourchaninov, who had a very squeaky voice and whom we all considered a very comical fellow. While we were sitting pondering on what was to be done, he suddenly chirped up and exclaimed: ‘If it’s difficult to get pistols, it’s easy to get cannon.’
Everybody laughed, as they always did at everything he said.
‘What are you laughing at, you silly devils!’ he retorted. ‘It’s quite possible to use cannon for your purpose. There’s only one drawback. You’ve decided that one of you must die, but in a duel with cannon both of you might die. If you consent to take such a risk, then to carry out my proposal is the easiest thing in the world.’
What he proposed was that we should both go to the artillery range where firing practice was held, lie down and hide somewhere between the guns and the targets and await our doom. Whichever of us should be hit by a random shell would be the one fated to die.
We all knew the artillery range very well. It was not far away in the mountains encircling the town. It was a fairly large tract of land, from six to nine miles square, which it was absolutely forbidden to enter at certain times of the year, during firing practice, and which was strictly guarded on all sides.
We often went there, chiefly at night, at the instigation of two big boys named Aivazov and Denisenko, who had a certain authority over us, to collect, or more truly to steal, the copper parts of the used shells and the scraps of lead which lay scattered about after the shells had burst, and which we later sold by weight for a good price.
Although it was strictly forbidden to collect, let alone sell, the remnants of the shells, we nevertheless contrived to do so by taking advantage of moonlight nights and of those times when the guards were less vigilant.
As a result of the fresh debate held on Tourchaninov’s proposal, it was categorically decided by all present to carry out this project the very next day.