Cain (Kuprin)

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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A captain leading a punitive expedition encounters an enigmatic old man who reveals himself as the immortal Cain, cursed to witness humanity's violence throughout history.

Captain Markof led a company of soldiers on a punitive expedition. The men were tired and irritable from their long journey, and upon arrival, they began executing suspected rebels and those without passports. Captain Markof explains his motivation for leading the punitive expedition, emphasizing his loyalty to Russia and his belief in the necessity of violence.

I would make it clear to the whole world that he who dares to rise up against the might of the great power of Russia shall be crushed as a worm under the heel.

One evening, the company stopped at a half-ruined baronial farm to rest before continuing to a nearby town. That night, Markof was visited by an old man who had been sentenced to death. The old man spoke of the atrocities committed by Markof and his ancestors, and revealed that he had been present at many historical events involving bloodshed and violence. He claimed to be Cain, the first murderer, cursed by God to wander the earth and witness the suffering he had caused.

Captain Markof — narrator; military officer leading a punitive expedition; stern, strong-willed, and weary.
The Old Man (Cain) — mysterious, immortal figure; gentle, melancholic, and burdened by his eternal curse.

The Old Man (Cain) recounts the story of the first murder, revealing his true identity and the curse that has forced him to witness humanity's violence throughout history.

I saw how the blood of man was first shed upon the earth. There were two brothers. One was gentle, tender, industrious, compassionate; the other, the elder, was proud, cruel, and envious.

The next morning, Markof awoke to find that the old man had been executed as ordered. Feeling tormented by his fever and haunted by the old man's words, Markof decided to resign from his position and hand over command to his sergeant-major.