He stared at it for some time after pulling it out. First it was a hint of metal he didn't fully recognize as he rummaged about, and made him curious. At least he still had some curiosity, that had not been completely ground down. Now after staring so long, remembering what it was, when he last saw it and the presumptive reason it was separated from him, he couldn't remember why he'd come down to the cellar in the first place. Isn't that always the way? Not that he cared about his original purpose now. Even relative to how much he cared about anything. He stared and relived that memory. Ironically, he hadn't felt as alive in the time since. He hadn't been moping about, neglecting his duties so as to burden Sonya, but he'd been like an automaton all that time. He could have bought a replacement, but he was so resigned he lacked the initiative. Now he felt that liveliness again, that he could choose his own fate rather than being subordinate to a man and duty he hated. There was nothing he could do about his past, and he was too old to make a new life for himself, but he could still cast off the one hanging about his neck. He felt the weight of it pressing down on his head and into his bones. He hated himself for squandering his life, and felt joy in his renewed ability to feel that hate. Oh, Vanya, you fool! Seize the day!
He would get around to cleaning it and making sure it worked, but he decided he ought to write a note first. After making that apology to the Professor, he had some duties for politeness' sake. But the primary person he knew he had to write it for was his niece. He had derision and envy toward others, but she shared his hell all these years and he had appreciated the company. She was set to waste her life as well, and with plenty more remaining than he, and she would only have more of it after. She had managed when he was at his most useless, and would have to do so again. He idly wished that this might somehow surpass her tolerance, and that she would begin a new life as he couldn't. But he knew that was not the case. She had told him as much: she would only wait until her next life in heaven, looking down on this fallen world and thinking back on her suffering in it while God in his pity repaid her. Vanya scoffed at that hope, as he had the convictions his mother instilled which once governed his life. All the ideas which haunt the minds of those too thought-ridden to actually live. Are the simple peasants happier, as his friend who treated them (but would not let Vanya use his morphine) believed? Doubtful in many cases, and the rest were fools. None would make anything of themselves, just as he hadn't. He could have even been satisfied as a fraud, as he knew was the case for a particular malingering fraud complaining of his every nothing all while Vanya served him with no expectation of gratitude.
Back to the note. He'd like to go out on a good note. If he hadn't done anything else in his life, he'd like people to say he did that in a respectable manner. He was an educated man, for all the good that did him, and now his education would actually be put toward something he cared about. He would do his best to soothe Sonya, though he was ultimately putting himself ahead of her. He wished he could come up with some argument which would convince her to put herself first for once, damn the estate and in-laws! She might never be so unforgivably fortunate as the Professor, but she could do better than to follow Vanya's own path. He'd have to phrase it in a way acceptable to one free of cynicism and full of conscientiousness. Something that enabled her enough hope to get over her resignation. If only he could remember what it was like to have hope for anything but the end! He wished he could get Astrov to write that for him, she was much more receptive to the doctor's high-minded approach. Of course, if Astrov could stomach Vanya's plan he wouldn't have insisted on retrieving the morphine. Vanya was certain that enough of Astrov's monologues had gone through his ears to make a halfway decent imitation. Vanya made a number of failed attempts before concluding that halfway decent was overly optimistic and that he would have to settle for the palest of imitations.
The next most important was his mother. He knew better than to attempt to convince her of anything. There was no avoiding how distraught she would be. All he could do was acknowledge the awfulness of what he was doing and to apologize. In a way, it would be easier to be sincere with her. Once he took the first step in facing the inevitable, the rest practically accomplished itself.
The easiest of all though was his brother-in-law. Vanya had worked for him for decades (something he still hadn't forgiven the Professor or himself), had received undeserved forgiveness after his first attempt with the gun, and now simply owed a parting message. There was no need for anything flowery or sentimental. He didn't want rancor either, for now that escape was in sight he felt little need for it. He considered adding something for Yelena, but thought better of it. He'd already said everything he wished to her. Would she think she had something to do with it? He hoped his opening explanation would be sufficient, but if not it would be best not to "protest too much".
With that, he added some notes for a few others and sealed his letter. He would have to place it somewhere on his person that would ensure it was still readable. He made some of his last arrangements and walked out of the house. He headed toward the orchard and wondered what it was Astrov saw in all those trees. It was a pleasant enough experience walking through, but only because of the knowledge that he wouldn't have to return. Did Astrov imagine the rest of the world disappeared when he was alone in his forests? Then he reminded himself how silly it was to compare himself to Astrov, who was doing something worthwhile and had the deserved admiration of all. No matter of it. The trees were fine enough, but Vanya would take the fire they produced any day, and particularly any cold night. A whim took him and he decided to scratch a marking on a trunk. He wondered if it would later be regarded as morbid. Putting that thought aside, he stood and admired his crude handiwork for a while, before taking out his revolver and putting an end to all thought.