The Torrents of Spring
Part 4 out of 5
Sergei Nikolaevitch, a round little man with a plump,
light-complexioned face, gazed first at the master of the house, then
raised his eyes to the ceiling. 'I had no first love,' he said at
last; 'I began with the second.'
'How was that?'
'It's very simple. I was eighteen when I had my first flirtation
with a charming young lady, but I courted her just as though it
were nothing new to me; just as I courted others later on. To speak
accurately, the first and last time I was in love was with my nurse
when I was six years old; but that's in the remote past. The details
of our relations have slipped out of my memory, and even if I
remembered them, whom could they interest?'
'Then how's it to be?' began the master of the house. 'There was
nothing much of interest about my first love either; I never fell
in love with any one till I met Anna Nikolaevna, now my wife,--and
everything went as smoothly as possible with us; our parents arranged
the match, we were very soon in love with each other, and got married
without loss of time. My story can be told in a couple of words. I
must confess, gentlemen, in bringing up the subject of first love, I
reckoned upon you, I won't say old, but no longer young, bachelors.
Can't you enliven us with something, Vladimir Petrovitch?'
'My first love, certainly, was not quite an ordinary one,' responded,
with some reluctance, Vladimir Petrovitch, a man of forty, with black
hair turning grey.
'Ah!' said the master of the house and Sergei Nikolaevitch with one
voice: 'So much the better.... Tell us about it.'
'If you wish it ... or no; I won't tell the story; I'm no hand at
telling a story; I make it dry and brief, or spun out and affected. If
you'll allow me, I'll write out all I remember and read it you.'
His friends at first would not agree, but Vladimir Petrovitch insisted
on his own way. A fortnight later they were together again, and
Vladimir Petrovitch kept his word.
His manuscript contained the following story:--
I was sixteen then. It happened in the summer of 1833.
I lived in Moscow with my parents. They had taken a country house for
the summer near the Kalouga gate, facing the Neskutchny gardens. I
was preparing for the university, but did not work much and was in no
No one interfered with my freedom. I did what I liked, especially
after parting with my last tutor, a Frenchman who had never been able
to get used to the idea that he had fallen 'like a bomb' (_comme
une bombe_) into Russia, and would lie sluggishly in bed with an
expression of exasperation on his face for days together. My father
treated me with careless kindness; my mother scarcely noticed me,
though she had no children except me; other cares completely absorbed
her. My father, a man still young and very handsome, had married her
from mercenary considerations; she was ten years older than he. My
mother led a melancholy life; she was for ever agitated, jealous and
angry, but not in my father's presence; she was very much afraid of
him, and he was severe, cold, and distant in his behaviour.... I
have never seen a man more elaborately serene, self-confident, and
I shall never forget the first weeks I spent at the country house.
The weather was magnificent; we left town on the 9th of May, on St.
Nicholas's day. I used to walk about in our garden, in the Neskutchny
gardens, and beyond the town gates; I would take some book with
me--Keidanov's Course, for instance--but I rarely looked into it, and
more often than anything declaimed verses aloud; I knew a great deal
of poetry by heart; my blood was in a ferment and my heart ached--so
sweetly and absurdly; I was all hope and anticipation, was a little
frightened of something, and full of wonder at everything, and was
on the tiptoe of expectation; my imagination played continually,
fluttering rapidly about the same fancies, like martins about a
bell-tower at dawn; I dreamed, was sad, even wept; but through the
tears and through the sadness, inspired by a musical verse, or the
beauty of evening, shot up like grass in spring the delicious sense of
youth and effervescent life.
I had a horse to ride; I used to saddle it myself and set off alone
for long rides, break into a rapid gallop and fancy myself a knight at
a tournament. How gaily the wind whistled in my ears! or turning my
face towards the sky, I would absorb its shining radiance and blue
into my soul, that opened wide to welcome it.
I remember that at that time the image of woman, the vision of love,
scarcely ever arose in definite shape in my brain; but in all I
thought, in all I felt, lay hidden a half-conscious, shamefaced
presentiment of something new, unutterably sweet, feminine....
This presentiment, this expectation, permeated my whole being; I
breathed in it, it coursed through my veins with every drop of blood
... it was destined to be soon fulfilled.
The place, where we settled for the summer, consisted of a wooden
manor-house with columns and two small lodges; in the lodge on
the left there was a tiny factory for the manufacture of cheap
wall-papers.... I had more than once strolled that way to look at
about a dozen thin and dishevelled boys with greasy smocks and worn
faces, who were perpetually jumping on to wooden levers, that pressed
down the square blocks of the press, and so by the weight of their
feeble bodies struck off the variegated patterns of the wall-papers.
The lodge on the right stood empty, and was to let. One day--three
weeks after the 9th of May--the blinds in the windows of this lodge
were drawn up, women's faces appeared at them--some family had
installed themselves in it. I remember the same day at dinner, my
mother inquired of the butler who were our new neighbours, and hearing
the name of the Princess Zasyekin, first observed with some respect,
'Ah! a princess!' ... and then added, 'A poor one, I suppose?'
'They arrived in three hired flies,' the butler remarked
deferentially, as he handed a dish: 'they don't keep their own
carriage, and the furniture's of the poorest.'
'Ah,' replied my mother, 'so much the better.'
My father gave her a chilly glance; she was silent.
Certainly the Princess Zasyekin could not be a rich woman; the lodge
she had taken was so dilapidated and small and low-pitched that
people, even moderately well-off in the world, would hardly have
consented to occupy it. At the time, however, all this went in at one
ear and out at the other. The princely title had very little effect on
me; I had just been reading Schiller's _Robbers_.
I was in the habit of wandering about our garden every evening on the
look-out for rooks. I had long cherished a hatred for those wary, sly,
and rapacious birds. On the day of which I have been speaking, I went
as usual into the garden, and after patrolling all the walks without
success (the rooks knew me, and merely cawed spasmodically at a
distance), I chanced to go close to the low fence which separated our
domain from the narrow strip of garden stretching beyond the lodge to
the right, and belonging to it. I was walking along, my eyes on the
ground. Suddenly I heard a voice; I looked across the fence, and was
thunder-struck.... I was confronted with a curious spectacle.
A few paces from me on the grass between the green raspberry bushes
stood a tall slender girl in a striped pink dress, with a white
kerchief on her head; four young men were close round her, and she
was slapping them by turns on the forehead with those small grey
flowers, the name of which I don't know, though they are well known to
children; the flowers form little bags, and burst open with a pop when
you strike them against anything hard. The young men presented their
foreheads so eagerly, and in the gestures of the girl (I saw her in
profile), there was something so fascinating, imperious, caressing,
mocking, and charming, that I almost cried out with admiration and
delight, and would, I thought, have given everything in the world on
the spot only to have had those exquisite fingers strike me on the
forehead. My gun slipped on to the grass, I forgot everything, I
devoured with my eyes the graceful shape and neck and lovely arms and
the slightly disordered fair hair under the white kerchief, and the
half-closed clever eye, and the eyelashes and the soft cheek beneath
'Young man, hey, young man,' said a voice suddenly near me: 'is it
quite permissible to stare so at unknown young ladies?'
I started, I was struck dumb.... Near me, the other side of the fence,
stood a man with close-cropped black hair, looking ironically at me.
At the same instant the girl too turned towards me.... I caught sight
of big grey eyes in a bright mobile face, and the whole face suddenly
quivered and laughed, there was a flash of white teeth, a droll
lifting of the eyebrows.... I crimsoned, picked up my gun from the
ground, and pursued by a musical but not ill-natured laugh, fled to
my own room, flung myself on the bed, and hid my face in my hands. My
heart was fairly leaping; I was greatly ashamed and overjoyed; I felt
an excitement I had never known before.
After a rest, I brushed my hair, washed, and went downstairs to tea.
The image of the young girl floated before me, my heart was no longer
leaping, but was full of a sort of sweet oppression.
'What's the matter?' my father asked me all at once: 'have you killed
I was on the point of telling him all about it, but I checked myself,
and merely smiled to myself. As I was going to bed, I rotated--I don't
know why--three times on one leg, pomaded my hair, got into bed, and
slept like a top all night. Before morning I woke up for an instant,
raised my head, looked round me in ecstasy, and fell asleep again.
'How can I make their acquaintance?' was my first thought when I waked
in the morning. I went out in the garden before morning tea, but I
did not go too near the fence, and saw no one. After drinking tea,
I walked several times up and down the street before the house, and
looked into the windows from a distance.... I fancied her face at a
curtain, and I hurried away in alarm.
'I must make her acquaintance, though,' I thought, pacing distractedly
about the sandy plain that stretches before Neskutchny park ... 'but
how, that is the question.' I recalled the minutest details of our
meeting yesterday; I had for some reason or other a particularly vivid
recollection of how she had laughed at me.... But while I racked my
brains, and made various plans, fate had already provided for me.
In my absence my mother had received from her new neighbour a letter
on grey paper, sealed with brown wax, such as is only used in notices
from the post-office or on the corks of bottles of cheap wine. In this
letter, which was written in illiterate language and in a slovenly
hand, the princess begged my mother to use her powerful influence
in her behalf; my mother, in the words of the princess, was very
intimate with persons of high position, upon whom her fortunes and her
children's fortunes depended, as she had some very important business
in hand. 'I address myself to you,' she wrote, 'as one gentlewoman to
another gentlewoman, and for that reason am glad to avail myself of
the opportunity.' Concluding, she begged my mother's permission to
call upon her. I found my mother in an unpleasant state of indecision;
my father was not at home, and she had no one of whom to ask advice.
Not to answer a gentlewoman, and a princess into the bargain, was
impossible. But my mother was in a difficulty as to how to answer
her. To write a note in French struck her as unsuitable, and Russian
spelling was not a strong point with my mother herself, and she was
aware of it, and did not care to expose herself. She was overjoyed
when I made my appearance, and at once told me to go round to the
princess's, and to explain to her by word of mouth that my mother
would always be glad to do her excellency any service within her
powers, and begged her to come to see her at one o'clock. This
unexpectedly rapid fulfilment of my secret desires both delighted and
appalled me. I made no sign, however, of the perturbation which came
over me, and as a preliminary step went to my own room to put on a new
necktie and tail coat; at home I still wore short jackets and lay-down
collars, much as I abominated them.
In the narrow and untidy passage of the lodge, which I entered with an
involuntary tremor in all my limbs, I was met by an old grey-headed
servant with a dark copper-coloured face, surly little pig's eyes, and
such deep furrows on his forehead and temples as I had never beheld
in my life. He was carrying a plate containing the spine of a herring
that had been gnawed at; and shutting the door that led into the room
with his foot, he jerked out, 'What do you want?'
'Is the Princess Zasyekin at home?' I inquired.
'Vonifaty!' a jarring female voice screamed from within.
The man without a word turned his back on me, exhibiting as he did
so the extremely threadbare hindpart of his livery with a solitary
reddish heraldic button on it; he put the plate down on the floor, and
'Did you go to the police station?' the same female voice called
again. The man muttered something in reply. 'Eh.... Has some one
come?' I heard again.... 'The young gentleman from next door. Ask him
'Will you step into the drawing-room?' said the servant, making his
appearance once more, and picking up the plate from the floor. I
mastered my emotions, and went into the drawing-room.
I found myself in a small and not over clean apartment, containing
some poor furniture that looked as if it had been hurriedly set down
where it stood. At the window in an easy-chair with a broken arm was
sitting a woman of fifty, bareheaded and ugly, in an old green dress,
and a striped worsted wrap about her neck. Her small black eyes fixed
me like pins.
I went up to her and bowed.
'I have the honour of addressing the Princess Zasyekin?'
'I am the Princess Zasyekin; and you are the son of Mr. V.?'
'Yes. I have come to you with a message from my mother.'
'Sit down, please. Vonifaty, where are my keys, have you seen them?'
I communicated to Madame Zasyekin my mother's reply to her note. She
heard me out, drumming with her fat red fingers on the window-pane,
and when I had finished, she stared at me once more.
'Very good; I'll be sure to come,' she observed at last. 'But how
young you are! How old are you, may I ask?'
'Sixteen,' I replied, with an involuntary stammer.
The princess drew out of her pocket some greasy papers covered with
writing, raised them right up to her nose, and began looking through
'A good age,' she ejaculated suddenly, turning round restlessly on
her chair. 'And do you, pray, make yourself at home. I don't stand on
'No, indeed,' I thought, scanning her unprepossessing person with a
disgust I could not restrain.
At that instant another door flew open quickly, and in the doorway
stood the girl I had seen the previous evening in the garden. She
lifted her hand, and a mocking smile gleamed in her face.
'Here is my daughter,' observed the princess, indicating her with her
elbow. 'Zinotchka, the son of our neighbour, Mr. V. What is your name,
allow me to ask?'
'Vladimir,' I answered, getting up, and stuttering in my excitement.
'And your father's name?'
'Ah! I used to know a commissioner of police whose name was Vladimir
Petrovitch too. Vonifaty! don't look for my keys; the keys are in my
The young girl was still looking at me with the same smile, faintly
fluttering her eyelids, and putting her head a little on one side.
'I have seen Monsieur Voldemar before,' she began. (The silvery note
of her voice ran through me with a sort of sweet shiver.) 'You will
let me call you so?'
'Oh, please,' I faltered.
'Where was that?' asked the princess.
The young princess did not answer her mother.
'Have you anything to do just now?' she said, not taking her eyes off
'Would you like to help me wind some wool? Come in here, to me.'
She nodded to me and went out of the drawing-room. I followed her.
In the room we went into, the furniture was a little better, and
was arranged with more taste. Though, indeed, at the moment, I was
scarcely capable of noticing anything; I moved as in a dream and felt
all through my being a sort of intense blissfulness that verged on
The young princess sat down, took out a skein of red wool and,
motioning me to a seat opposite her, carefully untied the skein and
laid it across my hands. All this she did in silence with a sort of
droll deliberation and with the same bright sly smile on her slightly
parted lips. She began to wind the wool on a bent card, and all at
once she dazzled me with a glance so brilliant and rapid, that I
could not help dropping my eyes. When her eyes, which were generally
half closed, opened to their full extent, her face was completely
transfigured; it was as though it were flooded with light.
'What did you think of me yesterday, M'sieu Voldemar?' she asked after
a brief pause. 'You thought ill of me, I expect?'
'I ... princess ... I thought nothing ... how can I?...' I answered in
'Listen,' she rejoined. 'You don't know me yet. I'm a very strange
person; I like always to be told the truth. You, I have just heard,
are sixteen, and I am twenty-one: you see I'm a great deal older than
you, and so you ought always to tell me the truth ... and to do what I
tell you,' she added. 'Look at me: why don't you look at me?'
I was still more abashed; however, I raised my eyes to her. She
smiled, not her former smile, but a smile of approbation. 'Look at
me,' she said, dropping her voice caressingly: 'I don't dislike that
... I like your face; I have a presentiment we shall be friends. But
do you like me?' she added slyly.
'Princess ...' I was beginning.
'In the first place, you must call me Zina´da Alexandrovna, and in the
second place it's a bad habit for children'--(she corrected herself)
'for young people--not to say straight out what they feel. That's all
very well for grown-up people. You like me, don't you?'
Though I was greatly delighted that she talked so freely to me, still
I was a little hurt. I wanted to show her that she had not a mere boy
to deal with, and assuming as easy and serious an air as I could, I
observed, 'Certainly. I like you very much, Zina´da Alexandrovna; I
have no wish to conceal it.'
She shook her head very deliberately. 'Have you a tutor?' she asked
'No; I've not had a tutor for a long, long while.'
I told a lie; it was not a month since I had parted with my Frenchman.
'Oh! I see then--you are quite grown-up.'
She tapped me lightly on the fingers. 'Hold your hands straight!' And
she applied herself busily to winding the ball.
I seized the opportunity when she was looking down and fell to
watching her, at first stealthily, then more and more boldly. Her
face struck me as even more charming than on the previous evening;
everything in it was so delicate, clever, and sweet. She was sitting
with her back to a window covered with a white blind, the sunshine,
streaming in through the blind, shed a soft light over her fluffy
golden curls, her innocent neck, her sloping shoulders, and tender
untroubled bosom. I gazed at her, and how dear and near she was
already to me! It seemed to me I had known her a long while and had
never known anything nor lived at all till I met her.... She was
wearing a dark and rather shabby dress and an apron; I would gladly, I
felt, have kissed every fold of that dress and apron. The tips of her
little shoes peeped out from under her skirt; I could have bowed down
in adoration to those shoes.... 'And here I am sitting before her,'
I thought; 'I have made acquaintance with her ... what happiness, my
God!' I could hardly keep from jumping up from my chair in ecstasy,
but I only swung my legs a little, like a small child who has been
I was as happy as a fish in water, and I could have stayed in that
room for ever, have never left that place.
Her eyelids were slowly lifted, and once more her clear eyes shone
kindly upon me, and again she smiled.
'How you look at me!' she said slowly, and she held up a threatening
I blushed ... 'She understands it all, she sees all,' flashed through
my mind. 'And how could she fail to understand and see it all?'
All at once there was a sound in the next room--the clink of a sabre.
'Zina!' screamed the princess in the drawing-room, 'Byelovzorov has
brought you a kitten.'
'A kitten!' cried Zina´da, and getting up from her chair impetuously,
she flung the ball of worsted on my knees and ran away.
I too got up and, laying the skein and the ball of wool on the
window-sill, I went into the drawing-room and stood still, hesitating.
In the middle of the room, a tabby kitten was lying with outstretched
paws; Zina´da was on her knees before it, cautiously lifting up its
little face. Near the old princess, and filling up almost the whole
space between the two windows, was a flaxen curly-headed young man, a
hussar, with a rosy face and prominent eyes.
'What a funny little thing!' Zina´da was saying; 'and its eyes are not
grey, but green, and what long ears! Thank you, Viktor Yegoritch! you
are very kind.'
The hussar, in whom I recognised one of the young men I had seen the
evening before, smiled and bowed with a clink of his spurs and a
jingle of the chain of his sabre.
'You were pleased to say yesterday that you wished to possess a tabby
kitten with long ears ... so I obtained it. Your word is law.' And he
The kitten gave a feeble mew and began sniffing the ground.
'It's hungry!' cried Zina´da. 'Vonifaty, Sonia! bring some milk.'
A maid, in an old yellow gown with a faded kerchief at her neck, came
in with a saucer of milk and set it before the kitten. The kitten
started, blinked, and began lapping.
'What a pink little tongue it has!' remarked Zina´da, putting her head
almost on the ground and peeping at it sideways under its very nose.
The kitten having had enough began to purr and move its paws
affectedly. Zina´da got up, and turning to the maid said carelessly,
'Take it away.'
'For the kitten--your little hand,' said the hussar, with a simper and
a shrug of his strongly-built frame, which was tightly buttoned up in
a new uniform.
'Both,' replied Zina´da, and she held out her hands to him. While he
was kissing them, she looked at me over his shoulder.
I stood stockstill in the same place and did not know whether to
laugh, to say something, or to be silent. Suddenly through the open
door into the passage I caught sight of our footman, Fyodor. He was
making signs to me. Mechanically I went out to him.
'What do you want?' I asked.
'Your mamma has sent for you,' he said in a whisper. 'She is angry
that you have not come back with the answer.'
'Why, have I been here long?'
'Over an hour.'
'Over an hour!' I repeated unconsciously, and going back to the
drawing-room I began to make bows and scrape with my heels.
'Where are you off to?' the young princess asked, glancing at me from
behind the hussar.
'I must go home. So I am to say,' I added, addressing the old lady,
'that you will come to us about two.'
'Do you say so, my good sir.'
The princess hurriedly pulled out her snuff-box and took snuff so
loudly that I positively jumped. 'Do you say so,' she repeated,
blinking tearfully and sneezing.
I bowed once more, turned, and went out of the room with that
sensation of awkwardness in my spine which a very young man feels when
he knows he is being looked at from behind.
'Mind you come and see us again, M'sieu Voldemar,' Zina´da called, and
she laughed again.
'Why is it she's always laughing?' I thought, as I went back home
escorted by Fyodor, who said nothing to me, but walked behind me with
an air of disapprobation. My mother scolded me and wondered what ever
I could have been doing so long at the princess's. I made her no reply
and went off to my own room. I felt suddenly very sad.... I tried hard
not to cry.... I was jealous of the hussar.
The princess called on my mother as she had promised and made a
disagreeable impression on her. I was not present at their interview,
but at table my mother told my father that this Prince Zasyekin struck
her as a _femme trŔs vulgaire_, that she had quite worn her out
begging her to interest Prince Sergei in their behalf, that she seemed
to have no end of lawsuits and affairs on hand--_de vilaines affaires
d'argent_--and must be a very troublesome and litigious person. My
mother added, however, that she had asked her and her daughter to
dinner the next day (hearing the word 'daughter' I buried my nose in
my plate), for after all she was a neighbour and a person of title.
Upon this my father informed my mother that he remembered now who this
lady was; that he had in his youth known the deceased Prince Zasyekin,
a very well-bred, but frivolous and absurd person; that he had been
nicknamed in society '_le Parisien_,' from having lived a long while
in Paris; that he had been very rich, but had gambled away all his
property; and for some unknown reason, probably for money, though
indeed he might have chosen better, if so, my father added with a cold
smile, he had married the daughter of an agent, and after his marriage
had entered upon speculations and ruined himself utterly.
'If only she doesn't try to borrow money,' observed my mother.
'That's exceedingly possible,' my father responded tranquilly. 'Does
she speak French?'
'H'm. It's of no consequence anyway. I think you said you had asked
the daughter too; some one was telling me she was a very charming and
'Ah! Then she can't take after her mother.'
'Nor her father either,' rejoined my father. 'He was cultivated
indeed, but a fool.'
My mother sighed and sank into thought. My father said no more. I felt
very uncomfortable during this conversation.
After dinner I went into the garden, but without my gun. I swore
to myself that I would not go near the Zasyekins' garden, but an
irresistible force drew me thither, and not in vain. I had hardly
reached the fence when I caught sight of Zina´da. This time she was
alone. She held a book in her hands, and was coming slowly along the
path. She did not notice me.
I almost let her pass by; but all at once I changed my mind and
She turned round, but did not stop, pushed back with one hand the
broad blue ribbon of her round straw hat, looked at me, smiled slowly,
and again bent her eyes on the book.
I took off my cap, and after hesitating a moment, walked away with a
heavy heart. '_Que suis-je pour elle?_' I thought (God knows why) in
Familiar footsteps sounded behind me; I looked round, my father came
up to me with his light, rapid walk.
'Is that the young princess?' he asked me.
'Why, do you know her?'
'I saw her this morning at the princess's.'
My father stopped, and, turning sharply on his heel, went back. When
he was on a level with Zina´da, he made her a courteous bow. She,
too, bowed to him, with some astonishment on her face, and dropped
her book. I saw how she looked after him. My father was always
irreproachably dressed, simple and in a style of his own; but his
figure had never struck me as more graceful, never had his grey hat
sat more becomingly on his curls, which were scarcely perceptibly
thinner than they had once been.
I bent my steps toward Zina´da, but she did not even glance at me; she
picked up her book again and went away.
The whole evening and the following day I spent in a sort of dejected
apathy. I remember I tried to work and took up Keidanov, but the
boldly printed lines and pages of the famous text-book passed before
my eyes in vain. I read ten times over the words: 'Julius Caesar was
distinguished by warlike courage.' I did not understand anything and
threw the book aside. Before dinner-time I pomaded myself once more,
and once more put on my tail-coat and necktie.
'What's that for?' my mother demanded. 'You're not a student yet, and
God knows whether you'll get through the examination. And you've not
long had a new jacket! You can't throw it away!'
'There will be visitors,' I murmured almost in despair.
'What nonsense! fine visitors indeed!'
I had to submit. I changed my tail-coat for my jacket, but I did
not take off the necktie. The princess and her daughter made their
appearance half an hour before dinner-time; the old lady had put on,
in addition to the green dress with which I was already acquainted,
a yellow shawl, and an old-fashioned cap adorned with flame-coloured
ribbons. She began talking at once about her money difficulties,
sighing, complaining of her poverty, and imploring assistance, but
she made herself at home; she took snuff as noisily, and fidgeted and
lolled about in her chair as freely as ever. It never seemed to have
struck her that she was a princess. Zina´da on the other hand was
rigid, almost haughty in her demeanour, every inch a princess. There
was a cold immobility and dignity in her face. I should not have
recognised it; I should not have known her smiles, her glances, though
I thought her exquisite in this new aspect too. She wore a light
barÚge dress with pale blue flowers on it; her hair fell in long curls
down her cheek in the English fashion; this style went well with the
cold expression of her face. My father sat beside her during dinner,
and entertained his neighbour with the finished and serene courtesy
peculiar to him. He glanced at her from time to time, and she glanced
at him, but so strangely, almost with hostility. Their conversation
was carried on in French; I was surprised, I remember, at the purity
of Zina´da's accent. The princess, while we were at table, as before
made no ceremony; she ate a great deal, and praised the dishes. My
mother was obviously bored by her, and answered her with a sort of
weary indifference; my father faintly frowned now and then. My mother
did not like Zina´da either. 'A conceited minx,' she said next day.
'And fancy, what she has to be conceited about, _avec sa mine de
'It's clear you have never seen any grisettes,' my father observed to
'Thank God, I haven't!'
'Thank God, to be sure ... only how can you form an opinion of them,
To me Zina´da had paid no attention whatever. Soon after dinner the
princess got up to go.
'I shall rely on your kind offices, Maria Nikolaevna and Piotr
Vassilitch,' she said in a doleful sing-song to my mother and father.
'I've no help for it! There were days, but they are over. Here I am,
an excellency, and a poor honour it is with nothing to eat!'
My father made her a respectful bow and escorted her to the door of
the hall. I was standing there in my short jacket, staring at the
floor, like a man under sentence of death. Zina´da's treatment of me
had crushed me utterly. What was my astonishment, when, as she passed
me, she whispered quickly with her former kind expression in her eyes:
'Come to see us at eight, do you hear, be sure....' I simply threw up
my hands, but already she was gone, flinging a white scarf over her
At eight o'clock precisely, in my tail-coat and with my hair brushed
up into a tuft on my head, I entered the passage of the lodge, where
the princess lived. The old servant looked crossly at me and got up
unwillingly from his bench. There was a sound of merry voices in
the drawing-room. I opened the door and fell back in amazement. In
the middle of the room was the young princess, standing on a chair,
holding a man's hat in front of her; round the chair crowded some half
a dozen men. They were trying to put their hands into the hat, while
she held it above their heads, shaking it violently. On seeing me,
she cried, 'Stay, stay, another guest, he must have a ticket too,'
and leaping lightly down from the chair she took me by the cuff of my
coat 'Come along,' she said, 'why are you standing still? _Messieurs_,
let me make you acquainted: this is M'sieu Voldemar, the son of our
neighbour. And this,' she went on, addressing me, and indicating her
guests in turn, 'Count Malevsky, Doctor Lushin, Meidanov the poet, the
retired captain Nirmatsky, and Byelovzorov the hussar, whom you've
seen already. I hope you will be good friends.' I was so confused that
I did not even bow to any one; in Doctor Lushin I recognised the dark
man who had so mercilessly put me to shame in the garden; the others
were unknown to me.
'Count!' continued Zina´da, 'write M'sieu Voldemar a ticket.'
'That's not fair,' was objected in a slight Polish accent by the
count, a very handsome and fashionably dressed brunette, with
expressive brown eyes, a thin little white nose, and delicate little
moustaches over a tiny mouth. 'This gentleman has not been playing
forfeits with us.'
'It's unfair,' repeated in chorus Byelovzorov and the gentleman
described as a retired captain, a man of forty, pock-marked to
a hideous degree, curly-headed as a negro, round-shouldered,
bandy-legged, and dressed in a military coat without epaulets, worn
'Write him a ticket, I tell you,' repeated the young princess. 'What's
this mutiny? M'sieu Voldemar is with us for the first time, and there
are no rules for him yet. It's no use grumbling--write it, I wish it.'
The count shrugged his shoulders but bowed submissively, took the pen
in his white, ring-bedecked fingers, tore off a scrap of paper and
wrote on it.
'At least let us explain to Mr. Voldemar what we are about,' Lushin
began in a sarcastic voice, 'or else he will be quite lost. Do you
see, young man, we are playing forfeits? the princess has to pay a
forfeit, and the one who draws the lucky lot is to have the privilege
of kissing her hand. Do you understand what I've told you?'
I simply stared at him, and continued to stand still in bewilderment,
while the young princess jumped up on the chair again, and again began
waving the hat. They all stretched up to her, and I went after the
'Meidanov,' said the princess to a tall young man with a thin face,
little dim-sighted eyes, and exceedingly long black hair, 'you as
a poet ought to be magnanimous, and give up your number to M'sieu
Voldemar so that he may have two chances instead of one.'
But Meidanov shook his head in refusal, and tossed his hair. After
all the others I put my hand into the hat, and unfolded my lot....
Heavens! what was my condition when I saw on it the word, Kiss!
'Kiss!' I could not help crying aloud.
'Bravo! he has won it,' the princess said quickly. 'How glad I am!'
She came down from the chair and gave me such a bright sweet look,
that my heart bounded. 'Are you glad?' she asked me.
'Me?' ... I faltered.
'Sell me your lot,' Byelovzorov growled suddenly just in my ear. 'I'll
give you a hundred roubles.'
I answered the hussar with such an indignant look, that Zina´da
clapped her hands, while Lushin cried, 'He's a fine fellow!'
'But, as master of the ceremonies,' he went on, 'it's my duty to see
that all the rules are kept. M'sieu Voldemar, go down on one knee.
That is our regulation.'
Zina´da stood in front of me, her head a little on one side as though
to get a better look at me; she held out her hand to me with dignity.
A mist passed before my eyes; I meant to drop on one knee, sank on
both, and pressed my lips to Zina´da's fingers so awkwardly that I
scratched myself a little with the tip of her nail.
'Well done!' cried Lushin, and helped me to get up.
The game of forfeits went on. Zina´da sat me down beside her. She
invented all sorts of extraordinary forfeits! She had among other
things to represent a 'statue,' and she chose as a pedestal the
hideous Nirmatsky, told him to bow down in an arch, and bend his
head down on his breast. The laughter never paused for an instant.
For me, a boy constantly brought up in the seclusion of a dignified
manor-house, all this noise and uproar, this unceremonious, almost
riotous gaiety, these relations with unknown persons, were simply
intoxicating. My head went round, as though from wine. I began
laughing and talking louder than the others, so much so that the old
princess, who was sitting in the next room with some sort of clerk
from the Tversky gate, invited by her for consultation on business,
positively came in to look at me. But I felt so happy that I did not
mind anything, I didn't care a straw for any one's jeers, or dubious
looks. Zina´da continued to show me a preference, and kept me at her
side. In one forfeit, I had to sit by her, both hidden under one silk
handkerchief: I was to tell her _my secret_. I remember our two heads
being all at once in a warm, half-transparent, fragrant darkness, the
soft, close brightness of her eyes in the dark, and the burning breath
from her parted lips, and the gleam of her teeth and the ends of her
hair tickling me and setting me on fire. I was silent. She smiled
slyly and mysteriously, and at last whispered to me, 'Well, what
is it?' but I merely blushed and laughed, and turned away, catching
my breath. We got tired of forfeits--we began to play a game with
a string. My God! what were my transports when, for not paying
attention, I got a sharp and vigorous slap on my fingers from her,
and how I tried afterwards to pretend that I was absent-minded, and
she teased me, and would not touch the hands I held out to her! What
didn't we do that evening! We played the piano, and sang and danced
and acted a gypsy encampment. Nirmatsky was dressed up as a bear,
and made to drink salt water. Count Malevsky showed us several sorts
of card tricks, and finished, after shuffling the cards, by dealing
himself all the trumps at whist, on which Lushin 'had the honour of
congratulating him.' Meidanov recited portions from his poem 'The
Manslayer' (romanticism was at its height at this period), which he
intended to bring out in a black cover with the title in blood-red
letters; they stole the clerk's cap off his knee, and made him dance a
Cossack dance by way of ransom for it; they dressed up old Vonifaty in
a woman's cap, and the young princess put on a man's hat.... I could
not enumerate all we did. Only Byelovzorov kept more and more in
the background, scowling and angry.... Sometimes his eyes looked
bloodshot, he flushed all over, and it seemed every minute as though
he would rush out upon us all and scatter us like shavings in all
directions; but the young princess would glance at him, and shake her
finger at him, and he would retire into his corner again.
We were quite worn out at last. Even the old princess, though she was
ready for anything, as she expressed it, and no noise wearied her,
felt tired at last, and longed for peace and quiet. At twelve o'clock
at night, supper was served, consisting of a piece of stale dry
cheese, and some cold turnovers of minced ham, which seemed to me more
delicious than any pastry I had ever tasted; there was only one bottle
of wine, and that was a strange one; a dark-coloured bottle with a
wide neck, and the wine in it was of a pink hue; no one drank it,
however. Tired out and faint with happiness, I left the lodge; at
parting Zina´da pressed my hand warmly, and again smiled mysteriously.
The night air was heavy and damp in my heated face; a storm seemed to
be gathering; black stormclouds grew and crept across the sky, their
smoky outlines visibly changing. A gust of wind shivered restlessly
in the dark trees, and somewhere, far away on the horizon, muffled
thunder angrily muttered as it were to itself.
I made my way up to my room by the back stairs. My old man-nurse was
asleep on the floor, and I had to step over him; he waked up, saw me,
and told me that my mother had again been very angry with me, and had
wished to send after me again, but that my father had prevented her.
(I had never gone to bed without saying good-night to my mother, and
asking her blessing. There was no help for it now!)
I told my man that I would undress and go to bed by myself, and I put
out the candle. But I did not undress, and did not go to bed.
I sat down on a chair, and sat a long while, as though spell-bound.
What I was feeling was so new and so sweet.... I sat still, hardly
looking round and not moving, drew slow breaths, and only from time to
time laughed silently at some recollection, or turned cold within at
the thought that I was in love, that this was she, that this was love.
Zina´da's face floated slowly before me in the darkness--floated, and
did not float away; her lips still wore the same enigmatic smile, her
eyes watched me, a little from one side, with a questioning, dreamy,
tender look ... as at the instant of parting from her. At last I got
up, walked on tiptoe to my bed, and without undressing, laid my head
carefully on the pillow, as though I were afraid by an abrupt movement
to disturb what filled my soul.... I lay down, but did not even close
my eyes. Soon I noticed that faint glimmers of light of some sort
were thrown continually into the room.... I sat up and looked at the
window. The window-frame could be clearly distinguished from the
mysteriously and dimly-lighted panes. It is a storm, I thought; and
a storm it really was, but it was raging so very far away that the
thunder could not be heard; only blurred, long, as it were branching,
gleams of lightning flashed continually over the sky; it was not
flashing, though, so much as quivering and twitching like the wing
of a dying bird. I got up, went to the window, and stood there till
morning.... The lightning never ceased for an instant; it was what is
called among the peasants a _sparrow night_. I gazed at the dumb sandy
plain, at the dark mass of the Neskutchny gardens, at the yellowish
fašades of the distant buildings, which seemed to quiver too at
each faint flash.... I gazed, and could not turn away; these silent
lightning flashes, these gleams seemed in response to the secret
silent fires which were aglow within me. Morning began to dawn; the
sky was flushed in patches of crimson. As the sun came nearer, the
lightning grew gradually paler, and ceased; the quivering gleams
were fewer and fewer, and vanished at last, drowned in the sobering
positive light of the coming day....
And my lightning flashes vanished too. I felt great weariness and
peace ... but Zina´da's image still floated triumphant over my soul.
But it too, this image, seemed more tranquil: like a swan rising out
of the reeds of a bog, it stood out from the other unbeautiful figures
surrounding it, and as I fell asleep, I flung myself before it in
farewell, trusting adoration....
Oh, sweet emotions, gentle harmony, goodness and peace of the softened
heart, melting bliss of the first raptures of love, where are they,
where are they?
The next morning, when I came down to tea, my mother scolded me--less
severely, however, than I had expected--and made me tell her how I had
spent the previous evening. I answered her in few words, omitting many
details, and trying to give the most innocent air to everything.
'Anyway, they're people who're not _comme il faut_,' my mother
commented, 'and you've no business to be hanging about there, instead
of preparing yourself for the examination, and doing your work.'
As I was well aware that my mother's anxiety about my studies was
confined to these few words, I did not feel it necessary to make any
rejoinder; but after morning tea was over, my father took me by the
arm, and turning into the garden with me, forced me to tell him all I
had seen at the Zasyekins'.
A curious influence my father had over me, and curious were the
relations existing between us. He took hardly any interest in my
education, but he never hurt my feelings; he respected my freedom, he
treated me--if I may so express it--with courtesy,... only he never
let me be really close to him. I loved him, I admired him, he was my
ideal of a man--and Heavens! how passionately devoted I should have
been to him, if I had not been continually conscious of his holding me
off! But when he liked, he could almost instantaneously, by a single
word, a single gesture, call forth an unbounded confidence in him. My
soul expanded, I chattered away to him, as to a wise friend, a kindly
teacher ... then he as suddenly got rid of me, and again he was
keeping me off, gently and affectionately, but still he kept me off.
Sometimes he was in high spirits, and then he was ready to romp and
frolic with me, like a boy (he was fond of vigorous physical exercise
of every sort); once--it never happened a second time!--he caressed
me with such tenderness that I almost shed tears.... But high spirits
and tenderness alike vanished completely, and what had passed between
us, gave me nothing to build on for the future--it was as though I
had dreamed it all. Sometimes I would scrutinise his clever handsome
bright face ... my heart would throb, and my whole being yearn to
him ... he would seem to feel what was going on within me, would give
me a passing pat on the cheek, and go away, or take up some work,
or suddenly freeze all over as only he knew how to freeze, and I
shrank into myself at once, and turned cold too. His rare fits
of friendliness to me were never called forth by my silent, but
intelligible entreaties: they always occurred unexpectedly. Thinking
over my father's character later, I have come to the conclusion that
he had no thoughts to spare for me and for family life; his heart was
in other things, and found complete satisfaction elsewhere. 'Take for
yourself what you can, and don't be ruled by others; to belong to
oneself--the whole savour of life lies in that,' he said to me one
day. Another time, I, as a young democrat, fell to airing my views on
liberty (he was 'kind,' as I used to call it, that day; and at such
times I could talk to him as I liked). 'Liberty,' he repeated; 'and do
you know what can give a man liberty?'
'Will, his own will, and it gives power, which is better than liberty.
Know how to will, and you will be free, and will lead.'
'My father, before all, and above all, desired to live, and lived....
Perhaps he had a presentiment that he would not have long to enjoy the
'savour' of life: he died at forty-two.
I described my evening at the Zasyekins' minutely to my father. Half
attentively, half carelessly, he listened to me, sitting on a garden
seat, drawing in the sand with his cane. Now and then he laughed, shot
bright, droll glances at me, and spurred me on with short questions
and assents. At first I could not bring myself even to utter the name
of Zina´da, but I could not restrain myself long, and began singing
her praises. My father still laughed; then he grew thoughtful,
stretched, and got up. I remembered that as he came out of the house
he had ordered his horse to be saddled. He was a splendid horseman,
and, long before Rarey, had the secret of breaking in the most vicious
'Shall I come with you, father?' I asked.
'No,' he answered, and his face resumed its ordinary expression of
friendly indifference. 'Go alone, if you like; and tell the coachman
I'm not going.'
He turned his back on me and walked rapidly away. I looked after him;
he disappeared through the gates. I saw his hat moving along beside
the fence; he went into the Zasyekins'.
He stayed there not more than an hour, but then departed at once for
the town, and did not return home till evening.
After dinner I went myself to the Zasyekins'. In the drawing-room I
found only the old princess. On seeing me she scratched her head under
her cap with a knitting-needle, and suddenly asked me, could I copy a
petition for her.
'With pleasure,' I replied, sitting down on the edge of a chair.
'Only mind and make the letters bigger,' observed the princess,
handing me a dirty sheet of paper; 'and couldn't you do it to-day, my
'Certainly, I will copy it to-day.'
The door of the next room was just opened, and in the crack I saw the
face of Zina´da, pale and pensive, her hair flung carelessly back; she
stared at me with big chilly eyes, and softly closed the door.
'Zina, Zina!' called the old lady. Zina´da made no response. I took
home the old lady's petition and spent the whole evening over it.
My 'passion' dated from that day. I felt at that time, I recollect,
something like what a man must feel on entering the service: I had
ceased now to be simply a young boy; I was in love. I have said that
my passion dated from that day; I might have added that my sufferings
too dated from the same day. Away from Zina´da I pined; nothing
was to my mind; everything went wrong with me; I spent whole days
thinking intensely about her ... I pined when away,... but in her
presence I was no better off. I was jealous; I was conscious of my
insignificance; I was stupidly sulky or stupidly abject, and, all
the same, an invincible force drew me to her, and I could not help
a shudder of delight whenever I stepped through the doorway of her
room. Zina´da guessed at once that I was in love with her, and indeed
I never even thought of concealing it. She amused herself with my
passion, made a fool of me, petted and tormented me. There is a
sweetness in being the sole source, the autocratic and irresponsible
cause of the greatest joy and profoundest pain to another, and I was
like wax in Zina´da's hands; though, indeed, I was not the only one in
love with her. All the men who visited the house were crazy over her,
and she kept them all in leading-strings at her feet. It amused her to
arouse their hopes and then their fears, to turn them round her finger
(she used to call it knocking their heads together), while they never
dreamed of offering resistance and eagerly submitted to her. About
her whole being, so full of life and beauty, there was a peculiarly
bewitching mixture of slyness and carelessness, of artificiality and
simplicity, of composure and frolicsomeness; about everything she did
or said, about every action of hers, there clung a delicate, fine
charm, in which an individual power was manifest at work. And her
face was ever changing, working too; it expressed, almost at the same
time, irony, dreaminess, and passion. Various emotions, delicate and
quick-changing as the shadows of clouds on a sunny day of wind, chased
one another continually over her lips and eyes.
Each of her adorers was necessary to her. Byelovzorov, whom she
sometimes called 'my wild beast,' and sometimes simply 'mine,' would
gladly have flung himself into the fire for her sake. With little
confidence in his intellectual abilities and other qualities, he was
for ever offering her marriage, hinting that the others were merely
hanging about with no serious intention. Meidanov responded to the
poetic fibres of her nature; a man of rather cold temperament, like
almost all writers, he forced himself to convince her, and perhaps
himself, that he adored her, sang her praises in endless verses, and
read them to her with a peculiar enthusiasm, at once affected and
sincere. She sympathised with him, and at the same time jeered at him
a little; she had no great faith in him, and after listening to his
outpourings, she would make him read Pushkin, as she said, to clear
the air. Lushin, the ironical doctor, so cynical in words, knew her
better than any of them, and loved her more than all, though he abused
her to her face and behind her back. She could not help respecting
him, but made him smart for it, and at times, with a peculiar,
malignant pleasure, made him feel that he too was at her mercy. 'I'm a
flirt, I'm heartless, I'm an actress in my instincts,' she said to him
one day in my presence; 'well and good! Give me your hand then; I'll
stick this pin in it, you'll be ashamed of this young man's seeing it,
it will hurt you, but you'll laugh for all that, you truthful person.'
Lushin crimsoned, turned away, bit his lips, but ended by submitting
his hand. She pricked it, and he did in fact begin to laugh,... and
she laughed, thrusting the pin in pretty deeply, and peeping into his
eyes, which he vainly strove to keep in other directions....
I understood least of all the relations existing between Zina´da and
Count Malevsky. He was handsome, clever, and adroit, but something
equivocal, something false in him was apparent even to me, a boy of
sixteen, and I marvelled that Zina´da did not notice it. But possibly
she did notice this element of falsity really and was not repelled by
it. Her irregular education, strange acquaintances and habits, the
constant presence of her mother, the poverty and disorder in their
house, everything, from the very liberty the young girl enjoyed, with
the consciousness of her superiority to the people around her, had
developed in her a sort of half-contemptuous carelessness and lack
of fastidiousness. At any time anything might happen; Vonifaty might
announce that there was no sugar, or some revolting scandal would
come to her ears, or her guests would fall to quarrelling among
themselves--she would only shake her curls, and say, 'What does it
matter?' and care little enough about it.
But my blood, anyway, was sometimes on fire with indignation when
Malevsky approached her, with a sly, fox-like action, leaned
gracefully on the back of her chair, and began whispering in her ear
with a self-satisfied and ingratiating little smile, while she folded
her arms across her bosom, looked intently at him and smiled too, and
shook her head.
'What induces you to receive Count Malevsky?' I asked her one day.
'He has such pretty moustaches,' she answered. 'But that's rather
'You needn't think I care for him,' she said to me another time. 'No;
I can't care for people I have to look down upon. I must have some one
who can master me.... But, merciful heavens, I hope I may never come
across any one like that! I don't want to be caught in any one's
claws, not for anything.'
'You'll never be in love, then?'
'And you? Don't I love you?' she said, and she flicked me on the nose
with the tip of her glove.
Yes, Zina´da amused herself hugely at my expense. For three weeks I
saw her every day, and what didn't she do with me! She rarely came to
see us, and I was not sorry for it; in our house she was transformed
into a young lady, a young princess, and I was a little overawed by
her. I was afraid of betraying myself before my mother; she had taken
a great dislike to Zina´da, and kept a hostile eye upon us. My father
I was not so much afraid of; he seemed not to notice me. He talked
little to her, but always with special cleverness and significance.
I gave up working and reading; I even gave up walking about the
neighbourhood and riding my horse. Like a beetle tied by the leg, I
moved continually round and round my beloved little lodge. I would
gladly have stopped there altogether, it seemed ... but that was
impossible. My mother scolded me, and sometimes Zina´da herself drove
me away. Then I used to shut myself up in my room, or go down to the
very end of the garden, and climbing into what was left of a tall
stone greenhouse, now in ruins, sit for hours with my legs hanging
over the wall that looked on to the road, gazing and gazing and seeing
nothing. White butterflies flitted lazily by me, over the dusty
nettles; a saucy sparrow settled not far off on the half crumbling red
brickwork and twittered irritably, incessantly twisting and turning
and preening his tail-feathers; the still mistrustful rooks cawed now
and then, sitting high, high up on the bare top of a birch-tree; the
sun and wind played softly on its pliant branches; the tinkle of the
bells of the Don monastery floated across to me from time to time,
peaceful and dreary; while I sat, gazed, listened, and was filled full
of a nameless sensation in which all was contained: sadness and joy
and the foretaste of the future, and the desire and dread of life. But
at that time I understood nothing of it, and could have given a name
to nothing of all that was passing at random within me, or should have
called it all by one name--the name of Zina´da.
Zina´da continued to play cat and mouse with me. She flirted with me,
and I was all agitation and rapture; then she would suddenly thrust me
away, and I dared not go near her--dared not look at her.
I remember she was very cold to me for several days together; I was
completely crushed, and creeping timidly to their lodge, tried to keep
close to the old princess, regardless of the circumstance that she was
particularly scolding and grumbling just at that time; her
financial affairs had been going badly, and she had already had two
'explanations' with the police officials.
One day I was walking in the garden beside the familiar fence, and I
caught sight of Zina´da; leaning on both arms, she was sitting on the
grass, not stirring a muscle. I was about to make off cautiously, but
she suddenly raised her head and beckoned me imperiously. My heart
failed me; I did not understand her at first. She repeated her signal.
I promptly jumped over the fence and ran joyfully up to her, but she
brought me to a halt with a look, and motioned me to the path two
paces from her. In confusion, not knowing what to do, I fell on my
knees at the edge of the path. She was so pale, such bitter suffering,
such intense weariness, was expressed in every feature of her face,
that it sent a pang to my heart, and I muttered unconsciously, 'What
is the matter?'
Zina´da stretched out her head, picked a blade of grass, bit it and
flung it away from her.
'You love me very much?' she asked at last. 'Yes.'
I made no answer--indeed, what need was there to answer?
'Yes,' she repeated, looking at me as before. 'That's so. The same
eyes,'--she went on; sank into thought, and hid her face in her hands.
'Everything's grown so loathsome to me,' she whispered, 'I would have
gone to the other end of the world first--I can't bear it, I can't get
over it.... And what is there before me!... Ah, I am wretched.... My
God, how wretched I am!'
'What for?' I asked timidly.
Zina´da made no answer, she simply shrugged her shoulders. I remained
kneeling, gazing at her with intense sadness. Every word she had
uttered simply cut me to the heart. At that instant I felt I would
gladly have given my life, if only she should not grieve. I gazed at
her--and though I could not understand why she was wretched, I vividly
pictured to myself, how in a fit of insupportable anguish, she had
suddenly come out into the garden, and sunk to the earth, as though
mown down by a scythe. It was all bright and green about her; the wind
was whispering in the leaves of the trees, and swinging now and then
a long branch of a raspberry bush over Zina´da's head. There was a
sound of the cooing of doves, and the bees hummed, flying low over
the scanty grass, Overhead the sun was radiantly blue--while I was so
'Read me some poetry,' said Zina´da in an undertone, and she propped
herself on her elbow; 'I like your reading poetry. You read it in
sing-song, but that's no matter, that comes of being young. Read me
"On the Hills of Georgia." Only sit down first.'
I sat down and read 'On the Hills of Georgia.'
'"That the heart cannot choose but love,"' repeated Zina´da. 'That's
where poetry's so fine; it tells us what is not, and what's not only
better than what is, but much more like the truth, "cannot choose
but love,"--it might want not to, but it can't help it.' She was
silent again, then all at once she started and got up. 'Come along.
Meidanov's indoors with mamma, he brought me his poem, but I deserted
him. His feelings are hurt too now ... I can't help it! you'll
understand it all some day ... only don't be angry with me!'
Zina´da hurriedly pressed my hand and ran on ahead. We went back into
the lodge. Meidanov set to reading us his 'Manslayer,' which had just
appeared in print, but I did not hear him. He screamed and drawled his
four-foot iambic lines, the alternating rhythms jingled like little
bells, noisy and meaningless, while I still watched Zina´da and tried
to take in the import of her last words.
'Perchance some unknown rival
Has surprised and mastered thee?'
Meidanov bawled suddenly through his nose--and my eyes and Zina´da's
met. She looked down and faintly blushed. I saw her blush, and grew
cold with terror. I had been jealous before, but only at that instant
the idea of her being in love flashed upon my mind. 'Good God! she is
My real torments began from that instant. I racked my brains, changed
my mind, and changed it back again, and kept an unremitting, though,
as far as possible, secret watch on Zina´da. A change had come over
her, that was obvious. She began going walks alone--and long walks.
Sometimes she would not see visitors; she would sit for hours together
in her room. This had never been a habit of hers till now. I suddenly
became--or fancied I had become--extraordinarily penetrating.
'Isn't it he? or isn't it he?' I asked myself, passing in inward
agitation from one of her admirers to another. Count Malevsky secretly
struck me as more to be feared than the others, though, for Zina´da's
sake, I was ashamed to confess it to myself.
My watchfulness did not see beyond the end of my nose, and its secrecy
probably deceived no one; any way, Doctor Lushin soon saw through me.
But he, too, had changed of late; he had grown thin, he laughed as
often, but his laugh seemed more hollow, more spiteful, shorter, an
involuntary nervous irritability took the place of his former light
irony and assumed cynicism.
'Why are you incessantly hanging about here, young man?' he said
to me one day, when we were left alone together in the Zasyekins'
drawing-room. (The young princess had not come home from a walk, and
the shrill voice of the old princess could be heard within; she was
scolding the maid.) 'You ought to be studying, working--while you're
young--and what are you doing?'
'You can't tell whether I work at home,' I retorted with some
haughtiness, but also with some hesitation.
'A great deal of work you do! that's not what you're thinking about!
Well, I won't find fault with that ... at your age that's in the
natural order of things. But you've been awfully unlucky in your
choice. Don't you see what this house is?'
'I don't understand you,' I observed.
'You don't understand? so much the worse for you. I regard it as a
duty to warn you. Old bachelors, like me, can come here, what harm can
it do us! we're tough, nothing can hurt us, what harm can it do us;
but your skin's tender yet--this air is bad for you--believe me, you
may get harm from it.'
'Why, are you well now? Are you in a normal condition? Is what you're
feeling--beneficial to you--good for you?'
'Why, what am I feeling?' I said, while in my heart I knew the doctor
'Ah, young man, young man,' the doctor went on with an intonation that
suggested that something highly insulting to me was contained in these
two words, 'what's the use of your prevaricating, when, thank God,
what's in your heart is in your face, so far? But there, what's the
use of talking? I shouldn't come here myself, if ... (the doctor
compressed his lips) ... if I weren't such a queer fellow. Only this
is what surprises me; how it is, you, with your intelligence, don't
see what is going on around you?'
'And what is going on?' I put in, all on the alert.
The doctor looked at me with a sort of ironical compassion.
'Nice of me!' he said as though to himself, 'as if he need know
anything of it. In fact, I tell you again,' he added, raising his
voice, 'the atmosphere here is not fit for you. You like being here,
but what of that! it's nice and sweet-smelling in a greenhouse--but
there's no living in it. Yes! do as I tell you, and go back to your
The old princess came in, and began complaining to the doctor of her
toothache. Then Zina´da appeared.
'Come,' said the old princess, 'you must scold her, doctor. She's
drinking iced water all day long; is that good for her, pray, with her
'Why do you do that?' asked Lushin.
'Why, what effect could it have?'
'What effect? You might get a chill and die.'
'Truly? Do you mean it? Very well--so much the better.'
'A fine idea!' muttered the doctor. The old princess had gone out.
'Yes, a fine idea,' repeated Zina´da. 'Is life such a festive affair?
Just look about you.... Is it nice, eh? Or do you imagine I don't
understand it, and don't feel it? It gives me pleasure--drinking iced
water; and can you seriously assure me that such a life is worth too
much to be risked for an instant's pleasure--happiness I won't even
'Oh, very well,' remarked Lushin, 'caprice and irresponsibility....
Those two words sum you up; your whole nature's contained in those two
Zina´da laughed nervously.
'You're late for the post, my dear doctor. You don't keep a good
look-out; you're behind the times. Put on your spectacles. I'm in no
capricious humour now. To make fools of you, to make a fool of myself
... much fun there is in that!--and as for irresponsibility ... M'sieu
Voldemar,' Zina´da added suddenly, stamping, 'don't make such a
melancholy face. I can't endure people to pity me.' She went quickly
out of the room.
'It's bad for you, very bad for you, this atmosphere, young man,'
Lushin said to me once more.
On the evening of the same day the usual guests were assembled at the
Zasyekins'. I was among them.
The conversation turned on Meidanov's poem. Zina´da expressed genuine
admiration of it. 'But do you know what?' she said to him. 'If I were
a poet, I would choose quite different subjects. Perhaps it's all
nonsense, but strange ideas sometimes come into my head, especially
when I'm not asleep in the early morning, when the sky begins to turn
rosy and grey both at once. I would, for instance ... You won't laugh
'No, no!' we all cried, with one voice.
'I would describe,' she went on, folding her arms across her bosom
and looking away, 'a whole company of young girls at night in a great
boat, on a silent river. The moon is shining, and they are all in
white, and wearing garlands of white flowers, and singing, you know,
something in the nature of a hymn.'
'I see--I see; go on,' Meidanov commented with dreamy significance.
'All of a sudden, loud clamour, laughter, torches, tambourines on the
bank.... It's a troop of Bacchantes dancing with songs and cries. It's
your business to make a picture of it, Mr. Poet;... only I should like
the torches to be red and to smoke a great deal, and the Bacchantes'
eyes to gleam under their wreaths, and the wreaths to be dusky. Don't
forget the tiger-skins, too, and goblets and gold--lots of gold....'
'Where ought the gold to be?' asked Meidanov, tossing back his sleek
hair and distending his nostrils.
'Where? on their shoulders and arms and legs--everywhere. They say in
ancient times women wore gold rings on their ankles. The Bacchantes
call the girls in the boat to them. The girls have ceased singing
their hymn--they cannot go on with it, but they do not stir, the river
carries them to the bank. And suddenly one of them slowly rises....
This you must describe nicely: how she slowly gets up in the
moonlight, and how her companions are afraid.... She steps over the
edge of the boat, the Bacchantes surround her, whirl her away into
night and darkness.... Here put in smoke in clouds and everything in
confusion. There is nothing but the sound of their shrill cry, and her
wreath left lying on the bank.'
Zina´da ceased. ('Oh! she is in love!' I thought again.)
'And is that all?' asked Meidanov.
'That can't be the subject of a whole poem,' he observed pompously,
'but I will make use of your idea for a lyrical fragment.'
'In the romantic style?' queried Malevsky.
'Of course, in the romantic style--Byronic.'
'Well, to my mind, Hugo beats Byron,' the young count observed
negligently; 'he's more interesting.'
'Hugo is a writer of the first class,' replied Meidanov; 'and my
friend, Tonkosheev, in his Spanish romance, _El Trovador_ ...'
'Ah! is that the book with the question-marks turned upside down?'
'Yes. That's the custom with the Spanish. I was about to observe that
'Come! you're going to argue about classicism and romanticism again,'
Zina´da interrupted him a second time.' We'd much better play ...
'Forfeits?' put in Lushin.
'No, forfeits are a bore; at comparisons.' (This game Zina´da had
invented herself. Some object was mentioned, every one tried to
compare it with something, and the one who chose the best comparison
got a prize.)
She went up to the window. The sun was just setting; high up in the
sky were large red clouds.
'What are those clouds like?' questioned Zina´da; and without waiting
for our answer, she said, 'I think they are like the purple sails on
the golden ship of Cleopatra, when she sailed to meet Antony. Do you
remember, Meidanov, you were telling me about it not long ago?'
All of us, like Polonius in _Hamlet_, opined that the clouds recalled
nothing so much as those sails, and that not one of us could discover
a better comparison.
'And how old was Antony then?' inquired Zina´da.
'A young man, no doubt,' observed Malevsky.
'Yes, a young man,' Meidanov chimed in in confirmation.
'Excuse me,' cried Lushin, 'he was over forty.'
'Over forty,' repeated Zina´da, giving him a rapid glance....
I soon went home. 'She is in love,' my lips unconsciously repeated....
'But with whom?'
The days passed by. Zina´da became stranger and stranger, and more and
more incomprehensible. One day I went over to her, and saw her sitting
in a basket-chair, her head pressed to the sharp edge of the table.
She drew herself up ... her whole face was wet with tears.
'Ah, you!' she said with a cruel smile. 'Come here.'
I went up to her. She put her hand on my head, and suddenly catching
hold of my hair, began pulling it.
'It hurts me,' I said at last.
'Ah! does it? And do you suppose nothing hurts me?' she replied.
'Ai!' she cried suddenly, seeing she had pulled a little tuft of hair
out. 'What have I done? Poor M'sieu Voldemar!'
She carefully smoothed the hair she had torn out, stroked it round her
finger, and twisted it into a ring.
'I shall put your hair in a locket and wear it round my neck,' she
said, while the tears still glittered in her eyes. 'That will be some
small consolation to you, perhaps ... and now good-bye.'
I went home, and found an unpleasant state of things there. My mother
was having a scene with my father; she was reproaching him with
something, while he, as his habit was, maintained a polite and chilly
silence, and soon left her. I could not hear what my mother was
talking of, and indeed I had no thought to spare for the subject; I
only remember that when the interview was over, she sent for me to her
room, and referred with great displeasure to the frequent visits I
paid the princess, who was, in her words, _une femme capable de tout_.
I kissed her hand (this was what I always did when I wanted to cut
short a conversation) and went off to my room. Zina´da's tears had
completely overwhelmed me; I positively did not know what to think,
and was ready to cry myself; I was a child after all, in spite of my
sixteen years. I had now given up thinking about Malevsky, though
Byelovzorov looked more and more threatening every day, and glared at
the wily count like a wolf at a sheep; but I thought of nothing and
of no one. I was lost in imaginings, and was always seeking seclusion
and solitude. I was particularly fond of the ruined greenhouse. I
would climb up on the high wall, and perch myself, and sit there,
such an unhappy, lonely, and melancholy youth, that I felt sorry for
myself--and how consolatory where those mournful sensations, how I
revelled in them!...
One day I was sitting on the wall looking into the distance and
listening to the ringing of the bells.... Suddenly something floated
up to me--not a breath of wind and not a shiver, but as it were a
whiff of fragrance--as it were, a sense of some one's being near.... I
looked down. Below, on the path, in a light greyish gown, with a pink
parasol on her shoulder, was Zina´da, hurrying along. She caught sight
of me, stopped, and pushing back the brim of her straw hat, she raised
her velvety eyes to me.
'What are you doing up there at such a height?' she asked me with a
rather queer smile. 'Come,' she went on, 'you always declare you love
me; jump down into the road to me if you really do love me.'
Zina´da had hardly uttered those words when I flew down, just as
though some one had given me a violent push from behind. The wall was
about fourteen feet high. I reached the ground on my feet, but the
shock was so great that I could not keep my footing; I fell down, and
for an instant fainted away. When I came to myself again, without
opening my eyes, I felt Zina´da beside me. 'My dear boy,' she was
saying, bending over me, and there was a note of alarmed tenderness in
her voice, 'how could you do it, dear; how could you obey?... You know
I love you.... Get up.'
Her bosom was heaving close to me, her hands were caressing my head,
and suddenly--what were my emotions at that moment--her soft, fresh
lips began covering my face with kisses ... they touched my lips....
But then Zina´da probably guessed by the expression of my face that I
had regained consciousness, though I still kept my eyes closed, and
rising rapidly to her feet, she said: 'Come, get up, naughty boy,
silly, why are you lying in the dust?' I got up. 'Give me my parasol,'
said Zina´da, 'I threw it down somewhere, and don't stare at me like
that ... what ridiculous nonsense! you're not hurt, are you? stung
by the nettles, I daresay? Don't stare at me, I tell you.... But
he doesn't understand, he doesn't answer,' she added, as though to
herself.... 'Go home, M'sieu' Voldemar, brush yourself, and don't dare
to follow me, or I shall be angry, and never again ...'
She did not finish her sentence, but walked rapidly away, while I sat
down by the side of the road ... my legs would not support me. The
nettles had stung my hands, my back ached, and my head was giddy; but
the feeling of rapture I experienced then has never come a second
time in my life. It turned to a sweet ache in all my limbs and found
expression at last in joyful hops and skips and shouts. Yes, I was
still a child.
I was so proud and light-hearted all that day, I so vividly retained
on my face the feeling of Zina´da's kisses, with such a shudder
of delight I recalled every word she had uttered, I so hugged my
unexpected happiness that I felt positively afraid, positively
unwilling to see her, who had given rise to these new sensations. It
seemed to me that now I could ask nothing more of fate, that now I
ought to 'go, and draw a deep last sigh and die.' But, next day, when
I went into the lodge, I felt great embarrassment, which I tried to
conceal under a show of modest confidence, befitting a man who wishes
to make it apparent that he knows how to keep a secret. Zina´da
received me very simply, without any emotion, she simply shook her
finger at me and asked me, whether I wasn't black and blue? All my
modest confidence and air of mystery vanished instantaneously and
with them my embarrassment. Of course, I had not expected anything
particular, but Zina´da's composure was like a bucket of cold water
thrown over me. I realised that in her eyes I was a child, and was
extremely miserable! Zina´da walked up and down the room, giving me
a quick smile, whenever she caught my eye, but her thoughts were
far away, I saw that clearly.... 'Shall I begin about what happened
yesterday myself,' I pondered; 'ask her, where she was hurrying off
so fast, so as to find out once for all' ... but with a gesture of
despair, I merely went and sat down in a corner.
Byelovzorov came in; I felt relieved to see him.
'I've not been able to find you a quiet horse,' he said in a sulky
voice; 'Freitag warrants one, but I don't feel any confidence in it, I
'What are you afraid of?' said Zina´da; 'allow me to inquire?'
'What am I afraid of? Why, you don't know how to ride. Lord save
us, what might happen! What whim is this has come over you all of a
'Come, that's my business, Sir Wild Beast. In that case I will ask
Piotr Vassilievitch.' ... (My father's name was Piotr Vassilievitch.
I was surprised at her mentioning his name so lightly and freely, as
though she were confident of his readiness to do her a service.)
'Oh, indeed,' retorted Byelovzorov, 'you mean to go out riding with
'With him or with some one else is nothing to do with you. Only not
with you, anyway.'
'Not with me,' repeated Byelovzorov. 'As you wish. Well, I shall find
you a horse.'
'Yes, only mind now, don't send some old cow. I warn you I want to
'Gallop away by all means ... with whom is it, with Malevsky, you are
going to ride?'
'And why not with him, Mr. Pugnacity? Come, be quiet,' she added,
'and don't glare. I'll take you too. You know that to my mind now
Malevsky's--ugh!' She shook her head.
'You say that to console me,' growled Byelovzorov.
Zina´da half closed her eyes. 'Does that console you? O ... O ... O
... Mr. Pugnacity!' she said at last, as though she could find no
other word. 'And you, M'sieu' Voldemar, would you come with us?'
'I don't care to ... in a large party,' I muttered, not raising my
'You prefer a _tŕte-Ó-tŕte_?... Well, freedom to the free, and heaven
to the saints,' she commented with a sigh. 'Go along, Byelovzorov, and
bestir yourself. I must have a horse for to-morrow.'
'Oh, and where's the money to come from?' put in the old princess.
'I won't ask you for it; Byelovzorov will trust me.'
'He'll trust you, will he?' ... grumbled the old princess, and all of
a sudden she screeched at the top of her voice, 'Duniashka!'
'Maman, I have given you a bell to ring,' observed Zina´da.
'Duniashka!' repeated the old lady.
Byelovzorov took leave; I went away with him. Zina´da did not try to
The next day I got up early, cut myself a stick, and set off beyond
the town-gates. I thought I would walk off my sorrow. It was a lovely
day, bright and not too hot, a fresh sportive breeze roved over the
earth with temperate rustle and frolic, setting all things a-flutter
and harassing nothing. I wandered a long while over hills and through
woods; I had not felt happy, I had left home with the intention of
giving myself up to melancholy, but youth, the exquisite weather, the
fresh air, the pleasure of rapid motion, the sweetness of repose,
lying on the thick grass in a solitary nook, gained the upper hand;
the memory of those never-to-be-forgotten words, those kisses, forced
itself once more upon my soul. It was sweet to me to think that
Zina´da could not, anyway, fail to do justice to my courage, my
heroism....' Others may seem better to her than I,' I mused, 'let
them! But others only say what they would do, while I have done it.
And what more would I not do for her?' My fancy set to work. I began
picturing to myself how I would save her from the hands of enemies;
how, covered with blood I would tear her by force from prison,
and expire at her feet. I remembered a picture hanging in our
drawing-room--Malek-Adel bearing away Matilda--but at that point my
attention was absorbed by the appearance of a speckled woodpecker who
climbed busily up the slender stem of a birch-tree and peeped out
uneasily from behind it, first to the right, then to the left, like a
musician behind the bass-viol.
Then I sang 'Not the white snows,' and passed from that to a song well
known at that period: 'I await thee, when the wanton zephyr,' then
I began reading aloud Yermak's address to the stars from Homyakov's
tragedy. I made an attempt to compose something myself in a
sentimental vein, and invented the line which was to conclude each
verse: 'O Zina´da, Zina´da!' but could get no further with it.
Meanwhile it was getting on towards dinner-time. I went down into the
valley; a narrow sandy path winding through it led to the town. I
walked along this path.... The dull thud of horses' hoofs resounded
behind me. I looked round instinctively, stood still and took off my
cap. I saw my father and Zina´da. They were riding side by side. My
father was saying something to her, bending right over to her, his
hand propped on the horses' neck, he was smiling. Zina´da listened
to him in silence, her eyes severely cast down, and her lips tightly
pressed together. At first I saw them only; but a few instants later,
Byelovzorov came into sight round a bend in the glade, he was wearing
a hussar's uniform with a pelisse, and riding a foaming black horse.
The gallant horse tossed its head, snorted and pranced from side
to side, his rider was at once holding him in and spurring him on.
I stood aside. My father gathered up the reins, moved away from
Zina´da, she slowly raised her eyes to him, and both galloped off ...
Byelovzorov flew after them, his sabre clattering behind him. 'He's
as red as a crab,' I reflected, 'while she ... why's she so pale? out
riding the whole morning, and pale?'
I redoubled my pace, and got home just at dinner-time. My father was
already sitting by my mother's chair, dressed for dinner, washed and
fresh; he was reading an article from the _Journal des DÚbats_ in his
smooth musical voice; but my mother heard him without attention, and
when she saw me, asked where I had been to all day long, and added
that she didn't like this gadding about God knows where, and God knows
in what company. 'But I have been walking alone,' I was on the point
of replying, but I looked at my father, and for some reason or other
held my peace.
For the next five or six days I hardly saw Zina´da; she said she was
ill, which did not, however, prevent the usual visitors from calling
at the lodge to pay--as they expressed it, their duty--all, that is,
except Meidanov, who promptly grew dejected and sulky when he had
not an opportunity of being enthusiastic. Byelovzorov sat sullen and
red-faced in a corner, buttoned up to the throat; on the refined face
of Malevsky there flickered continually an evil smile; he had really
fallen into disfavour with Zina´da, and waited with special assiduity
on the old princess, and even went with her in a hired coach to call
on the Governor-General. This expedition turned out unsuccessful,
however, and even led to an unpleasant experience for Malevsky; he was
reminded of some scandal to do with certain officers of the engineers,
and was forced in his explanations to plead his youth and inexperience
at the time. Lushin came twice a day, but did not stay long; I was
rather afraid of him after our last unreserved conversation, and at
the same time felt a genuine attraction to him. He went a walk with
me one day in the Neskutchny gardens, was very good-natured and nice,
told me the names and properties of various plants and flowers, and
suddenly, _Ó propos_ of nothing at all, cried, hitting himself on
his forehead, 'And I, poor fool, thought her a flirt! it's clear
self-sacrifice is sweet for some people!'
'What do you mean by that?' I inquired.
'I don't mean to tell you anything,' Lushin replied abruptly.
Zina´da avoided me; my presence--I could not help noticing
it--affected her disagreeably. She involuntarily turned away from me
... involuntarily; that was what was so bitter, that was what crushed
me! But there was no help for it, and I tried not to cross her path,
and only to watch her from a distance, in which I was not always
successful. As before, something incomprehensible was happening to
her; her face was different, she was different altogether. I was
specially struck by the change that had taken place in her one warm
still evening. I was sitting on a low garden bench under a spreading
elderbush; I was fond of that nook; I could see from there the window
of Zina´da's room. I sat there; over my head a little bird was busily
hopping about in the darkness of the leaves; a grey cat, stretching
herself at full length, crept warily about the garden, and the first
beetles were heavily droning in the air, which was still clear, though
it was not light. I sat and gazed at the window, and waited to see if
it would open; it did open, and Zina´da appeared at it. She had on a
white dress, and she herself, her face, shoulders, and arms, were pale
to whiteness. She stayed a long while without moving, and looked out
straight before her from under her knitted brows. I had never known
such a look on her. Then she clasped her hands tightly, raised them to
her lips, to her forehead, and suddenly pulling her fingers apart, she
pushed back her hair behind her ears, tossed it, and with a sort of
determination nodded her head, and slammed-to the window.
Three days later she met me in the garden. I was turning away, but she
stopped me of herself.
'Give me your arm,' she said to me with her old affectionateness,
'it's a long while since we have had a talk together.'
I stole a look at her; her eyes were full of a soft light, and her
face seemed as it were smiling through a mist.
'Are you still not well?' I asked her.
'No, that's all over now,' she answered, and she picked a small red
rose. 'I am a little tired, but that too will pass off.'
'And will you be as you used to be again?' I asked.
Zina´da put the rose up to her face, and I fancied the reflection of
its bright petals had fallen on her cheeks. 'Why, am I changed?' she
'Yes, you are changed,' I answered in a low voice.
'I have been cold to you, I know,' began Zina´da, 'but you mustn't pay
attention to that ... I couldn't help it.... Come, why talk about it!'
'You don't want me to love you, that's what it is!' I cried gloomily,
in an involuntary outburst.
'No, love me, but not as you did.'
'Let us be friends--come now!' Zina´da gave me the rose to smell.
'Listen, you know I'm much older than you--I might be your aunt,
really; well, not your aunt, but an older sister. And you ...'
'You think me a child,' I interrupted.
'Well, yes, a child, but a dear, good clever one, whom I love very
much. Do you know what? From this day forth I confer on you the rank
of page to me; and don't you forget that pages have to keep close
to their ladies. Here is the token of your new dignity,' she added,
sticking the rose in the buttonhole of my jacket, 'the token of my
'I once received other favours from you,' I muttered.
'Ah!' commented Zina´da, and she gave me a sidelong look, 'What a
memory he has! Well? I'm quite ready now ...' And stooping to me, she
imprinted on my forehead a pure, tranquil kiss.
I only looked at her, while she turned away, and saying, 'Follow me,
my page,' went into the lodge. I followed her--all in amazement. 'Can
this gentle, reasonable girl,' I thought, 'be the Zina´da I used to
know?' I fancied her very walk was quieter, her whole figure statelier
and more graceful ...
And, mercy! with what fresh force love burned within me!
After dinner the usual party assembled again at the lodge, and the
young princess came out to them. All were there in full force, just as
on that first evening which I never forgot; even Nirmatsky had limped
to see her; Meidanov came this time earliest of all, he brought some
new verses. The games of forfeits began again, but without the strange
pranks, the practical jokes and noise--the gipsy element had vanished.
Zina´da gave a different tone to the proceedings. I sat beside her by
virtue of my office as page. Among other things, she proposed that
any one who had to pay a forfeit should tell his dream; but this was
not successful. The dreams were either uninteresting (Byelovzorov had
dreamed that he fed his mare on carp, and that she had a wooden head),
or unnatural and invented. Meidanov regaled us with a regular romance;
there were sepulchres in it, and angels with lyres, and talking
flowers and music wafted from afar. Zina´da did not let him finish.
'If we are to have compositions,' she said, 'let every one tell
something made up, and no pretence about it.' The first who had to
speak was again Byelovzorov.
The young hussar was confused. 'I can't make up anything!' he cried.
'What nonsense!' said Zina´da. 'Well, imagine, for instance, you are
married, and tell us how you would treat your wife. Would you lock her
'Yes, I should lock her up.'
'And would you stay with her yourself?'
'Yes, I should certainly stay with her myself.'
'Very good. Well, but if she got sick of that, and she deceived you?'
'I should kill her.'
'And if she ran away?'
'I should catch her up and kill her all the same.'
'Oh. And suppose now I were your wife, what would you do then?'
Byelovzorov was silent a minute. 'I should kill myself....'
Zina´da laughed. 'I see yours is not a long story.'
The next forfeit was Zina´da's. She looked at the ceiling and
considered. 'Well, listen, she began at last, 'what I have thought
of.... Picture to yourselves a magnificent palace, a summer night, and
a marvellous ball. This ball is given by a young queen. Everywhere
gold and marble, crystal, silk, lights, diamonds, flowers, fragrant
scents, every caprice of luxury.'
'You love luxury?' Lushin interposed. 'Luxury is beautiful,' she
retorted; 'I love everything beautiful.'
'More than what is noble?' he asked.
'That's something clever, I don't understand it. Don't interrupt me.
So the ball is magnificent. There are crowds of guests, all of them
are young, handsome, and brave, all are frantically in love with the
'Are there no women among the guests?' queried Malevsky.
'No--or wait a minute--yes, there are some.'
'Are they all ugly?'
'No, charming. But the men are all in love with the queen. She is tall
and graceful; she has a little gold diadem on her black hair.'
I looked at Zina´da, and at that instant she seemed to me so much
above all of us, there was such bright intelligence, and such power
about her unruffled brows, that I thought: 'You are that queen!'
'They all throng about her,' Zina´da went on, 'and all lavish the most
flattering speeches upon her.'
'And she likes flattery?' Lushin queried.
'What an intolerable person! he keeps interrupting ... who doesn't
'One more last question,' observed Malevsky, 'has the queen a
'I hadn't thought about that. No, why should she have a husband?'
'To be sure,' assented Malevsky, 'why should she have a husband?'
'_Silence!_' cried Meidanov in French, which he spoke very badly.
'_Merci!_' Zina´da said to him. 'And so the queen hears their
speeches, and hears the music, but does not look at one of the guests.
Six windows are open from top to bottom, from floor to ceiling, and
beyond them is a dark sky with big stars, a dark garden with big
trees. The queen gazes out into the garden. Out there among the trees
is a fountain; it is white in the darkness, and rises up tall, tall
as an apparition. The queen hears, through the talk and the music,
the soft splash of its waters. She gazes and thinks: you are all,
gentlemen, noble, clever, and rich, you crowd round me, you treasure
every word I utter, you are all ready to die at my feet, I hold you in
my power ... but out there, by the fountain, by that splashing water,
stands and waits he whom I love, who holds me in his power. He has
neither rich raiment nor precious stones, no one knows him, but he
awaits me, and is certain I shall come--and I shall come--and there
is no power that could stop me when I want to go out to him, and to
stay with him, and be lost with him out there in the darkness of the
garden, under the whispering of the trees, and the splash of the
fountain ...' Zina´da ceased.
'Is that a made-up story?' Malevsky inquired slyly. Zina´da did not
even look at him.
'And what should we have done, gentlemen?' Lushin began suddenly, 'if
we had been among the guests, and had known of the lucky fellow at the
'Stop a minute, stop a minute,' interposed Zina´da, 'I will tell you
myself what each of you would have done. You, Byelovzorov, would have
challenged him to a duel; you, Meidanov, would have written an epigram
on him ... No, though, you can't write epigrams, you would have made
up a long poem on him in the style of Barbier, and would have inserted
your production in the _Telegraph_. You, Nirmatsky, would have
borrowed ... no, you would have lent him money at high interest; you,
doctor,...' she stopped. 'There, I really don't know what you would
'In the capacity of court physician,' answered Lushin, 'I would have
advised the queen not to give balls when she was not in the humour for
entertaining her guests....'
'Perhaps you would have been right. And you, Count?...'
'And I?' repeated Malevsky with his evil smile....
'You would offer him a poisoned sweetmeat.' Malevsky's face changed
slightly, and assumed for an instant a Jewish expression, but he
'And as for you, Voldemar,...' Zina´da went on, 'but that's enough,
though; let us play another game.'
'M'sieu Voldemar, as the queen's page, would have held up her train
when she ran into the garden,' Malevsky remarked malignantly.
I was crimson with anger, but Zina´da hurriedly laid a hand on my
shoulder, and getting up, said in a rather shaky voice: 'I have never
given your excellency the right to be rude, and therefore I will ask
you to leave us.' She pointed to the door.
'Upon my word, princess,' muttered Malevsky, and he turned quite pale.
'The princess is right,' cried Byelovzorov, and he too rose.
'Good God, I'd not the least idea,' Malevsky went on, 'in my words
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