Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

XI

The bell tinkled at the outer door. A young peasant lad in a fur cap and a red waistcoat came into the shop from the street. Not one customer had looked into it since early morning . . . ‘You see how much business we do!’ Frau Lenore observed to Sanin at lunch-time with a sigh. She was still asleep; Gemma was afraid to take her arm from the pillow, and whispered to Sanin: ‘You go, and mind the shop for me!’ Sanin went on tiptoe into the shop at once. The boy wanted a quarter of a pound of peppermints. ‘How much must I take?’ Sanin whispered from the door to Gemma. ‘Six kreutzers!’ she answered in the same whisper. Sanin weighed out a quarter of a pound, found some paper, twisted it into a cone, tipped the peppermints into it, spilt them, tipped them in again, spilt them again, at last handed them to the boy, and took the money. . . . The boy gazed at him in amazement, twisting his cap in his hands on his stomach, and in the next room, Gemma was stifling with suppressed laughter. Before the first customer had walked out, a second appeared, then a third. . . . ‘I bring luck, it’s clear!’ thought Sanin. The second customer wanted a glass of orangeade, the third, half-a-pound of sweets. Sanin satisfied their needs, zealously clattering the spoons, changing the saucers, and eagerly plunging his fingers into drawers and jars. On reckoning up, it appeared that he had charged too little for the orangeade, and taken two kreutzers too much for the sweets. Gemma did not cease laughing softly, and Sanin too was aware of an extraordinary lightness of heart, a peculiarly happy state of mind. He felt as if he had for ever been standing behind the counter and dealing in orangeade and sweetmeats, with that exquisite creature looking at him through the doorway with affectionately mocking eyes, while the summer sun, forcing its way through the sturdy leafage of the chestnuts that grew in front of the windows, filled the whole room with the greenish-gold of the midday light and shade, and the heart grew soft in the sweet languor of idleness, carelessness, and youth — first youth!

A fourth customer asked for a cup of coffee; Pantaleone had to be appealed to. (Emil had not yet come back from Herr Klüber’s shop.) Sanin went and sat by Gemma again. Frau Lenore still went on sleeping, to her daughter’s great delight. ‘Mamma always sleeps off her sick headaches,’ she observed. Sanin began talking — in a whisper, of course, as before — of his minding the shop; very seriously inquired the price of various articles of confectionery; Gemma just as seriously told him these prices, and meanwhile both of them were inwardly laughing together, as though conscious they were playing in a very amusing farce. All of a sudden, an organ-grinder in the street began playing an air from the Freischütz: ‘Durch die Felder, durch die Auen . . . ’ The dance tune fell shrill and quivering on the motionless air. Gemma started . . . ‘He will wake mamma!’ Sanin promptly darted out into the street, thrust a few kreutzers into the organ-grinder’s hand, and made him cease playing and move away. When he came back, Gemma thanked him with a little nod of the head, and with a pensive smile she began herself just audibly humming the beautiful melody of Weber’s, in which Max expresses all the perplexities of first love. Then she asked Sanin whether he knew ‘Freischütz,’ whether he was fond of Weber, and added that though she was herself an Italian, she liked such music best of all. From Weber the conversation glided off on to poetry and romanticism, on to Hoffmann, whom every one was still reading at that time.

And Frau Lenore still slept, and even snored just a little, and the sunbeams, piercing in narrow streaks through the shutters, were incessantly and imperceptibly shifting and travelling over the floor, the furniture, Gemma’s dress, and the leaves and petals of the flowers.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05