Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

XVIII

An hour later the waiter came in again to Sanin, and handed him an old, soiled visiting-card, on which were the following words: ‘Pantaleone Cippatola of Varese, court singer (cantante di camera) to his Royal Highness the Duke of Modena’; and behind the waiter in walked Pantaleone himself. He had changed his clothes from top to toe. He had on a black frock coat, reddish with long wear, and a white piqué waistcoat, upon which a pinch-beck chain meandered playfully; a heavy cornelian seal hung low down on to his narrow black trousers. In his right hand he carried a black beaver hat, in his left two stout chamois gloves; he had tied his cravat in a taller and broader bow than ever, and had stuck into his starched shirt-front a pin with a stone, a so-called ‘cat’s eye.’ On his forefinger was displayed a ring, consisting of two clasped hands with a burning heart between them. A smell of garments long laid by, a smell of camphor and of musk hung about the whole person of the old man; the anxious solemnity of his deportment must have struck the most casual spectator! Sanin rose to meet him.

‘I am your second,’ Pantaleone announced in French, and he bowed bending his whole body forward, and turning out his toes like a dancer. ‘I have come for instructions. Do you want to fight to the death?’

‘Why to the death, my dear Signor Cippatola? I will not for any consideration take back my words — but I am not a bloodthirsty person! . . . But come, wait a little, my opponent’s second will be here directly. I will go into the next room, and you can make arrangements with him. Believe me I shall never forget your kindness, and I thank you from my heart.’

‘Honour before everything!’ answered Pantaleone, and he sank into an arm-chair, without waiting for Sanin to ask him to sit down. ‘If that ferroflucto spitchebubbio,’ he said, passing from French into Italian, ‘if that counter-jumper Klüberio could not appreciate his obvious duty or was afraid, so much the worse for him! . . . A cheap soul, and that’s all about it! . . . As for the conditions of the duel, I am your second, and your interests are sacred to me! . . . When I lived in Padua there was a regiment of the white dragoons stationed there, and I was very intimate with many of the officers! . . . I was quite familiar with their whole code. And I used often to converse on these subjects with your principe Tarbuski too. . . . Is this second to come soon?’

‘I am expecting him every minute — and here he comes,’ added Sanin, looking into the street.

Pantaleone got up, looked at his watch, straightened his topknot of hair, and hurriedly stuffed into his shoe an end of tape which was sticking out below his trouser-leg, and the young sub-lieutenant came in, as red and embarrassed as ever.

Sanin presented the seconds to each other. ‘M. Richter, sous-lieutenant, M. Cippatola, artiste!’ The sub-lieutenant was slightly disconcerted by the old man’s appearance . . . Oh, what would he have said had any one whispered to him at that instant that the ‘artist’ presented to him was also employed in the culinary art! But Pantaleone assumed an air as though taking part in the preliminaries of duels was for him the most everyday affair: probably he was assisted at this juncture by the recollections of his theatrical career, and he played the part of second simply as a part. Both he and the sub-lieutenant were silent for a little.

‘Well? Let us come to business!’ Pantaleone spoke first, playing with his cornelian seal.

‘By all means,’ responded the sub-lieutenant, ‘but . . . the presence of one of the principals . . . ’

‘I will leave you at once, gentlemen,’ cried Sanin, and with a bow he went away into the bedroom and closed the door after him.

He flung himself on the bed and began thinking of Gemma . . . but the conversation of the seconds reached him through the shut door. It was conducted in the French language; both maltreated it mercilessly, each after his own fashion. Pantaleone again alluded to the dragoons in Padua, and Principe Tarbuski; the sub-lieutenant to ‘exghizes léchères’ and ‘goups de bistolet à l’amiaple.’ But the old man would not even hear of any exghizes! To Sanin’s horror, he suddenly proceeded to talk of a certain young lady, an innocent maiden, whose little finger was worth more than all the officers in the world . . . (oune zeune damigella innoucenta, qu’a elle sola dans soun péti doa vale pin que tout le zouffissié del mondo.’), and repeated several times with heat: ‘It’s shameful! it’s shameful!’ (E ouna onta, ouna onta!) The sub-lieutenant at first made him no reply, but presently an angry quiver could be heard in the young man’s voice, and he observed that he had not come there to listen to sermonising.

‘At your age it is always a good thing to hear the truth!’ cried Pantaleone.

The debate between the seconds several times became stormy; it lasted over an hour, and was concluded at last on the following conditions: ‘Baron von Dönhof and M. de Sanin to meet the next day at ten o’clock in a small wood near Hanau, at the distance of twenty paces; each to have the right to fire twice at a signal given by the seconds, the pistols to be single-triggered and not rifle-barrelled.’ Herr von Richter withdrew, and Pantaleone solemnly opened the bedroom door, and after communicating the result of their deliberations, cried again: ‘Bravo Russo! Bravo giovanotto! You will be victor!’

A few minutes later they both set off to the Rosellis’ shop. Sanin, as a preliminary measure, had exacted a promise from Pantaleone to keep the affair of the duel a most profound secret. In reply, the old man had merely held up his finger, and half closing his eyes, whispered twice over, Segredezza! He was obviously in good spirits, and even walked with a freer step. All these unusual incidents, unpleasant though they might be, carried him vividly back to the time when he himself both received and gave challenges — only, it is true, on the stage. Baritones, as we all know, have a great deal of strutting and fuming to do in their parts.

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