Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

XIX

Emil ran out to meet Sanin — he had been watching for his arrival over an hour — and hurriedly whispered into his ear that his mother knew nothing of the disagreeable incident of the day before, that he must not even hint of it to her, and that he was being sent to Klüber’s shop again! . . . but that he wouldn’t go there, but would hide somewhere! Communicating all this information in a few seconds, he suddenly fell on Sanin’s shoulder, kissed him impulsively, and rushed away down the street. Gemma met Sanin in the shop; tried to say something and could not. Her lips were trembling a little, while her eyes were half-closed and turned away. He made haste to soothe her by the assurance that the whole affair had ended . . . in utter nonsense.

‘Has no one been to see you today?’ she asked.

‘A person did come to me and we had an explanation, and we . . . we came to the most satisfactory conclusion.’

Gemma went back behind the counter.

‘She does not believe me!’ he thought . . . he went into the next room, however, and there found Frau Lenore.

Her sick headache had passed off, but she was in a depressed state of mind. She gave him a smile of welcome, but warned him at the same time that he would be dull with her today, as she was not in a mood to entertain him. He sat down beside her, and noticed that her eyelids were red and swollen.

‘What is wrong, Frau Lenore? You’ve never been crying, surely?’

‘Oh!’ she whispered, nodding her head towards the room where her daughter was.

‘Don’t speak of it . . . aloud.’

‘But what have you been crying for?’

‘Ah, M’sieu Sanin, I don’t know myself what for!’

‘No one has hurt your feelings?’

‘Oh no! . . . I felt very low all of a sudden. I thought of Giovanni Battista . . . of my youth . . . Then how quickly it had all passed away. I have grown old, my friend, and I can’t reconcile myself to that anyhow. I feel I’m just the same as I was . . . but old age — it’s here! it is here!’ Tears came into Frau Lenore’s eyes. ‘You look at me, I see, and wonder. . . . But you will get old too, my friend, and will find out how bitter it is!’

Sanin tried to comfort her, spoke of her children, in whom her own youth lived again, even attempted to scoff at her a little, declaring that she was fishing for compliments . . . but she quite seriously begged him to leave off, and for the first time he realised that for such a sorrow, the despondency of old age, there is no comfort or cure; one has to wait till it passes off of itself. He proposed a game of tresette, and he could have thought of nothing better. She agreed at once and seemed to get more cheerful.

Sanin played with her until dinner-time and after dinner Pantaleone too took a hand in the game. Never had his topknot hung so low over his forehead, never had his chin retreated so far into his cravat! Every movement was accompanied by such intense solemnity that as one looked at him the thought involuntarily arose, ‘What secret is that man guarding with such determination?’ But segredezza! segredezza!

During the whole of that day he tried in every possible way to show the profoundest respect for Sanin; at table, passing by the ladies, he solemnly and sedately handed the dishes first to him; when they were at cards he intentionally gave him the game; he announced, apropos of nothing at all, that the Russians were the most great-hearted, brave, and resolute people in the world!

‘Ah, you old flatterer!’ Sanin thought to himself.

And he was not so much surprised at Signora Roselli’s unexpected state of mind, as at the way her daughter behaved to him. It was not that she avoided him . . . on the contrary she sat continually a little distance from him, listened to what he said, and looked at him; but she absolutely declined to get into conversation with him, and directly he began talking to her, she softly rose from her place, and went out for some instants. Then she came in again, and again seated herself in some corner, and sat without stirring, seeming meditative and perplexed . . . perplexed above all. Frau Lenore herself noticed at last, that she was not as usual, and asked her twice what was the matter.

‘Nothing,’ answered Gemma; ‘you know I am sometimes like this.’

‘That is true,’ her mother assented.

So passed all that long day, neither gaily nor drearily — neither cheerfully nor sadly. Had Gemma been different — Sanin . . . who knows? . . . might not perhaps have been able to resist the temptation for a little display — or he might simply have succumbed to melancholy at the possibility of a separation for ever. . . . But as he did not once succeed in getting a word with Gemma, he was obliged to confine himself to striking minor chords on the piano for a quarter of an hour before evening coffee.

Emil came home late, and to avoid questions about Herr Klüber, beat a hasty retreat. The time came for Sanin too to retire.

He began saying good-bye to Gemma. He recollected for some reason Lensky’s parting from Olga in Oniegin. He pressed her hand warmly, and tried to get a look at her face, but she turned a little away and released her fingers.

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