Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

XXVI

At eight o’clock next morning, Emil arrived at Sanin’s hotel leading Tartaglia by a string. Had he sprung of German parentage, he could not have shown greater practicality. He had told a lie at home; he had said he was going for a walk with Sanin till lunch-time, and then going to the shop. While Sanin was dressing, Emil began to talk to him, rather hesitatingly, it is true, about Gemma, about her rupture with Herr Klüber; but Sanin preserved an austere silence in reply, and Emil, looking as though he understood why so serious a matter should not be touched on lightly, did not return to the subject, and only assumed from time to time an intense and even severe expression.

After drinking coffee, the two friends set off together — on foot, of course — to Hausen, a little village lying a short distance from Frankfort, and surrounded by woods. The whole chain of the Taunus mountains could be seen clearly from there. The weather was lovely; the sunshine was bright and warm, but not blazing hot; a fresh wind rustled briskly among the green leaves; the shadows of high, round clouds glided swiftly and smoothly in small patches over the earth. The two young people soon got out of the town, and stepped out boldly and gaily along the well-kept road. They reached the woods, and wandered about there a long time; then they lunched very heartily at a country inn; then climbed on to the mountains, admired the views, rolled stones down and clapped their hands, watching the queer droll way in which the stones hopped along like rabbits, till a man passing below, unseen by them, began abusing them in a loud ringing voice. Then they lay full length on the short dry moss of yellowish-violet colour; then they drank beer at another inn; ran races, and tried for a wager which could jump farthest. They discovered an echo, and began to call to it; sang songs, hallooed, wrestled, broke up dry twigs, decked their hats with fern, and even danced. Tartaglia, as far as he could, shared in all these pastimes; he did not throw stones, it is true, but he rolled head over heels after them; he howled when they were singing, and even drank beer, though with evident aversion; he had been trained in this art by a student to whom he had once belonged. But he was not prompt in obeying Emil — not as he was with his master Pantaleone — and when Emil ordered him to ‘speak,’ or to ‘sneeze,’ he only wagged his tail and thrust out his tongue like a pipe.

The young people talked, too. At the beginning of the walk, Sanin, as the elder, and so more reflective, turned the conversation on fate and predestination, and the nature and meaning of man’s destiny; but the conversation quickly took a less serious turn. Emil began to question his friend and patron about Russia, how duels were fought there, and whether the women there were beautiful, and whether one could learn Russian quickly, and what he had felt when the officer took aim at him. Sanin, on his side, questioned Emil about his father, his mother, and in general about their family affairs, trying every time not to mention Gemma’s name — and thinking only of her. To speak more precisely, it was not of her he was thinking, but of the morrow, the mysterious morrow which was to bring him new, unknown happiness! It was as though a veil, a delicate, bright veil, hung faintly fluttering before his mental vision; and behind this veil he felt . . . felt the presence of a youthful, motionless, divine image, with a tender smile on its lips, and eyelids severely — with affected seventy — downcast. And this image was not the face of Gemma, it was the face of happiness itself! For, behold, at last his hour had come, the veil had vanished, the lips were parting, the eyelashes are raised — his divinity has looked upon him — and at once light as from the sun, and joy and bliss unending! He dreamed of this morrow — and his soul thrilled with joy again in the melting torture of ever-growing expectation!

And this expectation, this torture, hindered nothing. It accompanied every action, and did not prevent anything. It did not prevent him from dining capitally at a third inn with Emil; and only occasionally, like a brief flash of lightning, the thought shot across him, What if any one in the world knew? This suspense did not prevent him from playing leap-frog with Emil after dinner. The game took place on an open green lawn. And the confusion, the stupefaction of Sanin may be imagined! At the very moment when, accompanied by a sharp bark from Tartaglia, he was flying like a bird, with his legs outspread over Emil, who was bent double, he suddenly saw on the farthest border of the lawn two officers, in whom he recognised at once his adversary and his second, Herr von Dönhof and Herr von Richter! Each of them had stuck an eyeglass in his eye, and was staring at him, chuckling! . . . Sanin got on his feet, turned away hurriedly, put on the coat he had flung down, jerked out a word to Emil; the latter, too, put on his jacket, and they both immediately made off.

It was late when they got back to Frankfort. ‘They’ll scold me,’ Emil said to Sanin as he said good-bye to him. ‘Well, what does it matter? I’ve had such a splendid, splendid day!’

When he got home to his hotel, Sanin found a note there from Gemma. She fixed a meeting with him for next day, at seven o’clock in the morning, in one of the public gardens which surround Frankfort on all sides.

How his heart throbbed! How glad he was that he had obeyed her so unconditionally! And, my God, what was promised . . . what was not promised, by that unknown, unique, impossible, and undubitably certain morrow!

He feasted his eyes on Gemma’s note. The long, elegant tail of the letter G, the first letter of her name, which stood at the bottom of the sheet, reminded him of her lovely fingers, her hand. . . . He thought that he had not once touched that hand with his lips. . . . ‘Italian women,’ he mused, ‘in spite of what’s said of them, are modest and severe. . . . And Gemma above all! Queen . . . goddess . . . pure, virginal marble. . . . ’

‘But the time will come; and it is not far off. . . . ’ There was that night in Frankfort one happy man. . . . He slept; but he might have said of himself in the words of the poet:

‘I sleep . . . but my watchful heart sleeps not.’

And it fluttered as lightly as a butterfly flutters his wings, as he stoops over the flowers in the summer sunshine.

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