Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev

VII

Malz was a writer flourishing at Frankfort about 1830, whose short comedies, written in a light vein in the local dialect, hit off local Frankfort types with bright and amusing, though not deep, humour. It turned out that Gemma really did read excellently — quite like an actress in fact. She indicated each personage, and sustained the character capitally, making full use of the talent of mimicry she had inherited with her Italian blood; she had no mercy on her soft voice or her lovely face, and when she had to represent some old crone in her dotage, or a stupid burgomaster, she made the drollest grimaces, screwing up her eyes, wrinkling up her nose, lisping, squeaking. . . . She did not herself laugh during the reading; but when her audience (with the exception of Pantaleone: he had walked off in indignation so soon as the conversation turned o quel ferroflucto Tedesco) interrupted her by an outburst of unanimous laughter, she dropped the book on her knee, and laughed musically too, her head thrown back, and her black hair dancing in little ringlets on her neck and her shaking shoulders. When the laughter ceased, she picked up the book at once, and again resuming a suitable expression, began the reading seriously. Sanin could not get over his admiration; he was particularly astonished at the marvellous way in which a face so ideally beautiful assumed suddenly a comic, sometimes almost a vulgar expression. Gemma was less successful in the parts of young girls — of so-called ‘jeunes premières’; in the love-scenes in particular she failed; she was conscious of this herself, and for that reason gave them a faint shade of irony as though she did not quite believe in all these rapturous vows and elevated sentiments, of which the author, however, was himself rather sparing — so far as he could be.

Sanin did not notice how the evening was flying by, and only recollected the journey before him when the clock struck ten. He leaped up from his seat as though he had been stung.

‘What is the matter?’ inquired Frau Lenore.

‘Why, I had to start for Berlin to-night, and I have taken a place in the diligence!’

‘And when does the diligence start?’

‘At half-past ten!’

‘Well, then, you won’t catch it now,’ observed Gemma; ‘you must stay . . . and I will go on reading.’

‘Have you paid the whole fare or only given a deposit?’ Frau Lenore queried.

‘The whole fare!’ Sanin said dolefully with a gloomy face.

Gemma looked at him, half closed her eyes, and laughed, while her mother scolded her:

‘The young gentleman has paid away his money for nothing, and you laugh!’

‘Never mind,’ answered Gemma; ‘it won’t ruin him, and we will try and amuse him. Will you have some lemonade?’

Sanin drank a glass of lemonade, Gemma took up Malz once more; and all went merrily again.

The clock struck twelve. Sanin rose to take leave.

‘You must stay some days now in Frankfort,’ said Gemma: ‘why should you hurry away? It would be no nicer in any other town.’ She paused. ‘It wouldn’t, really,’ she added with a smile. Sanin made no reply, and reflected that considering the emptiness of his purse, he would have no choice about remaining in Frankfort till he got an answer from a friend in Berlin, to whom he proposed writing for money.

‘Yes, do stay,’ urged Frau Lenore too. ‘We will introduce you to Mr. Karl Klüber, who is engaged to Gemma. He could not come today, as he was very busy at his shop . . . you must have seen the biggest draper’s and silk mercer’s shop in the Zeile. Well, he is the manager there. But he will be delighted to call on you himself.’

Sanin — heaven knows why — was slightly disconcerted by this piece of information. ‘He’s a lucky fellow, that fiancé!’ flashed across his mind. He looked at Gemma, and fancied he detected an ironical look in her eyes. He began saying good-bye.

‘Till tomorrow? Till tomorrow, isn’t it?’ queried Frau Lenore.

‘Till tomorrow!’ Gemma declared in a tone not of interrogation, but of affirmation, as though it could not be otherwise.

‘Till tomorrow!’ echoed Sanin.

Emil, Pantaleone, and the poodle Tartaglia accompanied him to the corner of the street. Pantaleone could not refrain from expressing his displeasure at Gemma’s reading.

‘She ought to be ashamed! She mouths and whines, una caricatura! She ought to represent Merope or Clytemnaestra — something grand, tragic — and she apes some wretched German woman! I can do that . . . merz, kerz, smerz,’ he went on in a hoarse voice poking his face forward, and brandishing his fingers. Tartaglia began barking at him, while Emil burst out laughing. The old man turned sharply back.

Sanin went back to the White Swan (he had left his things there in the public hall) in a rather confused frame of mind. All the talk he had had in French, German, and Italian was ringing in his ears.

‘Engaged!’ he whispered as he lay in bed, in the modest apartment assigned to him. ‘And what a beauty! But what did I stay for?’

Next day he sent a letter to his friend in Berlin.

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