It was quite morning when he fell asleep. And no wonder! In the blast of that instantaneous summer hurricane, he had almost as instantaneously felt, not that Gemma was lovely, not that he liked her — that he had known before . . . but that he almost . . . loved her! As suddenly as that blast of wind, had love pounced down upon him. And then this senseless duel! He began to be tormented by mournful forebodings. And even suppose they didn’t kill him. . . . What could come of his love for this girl, another man’s betrothed? Even supposing this ‘other man’ was no danger, that Gemma herself would care for him, or even cared for him already . . . What would come of it? How ask what! Such a lovely creature! . . .
He walked about the room, sat down to the table, took a sheet of paper, traced a few lines on it, and at once blotted them out. . . . He recalled Gemma’s wonderful figure in the dark window, in the starlight, set all a-fluttering by the warm hurricane; he remembered her marble arms, like the arms of the Olympian goddesses, felt their living weight on his shoulders. . . . Then he took the rose she had thrown him, and it seemed to him that its half-withered petals exhaled a fragrance of her, more delicate than the ordinary scent of the rose.
‘And would they kill him straight away or maim him?’
He did not go to bed, and fell asleep in his clothes on the sofa.
Some one slapped him on the shoulder. . . . He opened his eyes, and saw Pantaleone.
‘He sleeps like Alexander of Macedon on the eve of the battle of Babylon!’ cried the old man.
‘What o’clock is it?’ inquired Sanin.
‘A quarter to seven; it’s a two hours’ drive to Hanau, and we must be the first on the field. Russians are always beforehand with their enemies! I have engaged the best carriage in Frankfort!’
Sanin began washing. ‘And where are the pistols?’
‘That ferroflucto Tedesco will bring the pistols. He’ll bring a doctor too.’
Pantaleone was obviously putting a good face on it as he had done the day before; but when he was seated in the carriage with Sanin, when the coachman had cracked his whip and the horses had started off at a gallop, a sudden change came over the old singer and friend of Paduan dragoons. He began to be confused and positively faint-hearted. Something seemed to have given way in him, like a badly built wall.
‘What are we doing, my God, Santissima Madonna!’ he cried in an unexpectedly high pipe, and he clutched at his head. ‘What am I about, old fool, madman, frenetico?’
Sanin wondered and laughed, and putting his arm lightly round Pantaleone’s waist, he reminded him of the French proverb: ‘Le vin est tiré— il faut le boire.’
‘Yes, yes,’ answered the old man, ‘we will drain the cup together to the dregs — but still I’m a madman! I’m a madman! All was going on so quietly, so well . . . and all of a sudden: ta-ta-ta, tra-ta-ta!’
‘Like the tutti in the orchestra,’ observed Sanin with a forced smile. ‘But it’s not your fault.’
‘I know it’s not. I should think not indeed! And yet . . . such insolent conduct! Diavolo, diavolo!’ repeated Pantaleone, sighing and shaking his topknot.
The carriage still rolled on and on.
It was an exquisite morning. The streets of Frankfort, which were just beginning to show signs of life, looked so clean and snug; the windows of the houses glittered in flashes like tinfoil; and as soon as the carriage had driven beyond the city walls, from overhead, from a blue but not yet glaring sky, the larks’ loud trills showered down in floods. Suddenly at a turn in the road, a familiar figure came from behind a tall poplar, took a few steps forward and stood still. Sanin looked more closely. . . . Heavens! it was Emil!
‘But does he know anything about it?’ he demanded of Pantaleone.
‘I tell you I’m a madman,’ the poor Italian wailed despairingly, almost in a shriek. ‘The wretched boy gave me no peace all night, and this morning at last I revealed all to him!’
‘So much for your segredezza!’ thought Sanin. The carriage had got up to Emil. Sanin told the coachman to stop the horses, and called the ‘wretched boy’ up to him. Emil approached with hesitating steps, pale as he had been on the day he fainted. He could scarcely stand.
‘What are you doing here?’ Sanin asked him sternly. ‘Why aren’t you at home?’
‘Let . . . let me come with you,’ faltered Emil in a trembling voice, and he clasped his hands. His teeth were chattering as in a fever. ‘I won’t get in your way — only take me.’
‘If you feel the very slightest affection or respect for me,’ said Sanin, ‘you will go at once home or to Herr Klüber’s shop, and you won’t say one word to any one, and will wait for my return!’
‘Your return,’ moaned Emil — and his voice quivered and broke, ‘but if you’re —’
‘Emil!’ Sanin interrupted — and he pointed to the coachman, ‘do control yourself! Emil, please, go home! Listen to me, my dear! You say you love me. Well, I beg you!’ He held out his hand to him. Emil bent forward, sobbed, pressed it to his lips, and darting away from the road, ran back towards Frankfort across country.
‘A noble heart too,’ muttered Pantaleone; but Sanin glanced severely at him. . . . The old man shrank into the corner of the carriage. He was conscious of his fault; and moreover, he felt more and more bewildered every instant; could it really be he who was acting as second, who had got horses, and had made all arrangements, and had left his peaceful abode at six o’clock? Besides, his legs were stiff and aching.
Sanin thought it as well to cheer him up, and he chanced on the very thing, he hit on the right word.
‘Where is your old spirit, Signor Cippatola? Where is il antico valor?’
Signor Cippatola drew himself up and scowled ‘Il antico valor?’ he boomed in a bass voice. ‘Non è ancora spento (it’s not all lost yet), il antico valor!’
He put himself in a dignified attitude, began talking of his career, of the opera, of the great tenor Garcia — and arrived at Hanau a hero.
After all, if you think of it, nothing is stronger in the world . . . and weaker — than a word!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01