Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev


The copse in which the duel was to take place was a quarter of a mile from Hanau. Sanin and Pantaleone arrived there first, as the latter had predicted; they gave orders for the carriage to remain outside the wood, and they plunged into the shade of the rather thick and close-growing trees. They had to wait about an hour.

The time of waiting did not seem particularly disagreeable to Sanin; he walked up and down the path, listened to the birds singing, watched the dragonflies in their flight, and like the majority of Russians in similar circumstances, tried not to think. He only once dropped into reflection; he came across a young lime-tree, broken down, in all probability by the squall of the previous night. It was unmistakably dying . . . all the leaves on it were dead. ‘What is it? an omen?’ was the thought that flashed across his mind; but he promptly began whistling, leaped over the very tree, and paced up and down the path. As for Pantaleone, he was grumbling, abusing the Germans, sighing and moaning, rubbing first his back and then his knees. He even yawned from agitation, which gave a very comic expression to his tiny shrivelled-up face. Sanin could scarcely help laughing when he looked at him.

They heard, at last, the rolling of wheels along the soft road. ‘It’s they!’ said Pantaleone, and he was on the alert and drew himself up, not without a momentary nervous shiver, which he made haste, however, to cover with the ejaculation ‘B-r-r!’ and the remark that the morning was rather fresh. A heavy dew drenched the grass and leaves, but the sultry heat penetrated even into the wood.

Both the officers quickly made their appearance under its arched avenues; they were accompanied by a little thick-set man, with a phlegmatic, almost sleepy, expression of face — the army doctor. He carried in one hand an earthenware pitcher of water — to be ready for any emergency; a satchel with surgical instruments and bandages hung on his left shoulder. It was obvious that he was thoroughly used to such excursions; they constituted one of the sources of his income; each duel yielded him eight gold crowns — four from each of the combatants. Herr von Richter carried a case of pistols, Herr von Dönhof — probably considering it the thing — was swinging in his hand a little cane.

‘Pantaleone!’ Sanin whispered to the old man; ‘if . . . if I’m killed — anything may happen — take out of my side pocket a paper — there’s a flower wrapped up in it — and give the paper to Signorina Gemma. Do you hear? You promise?’

The old man looked dejectedly at him, and nodded his head affirmatively. . . . But God knows whether he understood what Sanin was asking him to do.

The combatants and the seconds exchanged the customary bows; the doctor alone did not move as much as an eyelash; he sat down yawning on the grass, as much as to say, ‘I’m not here for expressions of chivalrous courtesy.’ Herr von Richter proposed to Herr ‘Tshibadola’ that he should select the place; Herr ‘Tshibadola’ responded, moving his tongue with difficulty —‘the wall’ within him had completely given way again. ‘You act, my dear sir; I will watch. . . . ’

And Herr von Richter proceeded to act. He picked out in the wood close by a very pretty clearing all studded with flowers; he measured out the steps, and marked the two extreme points with sticks, which he cut and pointed. He took the pistols out of the case, and squatting on his heels, he rammed in the bullets; in short, he fussed about and exerted himself to the utmost, continually mopping his perspiring brow with a white handkerchief. Pantaleone, who accompanied him, was more like a man frozen. During all these preparations, the two principals stood at a little distance, looking like two schoolboys who have been punished, and are sulky with their tutors.

The decisive moment arrived. . . . ‘Each took his pistol. . . . ’

But at this point Herr von Richter observed to Pantaleone that it was his duty, as the senior second, according to the rules of the duel, to address a final word of advice and exhortation to be reconciled to the combatants, before uttering the fatal ‘one! two! three!’; that although this exhortation had no effect of any sort and was, as a rule, nothing but an empty formality, still, by the performance of this formality, Herr Cippatola would be rid of a certain share of responsibility; that, properly speaking, such an admonition formed the direct duty of the so-called ‘impartial witness’ (unpartheiischer Zeuge) but since they had no such person present, he, Herr von Richter, would readily yield this privilege to his honoured colleague. Pantaleone, who had already succeeded in obliterating himself behind a bush, so as not to see the offending officer at all, at first made out nothing at all of Herr von Richter’s speech, especially, as it had been delivered through the nose, but all of a sudden he started, stepped hurriedly forward, and convulsively thumping at his chest, in a hoarse voice wailed out in his mixed jargon: ‘A la la la . . . Che bestialita! Deux zeun ommes comme ça que si battono — perchè? Che diavolo? An data a casa!

‘I will not consent to a reconciliation,’ Sanin intervened hurriedly.

‘And I too will not,’ his opponent repeated after him.

‘Well, then shout one, two, three!’ von Richter said, addressing the distracted Pantaleone. The latter promptly ducked behind the bush again, and from there, all huddled together, his eyes screwed up, and his head turned away, he shouted at the top of his voice: ‘Una . . . due . . . tre!

The first shot was Sanin’s, and he missed. His bullet went ping against a tree. Baron von Dönhof shot directly after him — intentionally, to one side, into the air.

A constrained silence followed. . . . No one moved. Pantaleone uttered a faint moan.

‘Is it your wish to go on?’ said Dönhof.

‘Why did you shoot in the air?’ inquired Sanin.

‘That’s nothing to do with you.’

‘Will you shoot in the air the second time?’ Sanin asked again.

‘Possibly: I don’t know.’

‘Excuse me, excuse me, gentlemen . . . ’ began von Richter; ‘duellists have not the right to talk together. That’s out of order.’

‘I decline my shot,’ said Sanin, and he threw his pistol on the ground.

‘And I too do not intend to go on with the duel,’ cried Dönhof, and he too threw his pistol on the ground. ‘And more than that, I am prepared to own that I was in the wrong — the day before yesterday.’

He moved uneasily, and hesitatingly held out his hand. Sanin went rapidly up to him and shook it. Both the young men looked at each other with a smile, and both their faces flushed crimson.

Bravi! bravi!’ Pantaleone roared suddenly as if he had gone mad, and clapping his hands, he rushed like a whirlwind from behind the bush; while the doctor, who had been sitting on one side on a felled tree, promptly rose, poured the water out of the jug and walked off with a lazy, rolling step out of the wood.

‘Honour is satisfied, and the duel is over!’ von Richter announced.

Fuori!’ Pantaleone boomed once more, through old associations.

* * * * *

When he had exchanged bows with the officers, and taken his seat in the carriage, Sanin certainly felt all over him, if not a sense of pleasure, at least a certain lightness of heart, as after an operation is over; but there was another feeling astir within him too, a feeling akin to shame. . . . The duel, in which he had just played his part, struck him as something false, a got-up formality, a common officers’ and students’ farce. He recalled the phlegmatic doctor, he recalled how he had grinned, that is, wrinkled up his nose when he saw him coming out of the wood almost arm-inarm with Baron Dönhof. And afterwards when Pantaleone had paid him the four crowns due to him . . . Ah! there was something nasty about it!

Yes, Sanin was a little conscience-smitten and ashamed . . . though, on the other hand, what was there for him to have done? Could he have left the young officer’s insolence unrebuked? could he have behaved like Herr Klüber? He had stood up for Gemma, he had championed her . . . that was so; and yet, there was an uneasy pang in his heart, and he was conscience — smitten, and even ashamed.

Not so Pantaleone — he was simply in his glory! He was suddenly possessed by a feeling of pride. A victorious general, returning from the field of battle he has won, could not have looked about him with greater self-satisfaction. Sanin’s demeanour during the duel filled him with enthusiasm. He called him a hero, and would not listen to his exhortations and even his entreaties. He compared him to a monument of marble or of bronze, with the statue of the commander in Don Juan! For himself he admitted he had been conscious of some perturbation of mind, ‘but, of course, I am an artist,’ he observed; ‘I have a highly-strung nature, while you are the son of the snows and the granite rocks.’

Sanin was positively at a loss how to quiet the jubilant artist.

* * * * *

Almost at the same place in the road where two hours before they had come upon Emil, he again jumped out from behind a tree, and, with a cry of joy upon his lips, waving his cap and leaping into the air, he rushed straight at the carriage, almost fell under the wheel, and, without waiting for the horses to stop, clambered up over the carriage-door and fairly clung to Sanin.

‘You are alive, you are not wounded!’ he kept repeating. ‘Forgive me, I did not obey you, I did not go back to Frankfort . . . I could not! I waited for you here . . . Tell me how was it? You . . . killed him?’

Sanin with some difficulty pacified Emil and made him sit down.

With great verbosity, with evident pleasure, Pantaleone communicated to him all the details of the duel, and, of course, did not omit to refer again to the monument of bronze and the statue of the commander. He even rose from his seat and, standing with his feet wide apart to preserve his equilibrium, folding his arm on his chest and looking contemptuously over his shoulder, gave an ocular representation of the commander — Sanin! Emil listened with awe, occasionally interrupting the narrative with an exclamation, or swiftly getting up and as swiftly kissing his heroic friend.

The carriage wheels rumbled over the paved roads of Frankfort, and stopped at last before the hotel where Sanin was living.

Escorted by his two companions, he went up the stairs, when suddenly a woman came with hurried steps out of the dark corridor; her face was hidden by a veil, she stood still, facing Sanin, wavered a little, gave a trembling sigh, at once ran down into the street and vanished, to the great astonishment of the waiter, who explained that ‘that lady had been for over an hour waiting for the return of the foreign gentleman.’ Momentary as was the apparition, Sanin recognised Gemma. He recognised her eyes under the thick silk of her brown veil.

‘Did Fräulein Gemma know, then?’ . . . he said slowly in a displeased voice in German, addressing Emil and Pantaleone, who were following close on his heels.

Emil blushed and was confused.

‘I was obliged to tell her all,’ he faltered; ‘she guessed, and I could not help it. . . . But now that’s of no consequence,’ he hurried to add eagerly, ‘everything has ended so splendidly, and she has seen you well and uninjured!’

Sanin turned away.

‘What a couple of chatterboxes you are!’ he observed in a tone of annoyance, as he went into his room and sat down on a chair.

‘Don’t be angry, please,’ Emil implored.

‘Very well, I won’t be angry’—(Sanin was not, in fact, angry — and, after all, he could hardly have desired that Gemma should know nothing about it). ‘Very well . . . that’s enough embracing. You get along now. I want to be alone. I’m going to sleep. I’m tired.’

‘An excellent idea!’ cried Pantaleone. ‘You need repose! You have fully earned it, noble signor! Come along, Emilio! On tip-toe! On tip-toe! Sh — sh — sh!’

When he said he wanted to go to sleep, Sanin had simply wished to get rid of his companions; but when he was left alone, he was really aware of considerable weariness in all his limbs; he had hardly closed his eyes all the preceding night, and throwing himself on his bed he fell immediately into a sound sleep.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01