He slept for some hours without waking. Then he began to dream that he was once more fighting a duel, that the antagonist standing facing him was Herr Klüber, and on a fir-tree was sitting a parrot, and this parrot was Pantaleone, and he kept tapping with his beak: one, one, one!
‘One . . . one . . . one!’ he heard the tapping too distinctly; he opened his eyes, raised his head . . . some one was knocking at his door.
‘Come in!’ called Sanin.
The waiter came in and answered that a lady very particularly wished to see him.
‘Gemma!’ flashed into his head . . . but the lady turned out to be her mother, Frau Lenore.
Directly she came in, she dropped at once into a chair and began to cry.
‘What is the matter, my dear, good Madame Roselli?’ began Sanin, sitting beside her and softly touching her hand. ‘What has happened? calm yourself, I entreat you.’
‘Ah, Herr Dimitri, I am very . . . very miserable!’
‘You are miserable?’
‘Ah, very! Could I have foreseen such a thing? All of a sudden, like thunder from a clear sky . . . ’
She caught her breath.
‘But what is it? Explain! Would you like a glass of water?’
‘No, thank you.’ Frau Lenore wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and began to cry with renewed energy. ‘I know all, you see! All!’
‘All? that is to say?’
‘Everything that took place today! And the cause . . . I know that too! You acted like an honourable man; but what an unfortunate combination of circumstances! I was quite right in not liking that excursion to Soden . . . quite right!’ (Frau Lenore had said nothing of the sort on the day of the excursion, but she was convinced now that she had foreseen ‘all’ even then.) ‘I have come to you as to an honourable man, as to a friend, though I only saw you for the first time five days ago. . . . But you know I am a widow, a lonely woman. . . . My daughter . . . ’
Tears choked Frau Lenore’s voice. Sanin did not know what to think. ‘Your daughter?’ he repeated.
‘My daughter, Gemma,’ broke almost with a groan from Frau Lenore, behind the tear-soaked handkerchief, ‘informed me today that she would not marry Herr Klüber, and that I must refuse him!’
Sanin positively started back a little; he had not expected that.
‘I won’t say anything now,’ Frau Lenore went on, ‘of the disgrace of it, of its being something unheard of in the world for a girl to jilt her betrothed; but you see it’s ruin for us, Herr Dimitri!’ Frau Lenore slowly and carefully twisted up her handkerchief in a tiny, tiny little ball, as though she would enclose all her grief within it. ‘We can’t go on living on the takings of our shop, Herr Dimitri! and Herr Klüber is very rich, and will be richer still. And what is he to be refused for? Because he did not defend his betrothed? Allowing that was not very handsome on his part, still, he’s a civilian, has not had a university education, and as a solid business man, it was for him to look with contempt on the frivolous prank of some unknown little officer. And what sort of insult was it, after all, Herr Dimitri?’
‘Excuse me, Frau Lenore, you seem to be blaming me.’
‘I am not blaming you in the least, not in the least! You’re quite another matter; you are, like all Russians, a military man . . . ’
‘Excuse me, I’m not at all . . . ’
‘You’re a foreigner, a visitor, and I’m grateful to you,’ Frau Lenore went on, not heeding Sanin. She sighed, waved her hands, unwound her handkerchief again, and blew her nose. Simply from the way in which her distress expressed itself, it could be seen that she had not been born under a northern sky.
‘And how is Herr Klüber to look after his shop, if he is to fight with his customers? It’s utterly inconsistent! And now I am to send him away! But what are we going to live on? At one time we were the only people that made angel cakes, and nougat of pistachio nuts, and we had plenty of customers; but now all the shops make angel cakes! Only consider; even without this, they’ll talk in the town about your duel . . . it’s impossible to keep it secret. And all of a sudden, the marriage broken off! It will be a scandal, a scandal! Gemma is a splendid girl, she loves me; but she’s an obstinate republican, she doesn’t care for the opinion of others. You’re the only person that can persuade her!’
Sanin was more amazed than ever. ‘I, Frau Lenore?’
‘Yes, you alone . . . you alone. That’s why I have come to you; I could not think of anything else to do! You are so clever, so good! You have fought in her defence. She will trust you! She is bound to trust you — why, you have risked your life on her account! You will make her understand, for I can do nothing more; you make her understand that she will bring ruin on herself and all of us. You saved my son — save my daughter too! God Himself sent you here . . . I am ready on my knees to beseech you. . . . ’ And Frau Lenore half rose from her seat as though about to fall at Sanin’s feet. . . . He restrained her.
‘Frau Lenore! For mercy’s sake! What are you doing?’
She clutched his hand impulsively. ‘You promise . . . ’
‘Frau Lenore, think a moment; what right have I . . . ’
‘You promise? You don’t want me to die here at once before your eyes?’
Sanin was utterly nonplussed. It was the first time in his life he had had to deal with any one of ardent Italian blood.
‘I will do whatever you like,’ he cried. ‘I will talk to Fräulein Gemma. . . . ’
Frau Lenore uttered a cry of delight.
‘Only I really can’t say what result will come of it . . . ’
‘Ah, don’t go back, don’t go back from your words!’ cried Frau Lenore in an imploring voice; ‘you have already consented! The result is certain to be excellent. Any way, I can do nothing more! She won’t listen to me!’
‘Has she so positively stated her disinclination to marry Herr Klüber?’ Sanin inquired after a short silence.
‘As if she’d cut the knot with a knife! She’s her father all over, Giovanni Battista! Wilful girl!’
‘Wilful? Is she!’ . . . Sanin said slowly. ‘Yes . . . yes . . . but she’s an angel too. She will mind you. Are you coming soon? Oh, my dear Russian friend!’ Frau Lenore rose impulsively from her chair, and as impulsively clasped the head of Sanin, who was sitting opposite her. ‘Accept a mother’s blessing — and give me some water!’
Sanin brought Signora Roselli a glass of water, gave her his word of honour that he would come directly, escorted her down the stairs to the street, and when he was back in his own room, positively threw up his arms and opened his eyes wide in his amazement.
‘Well,’ he thought, ‘well, now life is going round in a whirl! And it’s whirling so that I’m giddy.’ He did not attempt to look within, to realise what was going on in himself: it was all uproar and confusion, and that was all he knew! What a day it had been! His lips murmured unconsciously: ‘Wilful . . . her mother says . . . and I have got to advise her . . . her! And advise her what?’
Sanin, really, was giddy, and above all this whirl of shifting sensations and impressions and unfinished thoughts, there floated continually the image of Gemma, the image so ineffaceably impressed on his memory on that hot night, quivering with electricity, in that dark window, in the light of the swarming stars!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01