With hesitating footsteps Sanin approached the house of Signora Roselli. His heart was beating violently; he distinctly felt, and even heard it thumping at his side. What should he say to Gemma, how should he begin? He went into the house, not through the shop, but by the back entrance. In the little outer room he met Frau Lenore. She was both relieved and scared at the sight of him.
‘I have been expecting you,’ she said in a whisper, squeezing his hand with each of hers in turn. ‘Go into the garden; she is there. Mind, I rely on you!’
Sanin went into the garden.
Gemma was sitting on a garden-seat near the path, she was sorting a big basket full of cherries, picking out the ripest, and putting them on a dish. The sun was low — it was seven o’clock in the evening — and there was more purple than gold in the full slanting light with which it flooded the whole of Signora Roselli’s little garden. From time to time, faintly audibly, and as it were deliberately, the leaves rustled, and belated bees buzzed abruptly as they flew from one flower to the next, and somewhere a dove was cooing a never-changing, unceasing note. Gemma had on the same round hat in which she had driven to Soden. She peeped at Sanin from under its turned-down brim, and again bent over the basket.
Sanin went up to Gemma, unconsciously making each step shorter, and . . . and . . . and nothing better could he find to say to her than to ask why was she sorting the cherries.
Gemma was in no haste to reply.
‘These are riper,’ she observed at last, ‘they will go into jam, and those are for tarts. You know the round sweet tarts we sell?’
As she said those words, Gemma bent her head still lower, and her right hand with two cherries in her fingers was suspended in the air between the basket and the dish.
‘May I sit by you?’ asked Sanin.
‘Yes.’ Gemma moved a little along on the seat. Sanin placed himself beside her. ‘How am I to begin?’ was his thought. But Gemma got him out of his difficulty.
‘You have fought a duel today,’ she began eagerly, and she turned all her lovely, bashfully flushing face to him — and what depths of gratitude were shining in those eyes! ‘And you are so calm! I suppose for you danger does not exist?’
‘Oh, come! I have not been exposed to any danger. Everything went off very satisfactorily and inoffensively.’
Gemma passed her finger to right and to left before her eyes . . . Also an Italian gesture. ‘No! no! don’t say that! You won’t deceive me! Pantaleone has told me everything!’
‘He’s a trustworthy witness! Did he compare me to the statue of the commander?’
‘His expressions may be ridiculous, but his feeling is not ridiculous, nor is what you have done today. And all that on my account . . . for me . . . I shall never forget it.’
‘I assure you, Fräulein Gemma . . . ’
‘I shall never forget it,’ she said deliberately; once more she looked intently at him, and turned away.
He could now see her delicate pure profile, and it seemed to him that he had never seen anything like it, and had never known anything like what he was feeling at that instant. His soul was on fire.
‘And my promise!’ flashed in among his thoughts.
‘Fräulein Gemma . . . ’ he began after a momentary hesitation.
She did not turn to him, she went on sorting the cherries, carefully taking them by their stalks with her finger-tips, assiduously picking out the leaves. . . . But what a confiding caress could be heard in that one word,
‘Has your mother said nothing to you . . . about . . . ’
Gemma suddenly flung back into the basket the cherries she had taken.
‘Has she been talking to you?’ she asked in her turn.
‘What has she been saying to you?’
‘She told me that you . . . that you have suddenly decided to change . . . your former intention.’ Gemma’s head was bent again. She vanished altogether under her hat; nothing could be seen but her neck, supple and tender as the stalk of a big flower.
‘Your intentions . . . relative to . . . the future arrangement of your life.’
‘That is . . . you are speaking . . . of Herr Klüber?’
‘Mamma told you I don’t want to be Herr Klüber’s wife?’
Gemma moved forward on the seat. The basket tottered, fell . . . a few cherries rolled on to the path. A minute passed by . . . another.
‘Why did she tell you so?’ he heard her voice saying. Sanin as before could only see Gemma’s neck. Her bosom rose and fell more rapidly than before.
‘Why? Your mother thought that as you and I, in a short time, have become, so to say, friends, and you have some confidence in me, I am in a position to give you good advice — and you would mind what I say.’
Gemma’s hands slowly slid on to her knees. She began plucking at the folds of her dress.
‘What advice will you give me, Monsieur Dimitri?’ she asked, after a short pause.
Sanin saw that Gemma’s fingers were trembling on her knees. . . . She was only plucking at the folds of her dress to hide their trembling. He softly laid his hand on those pale, shaking fingers.
‘Gemma,’ he said, ‘why don’t you look at me?’ She instantly tossed her hat back on to her shoulder, and bent her eyes upon him, confiding and grateful as before. She waited for him to speak. . . . But the sight of her face had bewildered, and, as it were, dazed him. The warm glow of the evening sun lighted up her youthful head, and the expression of that head was brighter, more radiant than its glow.
‘I will mind what you say, Monsieur Dimitri,’ she said, faintly smiling, and faintly arching her brows; ‘but what advice do you give me?’
‘What advice?’ repeated Sanin. ‘Well, you see, your mother considers that to dismiss Herr Klüber simply because he did not show any special courage the day before yesterday . . . ’
‘Simply because?’ said Gemma. She bent down, picked up the basket, and set it beside her on the garden seat.
‘That . . . altogether . . . to dismiss him, would be, on your part . . . unreasonable; that it is a step, all the consequences of which ought to be thoroughly weighed; that in fact the very position of your affairs imposes certain obligations on every member of your family . . . ’
‘All that is mamma’s opinion,’ Gemma interposed; ‘those are her words; but what is your opinion?’
‘Mine?’ Sanin was silent for a while. He felt a lump rising in his throat and catching at his breath. ‘I too consider,’ he began with an effort . . .
Gemma drew herself up. ‘Too? You too?’
‘Yes . . . that is . . . ’ Sanin was unable, positively unable to add a single word more.
‘Very well,’ said Gemma. ‘If you, as a friend, advise me to change my decision — that is, not to change my former decision — I will think it over.’ Not knowing what she was doing, she began to tip the cherries back from the plate into the basket. . . . ‘Mamma hopes that I will mind what you say. Well . . . perhaps I really will mind what you say.’
‘But excuse me, Fräulein Gemma, I should like first to know what reason impelled you . . . ’
‘I will mind what you say,’ Gemma repeated, her face right up to her brows was working, her cheeks were white, she was biting her lower lip. ‘You have done so much for me, that I am bound to do as you wish; bound to carry out your wishes. I will tell mamma . . . I will think again. Here she is, by the way, coming here.’
Frau Lenore did in fact appear in the doorway leading from the house to the garden. She was in an agony of impatience; she could not keep still. According to her calculations, Sanin must long ago have finished all he had to say to Gemma, though his conversation with her had not lasted a quarter of an hour.
‘No, no, no, for God’s sake, don’t tell her anything yet,’ Sanin articulated hurriedly, almost in alarm. ‘Wait a little . . . I will tell you, I will write to you . . . and till then don’t decide on anything . . . wait!’
He pressed Gemma’s hand, jumped up from the seat, and to Frau Lenore’s great amazement, rushed past her, and raising his hat, muttered something unintelligible — and vanished.
She went up to her daughter.
‘Tell me, please, Gemma . . . ’
The latter suddenly got up and hugged her. ‘Dear mamma, can you wait a little, a tiny bit . . . till tomorrow? Can you? And till tomorrow not a word? . . . Ah! . . . ’
She burst into sudden happy tears, incomprehensible to herself. This surprised Frau Lenore, the more as the expression of Gemma’s face was far from sorrowful — rather joyful in fact.
‘What is it?’ she asked. ‘You never cry and here, all at once . . . ’
‘Nothing, mamma, never mind! you only wait. We must both wait a little. Don’t ask me anything till tomorrow — and let us sort the cherries before the sun has set.’
‘But you will be reasonable?’
‘Oh, I’m very reasonable!’ Gemma shook her head significantly. She began to make up little bunches of cherries, holding them high above her flushed face. She did not wipe away her tears; they had dried of themselves.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01