At five o’clock Sanin woke up, at six he was dressed, at half-past six he was walking up and down the public garden within sight of the little arbour which Gemma had mentioned in her note. It was a still, warm, grey morning. It sometimes seemed as though it were beginning to rain; but the outstretched hand felt nothing, and only looking at one’s coat-sleeve, one could see traces of tiny drops like diminutive beads, but even these were soon gone. It seemed there had never been a breath of wind in the world. Every sound moved not, but was shed around in the stillness. In the distance was a faint thickening of whitish mist; in the air there was a scent of mignonette and white acacia flowers.
In the streets the shops were not open yet, but there were already some people walking about; occasionally a solitary carriage rumbled along . . . there was no one walking in the garden. A gardener was in a leisurely way scraping the path with a spade, and a decrepit old woman in a black woollen cloak was hobbling across the garden walk. Sanin could not for one instant mistake this poor old creature for Gemma; and yet his heart leaped, and he watched attentively the retreating patch of black.
Seven! chimed the clock on the tower. Sanin stood still. Was it possible she would not come? A shiver of cold suddenly ran through his limbs. The same shiver came again an instant later, but from a different cause. Sanin heard behind him light footsteps, the light rustle of a woman’s dress. . . . He turned round: she!
Gemma was coming up behind him along the path. She was wearing a grey cape and a small dark hat. She glanced at Sanin, turned her head away, and catching him up, passed rapidly by him.
‘Gemma,’ he articulated, hardly audibly.
She gave him a little nod, and continued to walk on in front. He followed her.
He breathed in broken gasps. His legs shook under him.
Gemma passed by the arbour, turned to the right, passed by a small flat fountain, in which the sparrows were splashing busily, and, going behind a clump of high lilacs, sank down on a bench. The place was snug and hidden. Sanin sat down beside her.
A minute passed, and neither he nor she uttered a word. She did not even look at him; and he gazed not at her face, but at her clasped hands, in which she held a small parasol. What was there to tell, what was there to say, which could compare, in importance, with the simple fact of their presence there, together, alone, so early, so close to each other.
‘You . . . are not angry with me?’ Sanin articulated at last.
It would have been difficult for Sanin to have said anything more foolish than these words . . . he was conscious of it himself. . . . But, at any rate, the silence was broken.
‘Angry?’ she answered. ‘What for? No.’
‘And you believe me?’ he went on.
‘In what you wrote?’
Gemma’s head sank, and she said nothing. The parasol slipped out of her hands. She hastily caught it before it dropped on the path.
‘Ah, believe me! believe what I wrote to you!’ cried Sanin; all his timidity suddenly vanished, he spoke with heat; ‘if there is truth on earth — sacred, absolute truth — it’s that I love, love you passionately, Gemma.’
She flung him a sideway, momentary glance, and again almost dropped the parasol.
‘Believe me! believe me!’ he repeated. He besought her, held out his hands to her, and did not dare to touch her. ‘What do you want me to do . . . to convince you?’
She glanced at him again.
‘Tell me, Monsieur Dimitri,’ she began; ‘the day before yesterday, when you came to talk to me, you did not, I imagine, know then . . . did not feel . . . ’
‘I felt it,’ Sanin broke in; ‘but I did not know it. I have loved you from the very instant I saw you; but I did not realise at once what you had become to me! And besides, I heard that you were solemnly betrothed. . . . As far as your mother’s request is concerned — in the first place, how could I refuse? — and secondly, I think I carried out her request in such a way that you could guess. . . . ’
They heard a heavy tread, and a rather stout gentleman with a knapsack over his shoulder, apparently a foreigner, emerged from behind the clump, and staring, with the unceremoniousness of a tourist, at the couple sitting on the garden-seat, gave a loud cough and went on.
‘Your mother,’ Sanin began, as soon as the sound of the heavy footsteps had ceased, ‘told me your breaking off your engagement would cause a scandal’— Gemma frowned a little — that I was myself in part responsible for unpleasant gossip, and that . . . consequently . . . I was, to some extent, under an obligation to advise you not to break with your betrothed, Herr Klüber. . . . ’
‘Monsieur Dimitri,’ said Gemma, and she passed her hand over her hair on the side turned towards Sanin, ‘don’t, please, call Herr Klüber my betrothed. I shall never be his wife. I have broken with him.’
‘You have broken with him? when?’
‘You saw him?’
‘Yes. At our house. He came to see us.’
‘Gemma? Then you love me?’
She turned to him.
‘Should . . . I have come here, if not?’ she whispered, and both her hands fell on the seat.
Sanin snatched those powerless, upturned palms, and pressed them to his eyes, to his lips. . . . Now the veil was lifted of which he had dreamed the night before! Here was happiness, here was its radiant form!
He raised his head, and looked at Gemma, boldly and directly. She, too, looked at him, a little downwards. Her half-shut eyes faintly glistened, dim with light, blissful tears. Her face was not smiling . . . no! it laughed, with a blissful, noiseless laugh.
He tried to draw her to him, but she drew back, and never ceasing to laugh the same noiseless laugh, shook her head. ‘Wait a little,’ her happy eyes seemed to say.
‘O Gemma!’ cried Sanin: ‘I never dreamed that you would love me!’
‘I did not expect this myself,’ Gemma said softly.
‘How could I ever have dreamed,’ Sanin went on, ‘when I came to Frankfort, where I only expected to remain a few hours, that I should find here the happiness of all my life!’
‘All your life? Really?’ queried Gemma.
‘All my life, for ever and ever!’ cried Sanin with fresh ardour.
The gardener’s spade suddenly scraped two paces from where they were sitting.
‘Let’s go home,’ whispered Gemma: ‘we’ll go together — will you?’
If she had said to him at that instant ‘Throw yourself in the sea, will you?’ he would have been flying headlong into the ocean before she had uttered the last word.
They went together out of the garden and turned homewards, not by the streets of the town, but through the outskirts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01