Sanin walked along, at one time by Gemma’s side, at another time a little behind her. He never took his eyes off her and never ceased smiling. She seemed to hasten . . . seemed to linger. As a matter of fact, they both — he all pale, and she all flushed with emotion — were moving along as in a dream. What they had done together a few instants before — that surrender of each soul to another soul — was so intense, so new, and so moving; so suddenly everything in their lives had been changed and displaced that they could not recover themselves, and were only aware of a whirlwind carrying them along, like the whirlwind on that night, which had almost flung them into each other’s arms. Sanin walked along, and felt that he even looked at Gemma with other eyes; he instantly noted some peculiarities in her walk, in her movements — and heavens! how infinitely sweet and precious they were to him! And she felt that that was how he was looking at her.
Sanin and she were in love for the first time; all the miracles of first love were working in them. First love is like a revolution; the uniformly regular routine of ordered life is broken down and shattered in one instant; youth mounts the barricade, waves high its bright flag, and whatever awaits it in the future — death or a new life — all alike it goes to meet with ecstatic welcome.
‘What’s this? Isn’t that our old friend?’ said Sanin, pointing to a muffled-up figure, which hurriedly slipped a little aside as though trying to remain unobserved. In the midst of his abundant happiness he felt a need to talk to Gemma, not of love — that was a settled thing and holy — but of something else.
‘Yes, it’s Pantaleone,’ Gemma answered gaily and happily. ‘Most likely he has been following me ever since I left home; all day yesterday he kept watching every movement I made . . . He guesses!’
‘He guesses!’ Sanin repeated in ecstasy. What could Gemma have said at which he would not have been in ecstasy?
Then he asked her to tell him in detail all that had passed the day before.
And she began at once telling him, with haste, and confusion, and smiles, and brief sighs, and brief bright looks exchanged with Sanin. She said that after their conversation the day before yesterday, mamma had kept trying to get out of her something positive; but that she had put off Frau Lenore with a promise to tell her her decision within twenty-four hours; how she had demanded this limit of time for herself, and how difficult it had been to get it; how utterly unexpectedly Herr Klüber had made his appearance more starched and affected than ever; how he had given vent to his indignation at the childish, unpardonable action of the Russian stranger —‘he meant your duel, Dimitri,’— which he described as deeply insulting to him, Klüber, and how he had demanded that ‘you should be at once refused admittance to the house, Dimitri.’ ‘For,’ he had added — and here Gemma slightly mimicked his voice and manner —’“it casts a slur on my honour; as though I were not able to defend my betrothed, had I thought it necessary or advisable! All Frankfort will know by tomorrow that an outsider has fought a duel with an officer on account of my betrothed — did any one ever hear of such a thing! It tarnishes my honour!” Mamma agreed with him — fancy! — but then I suddenly told him that he was troubling himself unnecessarily about his honour and his character, and was unnecessarily annoyed at the gossip about his betrothed, for I was no longer betrothed to him and would never be his wife! I must own, I had meant to talk to you first . . . before breaking with him finally; but he came . . . and I could not restrain myself. Mamma positively screamed with horror, but I went into the next room and got his ring — you didn’t notice, I took it off two days ago — and gave it to him. He was fearfully offended, but as he is fearfully self-conscious and conceited, he did not say much, and went away. Of course I had to go through a great deal with mamma, and it made me very wretched to see how distressed she was, and I thought I had been a little hasty; but you see I had your note, and even apart from it I knew . . . ’
‘That I love you,’ put in Sanin.
‘Yes . . . that you were in love with me.’
So Gemma talked, hesitating and smiling and dropping her voice or stopping altogether every time any one met them or passed by. And Sanin listened ecstatically, enjoying the very sound of her voice, as the day before he had gloated over her handwriting.
‘Mamma is very much distressed,’ Gemma began again, and her words flew very rapidly one after another; ‘she refuses to take into consideration that I dislike Herr Klüber, that I never was betrothed to him from love, but only because of her urgent entreaties. . . . She suspects — you, Dimitri; that’s to say, to speak plainly, she’s convinced I’m in love with you, and she is more unhappy about it because only the day before yesterday nothing of the sort had occurred to her, and she even begged you to advise me. . . . It was a strange request, wasn’t it? Now she calls you . . . Dimitri, a hypocrite and a cunning fellow, says that you have betrayed her confidence, and predicts that you will deceive me. . . . ’
‘But, Gemma,’ cried Sanin, ‘do you mean to say you didn’t tell her? . . . ’
‘I told her nothing! What right had I without consulting you?’
Sanin threw up his arms. ‘Gemma, I hope that now, at least, you will tell all to her and take me to her. . . . I want to convince your mother that I am not a base deceiver!’
Sanin’s bosom fairly heaved with the flood of generous and ardent emotions.
Gemma looked him full in the face. ‘You really want to go with me now to mamma? to mamma, who maintains that . . . all this between us is impossible — and can never come to pass?’ There was one word Gemma could not bring herself to utter. . . . It burnt her lips; but all the more eagerly Sanin pronounced it.
‘Marry you, Gemma, be your husband — I can imagine no bliss greater!’
To his love, his magnanimity, his determination — he was aware of no limits now.
When she heard those words, Gemma, who had stopped still for an instant, went on faster than ever. . . . She seemed trying to run away from this too great and unexpected happiness! But suddenly her steps faltered. Round the corner of a turning, a few paces from her, in a new hat and coat, straight as an arrow and curled like a poodle — emerged Herr Klüber. He caught sight of Gemma, caught sight of Sanin, and with a sort of inward snort and a backward bend of his supple figure, he advanced with a dashing swing to meet them. Sanin felt a pang; but glancing at Klüber’s face, to which its owner endeavoured, as far as in him lay, to give an expression of scornful amazement, and even commiseration, glancing at that red-cheeked, vulgar face, he felt a sudden rush of anger, and took a step forward.
Gemma seized his arm, and with quiet decision, giving him hers, she looked her former betrothed full in the face. . . . The latter screwed up his face, shrugged his shoulders, shuffled to one side, and muttering between his teeth, ‘The usual end to the song!’ (Das alte Ende vom Liede!)— walked away with the same dashing, slightly skipping gait.
‘What did he say, the wretched creature?’ asked Sanin, and would have rushed after Klüber; but Gemma held him back and walked on with him, not taking away the arm she had slipped into his.
The Rosellis’ shop came into sight. Gemma stopped once more.
‘Dimitri, Monsieur Dimitri,’ she said, ‘we are not there yet, we have not seen mamma yet. . . . If you would rather think a little, if . . . you are still free, Dimitri!’
In reply Sanin pressed her hand tightly to his bosom, and drew her on.
‘Mamma,’ said Gemma, going with Sanin to the room where Frau Lenore was sitting, ‘I have brought the real one!’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01