The transition from despair to sadness, and from that to ‘gentle resignation,’ was accomplished fairly quickly in Frau Lenore; but that gentle resignation, too, was not slow in changing into a secret satisfaction, which was, however, concealed in every way and suppressed for the sake of appearances. Sanin had won Frau Lenore’s heart from the first day of their acquaintance; as she got used to the idea of his being her son-inlaw, she found nothing particularly distasteful in it, though she thought it her duty to preserve a somewhat hurt, or rather careworn, expression on her face. Besides, everything that had happened the last few days had been so extraordinary. . . . One thing upon the top of another. As a practical woman and a mother, Frau Lenore considered it her duty also to put Sanin through various questions; and Sanin, who, on setting out that morning to meet Gemma, had not a notion that he should marry her — it is true he did not think of anything at all at that time, but simply gave himself up to the current of his passion — Sanin entered, with perfect readiness, one might even say with zeal, into his part — the part of the betrothed lover, and answered all her inquiries circumstantially, exactly, with alacrity. When she had satisfied herself that he was a real nobleman by birth, and had even expressed some surprise that he was not a prince, Frau Lenore assumed a serious air and ‘warned him betimes’ that she should be quite unceremoniously frank with him, as she was forced to be so by her sacred duty as a mother! To which Sanin replied that he expected nothing else from her, and that he earnestly begged her not to spare him!
Then Frau Lenore observed that Herr Klüber — as she uttered the name, she sighed faintly, tightened her lips, and hesitated — Herr Klüber, Gemma’s former betrothed, already possessed an income of eight thousand guldens, and that with every year this sum would rapidly be increased; and what was his, Herr Sanin’s income? ‘Eight thousand guldens,’ Sanin repeated deliberately. . . . ‘That’s in our money . . . about fifteen thousand roubles. . . . My income is much smaller. I have a small estate in the province of Tula. . . . With good management, it might yield — and, in fact, it could not fail to yield — five or six thousand . . . and if I go into the government service, I can easily get a salary of two thousand a year.’
‘Into the service in Russia?’ cried Frau Lenore, ‘Then I must part with Gemma!’
‘One might be able to enter in the diplomatic service,’ Sanin put in; ‘I have some connections. . . . There one’s duties lie abroad. Or else, this is what one might do, and that’s much the best of all: sell my estate and employ the sum received for it in some profitable undertaking; for instance, the improvement of your shop.’ Sanin was aware that he was saying something absurd, but he was possessed by an incomprehensible recklessness! He looked at Gemma, who, ever since the ‘practical’ conversation began, kept getting up, walking about the room, and sitting down again — he looked at her — and no obstacle existed for him, and he was ready to arrange everything at once in the best way, if only she were not troubled!
‘Herr Klüber, too, had intended to give me a small sum for the improvement of the shop,’ Lenore observed after a slight hesitation.
‘Mother! for mercy’s sake, mother!’ cried Gemma in Italian.
‘These things must be discussed in good time, my daughter,’ Frau Lenore replied in the same language. She addressed herself again to Sanin, and began questioning him as to the laws existing in Russia as to marriage, and whether there were no obstacles to contracting marriages with Catholics as in Prussia. (At that time, in 1840, all Germany still remembered the controversy between the Prussian Government and the Archbishop of Cologne upon mixed marriages.) When Frau Lenore heard that by marrying a Russian nobleman, her daughter would herself become of noble rank, she evinced a certain satisfaction. ‘But, of course, you will first have to go to Russia?’
‘Why? Why, to obtain the permission of your Tsar.’
Sanin explained to her that that was not at all necessary . . . but that he might certainly have to go to Russia for a very short time before his marriage —(he said these words, and his heart ached painfully, Gemma watching him, knew it was aching, and blushed and grew dreamy)— and that he would try to take advantage of being in his own country to sell his estate . . . in any case he would bring back the money needed.
‘I would ask you to bring me back some good Astrakhan lambskin for a cape,’ said Frau Lenore. ‘They’re wonderfully good, I hear, and wonderfully cheap!’
‘Certainly, with the greatest pleasure, I will bring some for you and for Gemma!’ cried Sanin.
‘And for me a morocco cap worked in silver,’ Emil interposed, putting his head in from the next room.
‘Very well, I will bring it you . . . and some slippers for Pantaleone.’
‘Come, that’s nonsense, nonsense,’ observed Frau Lenore. ‘We are talking now of serious matters. But there’s another point,’ added the practical lady. ‘You talk of selling your estate. But how will you do that? Will you sell your peasants then, too?’
Sanin felt something like a stab at his heart. He remembered that in a conversation with Signora Roselli and her daughter about serfdom, which, in his own words, aroused his deepest indignation, he had repeatedly assured them that never on any account would he sell his peasants, as he regarded such a sale as an immoral act.
‘I will try and sell my estate to some man I know something of,’ he articulated, not without faltering, ‘or perhaps the peasants themselves will want to buy their freedom.’
‘That would be best of all,’ Frau Lenore agreed. ‘Though indeed selling live people . . . ’
‘Barbari!’ grumbled Pantaleone, who showed himself behind Emil in the doorway, shook his topknot, and vanished.
‘It’s a bad business!’ Sanin thought to himself, and stole a look at Gemma. She seemed not to have heard his last words. ‘Well, never mind!’ he thought again. In this way the practical talk continued almost uninterruptedly till dinner-time. Frau Lenore was completely softened at last, and already called Sanin ‘Dimitri,’ shook her finger affectionately at him, and promised she would punish him for his treachery. She asked many and minute questions about his relations, because ‘that too is very important’; asked him to describe the ceremony of marriage as performed by the ritual of the Russian Church, and was in raptures already at Gemma in a white dress, with a gold crown on her head.
‘She’s as lovely as a queen,’ she murmured with motherly pride,’ indeed there’s no queen like her in the world!’
‘There is no one like Gemma in the world!’ Sanin chimed in.
‘Yes; that’s why she is Gemma!’ (Gemma, as every one knows, means in Italian a precious stone.)
Gemma flew to kiss her mother. . . . It seemed as if only then she breathed freely again, and the load that had been oppressing her dropped from off her soul.
Sanin felt all at once so happy, his heart was filled with such childish gaiety at the thought, that here, after all, the dreams had come true to which he had abandoned himself not long ago in these very rooms, his whole being was in such a turmoil that he went quickly out into the shop. He felt a great desire, come what might, to sell something in the shop, as he had done a few days before. . . . ‘I have a full right to do so now!’ he felt. ‘Why, I am one of the family now!’ And he actually stood behind the counter, and actually kept shop, that is, sold two little girls, who came in, a pound of sweets, giving them fully two pounds, and only taking half the price from them.
At dinner he received an official position, as betrothed, beside Gemma. Frau Lenore pursued her practical investigations. Emil kept laughing and urging Sanin to take him with him to Russia. It was decided that Sanin should set off in a fortnight. Only Pantaleone showed a somewhat sullen face, so much so that Frau Lenore reproached him. ‘And he was his second!’ Pantaleone gave her a glance from under his brows.
Gemma was silent almost all the time, but her face had never been lovelier or brighter. After dinner she called Sanin out a minute into the garden, and stopping beside the very garden-seat where she had been sorting the cherries two days before, she said to him. ‘Dimitri, don’t be angry with me; but I must remind you once more that you are not to consider yourself bound . . . ’
He did not let her go on. . . .
Gemma turned away her face. ‘And as for what mamma spoke of, do you remember, the difference of our religion — see here! . . . ’
She snatched the garnet cross that hung round her neck on a thin cord, gave it a violent tug, snapped the cord, and handed him the cross.
‘If I am yours, your faith is my faith!’ Sanin’s eyes were still wet when he went back with Gemma into the house.
By the evening everything went on in its accustomed way. They even played a game of tresette.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14