Such were Sanin’s thoughts, as he went to bed; but what he thought next morning when Maria Nikolaevna knocked impatiently at his door with the coral handle of her riding-whip, when he saw her in the doorway, with the train of a dark-blue riding habit over her arm, with a man’s small hat on her thickly coiled curls, with a veil thrown back over her shoulder, with a smile of invitation on her lips, in her eyes, over all her face — what he thought then — history does not record.
‘Well? are you ready?’ rang out a joyous voice.
Sanin buttoned his coat, and took his hat in silence. Maria Nikolaevna flung him a bright look, nodded to him, and ran swiftly down the staircase. And he ran after her.
The horses were already waiting in the street at the steps. There were three of them, a golden chestnut thorough-bred mare, with a thin-lipped mouth, that showed the teeth, with black prominent eyes, and legs like a stag’s, rather thin but beautifully shaped, and full of fire and spirit, for Maria Nikolaevna; a big, powerful, rather thick-set horse, raven black all over, for Sanin; the third horse was destined for the groom. Maria Nikolaevna leaped adroitly on to her mare, who stamped and wheeled round, lifting her tail, and sinking on to her haunches. But Maria Nikolaevna, who was a first-rate horse-woman, reined her in; they had to take leave of Polozov, who in his inevitable fez and in an open dressing-gown, came out on to the balcony, and from there waved a batiste handkerchief, without the faintest smile, rather a frown, in fact, on his face. Sanin too mounted his horse; Maria Nikolaevna saluted Polozov with her whip, then gave her mare a lash with it on her arched and flat neck. The mare reared on her hind legs, made a dash forward, moving with a smart and shortened step, quivering in every sinew, biting the air and snorting abruptly. Sanin rode behind, and looked at Maria Nikolaevna; her slender supple figure, moulded by close-fitting but easy stays, swayed to and fro with self-confident grace and skill. She turned her head and beckoned him with her eyes alone. He came alongside of her.
‘See now, how delightful it is,’ she said. ‘I tell you at the last, before parting, you are charming, and you shan’t regret it.’
As she uttered those last words, she nodded her head several times as if to confirm them and make him feel their full weight.
She seemed so happy that Sanin was simply astonished; her face even wore at times that sedate expression which children sometimes have when they are very . . . very much pleased.
They rode at a walking pace for the short distance to the city walls, but then started off at a vigorous gallop along the high road. It was magnificent, real summer weather; the wind blew in their faces, and sang and whistled sweetly in their ears. They felt very happy; the sense of youth, health and life, of free eager onward motion, gained possession of both; it grew stronger every instant.
Maria Nikolaevna reined in her mare, and again went at a walking pace; Sanin followed her example.
‘This,’ she began with a deep blissful sigh, ‘this now is the only thing worth living for. When you succeed in doing what you want to, what seemed impossible — come, enjoy it, heart and soul, to the last drop!’ She passed her hand across her throat. ‘And how good and kind one feels oneself then! I now, at this moment . . . how good I feel! I feel as if I could embrace the whole world! No, not the whole world. . . . That man now I couldn’t.’ She pointed with her whip at a poorly dressed old man who was stealing along on one side. ‘But I am ready to make him happy. Here, take this,’ she shouted loudly in German, and she flung a net purse at his feet. The heavy little bag (leather purses were not thought of at that time) fell with a ring on to the road. The old man was astounded, stood still, while Maria Nikolaevna chuckled, and put her mare into a gallop.
‘Do you enjoy riding so much?’ Sanin asked, as he overtook her.
Maria Nikolaevna reined her mare in once more: only in this way could she bring her to a stop.
‘I only wanted to get away from thanks. If any one thanks me, he spoils my pleasure. You see I didn’t do that for his sake, but for my own. How dare he thank me? I didn’t hear what you asked me.’
‘I asked . . . I wanted to know what makes you so happy today.’
‘Do you know what,’ said Maria Nikolaevna; either she had again not heard Sanin’s question, or she did not consider it necessary to answer it. ‘I’m awfully sick of that groom, who sticks up there behind us, and most likely does nothing but wonder when we gentlefolks are going home again. How shall we get rid of him?’ She hastily pulled a little pocket-book out of her pocket. ‘Send him back to the town with a note? No . . . that won’t do. Ah! I have it! What’s that in front of us? Isn’t it an inn?’
Sanin looked in the direction she pointed. ‘Yes, I believe it is an inn.’
‘Well, that’s first-rate. I’ll tell him to stop at that inn and drink beer till we come back.’
‘But what will he think?’
‘What does it matter to us? Besides, he won’t think at all; he’ll drink beer — that’s all. Come, Sanin (it was the first time she had used his surname alone), on, gallop!’
When they reached the inn, Maria Nikolaevna called the groom up and told him what she wished of him. The groom, a man of English extraction and English temperament, raised his hand to the beak of his cap without a word, jumped off his horse, and took him by the bridle.
‘Well, now we are free as the birds of the air!’ cried Maria Nikolaevna. ‘Where shall we go. North, south, east, or west? Look — I’m like the Hungarian king at his coronation (she pointed her whip in each direction in turn). All is ours! No, do you know what: see, those glorious mountains — and that forest! Let’s go there, to the mountains, to the mountains!’
‘In die Berge wo die Freiheit thront!’
She turned off the high-road and galloped along a narrow untrodden track, which certainly seemed to lead straight to the hills. Sanin galloped after her.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14