This track soon changed into a tiny footpath, and at last disappeared altogether, and was crossed by a stream. Sanin counselled turning back, but Maria Nikolaevna said, ‘No! I want to get to the mountains! Let’s go straight, as the birds fly,’ and she made her mare leap the stream. Sanin leaped it too. Beyond the stream began a wide meadow, at first dry, then wet, and at last quite boggy; the water oozed up everywhere, and stood in pools in some places. Maria Nikolaevna rode her mare straight through these pools on purpose, laughed, and said, ‘Let’s be naughty children.’
‘Do you know,’ she asked Sanin, ‘what is meant by pool-hunting?’
‘Yes,’ answered Sanin.
‘I had an uncle a huntsman,’ she went on.
‘I used to go out hunting with him — in the spring. It was delicious! Here we are now, on the pools with you. Only, I see, you’re a Russian, and yet mean to marry an Italian. Well, that’s your sorrow. What’s that? A stream again! Gee up!’
The horse took the leap, but Maria Nikolaevna’s hat fell off her head, and her curls tumbled loose over her shoulders. Sanin was just going to get off his horse to pick up the hat, but she shouted to him, ‘Don’t touch it, I’ll get it myself,’ bent low down from the saddle, hooked the handle of her whip into the veil, and actually did get the hat. She put it on her head, but did not fasten up her hair, and again darted off, positively holloaing. Sanin dashed along beside her, by her side leaped trenches, fences, brooks, fell in and scrambled out, flew down hill, flew up hill, and kept watching her face. What a face it was! It was all, as it were, wide open: wide-open eyes, eager, bright, and wild; lips, nostrils, open too, and breathing eagerly; she looked straight before her, and it seemed as though that soul longed to master everything it saw, the earth, the sky, the sun, the air itself; and would complain of one thing only — that dangers were so few, and all she could overcome. ‘Sanin!’ she cried, ‘why, this is like Bürger’s Lenore! Only you’re not dead — eh? Not dead . . . I am alive!’ She let her force and daring have full fling. It seemed not an Amazon on a galloping horse, but a young female centaur at full speed, half-beast and half-god, and the sober, well-bred country seemed astounded, as it was trampled underfoot in her wild riot!
Maria Nikolaevna at last drew up her foaming and bespattered mare; she was staggering under her, and Sanin’s powerful but heavy horse was gasping for breath.
‘Well, do you like it?’ Maria Nikolaevna asked in a sort of exquisite whisper.
‘I like it!’ Sanin echoed back ecstatically. And his blood was on fire.
‘This isn’t all, wait a bit.’ She held out her hand. Her glove was torn across.
‘I told you I would lead you to the forest, to the mountains. . . . Here they are, the mountains!’ The mountains, covered with tall forest, rose about two hundred feet from the place they had reached in their wild ride. ‘Look, here is the road; let us turn into it — and forwards. Only at a walk. We must let our horses get their breath.’
They rode on. With one vigorous sweep of her arm Maria Nikolaevna flung back her hair. Then she looked at her gloves and took them off. ‘My hands will smell of leather,’ she said, ‘you won’t mind that, eh?’ . . . Maria Nikolaevna smiled, and Sanin smiled too. Their mad gallop together seemed to have finally brought them together and made them friends.
‘How old are you?’ she asked suddenly.
‘Really? I’m twenty-two too. A nice age. Add both together and you’re still far off old age. It’s hot, though. Am I very red, eh?’
‘Like a poppy!’
Maria Nikolaevna rubbed her face with her handkerchief. ‘We’ve only to get to the forest and there it will be cool. Such an old forest is like an old friend. Have you any friends?’
Sanin thought a little. ‘Yes . . . only few. No real ones.’
‘I have; real ones — but not old ones. This is a friend too — a horse. How carefully it carries one! Ah, but it’s splendid here! Is it possible I am going to Paris the day after tomorrow?’
‘Yes . . . is it possible?’ Sanin chimed in.
‘And you to Frankfort?’
‘I am certainly going to Frankfort.’
‘Well, what of it? Good luck go with you! Anyway, today’s ours . . . ours . . . ours!’
The horses reached the forest’s edge and pushed on into the forest. The broad soft shade of the forest wrapt them round on all sides.
‘Oh, but this is paradise!’ cried Maria Nikolaevna. ‘Further, deeper into the shade, Sanin!’
The horses moved slowly on, ‘deeper into the shade,’ slightly swaying and snorting. The path, by which they had come in, suddenly turned off and plunged into a rather narrow gorge. The smell of heather and bracken, of the resin of the pines, and the decaying leaves of last year, seemed to hang, close and drowsy, about it. Through the clefts of the big brown rocks came strong currents of fresh air. On both sides of the path rose round hillocks covered with green moss.
‘Stop!’ cried Maria Nikolaevna, ‘I want to sit down and rest on this velvet. Help me to get off.’
Sanin leaped off his horse and ran up to her. She leaned on both his shoulders, sprang instantly to the ground, and seated herself on one of the mossy mounds. He stood before her, holding both the horses’ bridles in his hand.
She lifted her eyes to him. . . . ‘Sanin, are you able to forget?’
Sanin recollected what had happened yesterday . . . in the carriage. ‘What is that — a question . . . or a reproach?’
‘I have never in my life reproached any one for anything. Do you believe in magic?’
‘In magic? — you know what is sung of in our ballads — our Russian peasant ballads?’
‘Ah! That’s what you’re speaking of,’ Sanin said slowly.
‘Yes, that’s it. I believe in it . . . and you will believe in it.’
‘Magic is sorcery . . . ’ Sanin repeated, ‘Anything in the world is possible. I used not to believe in it — but I do now. I don’t know myself.’
Maria Nikolaevna thought a moment and looked about her. ‘I fancy this place seems familiar to me. Look, Sanin, behind that bushy oak — is there a red wooden cross, or not?’
Sanin moved a few steps to one side. ‘Yes, there is.’ Maria Nikolaevna smiled. ‘Ah, that’s good! I know where we are. We haven’t got lost as yet. What’s that tapping? A wood-cutter?’
Sanin looked into the thicket. ‘Yes . . . there’s a man there chopping up dry branches.’
‘I must put my hair to rights,’ said Maria Nikolaevna. ‘Else he’ll see me and be shocked.’ She took off her hat and began plaiting up her long hair, silently and seriously. Sanin stood facing her . . . All the lines of her graceful limbs could be clearly seen through the dark folds of her habit, dotted here and there with tufts of moss.
One of the horses suddenly shook itself behind Sanin’s back; he himself started and trembled from head to foot. Everything was in confusion within him, his nerves were strung up like harpstrings. He might well say he did not know himself. . . . He really was bewitched. His whole being was filled full of one thing . . . one idea, one desire. Maria Nikolaevna turned a keen look upon him.
‘Come, now everything’s as it should be,’ she observed, putting on her hat. ‘Won’t you sit down? Here! No, wait a minute . . . don’t sit down! What’s that?’
Over the tree-tops, over the air of the forest, rolled a dull rumbling.
‘Can it be thunder?’
‘I think it really is thunder,’ answered Sanin.
‘Oh, this is a treat, a real treat! That was the only thing wanting!’ The dull rumble was heard a second time, rose, and fell in a crash. ‘Bravo! Bis! Do you remember I spoke of the Æneid yesterday? They too were overtaken by a storm in the forest, you know. We must be off, though.’ She rose swiftly to her feet. ‘Bring me my horse. . . . Give me your hand. There, so. I’m not heavy.’
She hopped like a bird into the saddle. Sanin too mounted his horse.
‘Are you going home?’ he asked in an unsteady voice.
‘Home indeed!’ she answered deliberately and picked up the reins. ‘Follow me,’ she commanded almost roughly. She came out on to the road and passing the red cross, rode down into a hollow, clambered up again to a cross road, turned to the right and again up the mountainside. . . . She obviously knew where the path led, and the path led farther and farther into the heart of the forest. She said nothing and did not look round; she moved imperiously in front and humbly and submissively he followed without a spark of will in his sinking heart. Rain began to fall in spots. She quickened her horse’s pace, and he did not linger behind her. At last through the dark green of the young firs under an overhanging grey rock, a tumbledown little hut peeped out at him, with a low door in its wattle wall. . . . Maria Nikolaevna made her mare push through the fir bushes, leaped off her, and appearing suddenly at the entrance to the hut, turned to Sanin, and whispered ‘Æneas.’
Four hours later, Maria Nikolaevna and Sanin, accompanied by the groom, who was nodding in the saddle, returned to Wiesbaden, to the hotel. Polozov met his wife with the letter to the overseer in his hand. After staring rather intently at her, he showed signs of some displeasure on his face, and even muttered, ‘You don’t mean to say you’ve won your bet?’
Maria Nikolaevna simply shrugged her shoulders.
The same day, two hours later, Sanin was standing in his own room before her, like one distraught, ruined. . . .
‘Where are you going, dear?’ she asked him. ‘To Paris, or to Frankfort?’
‘I am going where you will be, and will be with you till you drive me away,’ he answered with despair and pressed close to him the hands of his sovereign. She freed her hands, laid them on his head, and clutched at his hair with her fingers. She slowly turned over and twisted the unresisting hair, drew herself up, her lips curled with triumph, while her eyes, wide and clear, almost white, expressed nothing but the ruthlessness and glutted joy of conquest. The hawk, as it clutches a captured bird, has eyes like that.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01