Torrents of Spring, by Ivan Turgenev


Sanin told his friends he was going abroad, but he did not say where exactly: the reader will readily conjecture that he made straight for Frankfort. Thanks to the general extension of railways, on the fourth day after leaving Petersburg he was there. He had not visited the place since 1840. The hotel, the White Swan, was standing in its old place and still flourishing, though no longer regarded as first class. The Zeile, the principal street of Frankfort was little changed, but there was not only no trace of Signora Roselli’s house, the very street in which it stood had disappeared. Sanin wandered like a man in a dream about the places once so familiar, and recognised nothing; the old buildings had vanished; they were replaced by new streets of huge continuous houses and fine villas; even the public garden, where that last interview with Gemma had taken place, had so grown up and altered that Sanin wondered if it really were the same garden. What was he to do? How and where could he get information? Thirty years, no little thing! had passed since those days. No one to whom he applied had even heard of the name Roselli; the hotel-keeper advised him to have recourse to the public library, there, he told him, he would find all the old newspapers, but what good he would get from that, the hotel-keeper owned he didn’t see. Sanin in despair made inquiries about Herr Klüber. That name the hotel-keeper knew well, but there too no success awaited him. The elegant shop-manager, after making much noise in the world and rising to the position of a capitalist, had speculated, was made bankrupt, and died in prison. . . . This piece of news did not, however, occasion Sanin the slightest regret. He was beginning to feel that his journey had been rather precipitate. . . . But, behold, one day, as he was turning over a Frankfort directory, he came on the name: Von Dönhof, retired major. He promptly took a carriage and drove to the address, though why was this Von Dönhof certain to be that Dönhof, and why even was the right Dönhof likely to be able to tell him any news of the Roselli family? No matter, a drowning man catches at straws.

Sanin found the retired major von Dönhof at home, and in the grey-haired gentleman who received him he recognised at once his adversary of bygone days. Dönhof knew him too, and was positively delighted to see him; he recalled to him his young days, the escapades of his youth. Sanin heard from him that the Roselli family had long, long ago emigrated to America, to New York; that Gemma had married a merchant; that he, Dönhof, had an acquaintance also a merchant, who would probably know her husband’s address, as he did a great deal of business with America. Sanin begged Dönhof to consult this friend, and, to his delight, Dönhof brought him the address of Gemma’s husband, Mr. Jeremy Slocum, New York, Broadway, No. 501. Only this address dated from the year 1863.

‘Let us hope,’ cried Dönhof, ‘that our Frankfort belle is still alive and has not left New York! By the way,’ he added, dropping his voice, ‘what about that Russian lady, who was staying, do you remember, about that time at Wiesbaden — Madame von Bo . . . von Bolozov, is she still living?’

‘No,’ answered Sanin, ‘she died long ago.’ Dönhof looked up, but observing that Sanin had turned away and was frowning, he did not say another word, but took his leave.

* * * * *

That same day Sanin sent a letter to Madame Gemma Slocum, at New York. In the letter he told her he was writing to her from Frankfort, where he had come solely with the object of finding traces of her, that he was very well aware that he was absolutely without a right to expect that she would answer his appeal; that he had not deserved her forgiveness, and could only hope that among happy surroundings she had long ago forgotten his existence. He added that he had made up his mind to recall himself to her memory in consequence of a chance circumstance which had too vividly brought back to him the images of the past; he described his life, solitary, childless, joyless; he implored her to understand the grounds that had induced him to address her, not to let him carry to the grave the bitter sense of his own wrongdoing, expiated long since by suffering, but never forgiven, and to make him happy with even the briefest news of her life in the new world to which she had gone away. ‘In writing one word to me,’ so Sanin ended his letter, ‘you will be doing a good action worthy of your noble soul, and I shall thank you to my last breath. I am stopping here at the White Swan (he underlined those words) and shall wait, wait till spring, for your answer.’

He despatched this letter, and proceeded to wait. For six whole weeks he lived in the hotel, scarcely leaving his room, and resolutely seeing no one. No one could write to him from Russia nor from anywhere; and that just suited his mood; if a letter came addressed to him he would know at once that it was the one he was waiting for. He read from morning till evening, and not journals, but serious books — historical works. These prolonged studies, this stillness, this hidden life, like a snail in its shell, suited his spiritual condition to perfection; and for this, if nothing more, thanks to Gemma! But was she alive? Would she answer?

At last a letter came, with an American postmark, from New York, addressed to him. The handwriting of the address on the envelope was English. . . . He did not recognise it, and there was a pang at his heart. He could not at once bring himself to break open the envelope. He glanced at the signature — Gemma! The tears positively gushed from his eyes: the mere fact that she signed her name, without a surname, was a pledge to him of reconciliation, of forgiveness! He unfolded the thin sheet of blue notepaper: a photograph slipped out. He made haste to pick it up — and was struck dumb with amazement: Gemma, Gemma living, young as he had known her thirty years ago! The same eyes, the same lips, the same form of the whole face! On the back of the photograph was written, ‘My daughter Mariana.’ The whole letter was very kind and simple. Gemma thanked Sanin for not having hesitated to write to her, for having confidence in her; she did not conceal from him that she had passed some painful moments after his disappearance, but she added at once that for all that she considered — and had always considered — her meeting him as a happy thing, seeing that it was that meeting which had prevented her from becoming the wife of Mr. Klüber, and in that way, though indirectly, had led to her marriage with her husband, with whom she had now lived twenty-eight years, in perfect happiness, comfort, and prosperity; their house was known to every one in New York. Gemma informed Sanin that she was the mother of five children, four sons and one daughter, a girl of eighteen, engaged to be married, and her photograph she enclosed as she was generally considered very like her mother. The sorrowful news Gemma kept for the end of the letter. Frau Lenore had died in New York, where she had followed her daughter and son-inlaw, but she had lived long enough to rejoice in her children’s happiness and to nurse her grandchildren. Pantaleone, too, had meant to come out to America, but he had died on the very eve of leaving Frankfort. ‘Emilio, our beloved, incomparable Emilio, died a glorious death for the freedom of his country in Sicily, where he was one of the “Thousand” under the leadership of the great Garibaldi; we all bitterly lamented the loss of our priceless brother, but, even in the midst of our tears, we were proud of him — and shall always be proud of him — and hold his memory sacred! His lofty, disinterested soul was worthy of a martyr’s crown!’ Then Gemma expressed her regret that Sanin’s life had apparently been so unsuccessful, wished him before everything peace and a tranquil spirit, and said that she would be very glad to see him again, though she realised how unlikely such a meeting was. . . .

We will not attempt to describe the feelings Sanin experienced as he read this letter. For such feelings there is no satisfactory expression; they are too deep and too strong and too vague for any word. Only music could reproduce them.

Sanin answered at once; and as a wedding gift to the young girl, sent to ‘Mariana Slocum, from an unknown friend,’ a garnet cross, set in a magnificent pearl necklace. This present, costly as it was, did not ruin him; during the thirty years that had elapsed since his first visit to Frankfort, he had succeeded in accumulating a considerable fortune. Early in May he went back to Petersburg, but hardly for long. It is rumoured that he is selling all his lands and preparing to go to America.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01