After the Theatre (Chekhov/Fell)
WHEN Nadia Zelenia came home with her mother from the theatre, where they had been to see "Evgeni Onegin," and found herself in her own room once more, she took off her dress, loosened her hair, and hastened to sit down at her desk in her petticoat and little white bodice, to write a letter in the style of Tatiana.
"I love you," she wrote, "but you do not, no, you do not love me ! "
As she wrote this she began to laugh.
She was only sixteen and had never been in love in her life. She knew that the officer Gorni and the student Gruzdieff both loved her, but now, after seeing the opera, she did not want to believe it. How attractive it would be to be wretched and spurned ! It was, somehow, so poetical, so beautiful and touching, when one loved while the other remained cold and indifferent! Onegin was arresting because he did not love Tatiana, but Tatiana was enchanting because she loved so ardently. Had they both loved one another equally well and been happy, might not both have been uninteresting ?
"No longer think that you love me," Nadia continued, thinking of Gorni. "I cannot believe it. You are clever and serious and wise; you are a very talented man, and may have a brilliant future before you. I am a stupid, frivolous girl and you know yourself that I should only hinder you in your life. You were attracted to me, it is true; you thought you had found your ideal in me, but that was a mistake. Already you are asking yourself: why did I ever meet that girl? Only your kindness prevents you from acknowledging this."
Nadia began to feel very sorry for herself, she burst into tears and continued:
"If it were not so hard to leave mamma and my brother, I should take the veil and go away to the ends of the earth. Then you would be free to love some one else."
Nadia's tears now prevented her from seeing what she was writing; little rainbows were trembling across the table, the floor, and the ceiling, and it seemed to her as though she were looking through a prism. To go on writing was impossible, so she threw herself back in her chair and began thinking of Gorni.
Goodness, how attractive, how fascinating men were! Nadia remembered the beautiful expression that came over Gorni's face when he was talking of music. How humble, how engaging, how gentle he then looked, and what efforts he made not to let his voice betray the passion he felt ! Emotion must be concealed in society where haughtiness and chilly indifference are the marks of good breeding and a good education, so he would try to hide his feelings, but in vain. Every one knew that he loved music madly. Endless arguments about music and the bold criticisms of Philistines kept his nerves constantly on edge, so that he appeared to be timid and silent. He played the piano beautifully, and if he had not been an officer he would certainly have become a musician.
The tears dried on Nadia's cheeks. She remembered that Gorni had proposed to her at a symphony concert and had later repeated his proposal downstairs by the coat rack, where they were standing in a strong draught.
"I am very glad that you have at last come to know Gruzdieff," she went on. "He is a very clever man and you are sure to be friends. He came to see us yesterday evening and stayed until two. We were all in raptures over him, and I was sorry that you had not come, too. He talked wonderfully."
Nadia laid her arms on the table and rested her head upon them, and her hair fell over the letter. She remembered that Gruzdieff was in love with her, too, and that he had as much right to her letter as Gorni had. On second thoughts, would it not be better to send it to him? A causeless happiness stirred in her breast; at first it was tiny, and rolled gently about there like a small rubber ball; then it grew larger and fuller, and at last gushed up like a fountain. Nadia forgot Gorni and Gruzdieff, and her thoughts grew confused, but her rapture rose and rose, until it flowed from her breast into her hands and feet, and a fresh, gentle breeze seemed to be fanning her head and stirring her hair. Her shoulders shook with soft laughter; the table shook, the lamp-chimney trembled, and tears gushed from her eyes over the letter. She was powerless to control her laughter, so she hastened to think of something funny to prove that her mirth was not groundless.
"Oh, what a ridiculous poodle!" she cried, feeling a little faint from laughing. "What a ridiculous poodle!"
She remembered that Gruzdieff had romped with their poodle Maxim yesterday after tea, and had told her a story of a very intelligent poodle, who chased a jackdaw around a garden. The jackdaw had turned round while the poodle was chasing him, and said:
"You scoundrel, you !"
Not knowing that it was a trained bird, the poodle had been dreadfully dismayed; he had slunk away in perplexity and had afterward begun to howl.
"Yes, I think I shall have to love Gruzdieff," Nadia decided, and she tore up the letter.
So she began to muse on the student, and on his love and hers, but her thoughts were soon rambling, and she found herself thinking of many things: of her mother, of the street, of the pencil, and of the piano. . . . She thought of all this with pleasure, and everything seemed to her to be beautiful and good, but her happiness told her that this was not all, there was a great deal more to come in a little while, which would be much better even than this. Spring would soon be here, and then summer would come, and she would go with her mother to Gorbiki, and there Gorni would come on his holidays, and would take her walking in the garden and make love to her.
Gruzdieff would come, too; he would play croquet and bowls with her, and tell her funny and thrilling stories. She longed for the garden, the darkness, the clear sky, and the stars. Once more her shoulders shook with laughter; the room seemed to her to be filled with the scent of lavender, and a twig tapped against the window-pane.
She went across to the bed, sat down, and, not knowing what to do because of the great happiness that filled her heart, she fixed her eyes on the little icon that hung at the head of her bed, and murmured :
"Oh! Lord! Lord! Lord!"