On the Eve/II

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II[edit]

The young men went down to the river Moskva and walked along its bank. There was a breath of freshness from the water, and the soft plash of tiny waves caressed the ear.

'I would have another bathe,' said Shubin, 'only I'm afraid of being late. Look at the river; it seems to beckon us. The ancient Greeks would have beheld a nymph in it. But we are not Greeks, O nymph! We are thick-skinned Scythians.'

'We have roussalkas,' observed Bersenyev.

'Get along with your roussalkas! What's the use to me—a sculptor—of those children of a cold, terror-stricken fancy, those shapes begotten in the stifling hut, in the dark of winter nights? I want light, space. . . . Good God, when shall I go to Italy? When——'

'To Little Russia, I suppose you mean?'

'For shame, Andrei Petrovitch, to reproach me for an act of unpremeditated folly, which I have repented bitterly enough without that. Oh, of course, I behaved like a fool; Anna Vassilyevna most kindly gave me the money for an expedition to Italy, and I went off to the Little Russians to eat dumplings and——'

'Don't let me have the rest, please,' interposed Bersenyev.

'Yet still, I will say, the money was not spent in vain. I saw there such types, especially of women. . . . Of course, I know; there is no salvation to be found outside of Italy!'

'You will go to Italy,' said Bersenyev, without turning towards him, 'and will do nothing. You will always be pluming your wings and never take flight. We know you!'

'Stavasser has taken flight. . . . And he's not the only one. If I don't fly, it will prove that I'm a sea penguin, and have no wings. I am stifled here, I want to be in Italy,' pursued Shubin, 'there is sunshine, there is beauty.'

A young girl in a large straw hat, with a pink parasol on her shoulder, came into sight at that instant, in the little path along which the friends were walking.

'But what do I see? Even here, there is beauty—coming to meet us! A humble artist's compliments to the enchanting Zoya!' Shubin cried at once, with a theatrical flourish of his hat.

The young girl to whom this exclamation referred, stopped, threatening him with her finger, and, waiting for the two friends to come up to her, she said in a ringing voice:

'Why is it, gentlemen, you don't come in to dinner? It is on the table.'

'What do I hear?' said Shubin, throwing his arms up. 'Can it be that you, bewitching Zoya, faced such heat to come and look for us? Dare I think that is the meaning of your words? Tell me, can it be so? Or no, do not utter that word; I shall die of regret on the spot'

'Oh, do leave off, Pavel Yakovlitch,' replied the young girl with some annoyance. 'Why will you never talk to me seriously? I shall be angry,' she added with a little coquettish grimace, and she pouted.

'You will not be angry with me, ideal Zoya Nikitishna; you would not drive me to the dark depths of hopeless despair. And I can't talk to you seriously, because I'm not a serious person.'

The young girl shrugged her shoulders, and turned to Bersenyev.

'There, he's always like that; he treats me like a child; and I am eighteen. I am grown-up now.'

'O Lord!' groaned Shubin, rolling his eyes upwards; and Bersenyev smiled quietly.

The girl stamped with her little foot.

'Pavel Yakovlitch, I shall be angry! Helene was coming with me,' she went on, 'but she stopped in the garden. The heat frightened her, but I am not afraid of the heat. Come along.'

She moved forward along the path, slightly swaying her slender figure at each step, and with a pretty black-mittened little hand pushing her long soft curls back from her face.

The friends walked after her (Shubin first pressed his hands, without speaking, to his heart, and then flung them higher than his head), and in a few instants they came out in front of one of the numerous country villas with which Kuntsovo is surrounded. A small wooden house with a gable, painted a pink colour, stood in the middle of the garden, and seemed to be peeping out innocently from behind the green trees. Zoya was the first to open the gate; she ran into the garden, crying: 'I have brought the wanderers!' A young girl, with a pale and expressive face, rose from a garden bench near the little path, and in the doorway of the house appeared a lady in a lilac silk dress, holding an embroidered cambric handkerchief over her head to screen it from the sun, and smiling with a weary and listless air.