On the Eve/V

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V[edit]

Shubin did not leave his room before night. It was already quite dark; the moon—not yet at the full—stood high in the sky, the milky way shone white, and the stars spotted the heavens, when Bersenyev, after taking leave of Anna Vassilyevna, Elena, and Zoya, went up to his friend's door. He found it locked. He knocked.

'Who is there?' sounded Shubin's voice.

'I,' answered Bersenyev.

'What do you want?'

'Let me in, Pavel; don't be sulky; aren't you ashamed of yourself?'

'I am not sulky; I'm asleep and dreaming about Zoya.'

'Do stop that, please; you're not a baby. Let me in. I want to talk to you.'

'Haven't you had talk enough with Elena?'

'Come, come; let me in!' Shubin responded by a pretended snore.

Bersenyev shrugged his shoulders and turned homewards.

The night was warm and seemed strangely still, as though everything were listening and expectant; and Bersenyev, enfolded in the still darkness, stopped involuntarily; and he, too, listened expectant. On the tree-tops near there was a faint stir, like the rustle of a woman's dress, awaking in him a feeling half-sweet, half-painful, a feeling almost of fright. He felt a tingling in his cheeks, his eyes were chill with momentary tears; he would have liked to move quite noiselessly, to steal along in secret. A cross gust of wind blew suddenly on him; he almost shuddered, and his heart stood still; a drowsy beetle fell off a twig and dropped with a thud on the path; Bersenyev uttered a subdued 'Ah!' and again stopped. But he began to think of Elena, and all these passing sensations vanished at once; there remained only the reviving sense of the night freshness, of the walk by night; his whole soul was absorbed by the image of the young girl. Bersenyev walked with bent head, recalling her words, her questions. He fancied he heard the tramp of quick steps behind. He listened: some one was running, some one was overtaking him; he heard panting, and suddenly from a black circle of shadow cast by a huge tree Shubin sprang out before him, quite pale in the light of the moon, with no cap on his disordered curls.

'I am glad you came along this path,' he said with an effort. 'I should not have slept all night, if I had not overtaken you. Give me your hand. Are you going home?'

'Yes.'

'I will see you home then.'

'But why have you come without a cap on?'

'That doesn't matter. I took off my neckerchief too. It is quite warm.'

The friends walked a few paces.

'I was very stupid to-day, wasn't I?' Shubin asked suddenly.

'To speak frankly, you were. I couldn't make you out. I have never seen you like that before. And what were you angry about really? Such trifles!'

'H'm,' muttered Shubin. 'That's how you put it; but they were not trifles to me. You see,' he went on, 'I ought to point out to you that I—that—you may think what you please of me—I—well there! I'm in love with Elena.'

'You in love with Elena!' repeated Bersenyev, standing still.

'Yes,' pursued Shubin with affected carelessness. 'Does that astonish you? I will tell you something else. Till this evening I still had hopes that she might come to love me in time. But to-day I have seen for certain that there is no hope for me. She is in love with some one else.'

'Some one else? Whom?'

'Whom? You!' cried Shubin, slapping Bersenyev on the shoulder.

'Me!'

'You,' repeated Shubin.

Bersenyev stepped back a pace, and stood motionless. Shubin looked intently at him.

'And does that astonish you? You are a modest youth. But she loves you. You can make your mind easy on that score.'

'What nonsense you talk!' Bersenyev protested at last with an air of vexation.

'No, it's not nonsense. But why are we standing still? Let us go on. It's easier to talk as we walk. I have known her a long while, and I know her well. I cannot be mistaken. You are a man after her own heart. There was a time when she found me agreeable; but, in the first place, I am too frivolous a young man for her, while you are a serious person, you are a morally and physically well-regulated person, you—hush, I have not finished, you are a conscientiously disposed enthusiast, a genuine type of those devotees of science, of whom—no not of whom—whereof the middle class of Russian gentry are so justly proud! And, secondly, Elena caught me the other day kissing Zoya's arms!'

'Zoya's?'

'Yes, Zoya's. What would you have? She has such fine shoulders.'

'Shoulders?'

'Well there, shoulders and arms, isn't it all the same? Elena caught me in this unconstrained proceeding after dinner, and before dinner I had been abusing Zoya in her hearing. Elena unfortunately doesn't understand how natural such contradictions are. Then you came on the scene, you have faith in—what the deuce is it you have faith in? ... You blush and look confused, you discuss Schiller and Schelling (she's always on the look-out for remarkable men), and so you have won the day, and I, poor wretch, try to joke—and all the while——'

Shubin suddenly burst into tears, turned away, and dropping upon the ground clutched at his hair.

Bersenyev went up to him.

'Pavel,' he began, 'what childishness this is! Really! what's the matter with you to-day? God knows what nonsense you have got into your head, and you are crying. Upon my word, I believe you must be putting it on.'

Shubin lifted up his head. The tears shone bright on his cheeks in the moonlight, but there was a smile on his face.

'Andrei Petrovitch,' he said, 'you may think what you please about me. I am even ready to agree with you that I'm hysterical now, but, by God, I'm in love with Elena, and Elena loves you. I promised, though, to see you home, and I will keep my promise.'

He got up.

'What a night! silvery, dark, youthful! How sweet it must be to-night for men who are loved! How sweet for them not to sleep! Will you sleep, Andrei Petrovitch?'

Bersenyev made no answer, and quickened his pace.

'Where are you hurrying to?' Shubin went on. 'Trust my words, a night like this will never come again in your life, and at home, Schelling will keep. It's true he did you good service to-day; but you need not hurry for all that. Sing, if you can sing, sing louder than ever; if you can't sing, take off your hat, throw up your head, and smile to the stars. They are all looking at you, at you alone; the stars never do anything but look down upon lovers—that's why they are so charming. You are in love, I suppose, Andrei Petrovitch? . . . You don't answer me . . . why don't you answer?' Shubin began again: 'Oh, if you feel happy, be quiet, be quiet! I chatter because I am a poor devil, unloved, I am a jester, an artist, a buffoon; but what unutterable ecstasy would I quaff in the night wind under the stars, if I knew that I were loved! . . . Bersenyev, are you happy?'

Bersenyev was silent as before, and walked quickly along the smooth path. In front, between the trees, glimmered the lights of the little village in which he was staying; it consisted of about a dozen small villas for summer visitors. At the very beginning of the village, to the right of the road, a little shop stood under two spreading birch-trees; its windows were all closed already, but a wide patch of light fell fan-shaped from the open door upon the trodden grass, and was cast upwards on the trees, showing up sharply the whitish undersides of the thick growing leaves. A girl, who looked like a maid-servant, was standing in the shop with her back against the doorpost, bargaining with the shopkeeper; from beneath the red kerchief which she had wrapped round her head, and held with bare hand under her chin, could just be seen her round cheek and slender throat. The young men stepped into the patch of light; Shubin looked into the shop, stopped short, and cried 'Annushka!' The girl turned round quickly. They saw a nice-looking, rather broad but fresh face, with merry brown eyes and black eyebrows. 'Annushka!' repeated Shubin. The girl saw him, looked scared and shamefaced, and without finishing her purchases, she hurried down the steps, slipped quickly past, and, hardly looking round, went along the road to the left. The shopkeeper, a puffy man, unmoved by anything in the world, like all country shopkeepers gasped and gaped after her, while Shubin turned to Bersenyev with the words: 'That's . . . you see . . . there's a family here I know . . . so at their house . . . you mustn't imagine' . . . and, without finishing his speech, he ran after the retreating girl.

'You'd better at least wipe your tears away,' Bersenyev shouted after him, and he could not refrain from laughing. But when he got home, his face had not a mirthful expression; he laughed no longer. He had not for a single instant believed what Shubin had told him, but the words he had uttered had sunk deep into his soul.

'Pavel was making a fool of me,' he thought; ' . . . but she will love one day . . . whom will she love?'

In Bersenyev's room there was a piano, small, and by no means new, but of a soft and sweet tone, though not perfectly in tune. Bersenyev sat down to it, and began to strike some chords. Like all Russians of good birth, he had studied music in his childhood, and like almost all Russian gentlemen, he played very badly; but he loved music passionately. Strictly speaking, he did not love the art, the forms in which music is expressed (symphonies and sonatas, even operas wearied him), but he loved the poetry of music: he loved those vague and sweet, shapeless, and all-embracing emotions which are stirred in the soul by the combinations and successions of sounds. For more than an hour, he did not move from the piano, repeating many times the same chords, awkwardly picking out new ones, pausing and melting over the minor sevenths. His heart ached, and his eyes more than once filled with tears. He was not ashamed of them; he let them flow in the darkness. 'Pavel was right,' he thought, 'I feel it; this evening will not come again.' At last he got up, lighted a candle, put on his dressing-gown, took down from the bookshelf the second volume of Raumer's History of the Hohenstaufen, and sighing twice, he set to work diligently to read it.