Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Veshnie vody. English, Page 1

Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev



  Translated from the Russian








  'Years of gladness, Days of joy, Like the torrents of spring They hurried away.'

  --_From an Old Ballad_.

  ... At two o'clock in the night he had gone back to his study. He haddismissed the servant after the candles were lighted, and throwinghimself into a low chair by the hearth, he hid his face in both hands.

  Never had he felt such weariness of body and of spirit. He had passedthe whole evening in the company of charming ladies and cultivatedmen; some of the ladies were beautiful, almost all the men weredistinguished by intellect or talent; he himself had talked with greatsuccess, even with brilliance ... and, for all that, never yet hadthe _taedium vitae_ of which the Romans talked of old, the 'disgustfor life,' taken hold of him with such irresistible, such suffocatingforce. Had he been a little younger, he would have cried with misery,weariness, and exasperation: a biting, burning bitterness, likethe bitter of wormwood, filled his whole soul. A sort of clingingrepugnance, a weight of loathing closed in upon him on all sides likea dark night of autumn; and he did not know how to get free from thisdarkness, this bitterness. Sleep it was useless to reckon upon heknew he should not sleep.

  He fell to thinking ... slowly, listlessly, wrathfully. He thought ofthe vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human.All the stages of man's life passed in order before his mental gaze(he had himself lately reached his fifty-second year), and not onefound grace in his eyes. Everywhere the same ever-lasting pouring ofwater into a sieve, the ever-lasting beating of the air, everywherethe same self-deception--half in good faith, half conscious--any toyto amuse the child, so long as it keeps him from crying. And then, allof a sudden, old age drops down like snow on the head, and with it theever-growing, ever-gnawing, and devouring dread of death ... and theplunge into the abyss! Lucky indeed if life works out so to the end!May be, before the end, like rust on iron, sufferings, infirmitiescome.... He did not picture life's sea, as the poets depict it,covered with tempestuous waves; no, he thought of that sea as asmooth, untroubled surface, stagnant and transparent to its darkestdepths. He himself sits in a little tottering boat, and down belowin those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just makeout the shapes of hideous monsters: all the ills of life, diseases,sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness.... He gazes, and behold, oneof these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, riseshigher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and moreloathsomely distinct.... An instant yet, and the boat that bears himwill be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws,sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in theslime.... But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.

  He shook his head, jumped up from his low chair, took two turns up anddown the room, sat down to the writing-table, and opening one drawerafter another, began to rummage among his papers, among old letters,mostly from women. He could not have said why he was doing it; he wasnot looking for anything--he simply wanted by some kind of externaloccupation to get away from the thoughts oppressing him. Openingseveral letters at random (in one of them there was a withered flowertied with a bit of faded ribbon), he merely shrugged his shoulders,and glancing at the hearth, he tossed them on one side, probably withthe idea of burning all this useless rubbish. Hurriedly, thrusting hishands first into one, and then into another drawer, he suddenly openedhis eyes wide, and slowly bringing out a little octagonal box ofold-fashioned make, he slowly raised its lid. In the box, under twolayers of cotton wool, yellow with age, was a little garnet cross.

  For a few instants he looked in perplexity at this cross--suddenlyhe gave a faint cry.... Something between regret and delight wasexpressed in his features. Such an expression a man's face wears whenhe suddenly meets some one whom he has long lost sight of, whom he hasat one time tenderly loved, and who suddenly springs up before hiseyes, still the same, and utterly transformed by the years.

  He got up, and going back to the hearth, he sat down again in thearm-chair, and again hid his face in his hands.... 'Why to-day? justto-day?' was his thought, and he remembered many things, long sincepast.

  This is what he remembered....

  But first I must mention his name, his father's name and his surname.He was called Dimitri Pavlovitch Sanin.

  Here follows what he remembered.


  It was the summer of 1840. Sanin was in his twenty-second year, and hewas in Frankfort on his way home from Italy to Russia. He was a man ofsmall property, but independent, almost without family ties. By thedeath of a distant relative, he had come into a few thousand roubles,and he had decided to spend this sum abroad before entering theservice, before finally putting on the government yoke, without whichhe could not obtain a secure livelihood. Sanin had carried out thisintention, and had fitted things in to such a nicety that on the dayof his arrival in Frankfort he had only just enough money left to takehim back to Petersburg. In the year 1840 there were few railroads inexistence; tourists travelled by diligence. Sanin had taken a place inthe '_bei-wagon_'; but the diligence did not start till eleven o'clockin the evening. There was a great deal of time to be got throughbefore then. Fortunately it was lovely weather, and Sanin after diningat a hotel, famous in those days, the White Swan, set off to strollabout the town. He went in to look at Danneker's Ariadne, which he didnot much care for, visited the house of Goethe, of whose works he had,however, only read _Werter_, and that in the French translation. Hewalked along the bank of the Maine, and was bored as a well-conductedtourist should be; at last at six o'clock in the evening, tired, andwith dusty boots, he found himself in one of the least remarkablestreets in Frankfort. That street he was fated not to forget long,long after. On one of its few houses he saw a signboard: 'GiovanniRoselli, Italian confectionery,' was announced upon it. Sanin wentinto it to get a glass of lemonade; but in the shop, where, behindthe modest counter, on the shelves of a stained cupboard, recallinga chemist's shop, stood a few bottles with gold labels, and as manyglass jars of biscuits, chocolate cakes, and sweetmeats--in this room,there was not a soul; only a grey cat blinked and purred, sharpeningits claws on a tall wicker chair near the window and a bright patchof colour was made in the evening sunlight, by a big ball of red woollying on the floor beside a carved wooden basket turned upside down. Aconfused noise was audible in the next room. Sanin stood a moment, andmaking the bell on the door ring its loudest, he called, raising hisvoice, 'Is there no one here?' At that instant the door from an innerroom was thrown open, and Sanin was struck dumb with amazement.


  A young girl of nineteen ran impetuously into the shop, her dark curlshanging in disorder on her bare shoulders, her bare arms stretched outin front of her. Seeing Sanin, she rushed up to him at once, seizedhim by the hand, and pulled him after her, saying in a breathlessvoice, 'Quick, quick, here, save him!' Not through disinclinationto obey, but simply from excess of amazement, Sanin did not at oncefollow the girl. He stood, as it were, rooted to the spot; he hadnever in his life seen such a beautiful creature. She turned towardshim, and with such despair in her voice, in her eyes, in the gestureof her clenched hand, which was lifted with a spasmodic movement toher pale cheek, she articulated, 'Come, come!' that he at once dartedafter her to the open door.

  In the room, into which he ran behind the girl, on an old-fashionedhorse-hair sofa, lay a boy of fourteen, white all over--white, witha yellowish tinge like wax or old marble--he was strikingly like thegirl, obviously her br
other. His eyes were closed, a patch of shadowfell from his thick black hair on a forehead like stone, and delicate,motionless eyebrows; between the blue lips could be seen clenchedteeth. He seemed not to be breathing; one arm hung down to the floor,the other he had tossed above his head. The boy was dressed, and hisclothes were closely buttoned; a tight cravat was twisted round hisneck.

  The girl rushed up to him with a wail of distress. 'He is dead, he isdead!' she cried; 'he was sitting here just now, talking to me--andall of a sudden he fell down and became rigid.... My God! can nothingbe done to help him? And mamma not here! Pantaleone, Pantaleone, thedoctor!' she went on suddenly in Italian. 'Have you been for thedoctor?'

  'Signora, I did not go, I sent Luise,' said a hoarse voice at thedoor, and a little bandy-legged old man came hobbling into the room ina lavender frock coat with black buttons, a high white cravat, shortnankeen trousers, and blue worsted stockings. His diminutive littleface was positively lost in a mass of iron-grey hair. Standing up inall directions, and falling back in ragged tufts, it gave the oldman's figure a resemblance to a crested hen--a resemblance the morestriking, that under the dark-grey mass nothing could be distinguishedbut a beak nose and round yellow eyes.

  'Luise will run fast, and I can't run,' the old man went on inItalian, dragging his flat gouty feet, shod in high slippers withknots of ribbon. 'I've brought some water.'

  In his withered, knotted fingers, he clutched a long bottle neck.

  'But meanwhile Emil will die!' cried the girl, and holding out herhand to Sanin, 'O, sir, O _mein Herr_! can't you do something forhim?'

  'He ought to be bled--it's an apoplectic fit,' observed the old manaddressed as Pantaleone.

  Though Sanin had not the slightest notion of medicine, he knew onething for certain, that boys of fourteen do not have apoplectic fits.

  'It's a swoon, not a fit,' he said, turning to Pantaleone. 'Have yougot any brushes?'

  The old man raised his little face. 'Eh?'

  'Brushes, brushes,' repeated Sanin in German and in French. 'Brushes,'he added, making as though he would brush his clothes.

  The little old man understood him at last.

  'Ah, brushes! _Spazzette_! to be sure we have!'

  'Bring them here; we will take off his coat and try rubbing him.'

  'Good ... _Benone_! And ought we not to sprinkle water on his head?'

  'No ... later on get the brushes now as quick as you can.'

  Pantaleone put the bottle on the floor, ran out and returned at oncewith two brushes, one a hair-brush, and one a clothes-brush. A curlypoodle followed him in, and vigorously wagging its tail, it looked upinquisitively at the old man, the girl, and even Sanin, as though itwanted to know what was the meaning of all this fuss.

  Sanin quickly took the boy's coat off, unbuttoned his collar, andpushed up his shirt-sleeves, and arming himself with a brush, hebegan brushing his chest and arms with all his might. Pantaleone aszealously brushed away with the other--the hair-brush--at his bootsand trousers. The girl flung herself on her knees by the sofa, and,clutching her head in both hands, fastened her eyes, not an eyelashquivering, on her brother.

  Sanin rubbed on, and kept stealing glances at her. Mercy! what abeautiful creature she was!


  Her nose was rather large, but handsome, aquiline-shaped; her upperlip was shaded by a light down; but then the colour of her face,smooth, uniform, like ivory or very pale milky amber, the waveringshimmer of her hair, like that of the Judith of Allorio in thePalazzo-Pitti; and above all, her eyes, dark-grey, with a black ringround the pupils, splendid, triumphant eyes, even now, when terror anddistress dimmed their lustre.... Sanin could not help recalling themarvellous country he had just come from.... But even in Italy he hadnever met anything like her! The girl drew slow, uneven breaths; sheseemed between each breath to be waiting to see whether her brotherwould not begin to breathe.

  Sanin went on rubbing him, but he did not only watch the girl. Theoriginal figure of Pantaleone drew his attention too. The old man wasquite exhausted and panting; at every movement of the brush he hoppedup and down and groaned noisily, while his immense tufts of hair,soaked with perspiration, flapped heavily from side to side, like theroots of some strong plant, torn up by the water.

  'You'd better, at least, take off his boots,' Sanin was just saying tohim.

  The poodle, probably excited by the unusualness of all theproceedings, suddenly sank on to its front paws and began barking.

  '_Tartaglia--canaglia_!' the old man hissed at it. But at that instantthe girl's face was transformed. Her eyebrows rose, her eyes grewwider, and shone with joy.

  Sanin looked round ... A flush had over-spread the lad's face; hiseyelids stirred ... his nostrils twitched. He drew in a breath throughhis still clenched teeth, sighed....

  'Emil!' cried the girl ... 'Emilio mio!'

  Slowly the big black eyes opened. They still had a dazed look, butalready smiled faintly; the same faint smile hovered on his pale lips.Then he moved the arm that hung down, and laid it on his chest.

  'Emilio!' repeated the girl, and she got up. The expression on herface was so tense and vivid, that it seemed that in an instant eithershe would burst into tears or break into laughter.

  'Emil! what is it? Emil!' was heard outside, and a neatly-dressed ladywith silvery grey hair and a dark face came with rapid steps into theroom.

  A middle-aged man followed her; the head of a maid-servant was visibleover their shoulders.

  The girl ran to meet them.

  'He is saved, mother, he is alive!' she cried, impulsively embracingthe lady who had just entered.

  'But what is it?' she repeated. 'I come back ... and all of a sudden Imeet the doctor and Luise ...'

  The girl proceeded to explain what had happened, while the doctor wentup to the invalid who was coming more and more to himself, and wasstill smiling: he seemed to be beginning to feel shy at the commotionhe had caused.

  'You've been using friction with brushes, I see,' said the doctor toSanin and Pantaleone, 'and you did very well.... A very good idea ...and now let us see what further measures ...'

  He felt the youth's pulse. 'H'm! show me your tongue!'

  The lady bent anxiously over him. He smiled still more ingenuously,raised his eyes to her, and blushed a little.

  It struck Sanin that he was no longer wanted; he went into the shop.But before he had time to touch the handle of the street-door, thegirl was once more before him; she stopped him.

  'You are going,' she began, looking warmly into his face; 'I will notkeep you, but you must be sure to come to see us this evening: we areso indebted to you--you, perhaps, saved my brother's life, we want tothank you--mother wants to. You must tell us who you are, you mustrejoice with us ...'

  'But I am leaving for Berlin to-day,' Sanin faltered out.

  'You will have time though,' the girl rejoined eagerly. 'Come to usin an hour's time to drink a cup of chocolate with us. You promise? Imust go back to him! You will come?'

  What could Sanin do?

  'I will come,' he replied.

  The beautiful girl pressed his hand, fluttered away, and he foundhimself in the street.


  When Sanin, an hour and a half later, returned to the Rosellis' shophe was received there like one of the family. Emilio was sitting onthe same sofa, on which he had been rubbed; the doctor had prescribedhim medicine and recommended 'great discretion in avoiding strongemotions' as being a subject of nervous temperament with a tendency toweakness of the heart. He had previously been liable to fainting-fits;but never had he lost consciousness so completely and for so long.However, the doctor declared that all danger was over. Emil, aswas only suitable for an invalid, was dressed in a comfortabledressing-gown; his mother wound a blue woollen wrap round his neck;but he had a cheerful, almost a festive air; indeed everything hada festive air. Before the sofa, on a round table, covered with aclean cloth, towered a huge china coffee-pot, filled with fragrantchocolate, and encircled by cups,
decanters of liqueur, biscuitsand rolls, and even flowers; six slender wax candles were burningin two old-fashioned silver chandeliers; on one side of the sofa,a comfortable lounge-chair offered its soft embraces, and in thischair they made Sanin sit. All the inhabitants of the confectioner'sshop, with whom he had made acquaintance that day, were present, notexcluding the poodle, Tartaglia, and the cat; they all seemed happybeyond expression the poodle positively sneezed with delight, onlythe cat was coy and blinked sleepily as before. They made Sanin tellthem who he was, where he came from, and what was his name; whenhe said he was a Russian, both the ladies were a little surprised,uttered ejaculations of wonder, and declared with one voice that hespoke German splendidly; but if he preferred to speak French, hemight make use of that language, as they both understood it and spokeit well. Sanin at once availed himself of this suggestion. 'Sanin!Sanin!' The ladies would never have expected that a Russian surnamecould be so easy to pronounce. His Christian name--'Dimitri'--theyliked very much too. The elder lady observed that in her youth she hadheard a fine opera--Demetrio e Polibio'--but that 'Dimitri' was muchnicer than 'Demetrio.' In this way Sanin talked for about an hour. Theladies on their side initiated him into all the details of their ownlife. The talking was mostly done by the mother, the lady with greyhair. Sanin learnt from her that her name was Leonora Roselli; thatshe had lost her husband, Giovanni Battista Roselli, who had settledin Frankfort as a confectioner twenty--five years ago; that GiovanniBattista had come from Vicenza and had been a most excellent, thoughfiery and irascible man, and a republican withal! At those wordsSignora Roselli pointed to his portrait, painted in oil-colours, andhanging over the sofa. It must be presumed that the painter, 'alsoa republican!' as Signora Roselli observed with a sigh, had notfully succeeded in catching a likeness, for in his portrait the lateGiovanni Battista appeared as a morose and gloomy brigand, after thestyle of Rinaldo Rinaldini! Signora Roselli herself had come from'the ancient and splendid city of Parma where there is the wonderfulcupola, painted by the immortal Correggio!' But from her longresidence in Germany she had become almost completely Germanised.Then she added, mournfully shaking her head, that all she had leftwas _this_ daughter and _this_ son (pointing to each in turn with herfinger); that the daughter's name was Gemma, and the son's Emilio;that they were both very good and obedient children--especially Emilio... ('Me not obedient!' her daughter put in at that point. 'Oh,you're a republican, too!' answered her mother). That the business,of course, was not what it had been in the days of her husband, whohad a great gift for the confectionery line ... ('_Un grand uomo_!'Pantaleone confirmed with a severe air); but that still, thank God,they managed to get along!