Sanine by Mikhail Petrovich Artzybashev
Lialia wept in her room for such a long while that at last, her face buried in the pillows, she fell asleep. She woke next morning with aching head and swollen eyes, her first thought being that she must not cry, as Riasantzeff, who was coming to lunch, would be shocked to see her looking so plain. Then, suddenly, she recollected that all was over between them, and a sense of bitter pain and burning love caused her to weep afresh.
"How base, how horrible!" she murmured, striving to keep back her tears. "And why? Why?" she repeated, as infinite grief for love that was lost seemed to overwhelm her. It was revolting to think that Riasantzeff had always lied to her in such a facile, heartless way. "And not only he, but all the others lied, too," she thought. "They all of them professed to be so delighted at our marriage, and said that he was such a good, honest fellow! Well, no, they didn't actually lie about it, but they simply didn't think it was wrong. How hateful of them!"
Thus all those who surrounded her seemed odious, evil persons. She leant her forehead against the window-pane and through her tears, gazed at the garden. It was gloomy, there; and large raindrops beat incessantly against the panes, so that Lialia could not tell if it were these or her tears which hid the garden from her view. The trees looked sad and forlorn, their pale, dripping leaves and black boughs faintly discernible amid the general downpour that converted the lawn into a muddy swamp.
And Lialia's whole life seemed to her utterly unhappy; the future was hopeless, the past all dark.
When the maid-servant came to call her to breakfast, Lialia, though she heard the words, failed to understand their meaning. Afterwards, at table, she felt confused when her father spoke to her. It was as if he spoke with special pity in his voice; no doubt, every one knew by this time how abominably false to her the beloved one had been. She hastily returned to her room and once more sat down and gazed at the grey, dreary garden.
"Why should he be so false? Why should he have hurt me like this? Is it that he does not love me? No, Tolia loves me, and I love him. Well, then, what is wrong? Why it's this; he's deceived me; he's been making love to all sorts of nasty women. I wonder if they loved him as I love him?" she asked herself, naively, ardently. "Oh! how silly I am, to be sure! What's the good of worrying about that? He has been false to me, and everything now is at an end. Oh! how perfectly miserable I am! Yes, I ought to worry about it! He was false to me! At least, he might have confessed it to me! But he didn't! Oh! it's abominable! Kissing a lot of other women, and perhaps, even ... It's awful. Oh I I'm so wretched!"
A little frog hopped across the path, With legs outstretched!
Thus sang Lialia, mentally, as she spied a little grey ball hopping timidly across the slippery foot-path.
"Yes, I am miserable, and it is all over," thought she, as the frog disappeared in the long grass. "For me it was all so beautiful, so wonderful, and for him, well--just an ordinary, commonplace affair! That is why he always avoided speaking to me of his past life! That is why he always looked so strange, as if he were thinking of something; as if he were thinking 'I know all about that; I know exactly what you feel and what the result of it will be.' While all the time, I was.... Oh! it's horrible! It's shameful! I'll never, never love anybody again!"
And she wept again, her cheek pressed against the cool window-pane, as she watched the drifting clouds.
"But Tolia is coming to lunch to-day!" The thought of it made her shiver. "What am I to say to him? What ought one to say in cases of this kind?"
Lialia opened her mouth and stared anxiously at the wall.
"I must ask Yourii about it. Dear Yourii! He's so good and upright!" she thought, as tears of sympathy filled her eyes. Then, being never wont to postpone matters, she hastened to her brother's room. There she found Schafroff who was discussing something with Yourii. She stood, irresolute, in the doorway.
"Good morning," she said absently.
"Good morning!" replied Schafroff. "Pray come in, Ludmilla Nicolaijevna; your help is absolutely necessary in this matter."
Still somewhat embarrassed, Lialia sat down obediently at the table and began fingering in desultory fashion some of the green and red pamphlets which were heaped upon it.
"You see, it's like this," began Schafroff, turning towards her as if he were about to explain something extremely complicated, "several of our comrades at Koursk are very hard up, and we must absolutely do what we can to help them. So I think of getting up a concert, eh, what?"
This favourite expression of Schafroff's, "eh, what?" reminded Lialia of her object in coming to her brother's room, and she glanced hopefully at Yourii.
"Why not? It's a very good idea!" she replied, wondering why Yourii avoided her glance.
After Lialia's torrent of tears and the gloomy thoughts which had harassed him all night long, Yourii felt too depressed to speak to his sister. He had expected that she would come to him for advice, yet to give this in a satisfactory way seemed impossible. So, too, it was impossible to take back what he had said in order to comfort Lialia, and thrust her back into Riasantzeff's arms; nor had he the heart to give the death-blow to her childish happiness.
"Well, this is what we have decided to do," continued Schafroff, moving nearer to Lialia, as if the matter were becoming much more complex, "we mean to ask Lida Sanina and Sina Karsavina to sing. Each a solo, first of all, and afterwards a duet. One is a contralto, and the other, a soprano, so that will do nicely. Then I shall play the violin, and afterwards Sarudine might sing, accompanied by Tanaroff."
"Oh! then, officers are to take part in the concert, are they?" asked Lialia mechanically, thinking all the while of something quite different.
"Why, of course!" exclaimed Schafroff, with a wave of his hand. "Lida has only got to accept, and they'll all swarm round her like bees. As for Sarudine, he'll be delighted to sing; it doesn't matter where, so long as he can sing. This will attract a good many of his brother- officers, and we shall get a full house."
"You ought to ask Sina Karsavina," said Lialia, looking wistfully at her brother. "He surely can't have forgotten," she thought. "How can he discuss this stupid concert, whilst I ..."
"Why, I told you just now we had done so!" replied Schafroff. "Oh! yes, so you did," said Lialia, smiling faintly. "Then there's Lida. But you mentioned her I think?"
"Of course I did! Whom else can we ask, eh?"
"I really ... don't know!" faltered Lialia. "I've got such a headache."
Yourii glanced hurriedly at his sister, and then continued to pore over his pamphlets. Pale and heavy-eyed, she excited his compassion.
"Oh! why, why did I say all that to her?" he thought. "The whole question is so obscure, to me, as to so many others, and now it must needs trouble her poor little heart! Why, why did I say that!"
He felt as if he could tear his hair.
"If you please, miss," said the maid at the door, "Mr. Anatole Pavlovitch has just come."
Yourii gave another frightened glance at his sister, and met her sad eyes. In confusion he turned to Schafroff, and said hastily:
"Have you read Charles Bradlaugh?"
"Yes, we read some of his works with Dubova, and Sina Karsavina. Most interesting."
"Yes. Oh! have they come back?"
"Since when?" asked Yourii, hiding his emotion.
"Since the day before yesterday."
"Oh! really!" replied Yourii, as he watched Lialia. He felt ashamed and afraid in her presence, as if he had deceived her.
For a moment Lialia stood there irresolute, touching things nervously on the table. Then she approached the door.
"Oh! what have I done!" thought Yourii, as, sincerely grieved, he listened to the sound of her faltering footsteps. As she went towards the other room, Lialia, doubting and distressed, felt as if she were frozen. It seemed as though she were wandering in a dark wood. She glanced at a mirror, and saw the reflection of her own rueful countenance.
"He shall just see me looking like this!" she thought.
Riasantzeff was standing in the dining-room, saying in his remarkably pleasant voice to Nicolai Yegorovitch;
"Of course, it's rather strange, but quite harmless."
At the sound of his voice Lialia felt her heart throb violently, as if it must break. When Riasantzeff saw her, he suddenly stopped talking and came forward to meet her with outstretched arms. She alone knew that this gesture signified his desire to embrace her.
Lialia looked up shyly at him, and her lips trembled. Without a word she pulled her hand away, crossed the room and opened the glass door leading to the balcony. Riasantzeff watched her, calmly, but with slight astonishment.
"My Ludmilla Nicolaijevna is cross," he said to Nicolai Yegorovitch with serio-comic gravity of manner. The latter burst out laughing.
"You had better go and make it up."
"There's nothing else to be done!" sighed Riasantzeff, in droll fashion, as he followed Lialia on to the balcony.
It was still raining. The monotonous sound of falling drops filled the air; but the sky seemed clearer now, and there was a break in the clouds.
Lialia, her cheek propped against one of the cold, damp pillars of the veranda, let the rain beat upon her bare head, so that her hair was wet through.
"My princess is displeased ... Lialitschka!" said Riasantzeff, as he drew her closer to him, and lightly kissed moist, fragrant hair.
At this touch, so intimate and familiar, something seemed to melt in Lialia's breast, and without knowing what she did, she flung her arms round her lover's strong neck as, amid a shower of kisses, she murmured:
"I am very, very angry with you! You're a bad man!"
All the while she kept thinking that after all there was nothing so bad, or awful, or irreparable as she had supposed. What did it matter? All that she wanted was to love and be loved by this big, handsome man.
Afterwards, at table, it was painful to her to notice Yourii's look of amazement, and, when the chance came, she whispered to him, "It's awful of me, I know!" at which he only smiled awkwardly. Yourii was really pleased that the matter should have ended happily like this, while yet affecting to despise such an attitude of bourgeois complacency and toleration. He withdrew to his room, remaining there alone until the evening, and as, before sunset, the sky grew clear, he took his gun, intending to shoot in the same place where he and Riasantzeff had been yesterday.
After the rain, the marsh seemed full of new life. Many strange sounds were now audible, and the grasses waved as if stirred by some secret vital force. Frogs croaked lustily in a chorus; now and again some birds uttered a sharp discordant cry; while at no great distance, yet out of range, ducks could be heard cackling in the wet reeds. Yourii, however, felt no desire to shoot, but he shouldered his gun and turned homeward, listening to sounds of crystalline clearness in the grey calm twilight.
"How beautiful!" thought he. "All is beautiful; man alone is vile!"
Far away he saw the little fire burning in the melon-field, and ere long by its light he recognized the faces of Kousma and Sanine.
"What does he always come here for?" thought Yourii, surprised and curious.
Seated by the fire, Kousma was telling a story, laughing and gesticulating meanwhile. Sanine was laughing, too. The fire burned with a slender flame, as that of a taper, the light being rosy, not red as at night-time, while overhead, in the blue dome of heaven, the first stars glittered. There was an odour of fresh mould and rain-drenched grass.
For some reason or other Yourii felt afraid lest they should see him, yet at the same time it saddened him to think that he could not join them. Between himself and them there seemed to be a barrier incomprehensible and yet unreal; a space devoid of atmosphere, a gulf that could never be bridged.
This sense of utter isolation depressed him greatly. He was alone; from this world with its vesper lights and hues, and fires, and stars, and human sounds, he stood aloof and apart, as though shut close within a dark room. So distressful was this sense of solitude, that as he crossed the melon-field where hundreds of melons were growing in the gloom, to him they seemed like human skulls that Jay strewn upon the ground.