Chapter XXXVII.
 

First the horizon grew dark; then the river vanished in a mist, and from the pasture-lands a sound came up of neighing horses, while, here and there, faint lights flickered. As he sat there waiting, Yourii began to count these.

"One, two, three--oh! there's another, right on the edge of the horizon, just like a tiny star. Peasants are seated round it, keeping their night-watch, cooking potatoes and chatting. The fire yonder is blazing up and crackling merrily, while the horses stand, snorting, beside it. But at this distance it's only a little spark that at any moment might vanish."

He found it hard to think about anything at all. This sense of supreme happiness utterly absorbed him. As if in alarm, he murmured at intervals:

"She will come back again, directly."

Thus he waited there, on the height, listening to horses whinnying in the distance, to the cries of wild duck beyond the river, and to a thousand other elusive, indefinite sounds from the woods at evening which floated mysteriously through the air. Then as behind him he heard steps rapidly approaching, and the rustling of a dress, he knew, without looking round, that it was she, and in an ecstasy of passionate desire he trembled at the thought of the coming crisis. Sina stood still beside him, breathing hard. Delighted at his own audacity, Yourii caught her in his strong arms, and carried her down to the grassy slope beneath. In doing this, he nearly slipped, when she murmured:

"We shall fall!" feeling bashful, and yet full of joy.

As Yourii pressed her limbs closer to his, it appeared to him that she had at once the sumptuous proportions of a woman and the soft, slight figure of a child.

Down below, under the trees, it was dark, and here Yourii placed the girl, seating himself next to her. As the ground was sloping, they seemed to be lying side by side. In the dim light Yourii's lips fastened on hers with wild passionate longing. She did not struggle, but only trembled violently.

"Do you love me?" she murmured, breathlessly. Her voice sounded like some mysterious whisper from the woods.

Then in amazement, Yourii asked himself:

"What am I doing?"

The thought was like ice to his burning brain. In a moment everything seemed grey and void as a day in winter, lacking force and life. Her eyelids half-closed, she turned to him with a questioning look. Then, suddenly she saw his face, and overwhelmed with shame, shrank from his embrace. Yourii was beset by countless conflicting sensations. He felt that to stop now would be ridiculous. In a feeble, awkward way he again commenced to caress her, while she as feebly, and awkwardly resisted him. To Yourii the situation now seemed so absolutely absurd, that he released Sina, who was panting like some hunted wild animal.

There was a painful silence, suddenly, he said:

"Forgive me ... I must be mad."

Her breath came quicker, and he felt that he should not have spoken thus, as it must have hurt her. Involuntarily he stammered out all sorts of excuses which he knew were false, his one wish being to get away from her, as the situation had become intolerable.

She must have perceived this, too, for she murmured:

"I ought ... to go."

They got up, without looking at each other, and Yourii made a final effort to revive his previous ardour by embracing her feebly. Then, in her a motherly feeling was roused. As if she felt that she was stronger than he, she nestled closer to him, and looking into his eyes, smiled tenderly, consolingly.

"Good-bye! Come and see me to-morrow!" So saying she kissed him with such passion that Yourii felt dazed. At that moment he almost revered her. When she had gone, he listened for a long while to the sound of her retreating footsteps, and then picked up his cap from which he shook dead leaves and mould before thrusting it on his head, and going down the hill to the hospice. He made a long detour so as to avoid meeting Sina.

"Ah!" thought he, as he descended the slope, "must I needs bring so pure and innocent a girl to shame? Had it all to end in my doing what any other average man would have done? God bless her! It would have been too vile.... I am glad that I wasn't as bad as all that. How utterly revolting ... all in a moment ... without a word ... like some animal!" Thus he thought with disgust of what a little while before had made him glad and strong. Yet he felt secretly ashamed and dissatisfied. Even his arms and legs seemed to dangle in senseless fashion, and his cap to fit him as might a fool's.

"After all, am I really capable of living?" he asked himself, in despair.