Chapter VI.
 

After waiting a while at the entrance, and making sundry jokes at the expense of Sina and Yourii, the others wandered along the river-bank. The men lit cigarettes and threw the matches into the water, watching these make large circles on the surface of the stream. Lida, with arms a-kimbo, tripped along, singing softly as she went, and her pretty little feet in dainty yellow shoes now and again executed an impromptu dance. Lialia picked flowers, which she flung at Riasantzeff, caressing him with her eyes.

"What do you say to a drink?" Ivanoff asked Sanine.

"Splendid idea!" replied the other.

Getting into the boat, they uncorked several bottles of beer and proceeded to drink.

"Shocking intemperance!" cried Lialia, pelting them with tufts of grass.

"First-rate stuff!" said Ivanoff, smacking his lips.

Sanine laughed.

"I have often wondered why people are so dead against alcohol," he said jestingly. "In my opinion only a drunken man lives his life as it ought to be lived."

"That is, like a brute!" replied Novikoff from the bank.

"Very likely," said Sanine, "but at any rate a drunken man only does just that which he wants to do. If he has a mind to sing, he sings; if he wants to dance, he dances; and is not ashamed to be merry and jolly."

"And he fights too, sometimes," remarked Riasantzeff.

"Yes, so he does. That is, when men don't understand how to drink."

"And do you like fighting when you are drunk?" asked Novikoff.

"No," replied Sanine, "I'd rather fight when I am sober, but when I'm drunk I'm the most good-natured person imaginable, for I have forgotten so much that is mean and vile."

"Everybody is not like that," said Riasantzeff.

"I'm sorry for them, that's all," replied Sanine. "Besides, what others are like does not interest me in the least."

"One can hardly say that," observed Novikoff.

"Why not, if it is the truth?"

"A fine truth, indeed!" exclaimed Lialia, shaking her head.

"The finest I know, anyhow," replied Ivanoff for Sanine.

Lida, who had been singing loudly, suddenly stopped, looking vexed.

"They don't seem in any hurry," she said.

"Why should they hurry?" replied Ivanoff, "It is a great mistake to do anything in a hurry."

"And Sina, I suppose she is the heroine sans peur et sans reproche?" said Lida ironically.

Tanaroff's thoughts were too much for him at this juncture. He burst out laughing, and then looked thoroughly sheepish. Lida, her hands on her hips and swaying gracefully to and fro, turned to look at him.

"I dare say they are enjoying themselves," she observed with a shrug of the shoulders.

"Hark!" said Riasantzeff, as the sound of firing reached them.

"That was a shot," exclaimed Schafroff.

"What's the meaning of it?" cried Lialia, as she nervously clung to her lover's arm.

"Don't be frightened! If it is a wolf, at this time of year they are tame, and would never attack two people." Thus Riasantzeff sought to reassure her, while secretly annoyed at Yourii's childish freak.

"Tomfoolery!" growled Schafroff, who was equally vexed.

"They are coming, they are coming! Don't worry!" said Lida contemptuously.

A sound of footsteps could now be heard, and soon Sina and Yourii emerged from the darkness.

Yourii blew out the light and smiled uneasily, as he was not sure of his reception. He was covered with yellow clay, and Sina's shoulder bore traces of this, for she had rubbed against the side of the cavern.

"Well?" asked Semenoff languidly.

"It was quite interesting in there," said Yourii half apologetically. "Only the passage does not lead very far. It has been filled up. We saw some rotten planks lying about."

"Did you hear us fire?" asked Sina, and her eyes sparkled.

"My friends," shouted Ivanoff, interrupting, "we have drunk all the beer, and our souls are abundantly refreshed. Let us be going."

By the time that the boat reached a broader part of the stream the moon had already risen. It was a strangely calm, clear evening. Above and below, in the heaven as in the river, the golden stars gleamed. It was as if the boat was suspended between two fathomless spaces. The dark woods at the edge of the stream had a look of mystery. A nightingale sang, and all listened in silence, not believing it to be a bird, but rather some joyous dreamer in the gloom. Removing her large straw hat, Sina Karsavina now began to sing a Russian popular air, sweet and sad like all Russian songs. Her voice, a high soprano, though not powerful, was sympathetic in quality.

Ivanoff muttered, "That's sweet!" and Sanine exclaimed "Charming!" When she had finished they all clapped their hands and the sound was echoed strangely in the dark woods on either side.

"Sing something else, Sinotschka!" cried Lialia; "or, better still, recite one of your own poems."

"So you're a poetess, too?" asked Ivanoff. "How many gifts does the good God bestow upon his creatures!"

"Is that a bad thing?" asked Sina in confusion.

"No, it's a very good thing," replied Sanine.

"If a girl's got youth and good looks, what does she want with poetry, I should like to know?" observed Ivanoff.

"Never mind! Recite something, Sinotschka, do!" cried Lialia, amorous and tender.

Sina smiled, and looked away self-consciously before she began to recite in her clear, musical voice the following lines:

          Oh! love, my own true love,
           To thee I'll never tell it,
           Never to thee I'll tell my burning love!
           But I will close these amorous eyes,
           And they shall guard my secret well.
           Only by days of yearning is it known.
           The calm blue nights, the golden stars,
           The dreaming woods that whisper in the night,
           These, yes, they know it, but are dumb;
           They will not show the mystery of my great love.

Once more there was great enthusiasm, and they all loudly applauded Sina, not because her little poem was a good one, but because it was expressive of their mood, and because they were all longing for love and love's delicious sorrow.

"O Night, O Day! O lustrous eyes of Sina, I pray you tell me that it is I, the happy man!" cried Ivanoff ecstatically in a deep bass voice which startled them all.

"Well, I can assure you that it is not you," replied Semenoff.

"Ah! woe is me!" wailed Ivanoff; and everybody laughed.

"Are my verses bad?" Sina asked Yourii.

He did not think that they had much originality, for they reminded him of hundreds of similar effusions. But Sina was so pretty and looked at him with those dark eyes of hers in such a pleading way that he gravely replied:

"I thought them quite charming and melodious."

Sina smiled, surprised that such praise could please her so much.

"Ah I you don't know my Sinotschka yet!" said Lialia, "she is all that is beautiful and melodious."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Ivanoff.

"Yes, indeed I do!" persisted Lialia. "Her voice is beautiful and melodious, and so are her poems; she herself is a beauty; her name, even, is beautiful and melodious."

"Oh! my goodness! What more can you say than that!" cried Ivanoff. "But I am quite of your opinion."

At all these compliments Sina blushed with pleasure and confusion.

"It is time to go home," said Lida abruptly. She did not like to hear Sina praised, for she considered herself far prettier, cleverer, and more interesting.

"Are you going to sing something?" asked Sanine.

"No," she replied, "I am not in voice."

"It really is time to be going," observed Riasantzeff, for he remembered that early next morning he must be in the dissecting-room of the hospital. All the others wished that they could have stayed for a while. On their homeward way they were silent, feeling tired and contented. As before, though unseen, the tall stems of the grasses bent beneath the carriage-wheels, and the dust soon settled on the white road again. The bare grey fields looked vast and limitless in the faint light of the moon.