First Love

CHAPTER XIV

The next day I got up early, cut myself a stick, and set off beyond the town-gates. I thought I would walk off my sorrow. It was a lovely day, bright and not too hot, a fresh sportive breeze roved over the earth with temperate rustle and frolic, setting all things a-flutter and harassing nothing. I wandered a long while over hills and through woods; I had not felt happy, I had left home with the intention of giving myself up to melancholy, but youth, the exquisite weather, the fresh air, the pleasure of rapid motion, the sweetness of repose, lying on the thick grass in a solitary nook, gained the upper hand; the memory of those never-to-be-forgotten words, those kisses, forced itself once more upon my soul. It was sweet to me to think that Zinaïda could not, anyway, fail to do justice to my courage, my heroism....’ Others may seem better to her than I,’ I mused, ‘let them! But others only say what they would do, while I have done it. And what more would I not do for her?’ My fancy set to work. I began picturing to myself how I would save her from the hands of enemies; how, covered with blood I would tear her by force from prison, and expire at her feet. I remembered a picture hanging in our drawing-room—Malek–Adel bearing away Matilda—but at that point my attention was absorbed by the appearance of a speckled woodpecker who climbed busily up the slender stem of a birch-tree and peeped out uneasily from behind it, first to the right, then to the left, like a musician behind the bass-viol.

Then I sang ‘Not the white snows,’ and passed from that to a song well known at that period: ‘I await thee, when the wanton zephyr,’ then I began reading aloud Yermak’s address to the stars from Homyakov’s tragedy. I made an attempt to compose something myself in a sentimental vein, and invented the line which was to conclude each verse: ‘O Zinaïda, Zinaïda!’ but could get no further with it. Meanwhile it was getting on towards dinner-time. I went down into the valley; a narrow sandy path winding through it led to the town. I walked along this path.... The dull thud of horses’ hoofs resounded behind me. I looked round instinctively, stood still and took off my cap. I saw my father and Zinaïda. They were riding side by side. My father was saying something to her, bending right over to her, his hand propped on the horses’ neck, he was smiling. Zinaïda listened to him in silence, her eyes severely cast down, and her lips tightly pressed together. At first I saw them only; but a few instants later, Byelovzorov came into sight round a bend in the glade, he was wearing a hussar’s uniform with a pelisse, and riding a foaming black horse. The gallant horse tossed its head, snorted and pranced from side to side, his rider was at once holding him in and spurring him on. I stood aside. My father gathered up the reins, moved away from Zinaïda, she slowly raised her eyes to him, and both galloped off ... Byelovzorov flew after them, his sabre clattering behind him. ‘He’s as red as a crab,’ I reflected, ‘while she ... why’s she so pale? out riding the whole morning, and pale?’

I redoubled my pace, and got home just at dinner-time. My father was already sitting by my mother’s chair, dressed for dinner, washed and fresh; he was reading an article from the Journal des Débats in his smooth musical voice; but my mother heard him without attention, and when she saw me, asked where I had been to all day long, and added that she didn’t like this gadding about God knows where, and God knows in what company. ‘But I have been walking alone,’ I was on the point of replying, but I looked at my father, and for some reason or other held my peace.



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