First Love


The following day I only had a passing glimpse of Zina´da: she was driving somewhere with the old princess in a cab. But I saw Lushin, who, however, barely vouchsafed me a greeting, and Malevsky. The young count grinned, and began affably talking to me. Of all those who visited at the lodge, he alone had succeeded in forcing his way into our house, and had favourably impressed my mother. My father did not take to him, and treated him with a civility almost insulting.

‘Ah, monsieur le page,’ began Malevsky, ‘delighted to meet you. What is your lovely queen doing?’

His fresh handsome face was so detestable to me at that moment, and he looked at me with such contemptuous amusement that I did not answer him at all.

‘Are you still angry?’ he went on. ‘You’ve no reason to be. It wasn’t I who called you a page, you know, and pages attend queens especially. But allow me to remark that you perform your duties very badly.’

‘How so?’

‘Pages ought to be inseparable from their mistresses; pages ought to know everything they do, they ought, indeed, to watch over them,’ he added, lowering his voice, ‘day and night.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘What do I mean? I express myself pretty clearly, I fancy. Day and night. By day it’s not so much matter; it’s light, and people are about in the daytime; but by night, then look out for misfortune. I advise you not to sleep at nights and to watch, watch with all your energies. You remember, in the garden, by night, at the fountain, that’s where there’s need to look out. You will thank me.’

Malevsky laughed and turned his back on me. He, most likely, attached no great importance to what he had said to me, he had a reputation for mystifying, and was noted for his power of taking people in at masquerades, which was greatly augmented by the almost unconscious falsity in which his whole nature was steeped.... He only wanted to tease me; but every word he uttered was a poison that ran through my veins. The blood rushed to my head. ‘Ah! so that’s it!’ I said to myself; ‘good! So there was reason for me to feel drawn into the garden! That shan’t be so!’ I cried aloud, and struck myself on the chest with my fist, though precisely what should not be so I could not have said. ‘Whether Malevsky himself goes into the garden,’ I thought (he was bragging, perhaps; he has insolence enough for that), ‘or some one else (the fence of our garden was very low, and there was no difficulty in getting over it), anyway, if any one falls into my hands, it will be the worse for him! I don’t advise any one to meet me! I will prove to all the world and to her, the traitress (I actually used the word ‘traitress’) that I can be revenged!’

I returned to my own room, took out of the writing-table an English knife I had recently bought, felt its sharp edge, and knitting my brows with an air of cold and concentrated determination, thrust it into my pocket, as though doing such deeds was nothing out of the way for me, and not the first time. My heart heaved angrily, and felt heavy as a stone. All day long I kept a scowling brow and lips tightly compressed, and was continually walking up and down, clutching, with my hand in my pocket, the knife, which was warm from my grasp, while I prepared myself beforehand for something terrible. These new unknown sensations so occupied and even delighted me, that I hardly thought of Zina´da herself. I was continually haunted by Aleko, the young gipsy—‘Where art thou going, young handsome man? Lie there,’ and then, ‘thou art all besprent with blood.... Oh, what hast thou done?... Naught!’ With what a cruel smile I repeated that ‘Naught!’ My father was not at home; but my mother, who had for some time past been in an almost continual state of dumb exasperation, noticed my gloomy and heroic aspect, and said to me at supper, ‘Why are you sulking like a mouse in a meal-tub?’ I merely smiled condescendingly in reply, and thought, ‘If only they knew!’ It struck eleven; I went to my room, but did not undress; I waited for midnight; at last it struck. ‘The time has come!’ I muttered between my teeth; and buttoning myself up to the throat, and even pulling my sleeves up, I went into the garden.

I had already fixed on the spot from which to keep watch. At the end of the garden, at the point where the fence, separating our domain from the Zasyekins,’ joined the common wall, grew a pine-tree, standing alone. Standing under its low thick branches, I could see well, as far as the darkness of the night permitted, what took place around. Close by, ran a winding path which had always seemed mysterious to me; it coiled like a snake under the fence, which at that point bore traces of having been climbed over, and led to a round arbour formed of thick acacias. I made my way to the pine-tree, leaned my back against its trunk, and began my watch.

The night was as still as the night before, but there were fewer clouds in the sky, and the outlines of bushes, even of tall flowers, could be more distinctly seen. The first moments of expectation were oppressive, almost terrible. I had made up my mind to everything. I only debated how to act; whether to thunder, ‘Where goest thou? Stand! show thyself—or death!’ or simply to strike.... Every sound, every whisper and rustle, seemed to me portentous and extraordinary.... I prepared myself.... I bent forward.... But half-an-hour passed, an hour passed; my blood had grown quieter, colder; the consciousness that I was doing all this for nothing, that I was even a little absurd, that Malevsky had been making fun of me, began to steal over me. I left my ambush, and walked all about the garden. As if to taunt me, there was not the smallest sound to be heard anywhere; everything was at rest. Even our dog was asleep, curled up into a ball at the gate. I climbed up into the ruins of the greenhouse, saw the open country far away before me, recalled my meeting with Zina´da, and fell to dreaming....

I started.... I fancied I heard the creak of a door opening, then the faint crack of a broken twig. In two bounds I got down from the ruin, and stood still, all aghast. Rapid, light, but cautious footsteps sounded distinctly in the garden. They were approaching me. ‘Here he is ... here he is, at last!’ flashed through my heart. With spasmodic haste, I pulled the knife out of my pocket; with spasmodic haste, I opened it. Flashes of red were whirling before my eyes; my hair stood up on my head in my fear and fury.... The steps were coming straight towards me; I bent—I craned forward to meet him.... A man came into view.... My God! it was my father! I recognised him at once, though he was all muffled up in a dark cloak, and his hat was pulled down over his face. On tip-toe he walked by. He did not notice me, though nothing concealed me; but I was so huddled up and shrunk together that I fancy I was almost on the level of the ground. The jealous Othello, ready for murder, was suddenly transformed into a school-boy.... I was so taken aback by my father’s unexpected appearance that for the first moment I did not notice where he had come from or in what direction he disappeared. I only drew myself up, and thought, ‘Why is it my father is walking about in the garden at night?’ when everything was still again. In my horror I had dropped my knife in the grass, but I did not even attempt to look for it; I was very much ashamed of myself. I was completely sobered at once. On my way to the house, however, I went up to my seat under the elder-tree, and looked up at Zina´da’s window. The small slightly-convex panes of the window shone dimly blue in the faint light thrown on them by the night sky. All at once—their colour began to change.... Behind them—I saw this, saw it distinctly—softly and cautiously a white blind was let down, let down right to the window-frame, and so stayed.

‘What is that for?’ I said aloud almost involuntarily when I found myself once more in my room. ‘A dream, a chance, or ...’ The suppositions which suddenly rushed into my head were so new and strange that I did not dare to entertain them.

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