First Love


I should be in a great difficulty, if I were forced to describe exactly what passed within me in the course of the week after my unsuccessful midnight expedition. It was a strange feverish time, a sort of chaos, in which the most violently opposed feelings, thoughts, suspicions, hopes, joys, and sufferings, whirled together in a kind of hurricane. I was afraid to look into myself, if a boy of sixteen ever can look into himself; I was afraid to take stock of anything; I simply hastened to live through every day till evening; and at night I slept ... the light-heartedness of childhood came to my aid. I did not want to know whether I was loved, and I did not want to acknowledge to myself that I was not loved; my father I avoided—but Zina´da I could not avoid.... I burnt as in a fire in her presence ... but what did I care to know what the fire was in which I burned and melted—it was enough that it was sweet to burn and melt. I gave myself up to all my passing sensations, and cheated myself, turning away from memories, and shutting my eyes to what I foreboded before me.... This weakness would not most likely have lasted long in any case ... a thunderbolt cut it all short in a moment, and flung me into a new track altogether.

Coming in one day to dinner from a rather long walk, I learnt with amazement that I was to dine alone, that my father had gone away and my mother was unwell, did not want any dinner, and had shut herself up in her bedroom. From the faces of the footmen, I surmised that something extraordinary had taken place.... I did not dare to cross-examine them, but I had a friend in the young waiter Philip, who was passionately fond of poetry, and a performer on the guitar. I addressed myself to him. From him I learned that a terrible scene had taken place between my father and mother (and every word had been overheard in the maids’ room; much of it had been in French, but Masha the lady’s-maid had lived five years’ with a dressmaker from Paris, and she understood it all); that my mother had reproached my father with infidelity, with an intimacy with the young lady next door, that my father at first had defended himself, but afterwards had lost his temper, and he too had said something cruel, ‘reflecting on her age,’ which had made my mother cry; that my mother too had alluded to some loan which it seemed had been made to the old princess, and had spoken very ill of her and of the young lady too, and that then my father had threatened her. ‘And all the mischief,’ continued Philip, ‘came from an anonymous letter; and who wrote it, no one knows, or else there’d have been no reason whatever for the matter to have come out at all.’

‘But was there really any ground,’ I brought out with difficulty, while my hands and feet went cold, and a sort of shudder ran through my inmost being.

Philip winked meaningly. ‘There was. There’s no hiding those things; for all that your father was careful this time—but there, you see, he’d, for instance, to hire a carriage or something ... no getting on without servants, either.’

I dismissed Philip, and fell on to my bed. I did not sob, I did not give myself up to despair; I did not ask myself when and how this had happened; I did not wonder how it was I had not guessed it before, long ago; I did not even upbraid my father.... What I had learnt was more than I could take in; this sudden revelation stunned me.... All was at an end. All the fair blossoms of my heart were roughly plucked at once, and lay about me, flung on the ground, and trampled underfoot.

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