First Love

CHAPTER XX

My mother next day announced her intention of returning to the town. In the morning my father had gone into her bedroom, and stayed there a long while alone with her. No one had overheard what he said to her; but my mother wept no more; she regained her composure, and asked for food, but did not make her appearance nor change her plans. I remember I wandered about the whole day, but did not go into the garden, and never once glanced at the lodge, and in the evening I was the spectator of an amazing occurrence: my father conducted Count Malevsky by the arm through the dining-room into the hall, and, in the presence of a footman, said icily to him: ‘A few days ago your excellency was shown the door in our house; and now I am not going to enter into any kind of explanation with you, but I have the honour to announce to you that if you ever visit me again, I shall throw you out of window. I don’t like your handwriting.’ The count bowed, bit his lips, shrank away, and vanished.

Preparations were beginning for our removal to town, to Arbaty Street, where we had a house. My father himself probably no longer cared to remain at the country house; but clearly he had succeeded in persuading my mother not to make a public scandal. Everything was done quietly, without hurry; my mother even sent her compliments to the old princess, and expressed her regret that she was prevented by indisposition from seeing her again before her departure. I wandered about like one possessed, and only longed for one thing, for it all to be over as soon as possible. One thought I could not get out of my head: how could she, a young girl, and a princess too, after all, bring herself to such a step, knowing that my father was not a free man, and having an opportunity of marrying, for instance, Byelovzorov? What did she hope for? How was it she was not afraid of ruining her whole future? Yes, I thought, this is love, this is passion, this is devotion ... and Lushin’s words came back to me: to sacrifice oneself for some people is sweet. I chanced somehow to catch sight of something white in one of the windows of the lodge.... ‘Can it be Zina´da’s face?’ I thought ... yes, it really was her face. I could not restrain myself. I could not part from her without saying a last good-bye to her. I seized a favourable instant, and went into the lodge.

In the drawing-room the old princess met me with her usual slovenly and careless greetings.

‘How’s this, my good man, your folks are off in such a hurry?’ she observed, thrusting snuff into her nose. I looked at her, and a load was taken off my heart. The word ‘loan,’ dropped by Philip, had been torturing me. She had no suspicion ... at least I thought so then. Zina´da came in from the next room, pale, and dressed in black, with her hair hanging loose; she took me by the hand without a word, and drew me away with her.

‘I heard your voice,’ she began, ‘and came out at once. Is it so easy for you to leave us, bad boy?’

‘I have come to say good-bye to you, princess,’ I answered, ‘probably for ever. You have heard, perhaps, we are going away.’

Zina´da looked intently at me.

‘Yes, I have heard. Thanks for coming. I was beginning to think I should not see you again. Don’t remember evil against me. I have sometimes tormented you, but all the same I am not what you imagine me.’ She turned away, and leaned against the window.

‘Really, I am not like that. I know you have a bad opinion of me.’

‘I?’

‘Yes, you ... you.’

‘I?’ I repeated mournfully, and my heart throbbed as of old under the influence of her overpowering, indescribable fascination. ‘I? Believe me, Zina´da Alexandrovna, whatever you did, however you tormented me, I should love and adore you to the end of my days.’

She turned with a rapid motion to me, and flinging wide her arms, embraced my head, and gave me a warm and passionate kiss. God knows whom that long farewell kiss was seeking, but I eagerly tasted its sweetness. I knew that it would never be repeated. ‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ I kept saying ...

She tore herself away, and went out. And I went away. I cannot describe the emotion with which I went away. I should not wish it ever to come again; but I should think myself unfortunate had I never experienced such an emotion.

We went back to town. I did not quickly shake off the past; I did not quickly get to work. My wound slowly began to heal; but I had no ill-feeling against my father. On the contrary he had, as it were, gained in my eyes ... let psychologists explain the contradiction as best they can. One day I was walking along a boulevard, and to my indescribable delight, I came across Lushin. I liked him for his straightforward and unaffected character, and besides he was dear to me for the sake of the memories he aroused in me. I rushed up to him. ‘Aha!’ he said, knitting his brows,’ so it’s you, young man. Let me have a look at you. You’re still as yellow as ever, but yet there’s not the same nonsense in your eyes. You look like a man, not a lap-dog. That’s good. Well, what are you doing? working?’

I gave a sigh. I did not like to tell a lie, while I was ashamed to tell the truth.

‘Well, never mind,’ Lushin went on, ‘don’t be shy. The great thing is to lead a normal life, and not be the slave of your passions. What do you get if not? Wherever you are carried by the tide—it’s all a bad look-out; a man must stand on his own feet, if he can get nothing but a rock to stand on. Here, I’ve got a cough ... and Byelovzorov—have you heard anything of him?’

‘No. What is it?’

‘He’s lost, and no news of him; they say he’s gone away to the Caucasus. A lesson to you, young man. And it’s all from not knowing how to part in time, to break out of the net. You seem to have got off very well. Mind you don’t fall into the same snare again. Good-bye.’

‘I shan’t,’ I thought.... ‘I shan’t see her again.’ But I was destined to see Zina´da once more.



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