Translated by Constance Garnett
'Years of gladness, Days of joy, Like the torrents of spring They hurried away.'
— From an Old Ballad.
... At two o'clock in the night he had gone back to his study. He had dismissed the servant after the candles were lighted, and throwing himself into a low chair by the hearth, he hid his face in both hands.
Never had he felt such weariness of body and of spirit. He had passed the whole evening in the company of charming ladies and cultivated men; some of the ladies were beautiful, almost all the men were distinguished by intellect or talent; he himself had talked with great success, even with brilliance ... and, for all that, never yet had the taedium vitae of which the Romans talked of old, the 'disgust for life,' taken hold of him with such irresistible, such suffocating force. Had he been a little younger, he would have cried with misery, weariness, and exasperation: a biting, burning bitterness, like the bitter of wormwood, filled his whole soul. A sort of clinging repugnance, a weight of loathing closed in upon him on all sides like a dark night of autumn; and he did not know how to get free from this darkness, this bitterness. Sleep it was useless to reckon upon; he knew he should not sleep.
He fell to thinking ... slowly, listlessly, wrathfully. He thought of the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human. All the stages of man's life passed in order before his mental gaze (he had himself lately reached his fifty-second year), and not one found grace in his eyes. Everywhere the same ever-lasting pouring of water into a sieve, the ever-lasting beating of the air, everywhere the same self-deception—half in good faith, half conscious—any toy to amuse the child, so long as it keeps him from crying. And then, all of a sudden, old age drops down like snow on the head, and with it the ever-growing, ever-gnawing, and devouring dread of death ... and the plunge into the abyss! Lucky indeed if life works out so to the end! May be, before the end, like rust on iron, sufferings, infirmities come.... He did not picture life's sea, as the poets depict it, covered with tempestuous waves; no, he thought of that sea as a smooth, untroubled surface, stagnant and transparent to its darkest depths. He himself sits in a little tottering boat, and down below in those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just make out the shapes of hideous monsters: all the ills of life, diseases, sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness.... He gazes, and behold, one of these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, rises higher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and more loathsomely distinct.... An instant yet, and the boat that bears him will be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws, sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in the slime.... But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.
He shook his head, jumped up from his low chair, took two turns up and down the room, sat down to the writing-table, and opening one drawer after another, began to rummage among his papers, among old letters, mostly from women. He could not have said why he was doing it; he was not looking for anything—he simply wanted by some kind of external occupation to get away from the thoughts oppressing him. Opening several letters at random (in one of them there was a withered flower tied with a bit of faded ribbon), he merely shrugged his shoulders, and glancing at the hearth, he tossed them on one side, probably with the idea of burning all this useless rubbish. Hurriedly, thrusting his hands first into one, and then into another drawer, he suddenly opened his eyes wide, and slowly bringing out a little octagonal box of old-fashioned make, he slowly raised its lid. In the box, under two layers of cotton wool, yellow with age, was a little garnet cross.
For a few instants he looked in perplexity at this cross—suddenly he gave a faint cry.... Something between regret and delight was expressed in his features. Such an expression a man's face wears when he suddenly meets some one whom he has long lost sight of, whom he has at one time tenderly loved, and who suddenly springs up before his eyes, still the same, and utterly transformed by the years.
He got up, and going back to the hearth, he sat down again in the arm-chair, and again hid his face in his hands.... 'Why to-day? just to-day?' was his thought, and he remembered many things, long since past.
This is what he remembered....
But first I must mention his name, his father's name and his surname. He was called Dimitri Pavlovitch Sanin.
Here follows what he remembered.
It was the summer of 1840. Sanin was in his twenty-second year, and he was in Frankfort on his way home from Italy to Russia. He was a man of small property, but independent, almost without family ties. By the death of a distant relative, he had come into a few thousand roubles, and he had decided to spend this sum abroad before entering the service, before finally putting on the government yoke, without which he could not obtain a secure livelihood. Sanin had carried out this intention, and had fitted things in to such a nicety that on the day of his arrival in Frankfort he had only just enough money left to take him back to Petersburg. In the year 1840 there were few railroads in existence; tourists travelled by diligence. Sanin had taken a place in the ' bei-wagon '; but the diligence did not start till eleven o'clock in the evening. There was a great deal of time to be got through before then. Fortunately it was lovely weather, and Sanin after dining at a hotel, famous in those days, the White Swan, set off to stroll about the town. He went in to look at Danneker's Ariadne, which he did not much care for, visited the house of Goethe, of whose works he had, however, only read Werter , and that in the French translation. He walked along the bank of the Maine, and was bored as a well-conducted tourist should be; at last at six o'clock in the evening, tired, and with dusty boots, he found himself in one of the least remarkable streets in Frankfort. That street he was fated not to forget long, long after. On one of its few houses he saw a signboard: 'Giovanni Roselli, Italian confectionery,' was announced upon it. Sanin went into it to get a glass of lemonade; but in the shop, where, behind the modest counter, on the shelves of a stained cupboard, recalling a chemist's shop, stood a few bottles with gold labels, and as many glass jars of biscuits, chocolate cakes, and sweetmeats—in this room, there was not a soul; only a grey cat blinked and purred, sharpening its claws on a tall wicker chair near the window and a bright patch of colour was made in the evening sunlight, by a big ball of red wool lying on the floor beside a carved wooden basket turned upside down. A confused noise was audible in the next room. Sanin stood a moment, and making the bell on the door ring its loudest, he called, raising his voice, 'Is there no one here?' At that instant the door from an inner room was thrown open, and Sanin was struck dumb with amazement.
A young girl of nineteen ran impetuously into the shop, her dark curls hanging in disorder on her bare shoulders, her bare arms stretched out in front of her. Seeing Sanin, she rushed up to him at once, seized him by the hand, and pulled him after her, saying in a breathless voice, 'Quick, quick, here, save him!' Not through disinclination to obey, but simply from excess of amazement, Sanin did not at once follow the girl. He stood, as it were, rooted to the spot; he had never in his life seen such a beautiful creature. She turned towards him, and with such despair in her voice, in her eyes, in the gesture of her clenched hand, which was lifted with a spasmodic movement to her pale cheek, she articulated, 'Come, come!' that he at once darted after her to the open door.
In the room, into which he ran behind the girl, on an old-fashioned horse-hair sofa, lay a boy of fourteen, white all over—white, with a yellowish tinge like wax or old marble—he was strikingly like the girl, obviously her brother. His eyes were closed, a patch of shadow fell from his thick black hair on a forehead like stone, and delicate, motionless eyebrows; between the blue lips could be seen clenched teeth. He seemed not to be breathing; one arm hung down to the floor, the other he had tossed above his head. The boy was dressed, and his clothes were closely buttoned; a tight cravat was twisted round his neck.
The girl rushed up to him with a wail of distress. 'He is dead, he is dead!' she cried; 'he was sitting here just now, talking to me—and all of a sudden he fell down and became rigid.... My God! can nothing be done to help him? And mamma not here! Pantaleone, Pantaleone, the doctor!' she went on suddenly in Italian. 'Have you been for the doctor?'
'Signora, I did not go, I sent Luise,' said a hoarse voice at the door, and a little bandy-legged old man came hobbling into the room in a lavender frock coat with black buttons, a high white cravat, short nankeen trousers, and blue worsted stockings. His diminutive little face was positively lost in a mass of iron-grey hair. Standing up in all directions, and falling back in ragged tufts, it gave the old man's figure a resemblance to a crested hen—a resemblance the more striking, that under the dark-grey mass nothing could be distinguished but a beak nose and round yellow eyes.
'Luise will run fast, and I can't run,' the old man went on in Italian, dragging his flat gouty feet, shod in high slippers with knots of ribbon. 'I've brought some water.'
In his withered, knotted fingers, he clutched a long bottle neck.
'But meanwhile Emil will die!' cried the girl, and holding out her hand to Sanin, 'O, sir, O mein Herr! can't you do something for him?'
'He ought to be bled—it's an apoplectic fit,' observed the old man addressed as Pantaleone.
Though Sanin had not the slightest notion of medicine, he knew one thing for certain, that boys of fourteen do not have apoplectic fits.
'It's a swoon, not a fit,' he said, turning to Pantaleone. 'Have you got any brushes?'
The old man raised his little face. 'Eh?'
'Brushes, brushes,' repeated Sanin in German and in French. 'Brushes,' he added, making as though he would brush his clothes.
The little old man understood him at last.
'Ah, brushes! Spazzette! to be sure we have!'
'Bring them here; we will take off his coat and try rubbing him.'
'Good ... Benone! And ought we not to sprinkle water on his head?'
'No ... later on; get the brushes now as quick as you can.'
Pantaleone put the bottle on the floor, ran out and returned at once with two brushes, one a hair-brush, and one a clothes-brush. A curly poodle followed him in, and vigorously wagging its tail, it looked up inquisitively at the old man, the girl, and even Sanin, as though it wanted to know what was the meaning of all this fuss.
Sanin quickly took the boy's coat off, unbuttoned his collar, and pushed up his shirt-sleeves, and arming himself with a brush, he began brushing his chest and arms with all his might. Pantaleone as zealously brushed away with the other—the hair-brush—at his boots and trousers. The girl flung herself on her knees by the sofa, and, clutching her head in both hands, fastened her eyes, not an eyelash quivering, on her brother.
Sanin rubbed on, and kept stealing glances at her. Mercy! what a beautiful creature she was!