Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of the second bottle, and my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a gulp, and when my wife went out of the room for a moment my aunt did not scruple to drain a full glass. I was drunk both with the wine and with the presence of a woman. Do you remember the song?
“Eyes black as
pitch, eyes full of passion,
Eyes burning bright and beautiful,
How I love you,
How I fear you!”
I don’t remember what happened next. Anyone who wants to know how love begins may read novels and long stories; I will put it shortly and in the words of the same silly song:
“It was an evil
When first I met you.”
Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a fearful, frantic whirlwind which sent me flying round like a feather. It lasted a long while, and swept from the face of the earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength. From the little station in the steppe it has flung me, as you see, into this dark street.
Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?
Nadya ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre where she had seen a performance of “Yevgeny Onyegin.” As soon as she reached her own room she threw off her dress, let down her hair, and in her petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to write a letter like Tatyana’s.
“I love you,” she wrote, “but you do not love me, do not love me!”
She wrote it and laughed.
She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that an officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her, but now after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love. To be unloved and unhappy—how interesting that was. There is something beautiful, touching, and poetical about it when one loves and the other is indifferent. Onyegin was interesting because he was not in love at all, and Tatyana was fascinating because she was so much in love; but if they had been equally in love with each other and had been happy, they would perhaps have seemed dull.
“Leave off declaring that you love me,” Nadya went on writing, thinking of Gorny. “I cannot believe it. You are very clever, cultivated, serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a brilliant future awaits you, while I am an uninteresting girl of no importance, and you know very well that I should be only a hindrance in your life. It is true that you were attracted by me and thought you had found your ideal in me, but that was a mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair: ‘Why did I meet that girl?’ And only your goodness of heart prevents you from owning it to yourself....”
Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:
“It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should take a nun’s veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you would be left free and would love another. Oh, if I were dead!”