They had all, except the reporter, passed the whole day together, from the very morning, celebrating May Day with some young women of their acquaintance. They had rowed in boats on the Dnieper, had cooked field porridge on the other side of the river, in the thick, bitter-smelling underbrush; had bathed—men and women by turns—in the rapid, warm water; had drunk home-made spiced brandy, sung sonorous songs of Little Russia, and had returned to town only late in the evening, when the dark, broad, running river so eerily and merrily plashed against the sides of their boats, playing with the reflections of the stars, the silvery shimmering paths of the electric lamps, and the bowing lights of the can-buoys. And when they had stepped out on the shore, the palms of each burned from the oars, the muscles of the arms and legs ached pleasantly, and suffusing the whole body was a blissful, healthy fatigue.
Then they had escorted the young women to their homes and at the garden-gates and entrances had taken leave of them long and cordially, with laughter and with such swinging hand-shakes as if they were working the lever of a pump.
The whole day had passed in gaiety and noise, even a trifle clamorously, and just the least wee bit tiresomely, but with youth-like continence; without intoxication, and, which happens especially rarely, without the least shadow of mutual affronts, or jealousy, or unvoiced mortifications. Of course, such a benign mood had been helped by the sun, the fresh river breeze, the sweet exhalations of the grasses and the water, the joyous sensation of the strength and alertness of one’s body while bathing and rowing, and the restraining influence of the clever, kind, pure and handsome girls from families they were acquainted with. But, almost without the knowledge of their consciousness, their sensuousness—not imagination, but the simple, healthy, instinctive sensuousness of young playful males—kindled from chance encounters of their hands with feminine hands and from comradely obliging embraces, when the occasion arose to help the young ladies enter a boat or jump out on shore; from the tender odour of maiden apparel, warmed by the sun; from the feminine cries of coquettish fright on the river; from the sight of feminine figures, negligently half-reclining with a naive immodesty on the green grass around the samovar—from all these innocent liberties, which are so usual and unavoidable on picnics, country outings and river excursions, when within man, in the infinite depth of his soul, secretly awakens from the care-free contact with earth, grasses, water and sun, the beast-ancient, splendid, free, but disfigured and intimidated of men.