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- On the Eve - 4/36 -
'Eh? What words?'
'Well, even Art--since you are an artist--Country, Science, Freedom, Justice.'
'And what of love?' asked Shubin.
'Love, too, is a word that unites; but not the love you are eager for now; the love which is not enjoyment, the love which is self-sacrifice.'
'That's all very well for Germans; I want to love for myself; I want to be first.'
'To be first,' repeated Bersenyev. 'But it seems to me that to put one's-self in the second place is the whole significance of our life.'
'If all men were to act as you advise,' commented Shubin with a plaintive expression, 'none on earth would eat pine-apples; every one would be offering them to other people.'
'That's as much as to say, pine-apples are not necessary; but you need not be alarmed; there will always be plenty of people who like them enough to take the bread out of other men's mouths to get them.'
Both friends were silent a little.
'I met Insarov again the other day,' began Bersenyev. 'I invited him to stay with me; I really must introduce him to you--and to the Stahovs.'
'Who is Insarov? Ah, to be sure, isn't it that Servian or Bulgarian you were telling me about? The patriot? Now isn't it he who's at the bottom of all these philosophical ideas?'
'Is he an exceptional individual?'
'Clever--talented--I don't know, I don't think so.'
'Not? Then, what is there remarkable in him?'
'You shall see. But now I think it's time to be going. Anna Vassilyevna will be waiting for us, very likely. What's the time?'
'Three o'clock. Let us go. How baking it is! This conversation has set all my blood aflame. There was a moment when you, too, ... I am not an artist for nothing; I observe everything. Confess, you are interested in a woman?'
Shubin tried to get a look at Bersenyev's face, but he turned away and walked out of the lime-tree's shade. Shubin went after him, moving his little feet with easy grace. Bersenyev walked clumsily, with his shoulders high and his neck craned forward. Yet, he looked a man of finer breeding than Shubin; more of a gentleman, one might say, if that word had not been so vulgarised among us.
The young men went down to the river Moskva and walked along its bank. There was a breath of freshness from the water, and the soft plash of tiny waves caressed the ear.
'I would have another bathe,' said Shubin, 'only I'm afraid of being late. Look at the river; it seems to beckon us. The ancient Greeks would have beheld a nymph in it. But we are not Greeks, O nymph! we are thick-skinned Scythians.'
'We have _roussalkas_,' observed Bersenyev.
'Get along with your _roussalkas!_ What's the use to me--a sculptor--of those children of a cold, terror-stricken fancy, those shapes begotten in the stifling hut, in the dark of winter nights? I want light, space. . . . Good God, when shall I go to Italy? When----'
'To Little Russia, I suppose you mean?'
'For shame, Andrei Petrovitch, to reproach me for an act of unpremeditated folly, which I have repented bitterly enough without that. Oh, of course, I behaved like a fool; Anna Vassilyevna most kindly gave me the money for an expedition to Italy, and I went off to the Little Russians to eat dumplings and----'
'Don't let me have the rest, please,' interposed Bersenyev.
'Yet still, I will say, the money was not spent in vain. I saw there such types, especially of women. . . . Of course, I know; there is no salvation to be found outside of Italy!'
'You will go to Italy,' said Bersenyev, without turning towards him, 'and will do nothing. You will always be pluming your wings and never take flight. We know you!'
'Stavasser has taken flight. . . . And he's not the only one. If I don't fly, it will prove that I'm a sea penguin, and have no wings. I am stifled here, I want to be in Italy,' pursued Shubin, 'there is sunshine, there is beauty.'
A young girl in a large straw hat, with a pink parasol on her shoulder, came into sight at that instant, in the little path along which the friends were walking.
'But what do I see? Even here, there is beauty--coming to meet us! A humble artist's compliments to the enchanting Zoya!' Shubin cried at once, with a theatrical flourish of his hat.
The young girl to whom this exclamation referred, stopped, threatening him with her finger, and, waiting for the two friends to come up to her, she said in a ringing voice:
'Why is it, gentlemen, you don't come in to dinner? It is on the table.'
'What do I hear?' said Shubin, throwing his arms up. 'Can it be that you, bewitching Zoya, faced such heat to come and look for us? Dare I think that is the meaning of your words? Tell me, can it be so? Or no, do not utter that word; I shall die of regret on the spot'
'Oh, do leave off, Pavel Yakovlitch,' replied the young girl with some annoyance. 'Why will you never talk to me seriously? I shall be angry,' she added with a little coquettish grimace, and she pouted.
'You will not be angry with me, ideal Zoya Nikitishna; you would not drive me to the dark depths of hopeless despair. And I can't talk to you seriously, because I'm not a serious person.'
The young girl shrugged her shoulders, and turned to Bersenyev.
'There, he's always like that; he treats me like a child; and I am eighteen. I am grown-up now.'
'O Lord!' groaned Shubin, rolling his eyes upwards; and Bersenyev smiled quietly.
The girl stamped with her little foot.
'Pavel Yakovlitch, I shall be angry! _Helene_ was coming with me,' she went on, 'but she stopped in the garden. The heat frightened her, but I am not afraid of the heat. Come along.'
She moved forward along the path, slightly swaying her slender figure at each step, and with a pretty black-mittened little hand pushing her long soft curls back from her face.
The friends walked after her (Shubin first pressed his hands, without speaking, to his heart, and then flung them higher than his head), and in a few instants they came out in front of one of the numerous country villas with which Kuntsovo is surrounded. A small wooden house with a gable, painted a pink colour, stood in the middle of the garden, and seemed to be peeping out innocently from behind the green trees. Zoya was the first to open the gate; she ran into the garden, crying: 'I have brought the wanderers!' A young girl, with a pale and expressive face, rose from a garden bench near the little path, and in the doorway of the house appeared a lady in a lilac silk dress, holding an embroidered cambric handkerchief over her head to screen it from the sun, and smiling with a weary and listless air.
Anna Vassilyevna Stahov--her maiden name was Shubin--had been left, at seven years old, an orphan and heiress of a pretty considerable property. She had very rich and also very poor relations; the poor relations were on her father's, the rich on her mother's side; the latter including the senator Volgin and the Princes Tchikurasov. Prince Ardalion Tchikurasov, who had been appointed her guardian, placed her in the best Moscow boarding-school, and when she left school, took her into his own home. He kept open house, and gave balls in the winter. Anna Vassilyevna's future husband, Nikolai Artemyevitch Stahov, captured her heart at one of these balls when she was arrayed in a charming rose-coloured gown, with a wreath of tiny roses. She had treasured that wreath all her life. Nikolai Artemyevitch Stahov was the son of a retired captain, who had been wounded in 1812, and had received a lucrative post in Petersburg. Nikolai Artemyevitch entered the School of Cadets at sixteen, and left to go into the Guards. He was a handsome, well-made fellow, and reckoned almost the most dashing beau at evening parties of the middling sort, which were those he frequented for the most part; he had not gained a footing in the best society. From his youth he had been absorbed by two ideals: to get into the Imperial adjutants, and to make a good marriage; the first ideal he soon discarded, but he clung all the more closely to the second, and it was with that object that he went every winter to Moscow. Nikolai Artemyevitch spoke French fairly, and passed for being a philosopher, because he was not a rake. Even while he was no more
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