Part 2 out of 4
shaded by a sheet of paper and set in a corner, probably by Platosha while
he was asleep. He even discerned the smell of incense ... also, most
likely, the work of her hands.
He hurriedly dressed himself: to remain in bed, to sleep, was not to be
thought of. Then he took his stand in the middle of the room, and folded
his arms. The sense of Clara's presence was stronger in him than it had
And now he began to speak, not loudly, but with solemn deliberation, as
though he were uttering an incantation.
'Clara,' he began, 'if you are truly here, if you see me, if you hear
me--show yourself!... If the power which I feel over me is truly your
power, show yourself! If you understand how bitterly I repent that I did
not understand you, that I repelled you--show yourself! If what I have
heard was truly your voice; if the feeling overmastering me is love; if
you are now convinced that I love you, I, who till now have neither loved
nor known any woman; if you know that since your death I have come to love
you passionately, inconsolably; if you do not want me to go mad,--show
Aratov had hardly uttered this last word, when all at once he felt that
some one was swiftly approaching him from behind--as that day on the
boulevard--and laying a hand on his shoulder. He turned round, and
saw no one. But the sense of _her_ presence had grown so distinct, so
unmistakable, that once more he looked hurriedly about him....
What was that? On an easy-chair, two paces from him, sat a woman, all in
black. Her head was turned away, as in the stereoscope.... It was she! It
was Clara! But what a stern, sad face!
Aratov slowly sank on his knees. Yes; he was right, then. He felt neither
fear nor delight, not even astonishment.... His heart even began to beat
more quietly. He had one sense, one feeling, 'Ah! at last! at last!'
'Clara,' he began, in a faint but steady voice, 'why do you not look at me?
I know that it is you ... but I may fancy my imagination has created an
image like _that one_ ... '--he pointed towards the stereoscope--'prove to
me that it is you.... Turn to me, look at me, Clara!'
Clara's hand slowly rose ... and fell again.
'Clara! Clara! turn to me!'
And Clara's head slowly turned, her closed lids opened, and her dark eyes
fastened upon Aratov.
He fell back a little, and uttered a single, long-drawn-out, trembling
Clara gazed fixedly at him ... but her eyes, her features, retained their
former mournfully stern, almost displeased expression. With just that
expression on her face she had come on to the platform on the day of the
literary matinee, before she caught sight of Aratov. And, just as then,
she suddenly flushed, her face brightened, her eyes kindled, and a joyful,
triumphant smile parted her lips....
'I have come!' cried Aratov. 'You have conquered.... Take me! I am yours,
and you are mine!'
He flew to her; he tried to kiss those smiling, triumphant lips, and he
kissed them. He felt their burning touch: he even felt the moist chill of
her teeth: and a cry of triumph rang through the half-dark room.
Platonida Ivanovna, running in, found him in a swoon. He was on his knees;
his head was lying on the arm-chair; his outstretched arms hung powerless;
his pale face was radiant with the intoxication of boundless bliss.
Platonida Ivanovna fairly dropped to the ground beside him; she put her
arms round him, faltered, 'Yasha! Yasha, darling! Yasha, dearest!' tried to
lift him in her bony arms ... he did not stir. Then Platonida Ivanovna fell
to screaming in a voice unlike her own. The servant ran in. Together they
somehow roused him, began throwing water over him--even took it from the
holy lamp before the holy picture....
He came to himself. But in response to his aunt's questions he only smiled,
and with such an ecstatic face that she was more alarmed than ever, and
kept crossing first herself and then him.... Aratov, at last, put aside her
hand, and, still with the same ecstatic expression of face, said: 'Why,
Platosha, what is the matter with you?'
'What is the matter with you, Yasha darling?'
'With me? I am happy ... happy, Platosha ... that's what's the matter with
me. And now I want to lie down, to sleep....' He tried to get up, but felt
such a sense of weakness in his legs, and in his whole body, that he could
not, without the help of his aunt and the servant, undress and get into
bed. But he fell asleep very quickly, still with the same look of blissful
triumph on his face. Only his face was very pale.
When Platonida Ivanovna came in to him next morning, he was still in the
same position ... but the weakness had not passed off, and he actually
preferred to remain in bed. Platonida Ivanovna did not like the pallor of
his face at all. 'Lord, have mercy on us! what is it?' she thought; 'not a
drop of blood in his face, refuses broth, lies there and smiles, and keeps
declaring he's perfectly well!' He refused breakfast too. 'What is the
matter with you, Yasha?' she questioned him; 'do you mean to lie in bed all
day?' 'And what if I did?' Aratov answered gently. This very gentleness
again Platonida Ivanovna did not like at all. Aratov had the air of a
man who has discovered a great, very delightful secret, and is jealously
guarding it and keeping it to himself. He was looking forward to the night,
not impatiently, but with curiosity. 'What next?' he was asking himself;
'what will happen?' Astonishment, incredulity, he had ceased to feel; he
did not doubt that he was in communication with Clara, that they loved one
another ... that, too, he had no doubt about. Only ... what could come of
such love? He recalled that kiss ... and a delicious shiver ran swiftly and
sweetly through all his limbs. 'Such a kiss,' was his thought, 'even Romeo
and Juliet knew not! But next time I will be stronger.... I will master
her.... She shall come with a wreath of tiny roses in her dark curls....
'But what next? We cannot live together, can we? Then must I die so as to
be with her? Is it not for that she has come; and is it not _so_ she means
to take me captive?
'Well; what then? If I must die, let me die. Death has no terrors for me
now. It cannot, then, annihilate me? On the contrary, only _thus_ and
_there_ can I be happy ... as I have not been happy in life, as she has
not.... We are both pure! Oh, that kiss!'
* * * * *
Platonida Ivanovna was incessantly coming into Aratov's room. She did not
worry him with questions; she merely looked at him, muttered, sighed,
and went out again. But he refused his dinner too: this was really too
dreadful. The old lady set off to an acquaintance of hers, a district
doctor, in whom she placed some confidence, simply because he did not drink
and had a German wife. Aratov was surprised when she brought him in to see
him; but Platonida Ivanovna so earnestly implored her darling Yashenka to
allow Paramon Paramonitch (that was the doctor's name) to examine him--if
only for her sake--that Aratov consented. Paramon Paramonitch felt his
pulse, looked at his tongue, asked a question, and announced at last that
it was absolutely necessary for him to 'auscultate' him. Aratov was in such
an amiable frame of mind that he agreed to this too. The doctor delicately
uncovered his chest, delicately tapped, listened, hummed and hawed,
prescribed some drops and a mixture, and, above all, advised him to keep
quiet and avoid any excitement. 'I dare say!' thought Aratov; 'that idea's
a little too late, my good friend!' 'What is wrong with Yasha?' queried
Platonida Ivanovna, as she slipped a three-rouble note into Paramon
Paramonitch's hand in the doorway. The district doctor, who like all modern
physicians--especially those who wear a government uniform--was fond of
showing off with scientific terms, announced that her nephew's diagnosis
showed all the symptoms of neurotic cardialgia, and there were febrile
symptoms also. 'Speak plainer, my dear sir; do,' cut in Platonida Ivanovna;
'don't terrify me with your Latin; you're not in your surgery!' 'His
heart's not right,' the doctor explained; 'and, well--there's a little
fever too' ... and he repeated his advice as to perfect quiet and absence
of excitement. 'But there's no danger, is there?' Platonida Ivanovna
inquired severely ('You dare rush off into Latin again,' she implied.) 'No
need to anticipate any at present!'
The doctor went away ... and Platonida Ivanovna grieved.... She sent to the
surgery, though, for the medicine, which Aratov would not take, in spite of
her entreaties. He refused any herb-tea too. 'And why are you so uneasy,
dear?' he said to her; 'I assure you, I'm at this moment the sanest and
happiest man in the whole world!' Platonida Ivanovna could only shake her
head. Towards evening he grew rather feverish; and still he insisted
that she should not stay in his room, but should go to sleep in her own.
Platonida Ivanovna obeyed; but she did not undress, and did not lie down.
She sat in an arm-chair, and was all the while listening and murmuring her
She was just beginning to doze, when suddenly she was awakened by a
terrible piercing shriek. She jumped up, rushed into Aratov's room, and as
on the night before, found him lying on the floor.
But he did not come to himself as on the previous night, in spite of all
they could do. He fell the same night into a high fever, complicated by
failure of the heart.
A few days later he passed away.
A strange circumstance attended his second fainting-fit. When they lifted
him up and laid him on his bed, in his clenched right hand they found a
small tress of a woman's dark hair. Where did this lock of hair come from?
Anna Semyonovna had such a lock of hair left by Clara; but what could
induce her to give Aratov a relic so precious to her? Could she have put it
somewhere in the diary, and not have noticed it when she lent the book?
In the delirium that preceded his death, Aratov spoke of himself as Romeo
... after the poison; spoke of marriage, completed and perfect; of his
knowing now what rapture meant. Most terrible of all for Platosha was the
minute when Aratov, coming a little to himself, and seeing her beside his
bed, said to her, 'Aunt, what are you crying for?--because I must die? But
don't you know that love is stronger than death?... Death! death! where is
thy sting? You should not weep, but rejoice, even as I rejoice....'
And once more on the face of the dying man shone out the rapturous smile,
which gave the poor old woman such cruel pain.
'_One instant ... and the fairy tale is over,
And once again the actual fills the soul_ ...'--A. FET.
For a long time I could not get to sleep, and kept turning from side to
side. 'Confound this foolishness about table-turning!' I thought. 'It
simply upsets one's nerves.'... Drowsiness began to overtake me at last....
Suddenly it seemed to me as though there were the faint and plaintive sound
of a harp-string in the room.
I raised my head. The moon was low in the sky, and looked me straight in
the face. White as chalk lay its light upon the floor.... The strange sound
was distinctly repeated.
I leaned on my elbow. A faint feeling of awe plucked at my heart. A minute
passed, another.... Somewhere, far away, a cock crowed; another answered
still more remote.
I let my head sink back on the pillow. 'See what one can work oneself up
to,' I thought again,... 'there's a singing in my ears.'
After a little while I fell asleep--or I thought I fell asleep. I had an
extraordinary dream. I fancied I was lying in my room, in my bed--and was
not asleep, could not even close my eyes. And again I heard the sound....
I turned over.... The moonlight on the floor began softly to lift, to rise
up, to round off slightly above.... Before me; impalpable as mist, a white
woman was standing motionless.
'Who are you?' I asked with an effort.
A voice made answer, like the rustle of leaves: 'It is I ... I ... I ... I
have come for you.'
'For me? But who are you?'
'Come by night to the edge of the wood where there stands an old oak-tree.
I will be there.'
I tried to look closely into the face of the mysterious woman--and suddenly
I gave an involuntary shudder: there was a chilly breath upon me. And then
I was not lying down, but sitting up in my bed; and where, as I fancied,
the phantom had stood, the moonlight lay in a long streak of white upon the
The day passed somehow. I tried, I remember, to read, to work ...
everything was a failure. The night came. My heart was throbbing within me,
as though it expected something. I lay down, and turned with my face to the
'Why did you not come?' sounded a distinct whisper in the room.
I looked round quickly.
Again she ... again the mysterious phantom. Motionless eyes in a motionless
face, and a gaze full of sadness.
'Come!' I heard the whisper again.
'I will come,' I replied with instinctive horror. The phantom bent slowly
forward, and undulating faintly like smoke, melted away altogether. And
again the moon shone white and untroubled on the smooth floor.
I passed the day in unrest. At supper I drank almost a whole bottle of
wine, and all but went out on to the steps; but I turned back and flung
myself into my bed. My blood was pulsing painfully.
Again the sound was heard.... I started, but did not look round. All
at once I felt that some one had tight hold of me from behind, and was
whispering in my very ear: 'Come, come, come.'... Trembling with terror, I
moaned out: 'I will come!' and sat up.
A woman stood stooping close to my very pillow. She smiled dimly and
vanished. I had time, though, to make out her face. It seemed to me I had
seen her before--but where, when? I got up late, and spent the whole day
wandering about the country. I went to the old oak at the edge of the
forest, and looked carefully all around.
Towards evening I sat at the open window in my study. My old housekeeper
set a cup of tea before me, but I did not touch it.... I kept asking myself
in bewilderment: 'Am not I going out of my mind?' The sun had just set: and
not the sky alone was flushed with red; the whole atmosphere was suddenly
filled with an almost unnatural purple. The leaves and grass never stirred,
stiff as though freshly coated with varnish. In their stony rigidity, in
the vivid sharpness of their outlines, in this combination of intense
brightness and death-like stillness, there was something weird and
mysterious. A rather large grey bird suddenly flew up without a sound and
settled on the very window sill.... I looked at it, and it looked at me
sideways with its round, dark eye. 'Were you sent to remind me, then?' I
At once the bird fluttered its soft wings, and without a sound--as
before--flew away. I sat a long time still at the window, but I was no
longer a prey to uncertainty. I had, as it were, come within the enchanted
circle, and I was borne along by an irresistible though gentle force, as a
boat is borne along by the current long before it reaches the waterfall. I
started up at last. The purple had long vanished from the air, the colours
were darkened, and the enchanted silence was broken. There was the flutter
of a gust of wind, the moon came out brighter and brighter in the sky that
was growing bluer, and soon the leaves of the trees were weaving patterns
of black and silver in her cold beams. My old housekeeper came into the
study with a lighted candle, but there was a draught from the window and
the flame went out. I could restrain myself no longer. I jumped up, clapped
on my cap, and set off to the corner of the forest, to the old oak-tree.
This oak had, many years before, been struck by lightning; the top of the
tree had been shattered, and was withered up, but there was still life left
in it for centuries to come. As I was coming up to it, a cloud passed over
the moon: it was very dark under its thick branches. At first I noticed
nothing special; but I glanced on one side, and my heart fairly failed
me--a white figure was standing motionless beside a tall bush between the
oak and the forest. My hair stood upright on my head, but I plucked up my
courage and went towards the forest.
Yes, it was she, my visitor of the night. As I approached her, the moon
shone out again. She seemed all, as it were, spun out of half-transparent,
milky mist,--through her face I could see a branch faintly stirring in the
wind; only the hair and eyes were a little dark, and on one of the fingers
of her clasped hands a slender ring shone with a gleam of pale gold. I
stood still before her, and tried to speak; but the voice died away in my
throat, though it was no longer fear exactly I felt. Her eyes were turned
upon me; their gaze expressed neither distress nor delight, but a sort of
lifeless attention. I waited to see whether she would utter a word, but she
remained motionless and speechless, and still gazed at me with her deathly
intent eyes. Dread came over me again.
'I have come!' I cried at last with an effort. My voice sounded muffled and
strange to me.
'I love you,' I heard her whisper.
'You love me!' I repeated in amazement.
'Give yourself up to me, 'was whispered me again in reply.
'Give myself up to you! But you are a phantom; you have no body even.' A
strange animation came upon me. 'What are you--smoke, air, vapour? Give
myself up to you! Answer me first, Who are you? Have you lived upon the
earth? Whence have you come?'
'Give yourself up to me. I will do you no harm. Only say two words: "Take
I looked at her. 'What is she saying?' I thought. 'What does it all mean?
And how can she take me? Shall I try?'
'Very well,' I said, and unexpectedly loudly, as though some one had given
me a push from behind; 'take me!'
I had hardly uttered these words when the mysterious figure, with a sort of
inward laugh, which set her face quivering for an instant, bent forward,
and stretched out her arms wide apart.... I tried to dart away, but I was
already in her power. She seized me, my body rose a foot from the ground,
and we both floated smoothly and not too swiftly over the wet, still grass.
At first I felt giddy, and instinctively I closed my eyes.... A minute
later I opened them again. We were floating as before; but the forest was
now nowhere to be seen. Under us stretched a plain, spotted here and there
with dark patches. With horror I felt that we had risen to a fearful
'I am lost; I am in the power of Satan,' flashed through me like lightning.
Till that instant the idea of a temptation of the evil one, of the
possibility of perdition, had never entered my head. We still whirled on,
and seemed to be mounting higher and higher.
'Where will you take me?' I moaned at last.
'Where you like,' my companion answered. She clung close to me; her face
was almost resting upon my face. But I was scarcely conscious of her touch.
'Let me sink down to the earth, I am giddy at this height.'
'Very well; only shut your eyes and hold your breath.'
I obeyed, and at once felt that I was falling like a stone flung from the
hand ... the air whistled in my ears. When I could think again, we were
floating smoothly once more just above the earth, so that we caught our
feet in the tops of the tall grass.
'Put me on my feet,' I began. 'What pleasure is there in flying? I'm not a
'I thought you would like it. We have no other pastime.'
'You? Then what are you?'
There was no answer.
'You don't dare to tell me that?'
The plaintive sound which had awakened me the first night quivered in my
ears. Meanwhile we were still, scarcely perceptibly, moving in the damp
'Let me go!' I said. My companion moved slowly away, and I found myself
on my feet. She stopped before me and again folded her hands. I grew more
composed and looked into her face; as before it expressed submissive
'Where are we?' I asked. I did not recognise the country about me.
'Far from your home, but you can be there in an instant.'
'How can that be done? by trusting myself to you again?'
'I have done you no harm and will do you none. Let us fly till dawn, that
is all. I can bear you away wherever you fancy--to the ends of the earth.
Give yourself up to me! Say only: "Take me!"'
'Well ... take me!'
She again pressed close to me, again my feet left the earth--and we were
'Which way?' she asked me.
'Straight on, keep straight on.'
'But here is a forest.'
'Lift us over the forest, only slower.'
We darted upwards like a wild snipe flying up into a birch-tree, and
again flew on in a straight line. Instead of grass, we caught glimpses
of tree-tops just under our feet. It was strange to see the forest from
above, its bristling back lighted up by the moon. It looked like some huge
slumbering wild beast, and accompanied us with a vast unceasing murmur,
like some inarticulate roar. In one place we crossed a small glade;
intensely black was the jagged streak of shadow along one side of it. Now
and then there was the plaintive cry of a hare below us; above us the owl
hooted, plaintively too; there was a scent in the air of mushrooms, buds,
and dawn-flowers; the moon fairly flooded everything on all sides with
its cold, hard light; the Pleiades gleamed just over our heads. And now
the forest was left behind; a streak of fog stretched out across the open
country; it was the river. We flew along one of its banks, above the
bushes, still and weighed down with moisture. The river's waters at one
moment glimmered with a flash of blue, at another flowed on in darkness, as
it were, in wrath. Here and there a delicate mist moved strangely over the
water, and the water-lilies' cups shone white in maiden pomp with every
petal open to its full, as though they knew their safety out of reach.
I longed to pick one of them, and behold, I found myself at once on the
river's surface.... The damp air struck me an angry blow in the face, just
as I broke the thick stalk of a great flower. We began to fly across from
bank to bank, like the water-fowl we were continually waking up and chasing
before us. More than once we chanced to swoop down on a family of wild
ducks, settled in a circle on an open spot among the reeds, but they did
not stir; at most one of them would thrust out its neck from under its
wing, stare at us, and anxiously poke its beak away again in its fluffy
feathers, and another faintly quacked, while its body twitched a little all
over. We startled one heron; it flew up out of a willow bush, brandishing
its legs and fluttering its wings with clumsy eagerness: it struck me as
remarkably like a German. There was not the splash of a fish to be heard,
they too were asleep. I began to get used to the sensation of flying,
and even to find a pleasure in it; any one will understand me, who has
experienced flying in dreams. I proceeded to scrutinise with close
attention the strange being, by whose good offices such unlikely adventures
had befallen me.
She was a woman with a small un-Russian face. Greyish-white,
half-transparent, with scarcely marked shades, she reminded one of the
alabaster figures on a vase lighted up within, and again her face seemed
familiar to me.
'Can I speak with you?' I asked.
'I see a ring on your finger; you have lived then on the earth, you have
I waited ... There was no answer.
'What is your name, or, at least, what was it?'
'Call me Alice.'
'Alice! That's an English name! Are you an Englishwoman? Did you know me in
'Why is it then you have come to me?'
'I love you.'
'And are you content?'
'Yes; we float, we whirl together in the fresh air.'
'Alice!' I said all at once, 'you are perhaps a sinful, condemned soul?'
My companion's head bent towards me. 'I don't understand you,' she
'I adjure you in God's name....' I was beginning.
'What are you saying?' she put in in perplexity. 'I don't understand.'
I fancied that the arm that lay like a chilly girdle about my waist softly
'Don't be afraid,' said Alice, 'don't be afraid, my dear one!' Her face
turned and moved towards my face.... I felt on my lips a strange sensation,
like the faintest prick of a soft and delicate sting.... Leeches might
prick so in mild and drowsy mood.
I glanced downwards. We had now risen again to a considerable height. We
were flying over some provincial town I did not know, situated on the
side of a wide slope. Churches rose up high among the dark mass of wooden
roofs and orchards; a long bridge stood out black at the bend of a river;
everything was hushed, buried in slumber. The very crosses and cupolas
seemed to gleam with a silent brilliance; silently stood the tall posts
of the wells beside the round tops of the willows; silently the straight
whitish road darted arrow-like into one end of the town, and silently
it ran out again at the opposite end on to the dark waste of monotonous
'What town is this?' I asked.
'X ... in Y ... province?'
'I'm a long distance indeed from home!'
'Distance is not for us.'
'Really?' I was fired by a sudden recklessness. 'Then take me to South
'To America I cannot. It's daylight there by now.' 'And we are night-birds.
Well, anywhere, where you can, only far, far away.'
'Shut your eyes and hold your breath,' answered Alice, and we flew along
with the speed of a whirlwind. With a deafening noise the air rushed into
my ears. We stopped, but the noise did not cease. On the contrary, it
changed into a sort of menacing roar, the roll of thunder...
'Now you can open your eyes,' said Alice.
I obeyed ... Good God, where was I?
Overhead, ponderous, smoke-like storm-clouds; they huddled, they moved on
like a herd of furious monsters ... and there below, another monster; a
raging, yes, raging, sea ... The white foam gleamed with spasmodic fury,
and surged up in hillocks upon it, and hurling up shaggy billows, it beat
with a sullen roar against a huge cliff, black as pitch. The howling of the
tempest, the chilling gasp of the storm-rocked abyss, the weighty splash of
the breakers, in which from time to time one fancied something like a wail,
like distant cannon-shots, like a bell ringing--the tearing crunch and
grind of the shingle on the beach, the sudden shriek of an unseen gull, on
the murky horizon the disabled hulk of a ship--on every side death, death
and horror.... Giddiness overcame me, and I shut my eyes again with a
'What is this? Where are we?'
'On the south coast of the Isle of Wight opposite the Blackgang cliff where
ships are so often wrecked,' said Alice, speaking this time with peculiar
distinctness, and as it seemed to me with a certain malignant pleasure....
'Take me away, away from here ... home! home!' I shrank up, hid my face in
my hands ... I felt that we were moving faster than before; the wind now
was not roaring or moaning, it whistled in my hair, in my clothes ... I
caught my breath ...
'Stand on your feet now,' I heard Alice's voice saying. I tried to master
myself, to regain consciousness ... I felt the earth under the soles of
my feet, and I heard nothing, as though everything had swooned away about
me ... only in my temples the blood throbbed irregularly, and my head was
still giddy with a faint ringing in my ears. I drew myself up and opened my
We were on the bank of my pond. Straight before me there were glimpses
through the pointed leaves of the willows of its broad surface with threads
of fluffy mist clinging here and there upon it. To the right a field of rye
shone dimly; on the left stood up my orchard trees, tall, rigid, drenched
it seemed in dew ... The breath of the morning was already upon them.
Across the pure grey sky stretched like streaks of smoke, two or three
slanting clouds; they had a yellowish tinge, the first faint glow of dawn
fell on them; one could not say whence it came; the eye could not detect
on the horizon, which was gradually growing lighter, the spot where the
sun was to rise. The stars had disappeared; nothing was astir yet, though
everything was already on the point of awakening in the enchanted stillness
of the morning twilight.
'Morning! see, it is morning!' cried Alice in my ear. 'Farewell till
I turned round ... Lightly rising from the earth, she floated by, and
suddenly she raised both hands above her head. The head and hands and
shoulders glowed for an instant with warm, corporeal light; living sparks
gleamed in the dark eyes; a smile of mysterious tenderness stirred the
reddening lips.... A lovely woman had suddenly arisen before me.... But as
though dropping into a swoon, she fell back instantly and melted away like
I remained passive.
When I recovered myself and looked round me, it seemed to me that the
corporeal, pale-rosy colour that had flitted over the figure of my phantom
had not yet vanished, and was enfolding me, diffused in the air.... It
was the flush of dawn. All at once I was conscious of extreme fatigue and
turned homewards. As I passed the poultry-yard, I heard the first morning
cackling of the geese (no birds wake earlier than they do); along the roof
at the end of each beam sat a rook, and they were all busily and silently
pluming themselves, standing out in sharp outline against the milky sky.
From time to time they all rose at once, and after a short flight, settled
again in a row, without uttering a caw.... From the wood close by came
twice repeated the drowsy, fresh chuck-chuck of the black-cock, beginning
to fly into the dewy grass, overgrown by brambles.... With a faint tremor
all over me I made my way to my bed, and soon fell into a sound sleep.
The next night, as I was approaching the old oak, Alice moved to meet me,
as if I were an old friend. I was not afraid of her as I had been the day
before, I was almost rejoiced at seeing her; I did not even attempt to
comprehend what was happening to me; I was simply longing to fly farther to
Alice's arm again twined about me, and we took flight again.
'Let us go to Italy,' I whispered in her ear.
'Wherever you wish, my dear one,' she answered solemnly and slowly, and
slowly and solemnly she turned her face towards me. It struck me as less
transparent than on the eve; more womanlike and more imposing; it recalled
to me the being I had had a glimpse of in the early dawn at parting.
'This night is a great night,' Alice went on. 'It comes rarely--when seven
times thirteen ...'
At this point I could not catch a few words.
'To-night we can see what is hidden at other times.'
'Alice!' I implored, 'but who are you, tell me at last?'
Silently she lifted her long white hand. In the dark sky, where her finger
was pointing, a comet flashed, a reddish streak among the tiny stars.
'How am I to understand you?' I began, 'Or, as that comet floats between
the planets and the sun, do you float among men ... or what?'
But Alice's hand was suddenly passed before my eyes.... It was as though a
white mist from the damp valley had fallen on me....
'To Italy! to Italy!' I heard her whisper. 'This night is a great night!'
The mist cleared away from before my eyes, and I saw below me an immense
plain. But already, by the mere breath of the warm soft air upon my cheeks,
I could tell I was not in Russia; and the plain, too, was not like our
Russian plains. It was a vast dark expanse, apparently desert and not
overgrown with grass; here and there over its whole extent gleamed pools of
water, like broken pieces of looking-glass; in the distance could be dimly
descried a noiseless motionless sea. Great stars shone bright in the spaces
between the big beautiful clouds; the murmur of thousands, subdued but
never-ceasing, rose on all sides, and very strange was this shrill but
drowsy chorus, this voice of the darkness and the desert....
'The Pontine marshes,' said Alice. 'Do you hear the frogs? do you smell the
'The Pontine marshes....' I repeated, and a sense of grandeur and of
desolation came upon me. 'But why have you brought me here, to this gloomy
forsaken place? Let us fly to Rome instead.'
'Rome is near,' answered Alice.... 'Prepare yourself!'
We sank lower, and flew along an ancient Roman road. A bullock slowly
lifted from the slimy mud its shaggy monstrous head, with short tufts of
bristles between its crooked backward-bent horns. It turned the whites of
its dull malignant eyes askance, and sniffed a heavy snorting breath into
its wet nostrils, as though scenting us.
'Rome, Rome is near...' whispered Alice. 'Look, look in front....'
I raised my eyes.
What was the blur of black on the edge of the night sky? Were these the
lofty arches of an immense bridge? What river did it span? Why was it
broken down in parts? No, it was not a bridge, it was an ancient aqueduct.
All around was the holy ground of the Campagna, and there, in the distance,
the Albanian hills, and their peaks and the grey ridge of the old aqueduct
gleamed dimly in the beams of the rising moon....
We suddenly darted upwards, and floated in the air before a deserted ruin.
No one could have said what it had been: sepulchre, palace, or castle....
Dark ivy encircled it all over in its deadly clasp, and below gaped yawning
a half-ruined vault. A heavy underground smell rose in my face from this
heap of tiny closely-fitted stones, whence the granite facing of the wall
had long crumbled away.
'Here,' Alice pronounced, and she raised her hand: 'Here! call aloud three
times running the name of the mighty Roman!'
'What will happen?'
'You will see.'
I wondered. '_Divus Caius Julius Caesar!_' I cried suddenly; '_Divus Caius
Julius Caesar!_' I repeated deliberately; '_Caesar!_'
The last echoes of my voice had hardly died away, when I heard....
It is difficult to say what I did hear. At first there reached me a
confused din the ear could scarcely catch, the endlessly-repeated clamour
of the blare of trumpets, and the clapping of hands. It seemed that
somewhere, immensely far away, at some fathomless depth, a multitude
innumerable was suddenly astir, and was rising up, rising up in agitation,
calling to one another, faintly, as if muffled in sleep, the suffocating
sleep of ages. Then the air began moving in dark currents over the ruin....
Shades began flitting before me, myriads of shades, millions of outlines,
the rounded curves of helmets, the long straight lines of lances; the
moonbeams were broken into momentary gleams of blue upon these helmets and
lances, and all this army, this multitude, came closer and closer, and
grew, in more and more rapid movement.... An indescribable force, a force
fit to set the whole world moving, could be felt in it; but not one figure
stood out clearly.... And suddenly I fancied a sort of tremor ran all
round, as if it were the rush and rolling apart of some huge waves....
'_Caesar, Caesar venit!_' sounded voices, like the leaves of a forest when
a storm has suddenly broken upon it ... a muffled shout thundered through
the multitude, and a pale stern head, in a wreath of laurel, with downcast
eyelids, the head of the emperor, began slowly to rise out of the ruin....
There is no word in the tongue of man to express the horror which clutched
at my heart.... I felt that were that head to raise its eyes, to part its
lips, I must perish on the spot! 'Alice!' I moaned, 'I won't, I can't, I
don't want Rome, coarse, terrible Rome.... Away, away from here!'
'Coward!' she whispered, and away we flew. I just had time to hear behind
me the iron voice of the legions, like a peal of thunder ... then all was
'Look round,' Alice said to me, 'and don't fear.'
I obeyed--and, I remember, my first impression was so sweet that I could
only sigh. A sort of smoky-grey, silvery-soft, half-light, half-mist,
enveloped me on all sides. At first I made out nothing: I was dazzled by
this azure brilliance; but little by little began to emerge the outlines
of beautiful mountains and forests; a lake lay at my feet, with stars
quivering in its depths, and the musical plash of waves. The fragrance of
orange flowers met me with a rush, and with it--and also as it were with a
rush--came floating the pure powerful notes of a woman's young voice. This
fragrance, this music, fairly drew me downwards, and I began to sink ...
to sink down towards a magnificent marble palace, which stood, invitingly
white, in the midst of a wood of cypress. The music flowed out from its
wide open windows, the waves of the lake, flecked with the pollen of
flowers, splashed upon its walls, and just opposite, all clothed in the
dark green of orange flowers and laurels, enveloped in shining mist, and
studded with statues, slender columns, and the porticoes of temples, a
lofty round island rose out of the water....
'Isola Bella!' said Alice.... 'Lago Maggiore....'
I murmured only 'Ah!' and continued to drop. The woman's voice sounded
louder and clearer in the palace; I was irresistibly drawn towards it.... I
wanted to look at the face of the singer, who, in such music, gave voice to
such a night. We stood still before the window.
In the centre of a room, furnished in the style of Pompeii, and more like
an ancient temple than a modern drawing-room, surrounded by Greek statues,
Etruscan vases, rare plants, and precious stuffs, lighted up by the soft
radiance of two lamps enclosed in crystal globes, a young woman was sitting
at the piano. Her head slightly bowed and her eyes half-closed, she sang an
Italian melody; she sang and smiled, and at the same time her face wore an
expression of gravity, almost of sternness ... a token of perfect rapture!
She smiled ... and Praxiteles' Faun, indolent, youthful as she, effeminate,
and voluptuous, seemed to smile back at her from a corner, under the
branches of an oleander, across the delicate smoke that curled upwards
from a bronze censer on an antique tripod. The beautiful singer was alone.
Spell-bound by the music, her beauty, the splendour and sweet fragrance of
the night, moved to the heart by the picture of this youthful, serene, and
untroubled happiness, I utterly forgot my companion, I forgot the strange
way in which I had become a witness of this life, so remote, so completely
apart from me, and I was on the point of tapping at the window, of
I was set trembling all over by a violent shock--just as though I had
touched a galvanic battery. I looked round.... The face of Alice was--for
all its transparency--dark and menacing; there was a dull glow of anger in
her eyes, which were suddenly wide and round....
'Away!' she murmured wrathfully, and again whirling and darkness and
giddiness.... Only this time not the shout of legions, but the voice of the
singer, breaking on a high note, lingered in my ears....
We stopped. The high note, the same note was still ringing and did not
cease to ring in my ears, though I was breathing quite a different air, a
different scent ... a breeze was blowing upon me, fresh and invigorating,
as though from a great river, and there was a smell of hay, smoke and hemp.
The long-drawn-out note was followed by a second, and a third, but with an
expression so unmistakable, a trill so familiar, so peculiarly our own,
that I said to myself at once: 'That's a Russian singing a Russian song!'
and at that very instant everything grew clear about me.
We found ourselves on a flat riverside plain. To the left, newly-mown
meadows, with rows of huge hayricks, stretched endlessly till they were
lost in the distance; to the right extended the smooth surface of a vast
mighty river, till it too was lost in the distance. Not far from the bank,
big dark barges slowly rocked at anchor, slightly tilting their slender
masts, like pointing fingers. From one of these barges came floating up to
me the sounds of a liquid voice, and a fire was burning in it, throwing a
long red light that danced and quivered on the water. Here and there, both
on the river and in the fields, other lights were glimmering, whether close
at hand or far away, the eye could not distinguish; they shrank together,
then suddenly lengthened out into great blurs of light; grasshoppers
innumerable kept up an unceasing churr, persistent as the frogs of the
Pontine marshes; and across the cloudless, but dark lowering sky floated
from time to time the cries of unseen birds.
'Are we in Russia?' I asked of Alice.
'It is the Volga,' she answered.
We flew along the river-bank. 'Why did you tear me away from there, from
that lovely country?' I began. 'Were you envious, or was it jealousy in
The lips of Alice faintly stirred, and again there was a menacing light in
her eyes.... But her whole face grew stony again at once.
'I want to go home,' I said.
'Wait a little, wait a little,' answered Alice. 'To-night is a great night.
It will not soon return. You may be a spectator.... Wait a little.'
And we suddenly flew across the Volga in a slanting direction, keeping
close to the water's surface, with the low impetuous flight of swallows
before a storm. The broad waves murmured heavily below us, the sharp river
breeze beat upon us with its strong cold wing ... the high right bank began
soon to rise up before us in the half-darkness. Steep mountains appeared
with great ravines between. We came near to them.
'Shout: "Lads, to the barges!"' Alice whispered to me. I remembered the
terror I had suffered at the apparition of the Roman phantoms. I felt weary
and strangely heavy, as though my heart were ebbing away within me. I
wished not to utter the fatal words; I knew beforehand that in response to
them there would appear, as in the wolves' valley of the Freischuetz, some
monstrous thing; but my lips parted against my will, and in a weak forced
voice I shouted, also against my will: 'Lads, to the barges!'
At first all was silence, even as it was at the Roman ruins, but suddenly
I heard close to my very ear a coarse bargeman's laugh, and with a moan
something dropped into the water and a gurgling sound followed.... I looked
round: no one was anywhere to be seen, but from the bank the echo came
bounding back, and at once from all sides rose a deafening din. There was a
medley of everything in this chaos of sound: shouting and whining, furious
abuse and laughter, laughter above everything; the plash of oars and the
cleaving of hatchets, a crash as of the smashing of doors and chests, the
grating of rigging and wheels, and the neighing of horses, and the clang
of the alarm bell and the clink of chains, the roar and crackle of fire,
drunken songs and quick, gnashing chatter, weeping inconsolable, plaintive
despairing prayers, and shouts of command, the dying gasp and the reckless
whistle, the guffaw and the thud of the dance.... 'Kill them! Hang them!
Drown them! rip them up! bravo! bravo! don't spare them!' could be heard
distinctly; I could even hear the hurried breathing of men panting. And
meanwhile all around, as far as the eye could reach, nothing could be seen,
nothing was changed; the river rolled by mysteriously, almost sullenly, the
very bank seemed more deserted and desolate--and that was all.
I turned to Alice, but she put her finger to her lips....
'Stepan Timofeitch! Stepan Timofeitch is coming!' was shouted noisily all
round; 'he is coming, our father, our ataman, our bread-giver!' As before I
saw nothing but it seemed to me as though a huge body were moving straight
at me.... 'Frolka! where art thou, dog?' thundered an awful voice.
'Set fire to every corner at once--and to the hatchet with them, the
I felt the hot breath of the flame close by, and tasted the bitter savour
of the smoke; and at the same instant something warm like blood spurted
over my face and hands.... A savage roar of laughter broke out all
I lost consciousness, and when I came to myself, Alice and I were gliding
along beside the familiar bushes that bordered my wood, straight towards
the old oak....
'Do you see the little path?' Alice said to me, 'where the moon shines
dimly and where are two birch-trees overhanging? Will you go there?'
But I felt so shattered and exhausted that I could only say in reply:
'You are at home,' replied Alice.
I was in fact standing at the very door of my house--alone. Alice
had vanished. The yard-dog was about to approach, he scanned me
suspiciously--and with a bark ran away.
With difficulty I dragged myself up to my bed and fell asleep without
All the following morning my head ached, and I could scarcely move my legs;
but I cared little for my bodily discomfort; I was devoured by regret,
overwhelmed with vexation.
I was excessively annoyed with myself. 'Coward!' I repeated incessantly;
'yes--Alice was right. What was I frightened of? how could I miss such an
opportunity?... I might have seen Caesar himself--and I was senseless with
terror, I whimpered and turned away, like a child at the sight of the rod.
Razin, now--that's another matter. As a nobleman and landowner ... though,
indeed, even then what had I really to fear? Coward! coward!'...
'But wasn't it all a dream?' I asked myself at last. I called my
'Marfa, what o'clock did I go to bed yesterday--do you remember?'
'Why, who can tell, master?... Late enough, surely. Before it was quite
dark you went out of the house; and you were tramping about in your bedroom
when the night was more than half over. Just on morning--yes. And this is
the third day it's been the same. You've something on your mind, it's easy
'Aha-ha!' I thought. 'Then there's no doubt about the flying. Well, and how
do I look to-day?' I added aloud.
'How do you look? Let me have a look at you. You've got thinner a bit. Yes,
and you're pale, master; to be sure, there's not a drop of blood in your
I felt a slight twinge of uneasiness.... I dismissed Marfa.
'Why, going on like this, you'll die, or go out of your mind, perhaps,'
I reasoned with myself, as I sat deep in thought at the window. 'I must
give it all up. It's dangerous. And now my heart beats so strangely. And
when I fly, I keep feeling as though some one were sucking at it, or as
it were drawing something out of it--as the spring sap is drawn out of
the birch-tree, if you stick an axe into it. I'm sorry, though. And Alice
too.... She is playing cat and mouse with me ... still she can hardly wish
me harm. I will give myself up to her for the last time--and then.... But
if she is drinking my blood? That's awful. Besides, such rapid locomotion
cannot fail to be injurious; even in England, I'm told, on the railways,
it's against the law to go more than one hundred miles an hour....'
So I reasoned with myself--but at ten o'clock in the evening, I was already
at my post before the old oak-tree.
The night was cold, dull, grey; there was a feeling of rain in the air. To
my amazement, I found no one under the oak; I walked several times round
it, went up to the edge of the wood, turned back again, peered anxiously
into the darkness.... All was emptiness. I waited a little, then several
times I uttered the name, Alice, each time a little louder,... but she did
not appear. I felt sad, almost sick at heart; my previous apprehensions
vanished; I could not resign myself to the idea that my companion would not
come back to me again.
'Alice! Alice! come! Can it be you will not come?' I shouted, for the last
A crow, who had been waked by my voice, suddenly darted upwards into a
tree-top close by, and catching in the twigs, fluttered his wings.... But
Alice did not appear.
With downcast head, I turned homewards. Already I could discern the black
outlines of the willows on the pond's edge, and the light in my window
peeped out at me through the apple-trees in the orchard--peeped at me, and
hid again, like the eye of some man keeping watch on me--when suddenly I
heard behind me the faint swish of the rapidly parted air, and something at
once embraced and snatched me upward, as a buzzard pounces on and snatches
up a quail.... It was Alice sweeping down upon me. I felt her cheek against
my cheek, her enfolding arm about my body, and like a cutting cold her
whisper pierced to my ear, 'Here I am.' I was frightened and delighted both
at once.... We flew at no great height above the ground.
'You did not mean to come to-day?' I said.
'And you were dull without me? You love me? Oh, you are mine!'
The last words of Alice confused me.... I did not know what to say.
'I was kept,' she went on; 'I was watched.'
'Who could keep you?'
'Where would you like to go?' inquired Alice, as usual not answering my
'Take me to Italy--to that lake, you remember.'
Alice turned a little away, and shook her head in refusal. At that point I
noticed for the first time that she had ceased to be transparent. And her
face seemed tinged with colour; there was a faint glow of red over its
misty whiteness. I glanced at her eyes ... and felt a pang of dread; in
those eyes something was astir--with the slow, continuous, malignant
movement of the benumbed snake, twisting and turning as the sun begins to
'Alice,' I cried, 'who are you? Tell me who you are.'
Alice simply shrugged her shoulders.
I felt angry ... I longed to punish her; and suddenly the idea occurred
to me to tell her to fly with me to Paris. 'That's the place for you to
be jealous,' I thought. 'Alice,' I said aloud, 'you are not afraid of big
towns--Paris, for instance?'
'Not even those parts where it is as light as in the boulevards?'
'It is not the light of day.'
'Good; then take me at once to the Boulevard des Italiens.'
Alice wrapped the end of her long hanging sleeve about my head. I was at
once enfolded in a sort of white vapour full of the drowsy fragrance of the
poppy. Everything disappeared at once; every light, every sound, and almost
consciousness itself. Only the sense of being alive remained, and that was
Suddenly the vapour vanished; Alice took her sleeve from my head, and I
saw at my feet a huge mass of closely--packed buildings, brilliant light,
movement, noisy traffic.... I saw Paris.
I had been in Paris before, and so I recognised at once the place to which
Alice had directed her course. It was the Garden of the Tuileries with
its old chestnut-trees, its iron railings, its fortress moat, and its
brutal-looking Zouave sentinels. Passing the palace, passing the Church of
St. Roche, on the steps of which the first Napoleon for the first time shed
French blood, we came to a halt high over the Boulevard des Italiens, where
the third Napoleon did the same thing and with the same success. Crowds of
people, dandies young and old, workmen in blouses, women in gaudy dresses,
were thronging on the pavements; the gilded restaurants and cafes were
flaring with lights; omnibuses, carriages of all sorts and shapes, moved
to and fro along the boulevard; everything was bustle, everything was
brightness, wherever one chanced to look.... But, strange to say, I had
no inclination to forsake my pure dark airy height. I had no inclination
to get nearer to this human ant-hill. It seemed as though a hot, heavy,
reddish vapour rose from it, half-fragrance, half-stench; so many lives
were flung struggling in one heap together there. I was hesitating.... But
suddenly, sharp as the clang of iron bars, the voice of a harlot of the
streets floated up to me; like an insolent tongue, it was thrust out, this
voice; it stung me like the sting of a viper. At once I saw in imagination
the strong, heavy-jawed, greedy, flat Parisian face, the mercenary eyes,
the paint and powder, the frizzed hair, and the nosegay of gaudy artificial
flowers under the high-pointed hat, the polished nails like talons, the
hideous crinoline.... I could fancy too one of our sons of the steppes
running with pitiful eagerness after the doll put up for sale.... I could
fancy him with clumsy coarseness and violent stammering, trying to imitate
the manners of the waiters at Vefour's, mincing, flattering, wheedling ...
and a feeling of loathing gained possession of me.... 'No,' I thought,
'here Alice has no need to be jealous....'
Meanwhile I perceived that we had gradually begun to descend.... Paris was
rising to meet us with all its din and odour....
'Stop,' I said to Alice. 'Are you not stifled and oppressed here?'
'You asked me to bring you here yourself.'
'I am to blame, I take back my word. Take me away, Alice, I beseech you. To
be sure, here is Prince Kulmametov hobbling along the boulevard; and his
friend, Serge Varaksin, waves his hand to him, shouting: "Ivan Stepanitch,
_allons souper_, make haste, zhay angazha Rigol-bouche itself!" Take
me away from these furnished apartments and _maisons dorees_, from the
Jockey Club and the Figaro, from close-shaven military heads and varnished
barracks, from sergents-de-ville with Napoleonic beards, and from glasses
of muddy absinthe, from gamblers playing dominoes at the cafes, and
gamblers on the Bourse, from red ribbons in button-holes, from M. de Four,
inventor of 'matrimonial specialities,' and the gratuitous consultations of
Dr. Charles Albert, from liberal lectures and government pamphlets, from
Parisian comedies and Parisian operas, from Parisian wit and Parisian
ignorance.... Away! away! away!'
'Look down,' Alice answered; 'you are not now in Paris.'
I lowered my eyes.... It was true. A dark plain, intersected here and there
by the whitish lines of roads, was rushing rapidly by below us, and only
behind us on the horizon, like the reflection of an immense conflagration,
rose the great glow of the innumerable lights of the capital of the world.
Again a veil fell over my eyes.... Again I lost consciousness. The veil was
withdrawn at last. What was it down there below? What was this park, with
avenues of lopped lime-trees, with isolated fir-trees of the shape of
parasols, with porticoes and temples in the Pompadour style, with statues
of satyrs and nymphs of the Bernini school, with rococo tritons in the
midst of meandering lakes, closed in by low parapets of blackened marble?
Wasn't it Versailles? No, it was not Versailles. A small palace, also
rococo, peeped out behind a clump of bushy oaks. The moon shone dimly,
shrouded in mist, and over the earth there was, as it were spread out, a
delicate smoke. The eye could not decide what it was, whether moonlight or
fog. On one of the lakes a swan was asleep; its long back was white as the
snow of the frost-bound steppes, while glow-worms gleamed like diamonds in
the bluish shadow at the base of a statue.
'We are near Mannheim,' said Alice; 'this is the Schwetzingen garden.'
'We are in Germany,' I thought, and I fell to listening. All was silence,
except somewhere, secluded and unseen, the splash and babble of falling
water. It seemed continually to repeat the same words: 'Aye, aye, aye, for
aye, aye.' And all at once I fancied that in the very centre of one of the
avenues, between clipped walls of green, a cavalier came tripping along in
red-heeled boots, a gold-braided coat, with lace ruffs at his wrists, a
light steel rapier at his thigh, smilingly offering his arm to a lady in a
powdered wig and a gay chintz.... Strange, pale faces.... I tried to look
into them.... But already everything had vanished, and as before there was
nothing but the babbling water.
'Those are dreams wandering,' whispered Alice; 'yesterday there was
much--oh, much--to see; to-day, even the dreams avoid man's eye. Forward!
We soared higher and flew farther on. So smooth and easy was our flight
that it seemed that we moved not, but everything moved to meet us.
Mountains came into view, dark, undulating, covered with forest; they rose
up and swam towards us.... And now they were slipping by beneath us, with
all their windings, hollows, and narrow glades, with gleams of light from
rapid brooks among the slumbering trees at the bottom of the dales; and in
front of us more mountains sprung up again and floated towards us.... We
were in the heart of the Black Forest.
Mountains, still mountains ... and forest, magnificent, ancient, stately
forest. The night sky was clear; I could recognise some kinds of trees,
especially the splendid firs, with their straight white trunks. Here and
there on the edge of the forest, wild goats could be seen; graceful and
alert, they stood on their slender legs and listened, turning their heads
prettily and pricking up their great funnel-shaped ears. A ruined tower,
sightless and gloomy, on the crest of a bare cliff, laid bare its crumbling
turrets; above the old forgotten stones, a little golden star was shining
peacefully. From a small almost black lake rose, like a mysterious wail,
the plaintive croak of tiny frogs. I fancied other notes, long-drawn-out,
languid like the strains of an AEolian harp.... Here we were in the home
of legend! The same delicate moonlight mist, which had struck me in
Schwetzingen, was shed here on every side, and the farther away the
mountains, the thicker was this mist. I counted up five, six, ten different
tones of shadow at different heights on the mountain slopes, and over all
this realm of varied silence the moon queened it pensively. The air blew in
soft, light currents. I felt myself a lightness at heart, and, as it were,
a lofty calm and melancholy....
'Alice, you must love this country!'
'I love nothing.'
'How so? Not me?'
'Yes ... you!' she answered indifferently.
It seemed to me that her arm clasped my waist more tightly than before.
'Forward! forward!' said Alice, with a sort of cold fervour.
'Forward!' I repeated.
A loud, thrilling cry rang out suddenly over our heads, and was at once
repeated a little in front.
'Those are belated cranes flying to you, to the north,' said Alice; 'would
you like to join them?'
'Yes, yes! raise me up to them.'
We darted upwards and in one instant found ourselves beside the flying
The big handsome birds (there were thirteen of them) were flying in a
triangle, with slow sharp flaps of their hollow wings; with their heads and
legs stretched rigidly out, and their breasts stiffly pressed forward, they
pushed on persistently and so swiftly that the air whistled about them. It
was marvellous at such a height, so remote from all things living, to see
such passionate, strenuous life, such unflinching will, untiringly cleaving
their triumphant way through space. The cranes now and then called to one
another, the foremost to the hindmost; and there was a certain pride,
dignity, and invincible faith in these loud cries, this converse in the
clouds. 'We shall get there, be sure, hard though it be,' they seemed to
say, cheering one another on. And then the thought came to me that men,
such as these birds--in Russia--nay, in the whole world, are few.
'We are flying towards Russia now,' observed Alice. I noticed now, not for
the first time, that she almost always knew what I was thinking of. 'Would
you like to go back?'
'Let us go back ... or no! I have been in Paris; take me to Petersburg.'
'At once.... Only wrap my head in your veil, or it will go ill with me.'
Alice raised her hand ... but before the mist enfolded me, I had time to
feel on my lips the contact of that soft, dull sting....
'Li-i-isten!' sounded in my ears a long drawn out cry. 'Li-i-isten!' was
echoed back with a sort of desperation in the distance. 'Li-i-isten!' died
away somewhere far, far away. I started. A tall golden spire flashed on my
eyes; I recognised the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul.
A northern, pale night! But was it night at all? Was it not rather a
pallid, sickly daylight? I never liked Petersburg nights; but this time the
night seemed even fearful to me; the face of Alice had vanished completely,
melted away like the mist of morning in the July sun, and I saw her whole
body clearly, as it hung, heavy and solitary on a level with the Alexander
column. So here was Petersburg! Yes, it was Petersburg, no doubt. The wide
empty grey streets; the greyish-white, and yellowish-grey and greyish-lilac
houses, covered with stucco, which was peeling off, with their sunken
windows, gaudy sign-boards, iron canopies over steps, and wretched little
green-grocer's shops; the facades, inscriptions, sentry-boxes, troughs; the
golden cap of St. Isaac's; the senseless motley Bourse; the granite walls
of the fortress, and the broken wooden pavement; the barges loaded with hay
and timber; the smell of dust, cabbage, matting, and hemp; the stony-faced
dvorniks in sheepskin coats, with high collars; the cab-drivers, huddled up
dead asleep on their decrepit cabs--yes, this was Petersburg, our northern
Palmyra. Everything was visible; everything was clear--cruelly clear and
distinct--and everything was mournfully sleeping, standing out in strange
huddled masses in the dull clear air. The flush of sunset--a hectic
flush--had not yet gone, and would not be gone till morning from the white
starless sky; it was reflected on the silken surface of the Neva, while
faintly gurgling and faintly moving, the cold blue waves hurried on....
'Let us fly away,' Alice implored.
And without waiting for my reply, she bore me away across the Neva, over
the palace square to Liteiny Street. Steps and voices were audible beneath
us; a group of young men, with worn faces, came along the street talking
about dancing-classes. 'Sub-lieutenant Stolpakov's seventh!' shouted
suddenly a soldier, standing half-asleep on guard at a pyramid of rusty
bullets; and a little farther on, at an open window in a tall house, I saw
a girl in a creased silk dress, without cuffs, with a pearl net on her
hair, and a cigarette in her mouth. She was reading a book with reverent
attention; it was a volume of the works of one of our modern Juvenals.
'Let us fly away!' I said to Alice.
One instant more, and there were glimpses below us of the rotting pine
copses and mossy bogs surrounding Petersburg. We bent our course straight
to the south; sky, earth, all grew gradually darker and darker. The sick
night; the sick daylight; the sick town--all were left behind us.
We flew more slowly than usual, and I was able to follow with my eyes the
immense expanse of my native land gradually unfolding before me, like
the unrolling of an endless panorama. Forests, copses, fields, ravines,
rivers--here and there villages and churches--and again fields and forests
and copses and ravines.... Sadness came over me, and a kind of indifferent
dreariness. And I was not sad and dreary simply because it was Russia I was
flying over. No. The earth itself, this flat surface which lay spread out
beneath me; the whole earthly globe, with its populations, multitudinous,
feeble, crushed by want, grief and diseases, bound to a clod of pitiful
dust; this brittle, rough crust, this shell over the fiery sands of our
planet, overspread with the mildew we call the organic, vegetable kingdom;
these human flies, a thousand times paltrier than flies; their dwellings
glued together with filth, the pitiful traces of their tiny, monotonous
bustle, of their comic struggle with the unchanging and inevitable, how
revolting it all suddenly was to me. My heart turned slowly sick, and I
could not bear to gaze longer on these trivial pictures, on this vulgar
show.... Yes, I felt dreary, worse than dreary. Even pity I felt nothing of
for my brother men: all feelings in me were merged in one which I scarcely
dare to name: a feeling of loathing, and stronger than all and more than
all within me was the loathing--for myself.
'Cease,' whispered Alice, 'cease, or I cannot carry you. You have grown
'Home,' I answered her in the very tone in which I used to say the word
to my coachman, when I came out at four o'clock at night from some Moscow
friends', where I had been talking since dinner-time of the future of
Russia and the significance of the commune. 'Home,' I repeated, and closed
But I soon opened them again. Alice seemed huddling strangely up to me; she
was almost pushing against me. I looked at her and my blood froze at the
sight. One who has chanced to behold on the face of another a sudden look
of intense terror, the cause of which he does not suspect, will understand
me. By terror, overmastering terror, the pale features of Alice were drawn
and contorted, almost effaced. I had never seen anything like it even on a
living human face. A lifeless, misty phantom, a shade,... and this deadly
'Alice, what is it?' I said at last.
'She ... she ...' she answered with an effort. 'She.'
'She? Who is she?'
'Do not utter her name, not her name,' Alice faltered hurriedly. 'We must
escape, or there will be an end to everything, and for ever.... Look, over
I turned my head in the direction in which her trembling hand was pointing,
and discerned something ... something horrible indeed.
This something was the more horrible that it had no definite shape.
Something bulky, dark, yellowish-black, spotted like a lizard's belly, not
a storm-cloud, and not smoke, was crawling with a snake-like motion over
the earth. A wide rhythmic undulating movement from above downwards, and
from below upwards, an undulation recalling the malignant sweep of the
wings of a vulture seeking its prey; at times an indescribably revolting
grovelling on the earth, as of a spider stooping over its captured fly....
Who are you, what are you, menacing mass? Under her influence, I saw it,
I felt it--all sank into nothingness, all was dumb.... A putrefying,
pestilential chill came from it. At this chill breath the heart turned
sick, and the eyes grew dim, and the hair stood up on the head. It was
a power moving; that power which there is no resisting, to which all is
subject, which, sightless, shapeless, senseless, sees all, knows all, and
like a bird of prey picks out its victims, like a snake, stifles them and
stabs them with its frozen sting....
'Alice! Alice!' I shrieked like one in frenzy. 'It is death! death itself!'
The wailing sound I had heard before broke from Alice's lips; this time
it was more like a human wail of despair, and we flew. But our flight was
strangely and alarmingly unsteady; Alice turned over in the air, fell,
rushed from side to side like a partridge mortally wounded, or trying to
attract a dog away from her young. And meanwhile in pursuit of us, parting
from the indescribable mass of horror, rushed sort of long undulating
tentacles, like outstretched arms, like talons.... Suddenly a huge shape,
a muffled figure on a pale horse, sprang up and flew upwards into the very
heavens.... Still more fearfully, still more desperately Alice struggled.
'She has seen! All is over! I am lost!' I heard her broken whisper. 'Oh,
I am miserable! I might have profited, have won life,... and now....
Nothingness, nothingness!' It was too unbearable.... I lost consciousness.
When I came to myself, I was lying on my back in the grass, feeling a dull
ache all over me, as from a bad bruise. The dawn was beginning in the sky:
I could clearly distinguish things. Not far off, alongside a birch copse,
ran a road planted with willows: the country seemed familiar to me. I began
to recollect what had happened to me, and shuddered all over directly my
mind recalled the last, hideous apparition....
'But what was Alice afraid of?' I thought. 'Can she too be subject to that
power? Is she not immortal? Can she too be in danger of annihilation,
dissolution? How is it possible?'
A soft moan sounded close by me. I turned my head. Two paces from me
lay stretched out motionless a young woman in a white gown, with thick
disordered tresses, with bare shoulders. One arm was thrown behind her
head, the other had fallen on her bosom. Her eyes were closed, and on her
tightly shut lips stood a fleck of crimson stain. Could it be Alice? But
Alice was a phantom, and I was looking upon a living woman. I crept up to
her, bent down....
'Alice, is it you?' I cried. Suddenly, slowly quivering, the wide eyelids
rose; dark piercing eyes were fastened upon me, and at the same instant
lips too fastened upon me, warm, moist, smelling of blood ... soft arms
twined tightly round my neck, a burning, full heart pressed convulsively to
mine. 'Farewell, farewell for ever!' the dying voice uttered distinctly,
and everything vanished.
I got up, staggering like a drunken man, and passing my hands several times
over my face, looked carefully about me. I found myself near the high road,
a mile and a half from my own place. The sun had just risen when I got
All the following nights I awaited--and I confess not without alarm--the
appearance of my phantom; but it did not visit me again. I even set off one
day, in the dusk, to the old oak, but nothing took place there out of the
common. I did not, however, overmuch regret the discontinuance of this
strange acquaintance. I reflected much and long over this inexplicable,
almost unintelligible phenomenon; and I am convinced that not only science
cannot explain it, but that even in fairy tales and legends nothing like
it is to be met with. What was Alice, after all? An apparition, a restless
soul, an evil spirit, a sylphide, a vampire, or what? Sometimes it struck
me again that Alice was a woman I had known at some time or other, and I
made tremendous efforts to recall where I had seen her.... Yes, yes, I
thought sometimes, directly, this minute, I shall remember.... In a flash
everything had melted away again like a dream. Yes, I thought a great deal,
and, as is always the way, came to no conclusion. The advice or opinion
of others I could not bring myself to invite; fearing to be taken for a
madman. I gave up all reflection upon it at last; to tell the truth, I had
no time for it. For one thing, the emancipation had come along with the
redistribution of property, etc.; and for another, my own health failed;
I suffered with my chest, with sleeplessness, and a cough. I got thin all
over. My face was yellow as a dead man's. The doctor declares I have too
little blood, calls my illness by the Greek name, 'anaemia,' and is sending
me to Gastein. The arbitrator swears that without me there's no coming to
an understanding with the peasants. Well, what's one to do?
But what is the meaning of the piercingly-pure, shrill notes, the notes of
an harmonica, which I hear directly any one's death is spoken of before me?
They keep growing louder, more penetrating.... And why do I shudder in such
anguish at the mere thought of annihilation?
THE SONG OF TRIUMPHANT LOVE [MDXLII]
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
'_Wage Du zu irren und zu traeumen!_'--SCHILLER
This is what I read in an old Italian manuscript:--
About the middle of the sixteenth century there were living in Ferrara
(it was at that time flourishing under the sceptre of its magnificent
archdukes, the patrons of the arts and poetry) two young men, named Fabio
and Muzzio. They were of the same age, and of near kinship, and were
scarcely ever apart; the warmest affection had united them from early
childhood ... the similarity of their positions strengthened the bond. Both
belonged to old families; both were rich, independent, and without family
ties; tastes and inclinations were alike in both. Muzzio was devoted to
music, Fabio to painting. They were looked upon with pride by the whole
of Ferrara, as ornaments of the court, society, and town. In appearance,
however, they were not alike, though both were distinguished by a graceful,
youthful beauty. Fabio was taller, fair of face and flaxen of hair, and
he had blue eyes. Muzzio, on the other hand, had a swarthy face and black
hair, and in his dark brown eyes there was not the merry light, nor on his
lips the genial smile of Fabio; his thick eyebrows overhung narrow eyelids,
while Fabio's golden eyebrows formed delicate half-circles on his pure,
smooth brow. In conversation, too, Muzzio was less animated. For all that,
the two friends were both alike looked on with favour by ladies, as well
they might be, being models of chivalrous courtliness and generosity.
At the same time there was living in Ferrara a girl named Valeria. She was
considered one of the greatest beauties in the town, though it was very
seldom possible to see her, as she led a retired life, and never went
out except to church, and on great holidays for a walk. She lived with
her mother, a widow of noble family, though of small fortune, who had no
other children. In every one whom Valeria met she inspired a sensation of
involuntary admiration, and an equally involuntary tenderness and respect,
so modest was her mien, so little, it seemed, was she aware of all the
power of her own charms. Some, it is true, found her a little pale; her
eyes, almost always downcast, expressed a certain shyness, even timidity;
her lips rarely smiled, and then only faintly; her voice scarcely any one
had heard. But the rumour went that it was most beautiful, and that, shut
up in her own room, in the early morning when everything still slumbered in
the town, she loved to sing old songs to the sound of the lute, on which
she used to play herself. In spite of her pallor, Valeria was blooming with
health; and even old people, as they gazed on her, could not but think,
'Oh, how happy the youth for whom that pure maiden bud, still enfolded in
its petals, will one day open into full flower!'
Fabio and Muzzio saw Valeria for the first time at a magnificent public
festival, celebrated at the command of the Archduke of Ferrara, Ercol, son
of the celebrated Lucrezia Borgia, in honour of some illustrious grandees
who had come from Paris on the invitation of the Archduchess, daughter of
the French king, Louis XII. Valeria was sitting beside her mother on an
elegant tribune, built after a design of Palladio, in the principal square
of Ferrara, for the most honourable ladies in the town. Both Fabio and
Muzzio fell passionately in love with her on that day; and, as they never
had any secrets from each other, each of them soon knew what was passing
in his friend's heart. They agreed together that both should try to get
to know Valeria; and if she should deign to choose one of them, the
other should submit without a murmur to her decision. A few weeks later,
thanks to the excellent renown they deservedly enjoyed, they succeeded in
penetrating into the widow's house, difficult though it was to obtain an
entry to it; she permitted them to visit her. From that time forward they
were able almost every day to see Valeria and to converse with her; and
every day the passion kindled in the hearts of both young men grew stronger
and stronger. Valeria, however, showed no preference for either of them,
though their society was obviously agreeable to her. With Muzzio, she
occupied herself with music; but she talked more with Fabio, with him she
was less timid. At last, they resolved to learn once for all their fate,
and sent a letter to Valeria, in which they begged her to be open with
them, and to say to which she would be ready to give her hand. Valeria
showed this letter to her mother, and declared that she was willing to
remain unmarried, but if her mother considered it time for her to enter
upon matrimony, then she would marry whichever one her mother's choice
should fix upon. The excellent widow shed a few tears at the thought of
parting from her beloved child; there was, however, no good ground for
refusing the suitors, she considered both of them equally worthy of her
daughter's hand. But, as she secretly preferred Fabio, and suspected that
Valeria liked him the better, she fixed upon him. The next day Fabio heard
of his happy fate, while all that was left for Muzzio was to keep his word,
and submit. And this he did; but to be the witness of the triumph of his
friend and rival was more than he could do. He promptly sold the greater
part of his property, and collecting some thousands of ducats, he set off
on a far journey to the East. As he said farewell to Fabio, he told him
that he should not return till he felt that the last traces of passion had
vanished from his heart. It was painful to Fabio to part from the friend
of his childhood and youth ... but the joyous anticipation of approaching
bliss soon swallowed up all other sensations, and he gave himself up wholly
to the transports of successful love.
Shortly after, he celebrated his nuptials with Valeria, and only then
learnt the full worth of the treasure it had been his fortune to obtain.
He had a charming villa, shut in by a shady garden, a short distance
from Ferrara; he moved thither with his wife and her mother. Then a
time of happiness began for them. Married life brought out in a new and
enchanting light all the perfections of Valeria. Fabio became an artist of
distinction--no longer a mere amateur, but a real master. Valeria's mother
rejoiced, and thanked God as she looked upon the happy pair. Four years
flew by unperceived, like a delicious dream. One thing only was wanting
to the young couple, one lack they mourned over as a sorrow: they had no
children ... but they had not given up all hope of them. At the end of
the fourth year they were overtaken by a great, this time a real sorrow;
Valeria's mother died after an illness of a few days.
Many tears were shed by Valeria; for a long time she could not accustom
herself to her loss. But another year went by; life again asserted its
rights and flowed along its old channel. And behold, one fine summer
evening, unexpected by every one, Muzzio returned to Ferrara.
During the whole space of five years that had elapsed since his departure
no one had heard anything of him; all talk about him had died away, as
though he had vanished from the face of the earth. When Fabio met his
friend in one of the streets of Ferrara he almost cried out aloud, first in
alarm and then in delight, and he at once invited him to his villa. There
happened to be in his garden there a spacious pavilion, apart from the
house; he proposed to his friend that he should establish himself in this
pavilion. Muzzio readily agreed and moved thither the same day together
with his servant, a dumb Malay--dumb but not deaf, and indeed, to judge
by the alertness of his expression, a very intelligent man.... His tongue
had been cut out. Muzzio brought with him dozens of boxes, filled with
treasures of all sorts collected by him in the course of his prolonged
travels. Valeria was delighted at Muzzio's return; and he greeted her with
cheerful friendliness, but composure; it could be seen in every action
that he had kept the promise given to Fabio. During the day he completely
arranged everything in order in his pavilion; aided by his Malay, he
unpacked the curiosities he had brought; rugs, silken stuffs, velvet
and brocaded garments, weapons, goblets, dishes and bowls, decorated
with enamel, things made of gold and silver, and inlaid with pearl and
turquoise, carved boxes of jasper and ivory, cut bottles, spices, incense,
skins of wild beasts, and feathers of unknown birds, and a number of other
things, the very use of which seemed mysterious and incomprehensible. Among
all these precious things there was a rich pearl necklace, bestowed upon
Muzzio by the king of Persia for some great and secret service; he asked
permission of Valeria to put this necklace with his own hand about her
neck; she was struck by its great weight and a sort of strange heat in it
... it seemed to burn to her skin. In the evening after dinner as they sat
on the terrace of the villa in the shade of the oleanders and laurels,
Muzzio began to relate his adventures. He told of the distant lands he had
seen, of cloud-topped mountains and deserts, rivers like seas; he told of
immense buildings and temples, of trees a thousand years old, of birds and
flowers of the colours of the rainbow: he named the cities and the peoples
he had visited ... their very names seemed like a fairy tale. The whole
East was familiar to Muzzio; he had traversed Persia, Arabia, where the
horses are nobler and more beautiful than any other living creatures; he
had penetrated into the very heart of India, where the race of men grow
like stately trees; he had reached the boundaries of China and Thibet,
where the living god, called the Grand Llama, dwells on earth in the guise
of a silent man with narrow eyes. Marvellous were his tales. Both Fabio
and Valeria listened to him as if enchanted. Muzzio's features had really
changed very little; his face, swarthy from childhood, had grown darker
still, burnt under the rays of a hotter sun, his eyes seemed more deep-set
than before--and that was all; but the expression of his face had become
different: concentrated and dignified, it never showed more life when he
recalled the dangers he had encountered by night in forests that resounded
with the roar of tigers or by day on solitary ways where savage fanatics
lay in wait for travellers, to slay them in honour of their iron goddess
who demands human sacrifices. And Muzzio's voice had grown deeper and more
even; his hands, his whole body had lost the freedom of gesture peculiar
to the Italian race. With the aid of his servant, the obsequiously alert
Malay, he showed his hosts a few of the feats he had learnt from the
Indian Brahmins. Thus for instance, having first hidden himself behind a
curtain, he suddenly appeared sitting in the air cross-legged, the tips
of his fingers pressed lightly on a bamboo cane placed vertically, which
astounded Fabio not a little and positively alarmed Valeria.... 'Isn't he a
sorcerer?' was her thought. When he proceeded, piping on a little flute, to
call some tame snakes out of a covered basket, where their dark flat heads
with quivering tongues appeared under a parti-coloured cloth, Valeria was
terrified and begged Muzzio to put away these loathsome horrors as soon as
possible. At supper Muzzio regaled his friends with wine of Shiraz from a
round long-necked flagon; it was of extraordinary fragrance and thickness,
of a golden colour with a shade of green in it, and it shone with a strange
brightness as it was poured into the tiny jasper goblets. In taste it was
unlike European wines: it was very sweet and spicy, and, drunk slowly in
small draughts, produced a sensation of pleasant drowsiness in all the
limbs. Muzzio made both Fabio and Valeria drink a goblet of it, and he
drank one himself. Bending over her goblet he murmured something, moving
his fingers as he did so. Valeria noticed this; but as in all Muzzio's
doings, in his whole behaviour, there was something strange and out of the
common, she only thought; 'Can he have adopted some new faith in India, or
is that the custom there?' Then after a short silence she asked him: 'Had
he persevered with music during his travels?' Muzzio, in reply, bade the
Malay bring his Indian violin. It was like those of to-day, but instead
of four strings it had only three, the upper part of it was covered with
a bluish snake-skin, and the slender bow of reed was in the form of a
half-moon, and on its extreme end glittered a pointed diamond.
Muzzio played first some mournful airs, national songs as he told them,
strange and even barbarous to an Italian ear; the sound of the metallic
strings was plaintive and feeble. But when Muzzio began the last song, it
suddenly gained force and rang out tunefully and powerfully; the passionate
melody flowed out under the wide sweeps of the bow, flowed out, exquisitely
twisting and coiling like the snake that covered the violin-top; and such
fire, such triumphant bliss glowed and burned in this melody that Fabio and
Valeria felt wrung to the heart and tears came into their eyes; ... while
Muzzio, his head bent, and pressed close to the violin, his cheeks pale,
his eyebrows drawn together into a single straight line, seemed still more
concentrated and solemn; and the diamond at the end of the bow flashed
sparks of light as though it too were kindled by the fire of the divine
song. When Muzzio had finished, and still keeping fast the violin between
his chin and his shoulder, dropped the hand that held the bow, 'What is
that? What is that you have been playing to us?' cried Fabio. Valeria
uttered not a word--but her whole being seemed echoing her husband's
question. Muzzio laid the violin on the table--and slightly tossing back
his hair, he said with a polite smile: 'That--that melody ... that song
I heard once in the island of Ceylon. That song is known there among the
people as the song of happy, triumphant love.' 'Play it again,' Fabio was
murmuring. 'No; it can't be played again,' answered Muzzio. 'Besides, it
is now too late. Signora Valeria ought to be at rest; and it's time for
me too ... I am weary.' During the whole day Muzzio had treated Valeria
with respectful simplicity, as a friend of former days, but as he went
out he clasped her hand very tightly, squeezing his fingers on her palm,
and looking so intently into her face that though she did not raise her
eyelids, she yet felt the look on her suddenly flaming cheeks. She said
nothing to Muzzio, but jerked away her hand, and when he was gone, she
gazed at the door through which he had passed out. She remembered how
she had been a little afraid of him even in old days ... and now she was
overcome by perplexity. Muzzio went off to his pavilion: the husband and
wife went to their bedroom.
Valeria did not quickly fall asleep; there was a faint and languid fever in
her blood and a slight ringing in her ears ... from that strange wine, as
she supposed, and perhaps too from Muzzio's stories, from his playing on
the violin ... towards morning she did at last fall asleep, and she had an
She dreamt that she was going into a large room with a low ceiling.... Such
a room she had never seen in her life. All the walls were covered with tiny
blue tiles with gold lines on them; slender carved pillars of alabaster
supported the marble ceiling; the ceiling itself and the pillars seemed
half transparent ... a pale rosy light penetrated from all sides into the
room, throwing a mysterious and uniform light on all the objects in it;
brocaded cushions lay on a narrow rug in the very middle of the floor,
which was smooth as a mirror. In the corners almost unseen were smoking
lofty censers, of the shape of monstrous beasts; there was no window
anywhere; a door hung with a velvet curtain stood dark and silent in a
recess in the wall. And suddenly this curtain slowly glided, moved aside
... and in came Muzzio. He bowed, opened his arms, laughed.... His fierce
arms enfolded Valeria's waist; his parched lips burned her all over.... She
fell backwards on the cushions.
* * * * *
Moaning with horror, after long struggles, Valeria awaked. Still not
realising where she was and what was happening to her, she raised herself
on her bed, looked round.... A tremor ran over her whole body ... Fabio was
lying beside her. He was asleep; but his face in the light of the brilliant
full moon looking in at the window was pale as a corpse's ... it was sadder
than a dead face. Valeria waked her husband, and directly he looked at
her. 'What is the matter?' he cried. 'I had--I had a fearful dream,' she
whispered, still shuddering all over.
But at that instant from the direction of the pavilion came floating
powerful sounds, and both Fabio and Valeria recognised the melody Muzzio
had played to them, calling it the song of blissful triumphant love. Fabio
looked in perplexity at Valeria ... she closed her eyes, turned away, and
both holding their breath, heard the song out to the end. As the last
note died away, the moon passed behind a cloud, it was suddenly dark in
the room.... Both the young people let their heads sink on their pillows
without exchanging a word, and neither of them noticed when the other fell
The next morning Muzzio came in to breakfast; he seemed happy and greeted
Valeria cheerfully. She answered him in confusion--stole a glance at
him--and felt frightened at the sight of that serene happy face, those
piercing and inquisitive eyes. Muzzio was beginning again to tell some
story ... but Fabio interrupted him at the first word.
'You could not sleep, I see, in your new quarters. My wife and I heard you
playing last night's song.'
'Yes! Did you hear it?' said Muzzio. 'I played it indeed; but I had been
asleep before that, and I had a wonderful dream too.'
Valeria was on the alert. 'What sort of dream?' asked Fabio.
'I dreamed,' answered Muzzio, not taking his eyes off Valeria, 'I was
entering a spacious apartment with a ceiling decorated in Oriental fashion,
carved columns supported the roof, the walls were covered with tiles, and
though there were neither windows nor lights, the whole room was filled
with a rosy light, just as though it were all built of transparent stone.
In the corners, Chinese censers were smoking, on the floor lay brocaded
cushions along a narrow rug. I went in through a door covered with a
curtain, and at another door just opposite appeared a woman whom I once
loved. And so beautiful she seemed to me, that I was all aflame with my old
Muzzio broke off significantly. Valeria sat motionless, and only gradually
she turned white ... and she drew her breath more slowly.
'Then,' continued Muzzio, 'I waked up and played that song.'
'But who was that woman?' said Fabio.
'Who was she? The wife of an Indian--I met her in the town of Delhi.... She
is not alive now--she died.'
'And her husband?' asked Fabio, not knowing why he asked the question.
'Her husband, too, they say is dead. I soon lost sight of them both.'
'Strange!' observed Fabio. 'My wife too had an extraordinary dream last
night'--Muzzio gazed intently at Valeria--'which she did not tell me,'
But at this point Valeria got up and went out of the room. Immediately
after breakfast, Muzzio too went away, explaining that he had to be in
Ferrara on business, and that he would not be back before the evening.
A few weeks before Muzzio's return, Fabio had begun a portrait of his
wife, depicting her with the attributes of Saint Cecilia. He had made
considerable advance in his art; the renowned Luini, a pupil of Leonardo da
Vinci, used to come to him at Ferrara, and while aiding him with his own
counsels, pass on also the precepts of his great master. The portrait was
almost completely finished; all that was left was to add a few strokes
to the face, and Fabio might well be proud of his creation. After seeing
Muzzio off on his way to Ferrara, he turned into his studio, where Valeria
was usually waiting for him; but he did not find her there; he called her,
she did not respond. Fabio was overcome by a secret uneasiness; he began
looking for her. She was nowhere in the house; Fabio ran into the garden,
and there in one of the more secluded walks he caught sight of Valeria.
She was sitting on a seat, her head drooping on to her bosom and her hands
folded upon her knees; while behind her, peeping out of the dark green of a
cypress, a marble satyr, with a distorted malignant grin on his face, was
putting his pouting lips to a Pan's pipe. Valeria was visibly relieved at
her husband's appearance, and to his agitated questions she replied that
she had a slight headache, but that it was of no consequence, and she was
ready to come to sit to him. Fabio led her to the studio, posed her, and
took up his brush; but to his great vexation, he could not finish the face
as he would have liked to. And not because it was somewhat pale and looked
exhausted ... no; but the pure, saintly expression, which he liked so
much in it, and which had given him the idea of painting Valeria as Saint
Cecilia, he could not find in it that day. He flung down the brush at
last, told his wife he was not in the mood for work, and that he would not
prevent her from lying down, as she did not look at all well, and put the
canvas with its face to the wall. Valeria agreed with him that she ought
to rest, and repeating her complaints of a headache, withdrew into her
bedroom. Fabio remained in the studio. He felt a strange confused sensation
incomprehensible to himself. Muzzio's stay under his roof, to which he,
Fabio, had himself urgently invited him, was irksome to him. And not that
he was jealous--could any one have been jealous of Valeria!--but he did not
recognise his former comrade in his friend. All that was strange, unknown
and new that Muzzio had brought with him from those distant lands--and
which seemed to have entered into his very flesh and blood--all these
magical feats, songs, strange drinks, this dumb Malay, even the spicy
fragrance diffused by Muzzio's garments, his hair, his breath--all this
inspired in Fabio a sensation akin to distrust, possibly even to timidity.
And why did that Malay waiting at table stare with such disagreeable
intentness at him, Fabio? Really any one might suppose that he understood
Italian. Muzzio had said of him that in losing his tongue, this Malay had
made a great sacrifice, and in return he was now possessed of great power.
What sort of power? and how could he have obtained it at the price of his
tongue? All this was very strange! very incomprehensible! Fabio went into
his wife's room; she was lying on the bed, dressed, but was not asleep.
Hearing his steps, she started, then again seemed delighted to see him just
as in the garden. Fabio sat down beside the bed, took Valeria by the hand,
and after a short silence, asked her, 'What was the extraordinary dream
that had frightened her so the previous night? And was it the same sort
at all as the dream Muzzio had described?' Valeria crimsoned and said
hurriedly: 'O! no! no! I saw ... a sort of monster which was trying to tear
me to pieces.' 'A monster? in the shape of a man?' asked Fabio. 'No, a
beast ... a beast!' Valeria turned away and hid her burning face in the
pillows. Fabio held his wife's hand some time longer; silently he raised it
to his lips, and withdrew.
Both the young people passed that day with heavy hearts. Something dark
seemed hanging over their heads ... but what it was, they could not tell.
They wanted to be together, as though some danger threatened them; but what
to say to one another they did not know. Fabio made an effort to take up
the portrait, and to read Ariosto, whose poem had appeared not long before
in Ferrara, and was now making a noise all over Italy; but nothing was of
any use.... Late in the evening, just at supper-time, Muzzio returned.
He seemed composed and cheerful--but he told them little; he devoted
himself rather to questioning Fabio about their common acquaintances, about
the German war, and the Emperor Charles: he spoke of his own desire to
visit Rome, to see the new Pope. He again offered Valeria some Shiraz wine,
and on her refusal, observed as though to himself, 'Now it's not needed, to
be sure.' Going back with his wife to their room, Fabio soon fell asleep;
and waking up an hour later, felt a conviction that no one was sharing his
bed; Valeria was not beside him. He got up quickly and at the same instant
saw his wife in her night attire coming out of the garden into the room.
The moon was shining brightly, though not long before a light rain had been
falling. With eyes closed, with an expression of mysterious horror on her
immovable face, Valeria approached the bed, and feeling for it with her
hands stretched out before her, lay down hurriedly and in silence. Fabio
turned to her with a question, but she made no reply; she seemed to be
asleep. He touched her, and felt on her dress and on her hair drops of
rain, and on the soles of her bare feet, little grains of sand. Then he
leapt up and ran into the garden through the half-open door. The crude
brilliance of the moon wrapt every object in light. Fabio looked about him,
and perceived on the sand of the path prints of two pairs of feet--one pair
were bare; and these prints led to a bower of jasmine, on one side, between
the pavilion and the house. He stood still in perplexity, and suddenly once
more he heard the strains of the song he had listened to the night before.
Fabio shuddered, ran into the pavilion.... Muzzio was standing in the
middle of the room playing on the violin. Fabio rushed up to him.
'You have been in the garden, your clothes are wet with rain.'
'No ... I don't know ... I think ... I have not been out ...' Muzzio
answered slowly, seeming amazed at Fabio's entrance and his excitement.
Fabio seized him by the hand. 'And why are you playing that melody again?
Have you had a dream again?'
Muzzio glanced at Fabio with the same look of amazement, and said nothing.
'"The moon stood high like a round shield ...
Like a snake, the river shines ...,
The friend's awake, the foe's asleep ...
The bird is in the falcon's clutches.... Help!"'
muttered Muzzio, humming to himself as though in delirium.
Fabio stepped back two paces, stared at Muzzio, pondered a moment ... and
went back to the house, to his bedroom.
Valeria, her head sunk on her shoulder and her hands hanging lifelessly,
was in a heavy sleep. He could not quickly awaken her ... but directly she
saw him, she flung herself on his neck, and embraced him convulsively; she
was trembling all over. 'What is the matter, my precious, what is it?'
Fabio kept repeating, trying to soothe her. But she still lay lifeless
on his breast. 'Ah, what fearful dreams I have!' she whispered, hiding
her face against him. Fabio would have questioned her ... but she only
shuddered. The window-panes were flushed with the early light of morning
when at last she fell asleep in his arms.
The next day Muzzio disappeared from early morning, while Valeria informed
her husband that she intended to go away to a neighbouring monastery, where
lived her spiritual father, an old and austere monk, in whom she placed
unbounded confidence. To Fabio's inquiries she replied, that she wanted by
confession to relieve her soul, which was weighed down by the exceptional
impressions of the last few days. As he looked upon Valeria's sunken face,
and listened to her faint voice, Fabio approved of her plan; the worthy
Father Lorenzo might give her valuable advice, and might disperse her
doubts.... Under the escort of four attendants, Valeria set off to the
monastery, while Fabio remained at home, and wandered about the garden till
his wife's return, trying to comprehend what had happened to her, and a
victim to constant fear and wrath, and the pain of undefined suspicions....
More than once he went up to the pavilion; but Muzzio had not returned, and
the Malay gazed at Fabio like a statue, obsequiously bowing his head, with
a well-dissembled--so at least it seemed to Fabio--smile on his bronzed
face. Meanwhile, Valeria had in confession told everything to her priest,
not so much with shame as with horror. The priest heard her attentively,
gave her his blessing, absolved her from her involuntary sin, but to
himself he thought: 'Sorcery, the arts of the devil ... the matter can't be
left so,' ... and he returned with Valeria to her villa, as though with the
aim of completely pacifying and reassuring her. At the sight of the priest
Fabio was thrown into some agitation; but the experienced old man had
thought out beforehand how he must treat him. When he was left alone with
Fabio, he did not of course betray the secrets of the confessional, but
he advised him if possible to get rid of the guest they had invited to
their house, as by his stories, his songs, and his whole behaviour he was
troubling the imagination of Valeria. Moreover, in the old man's opinion,
Muzzio had not, he remembered, been very firm in the faith in former days,
and having spent so long a time in lands unenlightened by the truths of
Christianity, he might well have brought thence the contagion of false
doctrine, might even have become conversant with secret magic arts; and,
therefore, though long friendship had indeed its claims, still a wise
prudence pointed to the necessity of separation. Fabio fully agreed with
the excellent monk. Valeria was even joyful when her husband reported to
her the priest's counsel; and sent on his way with the cordial good-will
of both the young people, loaded with good gifts for the monastery and the
poor, Father Lorenzo returned home.
Fabio intended to have an explanation with Muzzio immediately after supper;
but his strange guest did not return to supper. Then Fabio decided to defer
his conversation with Muzzio until the following day; and both the young
people retired to rest.
Valeria soon fell asleep; but Fabio could not sleep. In the stillness of
the night, everything he had seen, everything he had felt presented itself
more vividly; he put to himself still more insistently questions to which
as before he could find no answer. Had Muzzio really become a sorcerer,
and had he not already poisoned Valeria? She was ill ... but what was
her disease? While he lay, his head in his hand, holding his feverish
breath, and given up to painful reflection, the moon rose again upon a
cloudless sky; and together with its beams, through the half-transparent
window-panes, there began, from the direction of the pavilion--or was it
Fabio's fancy?--to come a breath, like a light, fragrant current ... then
an urgent, passionate murmur was heard ... and at that instant he observed
that Valeria was beginning faintly to stir. He started, looked; she rose
up, slid first one foot, then the other out of the bed, and like one
bewitched of the moon, her sightless eyes fixed lifelessly before her, her
hands stretched out, she began moving towards the garden! Fabio instantly
ran out of the other door of the room, and running quickly round the corner
of the house, bolted the door that led into the garden.... He had scarcely
time to grasp at the bolt, when he felt some one trying to open the door
from the inside, pressing against it ... again and again ... and then there
was the sound of piteous passionate moans....
'But Muzzio has not come back from the town,' flashed through Fabio's head,
and he rushed to the pavilion....
What did he see?
Coming towards him, along the path dazzlingly lighted up by the moon's
rays, was Muzzio, he too moving like one moonstruck, his hands held out
before him, and his eyes open but unseeing.... Fabio ran up to him, but he,
not heeding him, moved on, treading evenly, step by step, and his rigid
face smiled in the moonlight like the Malay's. Fabio would have called him
by his name ... but at that instant he heard, behind him in the house, the
creaking of a window.... He looked round....
Yes, the window of the bedroom was open from top to bottom, and putting one
foot over the sill, Valeria stood in the window ... her hands seemed to be
seeking Muzzio ... she seemed striving all over towards him....
Unutterable fury filled Fabio's breast with a sudden inrush. 'Accursed
sorcerer!' he shrieked furiously, and seizing Muzzio by the throat with one
hand, with the other he felt for the dagger in his girdle, and plunged the
blade into his side up to the hilt.
Muzzio uttered a shrill scream, and clapping his hand to the wound, ran
staggering back to the pavilion.... But at the very same instant when Fabio
stabbed him, Valeria screamed just as shrilly, and fell to the earth like
grass before the scythe.