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'Stasya, come home!'
Then, all in the space of a second, he had torn the cutlass from Stasya's fingers, swung it furiously above his head,
even then we gasped with envy at the sweep of it, let it fly far out into the sea, and dragged the bewildered Stasya up the bank and out of sight.
We pondered it at length, and quite in vain, as we sat barefoot in the hot sand waiting for our shoes and stockings to dry, our eyes on the misty horizon where the little white rabbits were leaping from the waves to warn the sailors of the coming storm. We had evidently done something to Stasya, bumped him or knocked him over, and, out of the blackness of his heart, Ivanoff had thrown away our best cutlass and had gone off to tell father. Very soberly we walked home through the dusk.
But no one was angry in the warm, candle-lighted house. Stasya and Mademoiselle had gone, and Ivanoff was staying to supper, though he did not pretend to eat. Outside, the wind was rising the too-warm day was bringing its own swift doom. When it was really whistling under the eaves, the forest began its deep, unbroken humming, and, ever so faintly, the sea stirred in reply. By morning, far as eye could see, it would be a dark mass of tumbling waves, and we laughed at each other in joyous anticipation as we clambered feet and all upon the wide Turkish tahta and begged father to take down his 'cello, while Ivanoff pushed his armchair close up to the fire and turned his back on us. Now and then, in a pause of the music, he rose and came to the samovar for another glass of tea, and presently he began to take wine in it.
All too soon mother's eyebrows lifted in their bedtime sign. Yet bedtime had its compensation, for a fairy good to children had had a hand in the building of our house. Sister's tiny room was far in the wing, the two babies slept with mother, but to us four 'middlers' had fallen the nursery, whose door into the living-room was close beside the fireplace. And, on company nights, this door, in the shadow of the mantel, could be left open a crack with no one the wiser for it.
Even then it did not seem strange that Ivanoff should talk as he talked; for when we said good-night to him, he had forgotten the tea and was taking his wine straight. There was the storm, there were the candles and the fire; father's hands were as deft with the bow and strings as they were with bandages, and the 'cello and Russian melodies were made one for the other.
I cannot say just now how much I heard and understood that night, and how much I learned from father when I questioned him in after years; but I like to think that I remember the very tone of Ivanoff's voice as it came to us through the unlatched door and that he used the very words sharp, carelessly chosen words, crowded together in curt sentences - which now I use. A moment only we were out of sight before his question rose above the first bar of a plaintive lullaby.
'What do you think of my boy?'
The bow squeaked painfully on a high note and the lullaby broke off abruptly.
'Stasya is ill, Ivan Ivanovich'- it was as if father had long held the answer ready. This country demands a rugged body to begin with and the climate is not good for your boy. The malaria -'
'With you it is always malaria! Do you know that, in Batum, they call
you the malarian; that they say - and they laugh at you for it that you give quinine to your cows!'
'Also they beg me to open a dairy when they do not beg me to resume my practice,' father rejoined mildly. 'But as for Stasya, he grows more thin and white from week to week. If it is not the climate, what is it?'
'I think I shall tell you,' said Ivanoff; 'and when I have told it, you will remember that my mother was a peasant; you will shrug your shoulders over the superstitions of the illiterate, and you will laugh. And I shall be more alone than before, for I have enjoyed it, coming here to tea with you. Nevertheless, I think I shall tell you.'
But he did not at once begin. There came to us the sound of a bottle uncorked, and the unsteady pouring of a drink, with its tinkle of thin glass against thick.
'It goes so far back, to the day on which, from the sea, my father saw my cliff. He was in government service, running down smugglers, and had ventured out of his territory, and that one glimpse of that cliff ordered all his later life and mine. For he dropped his work, dropped the woman he was to have married, and married a peasant girl who would not be afraid of the future he was choosing. You, who know this life as it is to-day, can imagine what it was in those days, when all this was still Turkish soil and when so histories tell us there was not a Russian here. Yet my father held that cliff for many years. Mad? So they said, they who had never seen our sea at evening turning from blue to gray.
'My first memory is of the sunset path across the water. I swam before I was quite steady on my feet. I tracked
boars across the snow, and rode a vicious little horse up and down these mountains, and sailed my own boat when I was little older than Stasya. I could spend happy days playing with my dogs and the tamed gulls on the beach. I used to lie awake on nights of storm, and feel the waves against the cliff with a terror that was three fourths joy. I knew no other life. I wanted no other life. And they took me away from it all, from my gulls and my forest and my mountains, from the sea without which I had never lived a day, and sent me into the chill and the loneliness of the north, to a boarding-school in St. Petersburg.
'Perhaps they were right. I was an only child, the son of a nobleman, and I had turned out like my mother, rough and thick-set and uncouth. I had to be polished up somehow, and the grief would pass, they said; all children sob like that.
'Have you ever awakened from hearing the forest humming as it hums tonight; from hearing the rising waves rustling upon the pebbles, to find yourself in a half-lighted dormitory? If you have, you will believe me when I say that I should have died, taken poison or thrown myself from a window, were it not for the thought that, if I lived, if I waited long enough, I could come back. I did not even go home for my summers traveling was too difficult here. So I spent those summers in planning the life which some day would be mine, on this cliff, with a son who would have all that I had missed. I was only a boy myself. But I knew that my own youth was lost, and knew that I could find it again only if I saw my son living the life which should have been mine from the start. A poor sort of pastime for a growing child, these fancies, but they were all that I had.
"Then chaos came, just as I was finishing my course. Both my parents
were killed by Turks
'I stood, that day, on the outermost point of it, over the breakers of the beach. A storm had just passed to-morrow will be another such day. The wind still blew and, all about me, the gulls rose and fell on outstretched wings. I was penniless, and I knew that my real life still lay at the end of a long wait. But the deed to the place was crushed in my fist, and I shouted my triumph to the waves and heard them shouting back.
peaks, you know, in part, what that returning was to me.'
And suddenly Ivanoff fell silent, for so long that I thought he would speak no more. And his next words came unwillingly, as if he were wishing that his story had ended there.
'I stopped in Warsaw, there was a conference of engineers-my last. You know the Polish. Cold they are and reserved and calculating, as correct as the English, more over-mannered than the French. They laugh at us and they hate us; lazy they call us, and crude. And I was the crudest of them all my schooling had not rubbed away my mother's heritage. But my word was worth something then, also my good-will, so one of the engineers took me to his house to dinner and I met his youngest daughter there.
"They call love blind. But I saw. I saw that I was on the verge of my life's greatest folly, and the knowledge made that folly the sweeter at the time. Perhaps I gloried in the fight I fought to claim her. Perhaps I had visions of taking her from the glittering life about her, from the impeccable puppets with whom she danced and chatted, and letting this country make a simple and normal woman of her. I don't know. I saw that her boots were of the thickness of gloves, and I did not forget the paths which led up to the cliff. I knew that hands which could feel as hers felt against my lips would drop helplessly before the lightest task. I knew that I ought to be marrying a woman of my own sort, strong of body and not overfine, a woman who would love me because she knew no other kind of man, and not because I was a novelty among the men she knew. The cups which I broke should have warned me, were
"There is nothing phenomenal in my success after that. I had had good training, big things were being built all over Russia, and my desire for money was little short of insane. From Yalta to Archangel I worked, from Riga to Vladivostok, year upon year, and every new ruble which went into the bank was to me another day, which, some time, I should spend above my sea. I hated my work, hated it inexpressibly, but I was buying my future with it, and I was ready to pay a big price. And at last, I was no longer young, there came the day on which I started on the journey which would bring me here for all time. You know in part, - for I - for II heeding warnings - bits of translu
have seen your face when you watch the twilight come from out our ravines and go creeping up to the crimson
cent china they were, crumpling up like eggshells in my hands, for my hands were used to a thick glass at tea-time.
She, too, should have taken heed. But she only rang for a servant to take away the broken fragments, called me her awkward Bruin, kissed my scalded fingers and laughed — there never has been anything on earth like that laugh of hers.
'So I brought her here, just another bit of fragile china where iron and steel should have been. In the middle of the night sometimes, after a very sad evening, I can still see her smiling as she smiled that day, her teeth on her lower lip, when we walked for the first time together up the path to our cliff and streamers of wild blackberry tore at her arms and hair.
'Of course we were gay for a time picnicking she called it. It was fun to build the new house, to plan the garden; fun to read together through the long summer afternoons. I was in a heaven of happiness. And then, it was when the first storm of autumn was gathering, - one evening she came to me and asked, simply, like a child, "When are we going home?"
'Do you see it all there, in that question, all the horror of the next year? She did not leave me the Roman Catholics are even more unbending than we; she did not quarrel, she did not even complain, much. She simply grew afraid. Afraid of the howl of jackals and the screech of owls, yet more afraid still of the silence, afraid of the Turks and Kurds who worked on the place and worshiped her for an angel, afraid of the forest, afraid of the wind, terrified by the sea.
'I tried to reason with her; I too was afraid, I told her, and I spoke the truth. When I am alone in the forest after a snowstorm, with everything white and still, I am so afraid that I would let a boar charge me rather than dare break the silence with my gun. When the sky on the horizon grows murky as it did to-day, with the little white
rabbits cresting the far waves, and the air gone suddenly motionless and stifling, I am so afraid that my mouth goes dry.
'I told her all this, but I only frightened her the more. There were the gulls I saw her, time after time, sitting in the big window to watch them sweeping up on the wind over the edge of the cliff. She seemed to like them. So I told her more about them, told her what they really were, which every one knows who has ever seen them following a ship, - the souls of sailors drowned at sea. I thought to please her. But she only shuddered. And she never again sat in that window to watch them sailing past. And on restless nights, when the sea roared under the lash of the wind- oh, my God!
'At the end of that winter I begged her to go back to her people. She would have gone, I think, did she not know that a child was coming. Which made everything more hopeless still. For she could not bear the thought of bringing a daughter into this wild life; and I should have chosen to remain childless rather than have a son of mine grow soft-bodied and soft-souled in the city which she loved. For we had shared too many secrets, that son and I, and we had very splendid years to live together.
'It was then that we gave to each other the solemn pledges which were to bind us once and for all time. If a daughter came to us, I was to give up all this and go back, back to my profession and the life I hated. But if it was a boy, and how I hoped for it! then it would be Caucasus forIt seemed fair enough to me -I should have lived up to my part had Stasya been a girl. But she failed me utterly. She stayed. But she would not live. I don't think I was hard; I let her send for Mademoiselle, and I said nothing when she gave to my son that
'She pleaded with me when she was dying, to send Stasya to Warsaw, to give him to her sister. I promised it — one does not deny a death-bed plea. But I had no thought of keeping that promise. They talk of mother-love! But I wonder if a woman ever knows, quite, what a son can mean to a man who remembers his own lonely boyhood. Stasya stayed with me. And then, from her grave she reached out and laid a curse upon him.'
In my bed, suddenly, I regretted the door we had not closed. Something awful was going on in the next room, something which could not be stayed, like the storm which was making me shiver for all the blankets over me.
'I know that, to yourself, you are laughing. Laughing and thinking of the folk tales which fill a peasant child's life. But Stasya was a perfect baby. I can still feel the first grip of his fist on my finger. There was no hint in him of these wrists no bigger than my thumbs, of the neck which I can encompass with one hand until she died. She had wanted a girl who would free her from this. So she took all manliness from Stasya, gave him a begging smile, and made him, too, afraid. Hour after hour he sits silently, with his books and his pictures and his crayons, in some corner of the house which has no window opening on either forest or sea, and every day he is a little more listless than on the day before. Sometimes he plays with dolls. Dolls don't hurt him, he says. His toys are neatly piled, his
hands are clean. All this I could stand. But, in the fullness of her revenge, she put into my boy's heart a fear of me. Stasya cringes when I touch him. Surely she sees it now the beauty of the place as I see it; surely she understands now why I could not go away. I buried her here that, with her new vision, she might see. Yet she will not lift the curse. No Russian soul could do a thing such as this!
'For a time I thought that Stasya would change. When I came to know your young cut-throats, I brought him here. If he could be made into a boy, could be taught to romp, to laugh, to fight, your vandals alone could do it. I ordered Mademoiselle to keep away. I wanted him to be scratched and bumped and battered. I wanted him to cry until he learned to fight instead. I watched them playing day after day. And all the sorrow which had been mine was as nothing to the torture of these playtimes. Yet on some days I was hopeful. There was the evening on which he talked to me of bandits! To have him always shrink at sight of me, to have him tremble when I spoke to him, and then, one evening, to have him come and stand between my knees, his hand on my arm, and talk, with shining eyes, of bandits! That night I sobbed myself to sleep like a hysterical schoolgirl. I bought him a dagger next day walked to Batum because I could not wait for the train. It was a real one, silver-hilted. Your Fedik would go through fire to claim it. And Stasya cried out with terror at sight of it, and ran and hid from me! The coward!'
'Not a coward! Anything but a coward!' Father's words were sharp, and I knew of what he was thinking. 'Ivan Ivanovich,' he went on, hurriedly, lest he be interrupted, 'why don't you drop your fairy tales? Why don't you get a first-class nurse for Stasya,