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N his way from Petersburg to the Crimea Colonel Voznitsin purposely broke
his journey at Moscow, where his childhood and youth had been spent, and
stayed there two days. It is said that some animals when they feel that
they are about to die go round to all their favourite and familiar haunts,
taking leave of them, as it were. Voznitsin was not threatened by the
near approach of death; at forty years of age he was still strong and
well-preserved. But in his tastes and feelings and in his relations with
the world he had reached the point from which life slips almost imperceptibly
into old age. He had begun to narrow the circle of his enjoyments and
pleasures; a habit of retrospection and of sceptical suspicion was manifest
in his behaviour; his dumb, unconscious, animal love of Nature had become
less and was giving place to a more refined appreciation of the shades
of beauty; he was no longer agitated and disturbed by the adorable loveliness
of women, but chiefly—and this was the first sign of spiritual blight—he
began to think about his own death. Formerly he had thought about it in
a careless and transient fashion—sooner or later death would come, not
to him personally, but to some other, someone of the name of Voznitsin.
But now he thought of it with a grievous, sharp, cruel, unwavering, merciless
clearness, so that at nights his heart beat in terror and his blood ran
cold. It was this feeling which had impelled him to visit once more those
places familiar to his youth, to live over again in memory those dear,
painfully sweet recollections of his childhood, overshadowed with a poetical
sadness, to wound his soul once more with the sweet grief of recalling
that which was for ever past—the irrevocable purity and clearness of his
first impressions of life.
And so he did. He stayed two days in Moscow, returning to his old haunts.
He went to see the boarding-house where once he had lived for six years
in the charge of his form mistress, being educated under the Froebelian
system. Everything there was altered and reconstituted; the boys' department
no longer existed, but in the girls' class-rooms there was still the pleasant
and alluring smell of freshly varnished tables and stools; there was still
the marvellous mixture of odours in the dining-room, with a special smell
of the apples which now, as then, the scholars hid in their private cupboards.
He visited his old military school, and went into the private chapel where
as a cadet he used to serve at the altar, swinging the censer and coming
out in his surplice with a candle at the reading of the Gospel, but also
stealing the wax candle-ends, drinking the wine after Communion, and sometimes
making grimaces at the funny deacon and sending him into fits of laughter,
so that once he was solemnly sent away from the altar by the priest, a
magnificent and plump greybeard, strikingly like the picture of the God
of Sabaoth behind the altar. He went along all the old streets, and purposely
lingered in front of the houses where first of all had come to him the
naive and childish languishments of love; he went into the courtyards
and up the staircases, hardly recognising any of them, so much alteration
and rebuilding had taken place in the quarter of a century of his absence.
And he noticed with irritation and surprise that his staled and life-wearied
soul remained cold and unmoved, and did not reflect in itself the old
familiar grief for the past, that gentle grief, so bright, so calm, reflective
" Yes, yes, yes—it's old age," he repeated to himself, nodding
his head sadly...." Old age. old age, old age.... It can't be helped...."
After he left Moscow he was kept in Kief for a whole day on business,
and only arrived at Odessa at the beginning of Holy Week. But it had been
bad weather for some days, and Voznitsin, who was a very bad sailor, could
not make up his mind to embark. It was only on the morning of Easter Eve
that the weather became fine and the sea calm. At six o'clock in the evening
the steamer Grand Duke Alexis left the harbour. Voznitsin had no one to
see him off, for which he was thankful. He had no patience with the somewhat
hypocritical and always difficult comedy of farewell, when God knows why
one stands a full half-hour at the side of the boat and looks down upon
the people standing on the pier, smiling constrained smiles, throwing
kisses, calling out from time to time in a theatrical tone foolish and
meaningless phrases for the benefit of the bystanders. till at last, with
a sigh of relief, one feels the steamer begin slowly and heavily to move
There were very few passengers on board, and the majority of them were
third-class people. In the first-class there were only two others besides
himself a lady and her daughter, as the steward informed him." That's
good," thought he to himself. Everything promised a smooth and easy
voyage. His cabin was excellent, large and well lighted, with two divans
and no upper berths at all. The sea, though gently tossing, grew gradually
calmer, and the ship did not roll. At sunset, however, there was a fresh
breeze on deck.
Voznitsin slept that night with open windows, and more soundly than he
had slept for many months, perhaps for a year past. When the boat arrived
at Eupatoria he was awakened by the noise of the cranes and by the running
of the sailors on the deck. He got up, dressed quickly, ordered a glass
of tea, and went above.
The steamer was at anchor in a half-transparent mist of a milky rose tint,
pierced by the golden rays of the rising sun. Scarcely noticeable in the
distance, the fiat shore lay glimmering. The sea was gently lapping the
steamer's sides. There was a marvellous odour of fish, pitch and seaweed.
From a barge alongside they were lading packages and bales. The captain's
directions rang out clearly in the pure air of morning: " Maina.
vera, vera po malu, stop!
When the barge had gone off and the steamer began to move again, Voznitsin
went down into the dining saloon. A strange sight met his gaze. The tables
were placed flat against the walls of the long room and were decorated
with gay flowers and covered with Easter fare. There were lambs roasted
whole, and turkeys, with their long necks supported by unseen rods and
wire, raised their foolish heads on high. Their thin necks were bent into
the form of an interrogation mark, and they trembled and shook with every
movement of the steamer. They might have been strange antediluvian beasts,
like the bronto-zauri or ichthauri one sees in pictures, lying there upon
the large dishes, their legs bent under them, their heads on their twisted
necks looking around with a comical and cautious wariness. The clear sunlight
streamed through the port-holes and made golden circles of light on the
tablecloths, transforming the colours of the Easter eggs into purple and
sapphire, and making the flowers—hyacinths, pansies, tulips, violets,
wallflowers, forget-me-nots—glow with living fire.
The other first-class passenger also came down for tea. Voznitsin threw
a passing glance at her. She was neither young nor beautiful, but she
had a tall, well-preserved, rather stout figure, and was well and simply
dressed in an ample light-coloured cloak with silk collar and cuffs. Her
head was covered with a light-blue, semi-transparent gauze scarf. She
drank her tea and read a book at the same time, a French book Voznitsin
judged by its small compact shape and pale yellow cover.
There was something strangely and remotely familiar about her, not so
much in her face as in the tum of her neck and the lift of her eyebrows
when she cast an answering glance at him. But this unconscious impression
was soon dispersed and forgotten. The heat of the saloon soon sent the
passengers on deck, and they sat down on the seats on the sheltered side
of the boat. The lady continued to read, though she often let her book
fall on to her knee while she gazed upon the sea, on the dolphins sporting
there, on the distant cliffs of the shore, purple in colour or covered
with a scant verdure.
Voznitsin began to pace up and down the deck, turning when he reached
the cabin. Once. as he passed the lady, she looked up at him attentively
with a kind of questioning curiosity, and once more it seemed to him that
he had met her before somewhere. Little by little this insistent feeling
began to disquiet him, and he felt that the lady was experiencing the
same feelings. But try as he would he could not remember meeting her before.
Suddenly, passing her for the twentieth time, he almost involuntarily
stopped in front of her, saluted in military fashion, and lightly clicking
his spurs together said:
" Pardon my boldness... but I can't get rid of a feeling that I know
you, or rather that long ago I used to know you."
She was quite a plain woman, of blonde almost red colouring, grey hair—though
this was only noticeable at a near view owing to its original light colour—
pale eyelashes over blue eyes, and a faded freckled face. Her mouth only
seemed fresh, being full and rosy, with beautifully curved lips.
And 1 also." said she. " Just fancy, I've been sitting here
and wondering where we could have met. My name is Lvova—does that remind
you of anything? "
"I'm sorry to say it doesn't," answered he, " but my name
is Voznitsin." The lady's eyes gleamed suddenly with a gay and familiar
smile, and Voznitsin saw that she knew him at once.
Voznitsin, Kolya Voznitsin," she cried joyfully, holding out her
hand to him. " Is it possible I didn't recognise you? Lvova, of course,
is my married name.... But no, no, you will remember me in time.... Think:
Moscow, Borisoglebsky Street, the house belonging to the church.... Well?
Don't you remember your school chum. Arkasha Yurlof...? "
Voznitsin's hand trembled as he pressed hers. A flash of memory enlightened
"Well. I never!... It can't be Lenotchka? I beg your pardon, Elena...
" Elena Vladimirovna," she put in. " You've forgotten....
But you, Kolya, you're just the same Kolya, awkward, shy, touchy Kolya.
How strange for us to meet like this! Do sit down... How glad I am...."
" Yes," muttered Voznitsin, " the world is really so small
that everyone must of necessity meet everyone else "—a by no means
original thought. " But tell me all that has happened. How is Arkasha—and
Alexandra Millievna—and Oletchka? "
At school Voznitsin had only been intimate with one of his companions—Arkasha
Yurlof. Every Sunday he had leave he used to visit the family, and at
Easter and Christmas-time he had sometimes spent his holidays with them.
Before the time came for them to go to college, Arkasha had fallen ill
and had been ordered away into the country. And from that time Voznitsin
had lost sight of him. Many years ago he had heard by chance that Lenotchka
had been betrothed to an officer having the unusual surname of Jenishek,
who had done a thing at once foolish and unexpected—shot himself.
" Arkasha died at our country house in 1890," answered the lady,"
of cancer. And mother only lived a year after. Oletchka took her medical
degree and is now a doctor in the Serdobsky district—before that she was
assistant in our village of Jemakino. She has never wished to marry, though
she's had many good offers. I've been married twenty years," said
she, a gleam of a smile on her compressed lips. " I'm quite an old
woman.... My husband has an estate in the country, and is a member of
the Provincial Council. He hasn't received many honours, but he's an honest
fellow and a good husband, is not a drunkard, neither plays cards nor
runs after women, as others do.... God be praised for that..."
" Do you remember, Elena Vladimirovna, how I was in love with you
at one time? " Voznitsin broke in suddenly.
She smiled, and her face at once wore a look of youth. Voznitsin saw for
a moment the gleam of the gold stopping in her teeth.
" Foolishness!... Just lad's love.... But you weren't in love with
me at all; you fell in love with the Sinyelnikofs, all four of them, one
after the other. When the eldest girl married you placed your heart at
the feet of the next sister, and so on."
" Ah-ha! You were just a little jealous, eh? " remarked Voznitsin
with jocular self-satisfaction.
" Oh, not at all!... You were like Arkasha's brother.... Afterwards,
later, when you were about seventeen perhaps. I was a little vexed to
think you had changed towards me.... You know, its ridiculous, but girls
have hearts like women. We may not love a silent adorer, but we are jealous
if he pays attentions to others.... But that's all nonsense. Tell me more
about yourself, where you live, and what you do."
He told her of his life—at college, in the army, about the war, and his
present position. No, he had never married—at first he had feared poverty
and the responsibility of a family, and now it was too late. He had had
flirtations, of course, and even some serious romances.
The conversation ceased after a while, and they sat silent, looking at
one another with tender, tear-dimmed eyes. In Voznitsin's memory the long
past of thirty years ago came swiftly again before him. He had known Lenotchka
when he was eleven years old. She had been a naughty, fidgetty sort of
girl, fond of telling tales and liking to make trouble. Her face was covered
with freckles, she had long arms and legs, pale eyelashes, and disorderly
red hair hanging about her face in long wisps. Her sister Oletchka was
different; she had always kept apart, and behaved like a sensible girl.
On holidays they all went together to dances at the Assembly Rooms, to
the theatre, the circus, to the skating rink. They got up Christmas parties
and children's plays together; they coloured eggs at Easter and dressed
up at Christmas. They quarrelled and carried on together like young puppies.
There were three years of that. Lenotchka used to go away every summer
with her people to their country house at Jemakino. and that year, when
she returned to Moscow in the autumn, Voznitsin opened both eyes and mouth
in astonishment. She was changed; you couldn't say that she was beautiful,
but there was something in her face more wonderful than actual beauty,
a rosy radiant blossoming of the feminine being in her. It is so sometimes.
God knows how the miracle takes place, but in a few weeks, an awkward,
undersized, gawky schoolgirl will develop suddenly into a charming maiden.
Lenotchka's face still kept her summer sunburn, under which her ardent
young blood flowed gaily, her shoulders had filled out, her figure rounded
itself, and her soft breasts had a firm outline—all her body had become
willowy, graceful, gracious.
And their relations towards one another had changed also. They became
different after one Saturday evening when the two of them, frolicking
together before church service in a dimly lighted room, began to wrestle
together and fight. The windows were wide open, and from the garden came
the clear freshness of autumn and a slight winey odour of fallen leaves,
and slowly one after another rang out the sounds of the church bells.
They struggled together; their arms were round each other so that their
bodies were pressed closely together and they were breathing in each other's
faces. Suddenly Lenotchka, her face flaming crimson even in the darkening
twilight, her eyes dilated, began to whisper angrily and confusedly:
"Let me go... let go.... I don't want to...." adding with a
malicious gleam in her wet eyes: Nasty, horrid boy."
The nasty, horrid boy released her and stood there, awkwardly stretching
out his trembling arms. His legs trembled also, and his forehead was wet
with a sudden perspiration. He had just now felt in his arms the slender
responsive waist of a woman, broadening out so wonderfully to the rounded
hips; he had felt on his bosom the pliant yielding contact of her firm,
high, girlish breasts and breathed the perfume of her body— that pleasant
intoxicating scent of opening poplar buds and young shoots of black-currant
bushes which one smells on a clear damp evening of spring after a slight
shower, when the sky and the rain-pools flame with crimson and the may
beetles hum in the air.
Thus began for Voznitsin that year of love languishment, of bitter passionate
dreams, of secret and solitary tears. He became wild, unsociable, rude
and awkward in consequence of his torturing shyness; he was always knocking
over chairs and catching his clothes on the furniture, upsetting the tea-table
with all the cups and saucers" Our Kolinka's always getting into
trouble," said Lenotchka's mother good-naturedly. Lenotchka laughed
at him. But he knew nothing of it. he was continually behind her watching
her draw or write or embroider, and looking at the curve of her neck with
a strange mixture of happiness and torture, watching her white skin and
flowing golden hair, seeing how her brown school-blouse moved with her
breathing, becoming large and wrinkling up into little pleats when she
drew in her breath, then filling out and becoming tight and elastic and
round again. The sight of her girlish wrists and pretty arms, and the
scent of opening poplar buds about her. remained with the boy and occupied
his thoughts in class, in church, in detention rooms. In all his notebooks
and textbooks Voznitsin drew beautifully-twined initials E and Y, and
cut them with a knife on the lid of his desk in the middle of a pierced
and flaming heart. The girl, with her woman's instinct, no doubt guessed
his silent adoration, but in her eyes he was too everyday, too much one
of the family. For him she had suddenly been transformed into a blooming,
dazzling, fragrant wonder, but in her sight he was still the same impetuous
boy as before, with a deep voice and hard rough hands, wearing a tight
uniform and wide trousers. She coquetted innocently with her schoolboy
friends and with the young son of the priest at the church, and, like
a kitten sharpening its claws, she sometimes found it amusing to throw
on Voznitsin a swift, burning, cunning glance. But if he in a momentary
forgetfulness squeezed her hand too tightly, she would threaten him with
a rosy finger and say meaningly:
" Take care, Kolya. I shall tell mother." And Voznitsin would
shiver with unfeigned terror.
It was no wonder that Kolya had to spend two years in the sixth form;
no wonder either that in the summer he fell in love with the eldest of
the Sinyelnikof girls, with whom he had once danced at a party.... But
at Easter his full heart of love knew a moment of heavenly blessedness.
On Easter Eve he went with the Yurlofs to Borisoglebsky Church, where
Alexandra Millievna had an honoured place, with her own kneeling-mat and
soft folding chair. And somehow or other he contrived to come home alone
with Lenotchka. The mother and Oletchka stayed for the consecration of
the Easter cakes, and Lenotchka, Arkasha and Kolya came out of church
together. But Arkasha diplomatically vanished—he disappeared as suddenly
as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up. The two young people
found themselves alone.
They went arm in arm through the crowd, their young legs moving easily
and swiftly. Both were overcome by the beauty of the night, the joyous
hymns, the multitude of lights, the Easter kisses, the smiles and greetings
in the church. Outside there was a cheerful crowd of people; the dark
and tender sky was full of brightly twinkling stars; the scent of moist
young leaves was wafted from gardens, and they, too. were unexpectedly
so near to one another they seemed lost together in the crowd, and they
were out at an unusually late hour.
Pretending to himself that it was by accident, Voznitsin pressed Lenotchka's
elbow to his side, and she answered with a barely noticeable movement
in return. He repeated the secret caress, and she again responded. Then
in the darkness he felt for her finger-tips and gently stroked them, and
her hand made no objection, was not snatched away. And so they came to
the gate of the church house. Arkasha had left the little gate open for
them. Narrow wooden planks placed over the mud led up to the house between
two rows of spreading old lime trees. When the gate closed after them,
Voznitsin caught Lenotchka's hand and began to kiss her fingers, so warm,
so soft, so full of life. " Lenotchka, I love you; I love you...."
He put his arms around her and kissed her in the darkness, somewhere just
below her ear. His hat fell off on to the ground, but he did not stop
to pick it up. He kissed the girl's cool cheek, and whispered as in a
dream: " Lenotchka. I love you, I love you...."
" No, no," said she in a whisper, and hearing the whisper he
sought her lips. "No, no, let me go; let me..."
Dear lips of hers, half childish, simple, innocent lips. When he kissed
her she made no opposition, yet she did not return his kisses; she breathed
in a touching manner, quickly, deeply, submissively. Down his cheeks there
flowed cool tears, tears of rapture. And when he drew his lips away from
hers and looked up into the sky, the stars shining through the lime branches
seemed to dance and come towards one another, to meet and swim together
in silvery clusters, seen through his flowing tears.
Lenotchka, I love you...." " Let me go...." " Lenotchka!
But suddenly she cried out angrily: " Let me go, you nasty, horrid
boy. You'll see, I'll tell mother everything; I'll tell her all about
it. Indeed, I will."
She didn't say anything to her mother, but after that night she never
allowed Voznitsin to be alone with her. And then the summer-time came....
"And do you remember, Elena Vladimirovna, how one beautiful Easter
night two young people kissed one another just inside the church-house
gate? asked Voznitsin. "No, I don't remember anything.... Nasty,
horrid boy," said the lady, smiling gently. " But look, here
comes my daughter. You must make her acquaintance.''
"Lenotchka, this is Nikolai Ivanitch Voznitsin, my old, old friend.
I knew him as a child. And this is my Lenotchka. She's just exactly the
same age as I was on that Easter night...."
" Big Lenotchka and little Lenotchka," said Voznitsin.
" No, old Lenotchka and young Lenotchka," she answered, simply
and quietly. Lenotchka was very much like her mother, but taller and more
beautiful than she had been in her youth. Her hair was not red, but the
colour of a hazel nut with a brilliant lustre; her dark eyebrows were
finely and clearly outlined; her mouth full and sensitive, fresh and beautiful.
The young girl was interested in the floating lightships, and Voznitsin
explained their construction and use. Then they talked about stationary
lighthouses, the depth of the Black Sea, about divers, about collisions
of steamers, and so on. Voznitsin could talk well, and the young girl
listened to him with lightly parted lips, never taking her eyes from his
And he... the longer he looked at her the more his heart was overcome
by a sweet and tender melancholy—sympathy for himself, pleasure in her,
in this new Lenotchka, and a quiet thankfulness to the elder one. It was
this very feeling for which he had thirsted in Moscow, but clearer, brighter,
purified from all self-love.
When the young girl went off to look at the Kherson monastery he took
the elder Lenotchka's hand and kissed it gently. " Life is wise,
and we must submit to her laws," he said thoughtfully. " But
life is beautiful too. It is an eternal rising from the dead. You and
I will pass away and vanish out of sight, but from our bodies, from our
thoughts and actions, from our minds, our inspiration and our talents,
there will arise, as from our ashes, a new Lenotchka and a new Kolya Voznitsin.
All is connected, all linked together. I shall depart and yet I shall
also remain. But one must love Life and follow her guidance. We are all
alive together—the living and the dead."
He bent down once more to kiss her hand, and she kissed him tenderly on
his white-haired brow. They looked at one another, and their eyes were
wet with tears; they smiled gently, sadly, tenderly.
Впервые — в газете «Одесские новости», 1910, № 8094, 18 апреля.
Рассказ был написан в Одессе, по-видимому, в начале апреля 1910 года.
Рассказ содержит ряд автобиографических эпизодов. В деревне Жмакино, Сердобского
уезда, Пензенской губернии, Куприн летом 1886 года гостил в семье своего
товарища А. Н. Владимирова. Прототип Леночки — сестра Владимирова Софья
Николаевна. В 1901 году Куприн встретился с С. Н. Владимировой в деревне
Пановка, Пензенской губернии.