The Grasshopper - IV
On a still moonlight night in July Olga Ivanovna was standing on the deck of a Volga steamer and looking alternately at the water and at the picturesque banks. Beside her was standing Ryabovsky, telling her the black shadows on the water were not shadows, but a dream, that it would be sweet to sink into forgetfulness, to die, to become a memory in the sight of that enchanted water with the fantastic glimmer, in sight of the fathomless sky and the mournful, dreamy shores that told of the vanity of our life and of the existence of something higher, blessed, and eternal. The past was vulgar and uninteresting, the future was trivial, and that marvellous night, unique in a lifetime, would soon be over, would blend with eternity; then, why live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened alternately to Ryabovsky’s voice and the silence of the night, and thought of her being immortal and never dying. The turquoise colour of the water, such as she had never seen before, the sky, the river-banks, the black shadows, and the unaccountable joy that flooded her soul, all told her that she would make a great artist, and that somewhere in the distance, in the infinite space beyond the moonlight, success, glory, the love of the people, lay awaiting her.... When she gazed steadily without blinking into the distance, she seemed to see crowds of people, lights, triumphant strains of music, cries of enthusiasm, she herself in a white dress, and flowers showered upon her from all sides. She thought, too, that beside her, leaning with his elbows on the rail of the steamer, there was standing a real great man, a genius, one of God’s elect.... All that he had created up to the present was fine, new, and extraordinary, but what he would create in time, when with maturity his rare talent reached its full development, would be astounding, immeasurably sublime; and that could be seen by his face, by his manner of expressing himself and his attitude to nature. He talked of shadows, of the tones of evening, of the moonlight, in a special way, in a language of his own, so that one could not help feeling the fascination of his power over nature. He was very handsome, original, and his life, free, independent, aloof from all common cares, was like the life of a bird.
“It’s growing cooler,” said Olga Ivanovna, and she gave a shudder.
Ryabovsky wrapped her in his cloak, and said mournfully:
“I feel that I am in your power; I am a slave. Why are you so enchanting today?”
He kept staring intently at her, and his eyes were terrible. And she was afraid to look at him.
“I love you madly,” he whispered, breathing on her cheek. “Say one word to me and I will not go on living; I will give up art...” he muttered in violent emotion. “Love me, love....”
“Don’t talk like that,” said Olga Ivanovna, covering her eyes. “It’s dreadful! How about Dymov?”
“What of Dymov? Why Dymov? What have I to do with Dymov? The Volga, the moon, beauty, my love, ecstasy, and there is no such thing as Dymov.... Ah! I don’t know... I don’t care about the past; give me one moment, one instant!”
Olga Ivanovna’s heart began to throb. She tried to think about her husband, but all her past, with her wedding, with Dymov, and with her “At Homes,” seemed to her petty, trivial, dingy, unnecessary, and far, far away.... Yes, really, what of Dymov? Why Dymov? What had she to do with Dymov? Had he any existence in nature, or was he only a dream?
“For him, a simple and ordinary man the happiness he has had already is enough,” she thought, covering her face with her hands. “Let them condemn me, let them curse me, but in spite of them all I will go to my ruin; I will go to my ruin!... One must experience everything in life. My God! how terrible and how glorious!”
“Well? Well?” muttered the artist, embracing her, and greedily kissing the hands with which she feebly tried to thrust him from her. “You love me? Yes? Yes? Oh, what a night! marvellous night!”
“Yes, what a night!” she whispered, looking into his eyes, which were bright with tears.
Then she looked round quickly, put her arms round him, and kissed him on the lips.
“We are nearing Kineshmo!” said some one on the other side of the deck.
They heard heavy footsteps; it was a waiter from the refreshment-bar.
“Waiter,” said Olga Ivanovna, laughing and crying with happiness, “bring us some wine.”
The artist, pale with emotion, sat on the seat, looking at Olga Ivanovna with adoring, grateful eyes; then he closed his eyes, and said, smiling languidly:
“I am tired.”
And he leaned his head against the rail.