Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The Witch (Olyessia) – Contents
Only five more days had passed, when I was so much recovered that I reached the chicken-legged hut on foot without the least fatigue. As I stepped on the threshold my heart palpitated with breathless fear. I had not seen Olyessia for almost two weeks, and I now perceived how near and dear she was to me. Holding the latch of the door, I waited some seconds, breathing with difficulty. In my irresolution I even shut my eyes for some time before I could push the door open….
It is always impossible to analyse impressions like those which followed my entrance…. Can one remember the words uttered in the first moment of meeting between a mother and son, husband and wife, or lover and lover? The simplest, most ordinary, even ridiculous words are said, if they were put down exactly upon paper. But each word is opportune and infinitely dear because it is uttered by the dearest voice in all the world.
I remember—very clearly I remember—only one thing: Olyessia’s beautiful pale face turned quickly towards me, and on that beautiful face, so new to me, were in one second reflected, in changing succession, perplexity, fear, anxiety, and a tender radiant smile of love…. The old woman was mumbling something, clattering round me, but I did not hear her greetings. Olyessia’s voice reached me like a sweet music:
‘What has been the matter with you? You’ve been ill? Ah, how thin you’ve grown, my poor darling!’
For a long while I could make no answer, and we stood silent face to face, clasping hands and looking straight into the depths of each other’s eyes, happily. Those few silent seconds I have always considered the happiest in my life: never, never before or since, have I tasted such pure, complete, all-absorbing ecstasy. And how much I read in Olyessia’s big dark eyes!—the excitement of the meeting, reproach for my long absence, and a passionate declaration of love. In that look I felt that Olyessia gave me her whole being joyfully without doubt or reservation.
She was the first to break the spell, pointing to Manuilikha with a slow movement of her eyelids. We sat down side by side, and Olyessia began to ask me anxiously for the details of my illness, the medicines I had taken, what the doctor had said and thought—he came twice to see me from the little town; she made me tell about the doctor time after time, and I could catch a fleeting, sarcastic smile on her lips.
‘Oh, why didn’t I know that you were ill!’ she exclaimed with impatient regret. ‘I would have set you on your feet again in a single day…. How can they be trusted, when they don’t understand anything at all, nothing at all? Why didn’t you send for me?’
I was at a loss for an answer.
‘You see, Olyessia … it happened so suddenly … besides, I was afraid to trouble you. Towards the end you had become strange towards me, as though you were angry with me, or bored…. Olyessia,’ I added, lowering my voice, ‘we’ve got ever so much to say to each other, ever so much … just we two … you understand?’
She quietly cast down her eyes in token of consent, and then whispered quickly, looking round timidly at her grandmother:
‘Yes…. I want to, as well … later … wait——’
As soon as the sun began to set, Olyessia began to urge me to go home.
‘Make haste, be quick and get ready,’ she said, pulling my hand from the bench. ‘If the damp catches you now, the fever will be on you again, immediately.’
‘Where are you going, Olyessia?’ Manuilikha asked suddenly, seeing that her granddaughter had thrown a large grey shawl hurriedly over her head.
‘I’m going part of the way with him,’ answered Olyessia.
She said the words with indifference, looking not at her grandmother but at the window; but in her voice I could detect on almost imperceptible note of irritation.
‘You’re really going?’ the old woman once more asked, meaningly.
Olyessia’s eyes flashed, and she stared steadily into Manuilikha’s face.
‘Yes, I am going,’ she replied proudly. ‘We talked it out and talked it out long ago…. It’s my affair, and my own responsibility.’
‘Ah, you——’ the old woman exclaimed in reproach and annoyance. She wanted to add more, but only waved her hand and dragged her trembling legs away into the corner, and began to busy herself with a basket, groaning.
I understood that the brief unpleasant conversation which I had just witnessed was a continuation of a long series of mutual quarrels and bursts of anger. As I walked to the forest at Olyessia’s side, I asked her:
‘Granny doesn’t want you to go for a walk with me, does she?’
Olyessia shrugged her shoulders in vexation.
‘Please, don’t take any notice of it…. No, she doesn’t like it…. Surely I’m free to do as I like?’
Suddenly I conceived an irresistible desire to reproach Olyessia with her former sternness.
‘But you could have done it before my illness as well…. Only then you didn’t want to be alone with me…. I thought, every evening I thought, perhaps you would come with me again. But you used to pay no attention; you were so unresponsive, and cross…. How you tormented me, Olyessia!…’
‘Don’t, darling…. Forget it, …’ Olyessia entreated with a tender apology in her voice.
‘No, I’m not saying it to blame you. It just slipped out. Now, I understand why it was…. But before—it’s funny to talk about it even now—I thought you were offended because of the sergeant. The thought made me terribly sad. I couldn’t help thinking that you considered me so remote and foreign to you, that you found it hard to accept a simple kindness from me…. It was very bitter to me…. I never even suspected that granny was the cause of it all, Olyessia.’
Olyessia’s face suddenly flamed bright red.
‘But it wasn’t granny at all…. It was me. I didn’t want it, myself,’ she exclaimed with a passionate challenge.
‘But why didn’t you want it, Olyessia, why?’ I asked. My voice broke for agitation, and I caught her by the hand and made her stop. We were just in the middle of a long narrow path, straight as an arrow through the forest. On either side we were surrounded by tall slender pines, that formed a gigantic corridor, receding into the distance, vaulted with fragrant interwoven branches. The bare peeled trunks were tinged with the purple glow of the burnt-out red of the evening sky.
‘Tell me why, Olyessia, why?’ I whispered again, pressing her hand closer and closer.
‘I could not … I was afraid,’ Olyessia said so low that I could hardly hear. ‘I thought it was possible to escape one’s destiny…. But, now … now.’
Her breath failed her, as though there were no air; and suddenly her hands twined quick and vehement about my neck, and my lips were sweetly burnt by Olyessia’s quick trembling whisper:
‘But it’s all the same, now … all the same!… Because I love you, my dear, my joy, my beloved!’
She pressed closer and closer to me, and I could feel how her strong, vigorous, fervent body pulsed beneath my hands, how quickly her heart beat against my chest. Her passionate kisses poured like intoxicating wine into my head, still weak with disease, and I began to lose my hold upon myself.
‘Olyessia, for God’s sake, don’t … leave me,’ I said, trying to unclasp her hands. ‘Now I am afraid…. I’m afraid of myself…. Let me go, Olyessia.’
She raised her head. Her face was all lighted with a slow, languid smile.
‘Don’t be afraid, my darling,’ she said with an indescribable expression of tender passion and touching fearlessness. ‘I shall never reproach you, never be jealous of any one…. Tell me only, do you love me?’
‘I love you, Olyessia. I loved you long ago, and I love you passionately. But … don’t kiss me any more…. I grow weak, my head swims, I can’t answer for myself….’
Her lips were once more pressed to mine in a long, painful sweetness. I did not hear, rather I divined her words.
‘Then don’t be afraid. Don’t think of anything besides…. To-day is ours; no one can take it from us.’
* * * * *
And the whole night melted into a magical fairy tale. The moon rose, and its radiance poured fantastically in motley and mysterious colours over the forest. It lay amid the darkness in pale blue stains upon the gnarled tree-trunks, on the bent branches and the soft carpet of moss. The high birch-trunks showed clear and keenly white, and it seemed that a silvery transparent veil of gauze had been thrown over the thin leaves. In places the light could by no means penetrate the thick canopy of pine branches. There was complete, impenetrable darkness, save only that in the middle a ray slipped in unknown from somewhere and suddenly shone brightly on a long row of trees, casting a straight narrow path on the earth, as bright and trim and beautiful as a path fashioned by fairies for the triumphant procession of Oberon and Titania. And we walked with our arms enlocked through this vivid, smiling fairy tale, without a single word, under the weight of our happiness and the dreadful silence of the night.
‘Darling, I’ve forgotten quite that you must hurry home,’ Olyessia suddenly remembered. ‘What a wicked girl I am! You’re only just recovering from your illness and I’ve kept you all this while in the forest.’
I kissed her, and threw back the shawl from her thick dark hair, and asked her in the softest whisper, bending to her ear:
‘You don’t regret it, Olyessia? You don’t repent?’
She shook her head slowly.
‘No, no…. Come what may, I shan’t regret…. I am so happy!’
‘Is something bound to happen, then?’
There appeared in her eyes a flash of the mystical terror I had grown to recognise.
‘Yes, it is certain. You remember I told you about the queen of clubs. That queen of clubs is me, myself; the misfortune that the cards told of will happen to me…. You know I thought of asking you not to come and see us any more. But then you fell ill, and I never saw you for nearly a fortnight…. I was so anxious and sad for you that I felt I could have given the whole world to be with you, just one little minute. Then I thought that I would not give up my happiness, whatever should come of it….’
‘It’s true, Olyessia. That’s how it was with me, too,’ I said, touching her forehead with my lips. ‘I never knew that I loved you until I parted from you. It seems that man was right who said that parting to love is like wind to a fire: it blows out a small one, and makes a large one blaze.’
‘What did you say? Say it again, again, please.’ Olyessia was interested.
I repeated the words again. I do not know whose they are. Olyessia mused over them, and I could see by the movement of her lips that she was saying the words over to herself.
I looked closely into her pale face, thrown back, her large black eyes with glimmering bright lights within them from the moon; and with a sudden chill a vague foreboding of imminent calamity crept into my soul.
Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The Witch (Olyessia) – Contents
Copyright holders – Public Domain Book
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