Albert By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy –  Albert – contents
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Chapter III > > >

Chapter II

Albert by this time, not paying attention to any one, had raised his violin to his shoulder, and was slowly crossing over to the piano, and tuning his instrument. His lips were drawn into an expression of indifference, his eyes were almost shut; but his lank, bony back, his long white neck, his crooked legs, and disorderly black hair presented a strange but somehow not entirely ridiculous appearance. After he had tuned his violin, he struck a quick chord, and, throwing back his head, turned to the pianist who was waiting to accompany him. “Melancholie, G sharp,” he said, turning to the pianist with a peremptory gesture. And immediately after, as though in apology for his peremptory gesture, he smiled sweetly, and with the same smile turned to his audience again.

Tossing back his hair with the hand that held the bow, Albert stood at one side of the piano, and, with a flowing motion of the bow, touched the strings. Through the room there swept a pure, harmonious sound, which instantly brought absolute silence.

At first, it was as though a ray of unexpectedly brilliant light had flashed across the inner world of each hearer’s consciousness; and the notes of the theme immediately followed, pouring forth abundant and beautiful.

Not one discordant or imperfect note distracted the attention of the listeners. All the tones were clear,[154] beautiful, and full of meaning. All silently, with trembling expectation, followed the development of the theme. From a state of tedium, of noisy gayety, or of deep drowsiness, into which these people had fallen, they were suddenly transported to a world whose existence they had forgotten.

In one instant there arose in their souls, now a sentiment as though they were contemplating the past, now of passionate remembrance of some happiness, now the boundless longing for power and glory, now the feelings of humility, of unsatisfied love, and of melancholy.

Now bitter-sweet, now vehemently despairing, the notes, freely intermingling, poured forth and poured forth, so sweetly, so powerfully, and so spontaneously, that it was not so much that sounds were heard, as that some sort of beautiful stream of poetry, long known, but now for the first time expressed, gushed through the soul.

At each note that he played, Albert grew taller and taller. At a little distance, he had no appearance of being either crippled or peculiar. Pressing the violin to his chin, and with an expression of listening with passionate attention to the tones that he produced, he convulsively moved his feet. Now he straightened himself up to his full height, now thoughtfully leaned forward.

His left hand, curving over spasmodically on the strings, seemed as though it had swooned in its position, while it was only the bony fingers that changed about spasmodically; the right hand moved smoothly, gracefully, without effort.

His face shone with complete, enthusiastic delight; his eyes gleamed with a radiant, steely light; his nostrils quivered, his red lips were parted in rapture.[155]

Sometimes his head bent down closer to his violin, his eyes almost closed, and his face, half shaded by his long locks, lighted up with a smile of genuine blissfulness. Sometimes he quickly straightened himself up, changed from one leg to the other, and his pure forehead, and the radiant look which he threw around the room, were alive with pride, greatness, and the consciousness of power. Once the pianist made a mistake, and struck a false chord. Physical pain was apparent in the whole form and face of the musician. He paused for a second, and with an expression of childish anger stamped his foot, and cried, “Moll, ce moll!” The pianist corrected his mistake; Albert closed his eyes, smiled, and, again forgetting himself and everybody else, gave himself up with beatitude to his work. Everybody who was in the room while Albert was playing preserved an attentive silence, and seemed to live and breathe only in the music.

The gay officer sat motionless in a chair by the window, with his eyes fixed upon the floor, and drawing long heavy sighs. The girls, awed by the universal silence, sat along by the walls, only occasionally exchanging glances expressive of satisfaction or perplexity.

The fat smiling face of the hostess was radiant with happiness. The pianist kept his eyes fixed on Albert’s face, and while his whole figure from head to foot showed his solicitude lest he should make some mistake, he did his best to follow him. One of the guests, who had been drinking more heavily than the rest, lay at full length on the sofa, and tried not to move lest he should betray his emotion. Delesof experienced an unusual sensation. It seemed as though an icy band, now contracting, now expanding, were pressed upon his[156] head. The roots of his hair seemed endued with consciousness; the cold shivers ran down his back, something rose higher and higher in his throat, his nose and palate were full of little needles, and the tears stole down his cheeks.

He shook himself, tried to swallow them back and wipe them away without attracting attention, but fresh tears followed and streamed down his face. By some sort of strange association of impressions, the first tones of Albert’s violin carried Delesof back to his early youth.

Old before his time, weary of life, a broken man, he suddenly felt as though he were a boy of seventeen again, self-satisfied and handsome, blissfully dull, unconsciously happy. He remembered his first love for his cousin who wore a pink dress, he remembered his first confession of it in the linden alley; he remembered the warmth and the inexpressible charm of the fortuitous kiss; he remembered the immensity and enigmatical mystery of Nature as it surrounded them then.

In his imagination as it went back in its flight, she gleamed in a mist of indefinite hopes, of incomprehensible desires, and the indubitable faith in the possibility of impossible happiness. All the priceless moments of that time, one after the other, arose before him, not like unmeaning instants of the fleeting present, but like the immutable, full-formed, reproachful images of the past.

He contemplated them with rapture, and wept,—wept not because the time had passed and he might have spent it more profitably (if that time had been given to him again he would not have spent it any more profitably), but he wept because it had passed and would[157] never return. His recollections evolved themselves without effort, and Albert’s violin was their mouthpiece. It said, “They have passed, forever passed, the days of thy strength, of love, and of happiness; passed forever, and never will return. Weep for them, shed all thy tears, let thy life pass in tears for these days; this is the only and best happiness that remains to thee.”

At the end of the next variation, Albert’s face grew serene, his eyes flushed, great clear drops of sweat poured down his cheeks. The veins swelled on his forehead; his whole body swayed more and more; his pale lips were parted, and his whole figure expressed an enthusiastic craving for enjoyment. Despairingly swaying with his whole body, and throwing back his hair, he laid down his violin, and with a smile of proud satisfaction and happiness gazed at the bystanders. Then his back assumed its ordinary curve, his head sank, his lips grew set, his eyes lost their fire; and as though he were ashamed of himself, timidly glancing round, and stumbling, he went into the next room.[158]

< < < Chapter I
Chapter III > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy –  Albert – contents

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