Albert By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

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

Chapter V

“You don’t mean to say that you’ve gone to bed at this time,” said Albert with a smile. “I was there again, at Anna Ivánovna’s. I spent a very pleasant evening. We had music, told stories; there was a very pleasant company there. Please let me have a glass of something to drink,” he added, seizing a carafe of water that stood on the table, “only not water.”

Albert was just as he had been the night before,—the same lovely smiling eyes and lips, the same fresh inspired brow, and weak features. Zakhár’s overcoat fitted him as though it had been made for him, and the clean, tall, stiffly-starched collar of the dress-shirt picturesquely fitted around his delicate white neck, giving him a peculiarly childlike and innocent appearance.

He sat down on Delesof’s bed, smiling with pleasure and gratitude, and looked at him without speaking. Delesof gazed into Albert’s eyes, and suddenly felt himself once under the sway of that smile. All desire for sleep vanished from him, he forgot his resolution to be stern: on the contrary, he felt like having a gay time, to hear some music, and to talk confidentially with Albert till morning. Delesof bade Zakhár bring a bottle of wine, cigarettes, and the violin.

“This is excellent,” said Albert. “It’s early yet, we’ll have a little music. I will play whatever you like.”

Zakhár, with evident satisfaction, brought a bottle[167] of Lafitte, two glasses, some mild cigarettes such as Albert smoked, and the violin. But, instead of going off to bed as his bárin bade him, he lighted a cigar, and sat down in the next room.

“Let us talk instead,” said Delesof to the musician, who was beginning to tune the violin.

Albert sat down submissively on the bed, and smiled pleasantly.

“Oh, yes!” said he, suddenly striking his forehead with his hand, and putting on an expression of anxious curiosity. The expression of his face always foretold what he was going to say. “I wanted to ask you,”—he hesitated a little,—”that gentleman who was there with you last evening…. You called him N. Was he the son of the celebrated N.?”

“His own son,” replied Delesof, not understanding at all what Albert could find of interest in him.

“Indeed!” he exclaimed, smiling with satisfaction. “I instantly noticed that there was something peculiarly aristocratic in his manners. I love aristocrats. There is something splendid and elegant about an aristocrat. And that officer who danced so beautifully,” he went on to ask. “He also pleased me very much, he was so gay and noble looking. It seems he is called Adjutant N. N.”

“Who?” asked Delesof.

“The one who ran into me when we were dancing. He must be a splendid man.”

“No, he is a silly fellow,” replied Delesof.

“Oh, no! it can’t be,” rejoined Albert hotly. “There’s something very, very pleasant about him. And he’s a fine musician,” added Albert. “He played something from an opera. It’s a long time since I have seen any one who pleased me so much.”[168]

“Yes, he plays very well; but I don’t like his playing,” said Delesof, anxious to bring his companion to talk about music. “He does not understand classic music, but only Donizetti and Bellini; and that’s no music, you know. You agree with me, don’t you?”

“Oh, no, no! Pardon me,” replied Albert with a gentle expression of vindication. “The old music is music; but modern music is music too. And in the modern music there are extraordinarily beautiful things. Now, ‘Somnambula,’ and the finale of ‘Lucia,’ and Chopin, and ‘Robert’! I often think,”—he hesitated, apparently collecting his thoughts,—”that if Beethoven were alive, he would weep tears of joy to hear ‘Somnambula.’ It’s so beautiful all through. I heard ‘Somnambula’ first when Viardot and Rubini were here. That was something worth while,” he said, with shining eyes, and making a gesture with both hands, as though he were casting something from his breast. “I’d give a good deal, but it would be impossible, to bring it back.”

“Well, but how do you like the opera nowadays?” asked Delesof.

“Bosio is good, very good,” was his reply, “exquisite beyond words; but she does not touch me here,” he said, pointing to his sunken chest. “A singer must have passion, and she hasn’t any. She is enjoyable, but she doesn’t torture you.”

“Well, how about Lablache?”

“I heard him in Paris, in ‘The Barber of Seville.’ Then he was the only one, but now he is old. He can’t be an artist, he is old.”

“Well, supposing he is old, still he is fine in morceaux d’ensemble,” said Delesof, still speaking of Lablache.[169]

“Who said that he was old?” said Albert severely. “He can’t be old. The artist can never be old. Much is needed in an artist, but fire most of all,” he declared with glistening eyes, and raising both hands in the air. And, indeed, a terrible inner fire seemed to glow throughout his whole frame. “Ah, my God!” he exclaimed suddenly. “You don’t know Petrof, do you,—Petrof, the artist?”

“No, I don’t know him,” replied Delesof with a smile.

“How I wish that you and he might become acquainted! You would enjoy talking with him. How he does understand art! He and I often used to meet at Anna Ivánovna’s, but now she is vexed with him for some reason or other. But I really wish that you might make his acquaintance. He has great, great talent.”

“Oh! Does he paint pictures?” asked Delesof.

“I don’t know. No, I think not; but he was an artist of the Academy. What thoughts he had! Whenever he talks, it is wonderful. Oh, Petrof has great talent, only he leads a very gay life!… It’s too bad,” said Albert with a smile. The next moment he got up from the bed, took the violin, and began to play.

“Have you been at the opera lately?” asked Delesof.

Albert looked round, and sighed.

“Ah, I have not been able to!” he said, clutching his head. Again he sat down by Delesof. “I will tell you,” he went on to say, almost in a whisper. “I can’t go: I can’t play there. I have nothing, nothing at all,—no clothes, no home, no violin. It’s a wretched life,—a wretched life!” he repeated the[170] phrase. “Yes, and why have I got into such a state? Why, indeed? It ought not to have been,” said he, smiling. “Akh! Don Juan.”

And he struck his head.

“Now let us have something to eat,” said Delesof.

Albert, without replying, sprang up, seized the violin, and began to play the finale of the first act of “Don Juan,” accompanying it with a description of the scene in the opera.

Delesof felt the hair stand up on his head, when he played the voice of the dying commander.

“No, I cannot play to-night,” said Albert, laying down the instrument. “I have been drinking too much.” But immediately after he went to the table, poured out a brimming glass of wine, drank it at one gulp, and again sat down on the bed near Delesof.

Delesof looked steadily at Albert. The latter occasionally smiled, and Delesof returned his smile. Neither of them spoke, but the glance and smile brought them close together into a reciprocity of affection. Delesof felt that he was growing constantly fonder and fonder of this man, and he experienced an inexpressible pleasure.

“Were you ever in love?” he asked suddenly. Albert remained sunk in thought for a few seconds, then his face lighted up with a melancholy smile. He bent over toward Delesof, and gazed straight into his eyes.

“Why did you ask me that question?” he whispered. “But I will tell you all about it. I like you,” he added, after a few moments of thought, and glancing around. “I will not deceive you, I will tell you all, just as it was, from the beginning.” He paused, and his eyes took on a strange wild appearance.[171] “You know that I am weak in judgment,” he said suddenly. “Yes, yes,” he continued. “Anna Ivánovna has told you about it. She tells everybody that I am crazy. It isn’t true, she says it for a joke; she is a good woman, but I really have not been quite well for some time.” Albert paused again, and stood up, gazing with wide-opened eyes at the dark door. “You asked me if I had ever been in love. Yes, I have been in love,” he whispered, raising his brows. “That happened long ago; it was at a time when I still had a place at the theatre. I went to play second violin at the opera, and she came into a parquet box at the left.”

Albert stood up, and bent over to Delesof’s ear. “But no,” said he, “why should I mention her name? You probably know her, everybody knows her. I said nothing, but simply looked at her: I knew that I was a poor artist, and she an aristocratic lady. I knew that very well. I only looked at her, and had no thoughts.”

Albert paused for a moment, as though making sure of his recollections.

“How it happened I know not, but I was invited once to accompany her on my violin…. Now I was only a poor artist!” he repeated, shaking his head and smiling. “But no, I cannot tell you, I cannot!” he exclaimed, again clutching his head. “How happy I was!”

“What? did you go to her house often?” asked Delesof.

“Once, only once…. But it was my own fault; I wasn’t in my right mind. I was a poor artist, and she an aristocratic lady. I ought not to have spoken to her. But I lost my senses, I committed a folly.[172] Petrof told me the truth: ‘It would have been better only to have seen her at the theatre.'”

“What did you do?” asked Delesof.

“Ah! wait, wait, I cannot tell you that.”

And, hiding his face in his hands, he said nothing for some time.

“I was late at the orchestra. Petrof and I had been drinking that evening, and I was excited. She was sitting in her box, and talking with some general. I don’t know who that general was. She was sitting at the very edge of the box, with her arm resting on the rim. She wore a white dress, with pearls on her neck. She was talking with him, but she looked at me. Twice she looked at me. She had arranged her hair in such a becoming way! I stopped playing, and stood near the bass, and gazed at her. Then, for the first time, something strange took place in me. She smiled on the general, but she looked at me. I felt certain that she was talking about me; and suddenly I seemed to be not in my place in the orchestra, but was standing in her box, and seizing her hand in that place. What was the meaning of that?” asked Albert, after a moment’s silence.

“A powerful imagination,” said Delesof.

“No, no, … I cannot tell,” said Albert frowning. “Even then I was poor. I hadn’t any room; and when I went to the theatre, I sometimes used to sleep there.”

“What, in the theatre?” asked Delesof.

“Ah! I am not afraid of these stupid things. Ah! just wait a moment. As soon as everybody was gone, I went to that box where she had been sitting, and slept there. That was my only pleasure. How many nights I spent there! Only once again did[173] I have that experience. At night many things seemed to come to me. But I cannot tell you much about them.” Albert contracted his brows, and looked at Delesof. “What did it mean?” he asked.

“It was strange,” replied the other.

“No, wait, wait!” he bent over to his ear, and said in a whisper,—

“I kissed her hand, wept there before her, and said many things to her. I heard the fragrance of her sighs, I heard her voice. She said many things to me that one night. Then I took my violin, and began to play softly. And I played beautifully. But it became terrible to me. I am not afraid of such stupid things, and I don’t believe in them, but my head felt terribly,” he said, smiling sweetly, and moving his hand over his forehead. “It seemed terrible to me on account of my poor mind; something happened in my head. Maybe it was nothing; what do you think?”

Neither spoke for several minutes.

“Und wenn die Wolken sie verhüllen,Die Sonne bleibt doch ewig klar.[54]”

hummed Albert, smiling gently. “That is true, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Ich auch habe gelebt und genossen.”[55]

“Ah, old man Petrof! how this would have made things clear to you!”

Delesof, in silence and with dismay, looked at his companion’s excited and colorless face.

“Do you know the Juristen waltzes?” suddenly [174]asked Albert in a loud voice, and without waiting for an answer, jumped up, seized the violin, and began to play the waltz. In absolute self-forgetfulness, and evidently imagining that a whole orchestra was playing for him, Albert smiled, began to dance, to shuffle his feet, and to play admirably.

“Hey, we will have a good time!” he exclaimed, as he ended, and waved his violin. “I am going,” said he, after sitting down in silence for a little. “Won’t you come along too?”

“Where?” asked Delesof in surprise.

“Let us go to Anna Ivánovna’s again. It’s gay there,—bustle, people, music.”

Delesof for a moment was almost persuaded. However, coming to his senses, he promised Albert that he would go with him the next day.

“I should like to go this minute.”

“Indeed, I wouldn’t go.”

Albert sighed, and laid down the violin.

“Shall I stay, then?” He looked over at the table, but the wine was gone; and so, wishing him a good-night, he left the room.

Delesof rang. “Look here,” said he to Zakhár, “don’t let Mr. Albert go anywhere without asking me about it first.”[175]

< < < Chapter IV
Chapter VI > > >

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

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