Albert By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

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

ut of doors it was really cold; but Albert did not feel it, he was so excited by the wine that he had taken and by the quarrel.

As he entered the street, he looked around him, and rubbed his hands with pleasure. The street was empty, but the long lines of lights were still brilliantly gleaming; the sky was clear and beautiful. “What!” he cried, addressing the lighted window in Delesof’s apartments; and then thrusting his hands in his trousers pockets under his coat, and looking straight ahead, he walked with heavy and uncertain steps straight up the street.

He felt an absolute weight in his legs and abdomen, something hummed in his head, some invisible power seemed to hurl him from side to side; but he still plunged ahead in the direction of where Anna Ivánovna lived.

Strange, disconnected thoughts rushed through his head. Now he remembered his quarrel with Zakhár, now something recalled the sea and his first voyage in the steamboat to Russia; now the merry night that he had spent with some friend in the wine-shop by which he was passing; then suddenly there came to him a familiar air singing itself in his recollections, and he seemed to see the object of his passion and the terrible night in the theatre.

But notwithstanding their incoherence, all these[183] recollections presented themselves before his imaginations with such distinctness that when he closed his eyes he could not tell which was nearer to the reality: what he was doing, or what he was thinking. He did not realize and he did not feel how his legs moved, how he staggered and hit against a wall, how he looked around him, and how he made his way from street to street.

As he went along the Little Morskaya, Albert tripped and fell. Collecting himself in a moment, he saw before him some huge and magnificent edifice, and he went toward it.

In the sky not a star was to be seen, nor sign of dawn, nor moon, neither were there any street-lights there; but all objects were perfectly distinguishable. The windows of the edifice, which loomed up at the corner of the street, were brilliantly lighted, but the lights wavered like reflections. The building kept coming nearer and nearer, clearer and clearer, to Albert.

But the lights vanished the moment that Albert entered the wide portals. Inside it was dark. He took a few steps under the vaulted ceiling, and something like shades glided by and fled at his approach.

“Why did I come here?” wondered Albert; but some irresistible power dragged him forward into the depths of the immense hall.

There stood some lofty platform, and around it in silence stood what seemed like little men. “Who is going to speak?” asked Albert. No one answered, but some one pointed to the platform. There stood now on the platform a tall, thin man, with bushy hair and dressed in a variegated gown. Albert immediately recognized his friend Petrof.[184]

“How strange! what is he doing here?” said Albert to himself.

“No, brethren,” said Petrof, pointing to something, “you did not appreciate the man while he was living among you; you did not appreciate him! He was not a cheap artist, not a merely mechanical performer, not a crazy, ruined man. He was a genius, a great musical genius, who perished among you unknown and unvalued.”

Albert immediately understood of whom his friend was speaking; but not wishing to interrupt him, he hung his head modestly. “He, like a sheaf of straw, was wholly consumed by the sacred fire which we all serve,” continued the voice. “But he has completely fulfilled all that God gave him; therefore he ought to be considered a great man. You may despise him, torture him, humiliate him,” continued the voice, more and more energetically, “but he has been, is, and will be immeasurably higher than you all. He is happy, he is good. He loved you all alike, or cared for you, it is all the same; but he has served only that with which he was so highly endowed. He loved one thing,—beauty, the only infinite good in the world. Oh, yes, what a man he is! Fall all of you before him. On your knees!” cried Petrof in a thundering voice.

But another voice mildly answered from another corner of the hall. “I do not wish to bow my knee before him,” said the voice.

Albert instantly recognized Delesof.

“Why is he great? And why should we bow before him? Has he conducted himself in an honorable and righteous manner? Has he brought society any advantage? Do we not know how he borrowed money,[185] and never returned it; how he carried off a violin that belonged to a brother artist, and pawned it?”

“My God! how did he know all that?” said Albert to himself, drooping his head still lower.

“Do we not know,” the voice went on, “how he pandered to the lowest of the low, pandered to them for money? Do we not know how he was driven out of the theatre? How Anna Ivánovna threatened to hand him over to the police?”

“My God! that is all true, but protect me,” cried Albert. “You are the only one who knows why I did so.”

“Stop, for shame!” cried Petrof’s voice again. “What right have you to accuse him? Have you lived his life? Have you experienced his enthusiasms?”

“Right! right!” whispered Albert.

“Art is the highest manifestation of power in man. It is given only to the favored few, and it lifts the chosen to such an eminence that the head swims, and it is hard to preserve its integrity. In art, as in every struggle, there are heroes who bring all under subjection to them, and perish if they do not attain their ends.”

Petrof ceased speaking; and Albert lifted his head, and tried to shout in a loud voice, “Right! right!” but his voice died without a sound.

“That is not the case with you. This does not concern you,” sternly said the artist Petrof, addressing Delesof. “Yes, humble him, despise him,” he continued, “for he is better and happier than all the rest of you.”

Albert, with rapture in his heart at hearing these words, could not contain himself, but went up to his friend, and was about to kiss him.[186]

“Get thee gone, I do not know you,” replied Petrof. “Go your own way, you cannot come here.”

“Here, you drunken fellow, you cannot come here,” cried a policeman at the crossing.

Albert hesitated, then collected all his forces, and, endeavoring not to stumble, crossed over to the next street.

It was only a few steps to Anna Ivánovna’s. From the hall of her house a stream of light fell on the snowy dvor, and at the gate stood sledges and carriages.

Clinging with both hands to the balustrade, he made his way up the steps, and rang the bell.

The maid’s sleepy face appeared at the open door, and looked angrily at Albert.

“It is impossible,” she cried; “I have been forbidden to let you in,” and she slammed the door. The sounds of music and women’s voices floated down to him.

Albert sat down on the ground, and leaned his head against the wall, and shut his eyes. At that very instant a throng of indistinct but correlated visions took possession of him with fresh force, mastered him, and carried him off into the beautiful and free domain of fancy.

“Yes! he is better and happier,” involuntarily the voice repeated in his imagination.

From the door were heard the sounds of a polka. These sounds also told him that he was better and happier. In a neighboring church was heard the sound of a prayer-bell; and the prayer-bell also told him that he was better and happier.

“Now I will go back to that hall again,” said Albert to himself. “Petrof must have many things still to tell me.”[187]

There seemed to be no one now in the hall; and in the place of the artist Petrof, Albert himself stood on the platform, and was playing on his violin all that the voice had said before.

But his violin was of strange make: it was composed of nothing but glass, and he had to hold it with both hands, and slowly rub it on his breast to make it give out sounds. The sounds were so sweet and delicious, that Albert felt he had never before heard any thing like them. The more tightly he pressed the violin to his breast, the more sweet and consoling they became. The louder the sounds, the more swiftly the shadows vanished, and the more brilliantly the walls of the hall were illuminated. But it was necessary to play very cautiously on the violin, lest it should break.

Albert played on the instrument of glass cautiously and well. He played things the like of which he felt no one would ever hear again.

He was growing tired, when a heavy distant sound began to annoy him. It was the sound of a bell, but this sound seemed to have a language.

“Yes,” said the bell, with its notes coming from somewhere far off and high up, “yes, he seems to you wretched; you despise him, but he is better and happier than you. No one ever will play more on that instrument!”

These words which he understood seemed suddenly so wise, so novel, and so true, to Albert, that he stopped playing, and, while trying not to move, lifted his eyes and his arms toward heaven. He felt that he was beautiful and happy. Although no one was in the hall, Albert expanded his chest, and proudly lifted his head, and stood on the platform so that all might see him.[188]

Suddenly some one’s hand was gently laid on his shoulder; he turned around, and in the half light saw a woman. She looked pityingly at him, and shook her head. He immediately became conscious that what he was doing was wrong, and a sense of shame came over him.

“Where shall I go?” he asked her. Once more she gazed long and fixedly at him, and bent her head pityingly. She was the one, the very one whom he loved, and her dress was the same; on her round white neck was the pearl necklace, and her lovely arms were bare above the elbows.

She took him in her arms, and bore him away through the hall. At the entrance of the hall, Albert saw the moon and water. But the water was not below as is usually the case, and the moon was not above; there was a white circle in one place as sometimes happens. The moon and the water were together,—everywhere, above and below, and on all sides and around them both. Albert and his love darted off toward the moon and the water, and he now realized that she whom he loved more than all in the world was in his arms: he embraced her, and felt inexpressible felicity.

“Is not this a dream?” he asked himself. But no, it was the reality, it was more than reality: it was reality and recollection combined.

Then he felt that the indescribable pleasure which he had felt during the last moment was gone, and would never be renewed.

“Why am I weeping?” he asked of her. She looked at him in silence, with pitying eyes. Albert understood what she desired to say in reply. “Just as when I was alive,” he went on to say. She, without replying, looked straight forward.[189]

“This is terrible! How can I explain to her that I am alive?” he asked himself in horror. “My God, I am alive! Do understand me,” he whispered.

“He is better and happier,” said a voice.

But something kept oppressing Albert ever more powerfully. Whether it was the moon or the water, or her embrace or his tears, he could not tell, but he was conscious that he could not say all that it was his duty to say, and that all would be quickly over.

Two guests coming out from Anna Ivánovna’s rooms stumbled against Albert lying on the threshold. One of them went back to Anna Ivánovna, and called her. “That was heartless,” he said. “You might let a man freeze to death that way.”

“Akh! why, that is my Albert. See where he was lying!” exclaimed the hostess. “Annushka, have him brought into the room; find a place for him somewhere,” she added, addressing the maid.

“Oh! I am alive, why do you bury me?” muttered Albert, as they brought him unconscious into the room.



E’en though the clouds may veil it,The sun shines ever clear.


I also have lived and rejoiced.

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

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