Albert By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

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



Five rich young men went at three o’clock in the morning to a ball in Petersburg to have a good time.

Much champagne was drunk; a majority of the gentlemen were very young; the girls were pretty; a pianist and a fiddler played indefatigably one polka after another; there was no cease to the noise of conversation and dancing. But there was a sense of awkwardness and constraint; every one felt somehow or other—and this is not unusual—that all was not as it should be.

There were several attempts made to make things more lively, but simulated liveliness is much worse than melancholy.

One of the five young men, who was more discontented than any one else, both with himself and with the others, and who had been feeling all the evening a sense of disgust, took his hat, and went out noiselessly on purpose, intending to go home.

There was no one in the ante-room, but in the next room at the door he heard two voices disputing. The young man paused, and listened.[149]

“It is impossible, there are guests in there,” said a woman’s voice.

“Come, let me in, please. I will not do any harm,” urged a man in a gentle voice.

“Indeed I will not without madame’s permission,” said the woman. “Where are you going? Oh, what a man you are!”

The door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the figure of a stranger. Seeing a guest, the maid ceased to detain the man; and the stranger, timidly bowing, came into the room with a somewhat unsteady gait.

He was a man of medium stature, with a lank, crooked back, and long dishevelled hair. He wore a short paletot, and tight ragged pantaloons over coarse dirty boots. His necktie, twisted into a string, exposed his long white neck. His shirt was filthy, and the sleeves came down over his lean hands.

But, notwithstanding his thoroughly emaciated body, his face was attractive and fair; and a fresh color even mantled his cheeks under his thin dark beard and side-whiskers. His dishevelled locks, thrown back, exposed a low and remarkably pure forehead. His dark, languid eyes looked unswervingly forward with an expression of serenity, submission, and sweetness, which made a fascinating combination with the expression of his fresh, curved lips, visible under his thin moustache.

Advancing a few steps, he paused, turned to the young man, and smiled. He found it apparently rather hard to smile. But his face was so lighted up by it, that the young man, without knowing why, smiled in return.

“Who is that man?” he asked of the maid in a[150] whisper, as the stranger walked toward the room where the dancing was going on.

“A crazy musician from the theatre,” replied the maid. “He sometimes comes to call upon madame.”

“Where are you going, Delesof?” some one at this moment called from the drawing-room.

The young man who was called Delesof returned to the drawing-room. The musician was now standing at the door; and, as his eyes fell on the dancers, he showed by his smile and by the beating of his foot how much pleasure this spectacle afforded him.

“Won’t you come, and have a dance too?” said one of the guests to him. The musician bowed, and looked at the hostess inquiringly.

“Come, come. Why not, since the gentlemen have invited you?” said the hostess. The musician’s thin, weak face suddenly assumed an expression of decision; and smiling and winking, and shuffling his feet, he awkwardly, clumsily went to join the dancers in the drawing-room.

In the midst of a quadrille a jolly officer, who was dancing very beautifully and with great liveliness, accidentally hit the musician in the back. His weak, weary legs lost their equilibrium; and the musician, making ineffectual struggles to keep his balance, measured his length on the floor.

Notwithstanding the sharp, hard sound made by his fall, almost everybody at the first moment laughed.

But the musician did not rise. The guests grew silent, even the piano ceased to sound. Delesof and the hostess were the first to reach the prostrate musician. He was lying on his elbow, and gloomily looking at the ground. When he had been lifted to his feet, and set in a chair, he threw back his hair from[151] his forehead with a quick motion of his bony hand, and began to smile without replying to the questions that were put.

“Mr. Albert! Mr. Albert!” exclaimed the hostess. “Were you hurt? Where? Now, I told you that you had better not try to dance…. He is so weak,” she added, addressing her guests. “It takes all his strength.”

“Who is he?” some one asked the hostess.

“A poor man, an artist. A very nice young fellow; but he’s a sad case, as you can see.”

She said this without paying the least heed to the musician’s presence. He suddenly opened his eyes as though frightened at something, collected himself, and remarked to those who were standing about him, “It’s nothing at all,” said he suddenly, arising from the chair with evident effort.

And in order to show that he had suffered no injury, he went into the middle of the room, and was going to dance; but he tottered, and would have fallen again, had he not been supported.

Everybody felt constrained. All looked at him, and no one spoke. The musician’s glance again lost its vivacity; and, apparently forgetting that any one was looking, he put his hand to his knee. Suddenly he raised his head, advanced one faltering foot, and, with the same awkward gesture as before, tossed back his hair, and went to a violin-case, and took out the instrument.

“It was nothing at all,” said he again, waving the violin. “Gentlemen, we will have a little music.”

“What a strange face!” said the guests among themselves.

“Maybe there is great talent lurking in that unhappy creature,” said one of them.[152]

“Yes: it’s a sad case,—a sad case,” said another.

“What a lovely face!… There is something extraordinary about it,” said Delesof. “Let us have a look at him.”…[153]

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Chapter II > > >

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

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