The days passed by. Zinaïda became stranger and stranger, and more and more incomprehensible. One day I went over to her, and saw her sitting in a basket-chair, her head pressed to the sharp edge of the table. She drew herself up … her whole face was wet with tears.
‘Ah, you!’ she said with a cruel smile. ‘Come here.’
I went up to her. She put her hand on my head, and suddenly catching hold of my hair, began pulling it.
‘It hurts me,’ I said at last.
‘Ah! does it? And do you suppose nothing hurts me?’ she replied.
‘Ai!’ she cried suddenly, seeing she had pulled a little tuft of hair out. ‘What have I done? Poor M’sieu Voldemar!’
She carefully smoothed the hair she had torn out, stroked it round her finger, and twisted it into a ring.
‘I shall put your hair in a locket and wear it round my neck,’ she said, while the tears still glittered in her eyes. ‘That will be some small consolation to you, perhaps … and now good-bye.’
I went home, and found an unpleasant state of things there. My mother was having a scene with my father; she was reproaching him with something, while he, as his habit was, maintained a polite and chilly silence, and soon left her. I could not hear what my mother was talking of, and indeed I had no thought to spare for the subject; I only remember that when the interview was over, she sent for me to her room, and referred with great displeasure to the frequent visits I paid the princess, who was, in her words, une femme capable de tout. I kissed her hand (this was what I always did when I wanted to cut short a conversation) and went off to my room. Zinaïda’s tears had completely overwhelmed me; I positively did not know what to think, and was ready to cry myself; I was a child after all, in spite of my sixteen years. I had now given up thinking about Malevsky, though Byelovzorov looked more and more threatening every day, and glared at the wily count like a wolf at a sheep; but I thought of nothing and of no one. I was lost in imaginings, and was always seeking seclusion and solitude. I was particularly fond of the ruined greenhouse. I would climb up on the high wall, and perch myself, and sit there, such an unhappy, lonely, and melancholy youth, that I felt sorry for myself – and how consolatory where those mournful sensations, how I revelled in them!…
One day I was sitting on the wall looking into the distance and listening to the ringing of the bells… . Suddenly something floated up to me – not a breath of wind and not a shiver, but as it were a whiff of fragrance – as it were, a sense of some one’s being near… . I looked down. Below, on the path, in a light greyish gown, with a pink parasol on her shoulder, was Zinaïda, hurrying along. She caught sight of me, stopped, and pushing back the brim of her straw hat, she raised her velvety eyes to me.
‘What are you doing up there at such a height?’ she asked me with a rather queer smile. ‘Come,’ she went on, ‘you always declare you love me; jump down into the road to me if you really do love me.’
Zinaïda had hardly uttered those words when I flew down, just as though some one had given me a violent push from behind. The wall was about fourteen feet high. I reached the ground on my feet, but the shock was so great that I could not keep my footing; I fell down, and for an instant fainted away. When I came to myself again, without opening my eyes, I felt Zinaïda beside me. ‘My dear boy,’ she was saying, bending over me, and there was a note of alarmed tenderness in her voice, ‘how could you do it, dear; how could you obey?… You know I love you… . Get up.’
Her bosom was heaving close to me, her hands were caressing my head, and suddenly – what were my emotions at that moment – her soft, fresh lips began covering my face with kisses … they touched my lips… . But then Zinaïda probably guessed by the expression of my face that I had regained consciousness, though I still kept my eyes closed, and rising rapidly to her feet, she said: ‘Come, get up, naughty boy, silly, why are you lying in the dust?’ I got up. ‘Give me my parasol,’ said Zinaïda, ‘I threw it down somewhere, and don’t stare at me like that … what ridiculous nonsense! you’re not hurt, are you? stung by the nettles, I daresay? Don’t stare at me, I tell you… . But he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t answer,’ she added, as though to herself… . ‘Go home, M’sieu’ Voldemar, brush yourself, and don’t dare to follow me, or I shall be angry, and never again … ’
She did not finish her sentence, but walked rapidly away, while I sat down by the side of the road … my legs would not support me. The nettles had stung my hands, my back ached, and my head was giddy; but the feeling of rapture I experienced then has never come a second time in my life. It turned to a sweet ache in all my limbs and found expression at last in joyful hops and skips and shouts. Yes, I was still a child.