(Sergei, a young Soviet engineer, arrives in pre-war Paris:)
hen he arrived in Paris he was amazed: before him was the very city his mother had talked to him about. . . . Sergei had gone through so much during his short life, had seen such things, that he did not believe in the possibility of repose. Was it so long ago that he had seen whole apartment houses being unceremoniously shifted from place to place in Gorky Street? Here in Paris it seemed as though human beings could not be shifted from their accustomed places. Centenarian ladies sat on benches wearing bedroom slippers. And that gentleman over there wearing a monocle--why, he's the man that Maupassant described! Everything seemed so familiar, and therefore unreal.
He had come to Paris from the Moscow of hard, stern years, his hair streaked with grey, exacting and distrustful. Moscow lived in the consciousness of an impending storm; and while the Parisians gave little thought to the agony of neighboring Madrid, it was only recently that on cold, blizzardy evenings crowds stood gazing at a map of Spain displayed in Pushkin Square, and the silence of these crowds breathed anxiety, anger and confidence. Sensational court trials followed one after another: treason trials; and the reports of the court proceedings mingled with the tramping of German divisions on the Ring, with the wailing of Barcelona, with backstairs negotiations and military maneuvers. Then came Munich. ... In those years the people of Moscow lived in a state of tension and uneasiness, the climax was approaching. And after these stern Moscow nights Sergei saw life that looked like a merry-go-round at a fair--circling, flickering and glittering until it hurt one's eyes, made one's head swim. The city shone like a house where they were celebrating a wedding; it seemed that the people were not aware that death was lurking outside their windows. Similarly, anglers dozed on the banks of the Seine, lovers of Horace sneezed as they rummaged in the boxes of the second-hand book dealers, and similarly, itinerary singers sang at street corners about the love of Kiki, who was irresistible and yielding. Wait a minute, Sergei, is it true that nineteen hundred and thirty-nine is on the threshold, that there are ruins and graves on the other side of the Pyrenees, that doomed Prague is calling to its friends in its agony, that guns are being mounted on the Rhine? Perhaps Paris has taken leave of its senses, has forgotten to wind up the clock, has not torn off the leaves of the calendar for a long time? Perhaps a long-haired orator will emerge from a neighboring cafe and call upon the romanticists of the Duchy of Baden, jointly with the blue-bloused working men of the faubourg of Saint-Antoine, to plant the tree of liberty? Perhaps Hitler is a figment of the imagination of a score of unemployed cartoonists?
Then Sergei looked around: beneath this happy-go-lucky surface he discerned sadness; there was a touch of mournfulness in the very gaiety of the city; and the quips and jests, the ditties, even the whispering of loving couples suggested preparations for a journey, God knows where to. Paris dozed restlessly, it wanted to have its sleep out, come what may!
(Later, Sergei attends a dinner party:)
Nivelle was saying:
"Art lives on the exceptionalness of events, images, feelings. If I feel what millions of others feel, it is above all uninteresting."
"In my opinion, there must be nothing exclusive in art"--objected Roger Sembat. "Flaubert, I think, intended to write a novel in which nothing happened. It is a pity he didn't write it. Bonnard paints an arbour, Marquet--a stream with gudgeons, Utrillo--a side-street in a faubourg. But in Switzerland the artist has nothing to paint--glaciers are not for art. Your 'exceptional feelings'--are like the Alps. If mankind ever gains wisdom, it will cease to interest itself in the exceptional. Take the newspapers--wha do they write about? Scandals, murders. Now a fellow named Hitler is the exceptional psychopath. Far more interesting is the fact that the wistarias are in bloom, that my milkwoman Lucie has married, that we have milk, fields, Renoir. .. ."
"In that case, you ought to like Soviet society, there can be nothing exceptional there. For a collective, genius is an impermissible misprint. And they have first-class proofreaders. . . ." Lejean intervened:
"You put too much trust in simplified formulas. Monsieur Nivelle. Take Germany. There they worship the cult of Nietzsche. But if we take a good look at their 'mountain peaks'? Where are they? A flock of sheep--and nothing more. The word 'collective' frightens you? I've not been to Russia, but I'm convinced that the collective needs real men, not nonentities."
"A collective is a well-mown lawn. Beautiful, but monotonous. Everything outstanding is leveled out. Flaubert, whom Monsieur Sembat mentioned, wanted to write about the ordinary, but he wrote in an extraordinary way. In Soviet Russia they write about ordinary things in an ordinary way. There there is not, nor can there be, a Flaubert, or even a quarter of a Flaubert. You will say. . . ."
"I will say, first of all, that there is not even an eighth of a Flaubert in France today."
"Yes, but according to what you say, France is decaying, while Russia is in full bloom."
"When a tree is in bloom it does not yet bear fruit."
"I am afraid it is bearing fruit, but bad, wild fruit. Perhaps I'm wrong. If our Russian guest corrects me, I shall be glad to admit my mistake."
Nivelle said this with exaggerated courtesy, barely concealing a mocking smile. Sergei, however, kept calm.
"I am ignorant in these matters. You are men of art, I am an engineer. . . .Perhaps you are right when you say that we are not yet astonishing the world with our art. We have not had the time. .. . But we are astonishing the world with something else--by the fact that we exist. You don't get into heated arguments about English art or German art, you argue about ours, and it seems to me that you are not arguing about art, but about our existence. I often notice that people here, and clever people at that, do not express their own feelings, but repeat stock-phrases--a culture of quotations. It may sound funny to you. but we have our Juliets, only they do not know how to express their love. Judge for yourselves. What is better--a real Juliet who cannot express herself, or a feelingless shadow who repeats monologues from an ancient tragedy?"
Mado raised her slender eyebrows and said in a loud voice:
"All we can do is to bow down to the mute Juliets and postpone art to the thirtieth century."
"Wait, Mado", said Lancier, getting nervous, "why do you talk like that? The Russians have shown that they can build very quickly. .. ."
Professor Dumas backed him up:
"And not only build. I have met young people from Russia. They are the children of peasants. Perhaps they are not able to write as well as our friend Nivelle, but they can think. They can. ..."
He was interrupted by a good-looking though sickly woman who had not uttered a single word up to now:
"They know how to die. I have seen it. .. ."
For a moment all remained silent. Then Nivelle said:
"Frenchmen know how to die too. Monsieur Lancier can tell you that--he remembers Verdun."
"We can't live on history", objected Lejean, "I will tell you what is the most bitter truth: sometimes it seems to me that Frenchmen have forgotten how to die. They don't want to sacrifice anything, they are afraid of losing their repose. I remember the evening when the report came about Munich. What rejoicing...."
Nivelle got up, crumpling his serviette.
"I detest demagogy. Only cowards and idiots could rejoice then. Munich was an appalling tragedy. But if the Communists were in power, they would have done the same. Do you think the Russians will fight? Demagogy! And besides, they can't fight--nobody has yet stopped tanks with leaflets. The Bolsheviks will surrender half of Russia to Hitler to save themselves. ..."
Lancier saw the calmness of the gathering collapse. Everybody was shouting, nobody was listening to what the other was saying, not listening even to the host, who was trying to allay the passion. But when Sergei spoke the disputants fell silent.
"Nobody wants to fight. Except the Germans, perhaps... . But you were wrong in what you said. Monsieur Nivelle. . .. Perhaps I know nothing about art, but I know my people. Our people will not surrender. If we are attacked, we shall fight, and fight so that it makes you frightened to think of it... ."
He stepped aside and stood at the window. It was still raining as hard as ever. The guests retired to the drawing room; there Lancier succeeded in turning the conversation, and Sergei heard somebody say:
"Giraudoux's dialogue is brilliant. ..."
Mado went up to Sergei and asked him softly:
"You are thinking about your country, aren't you?"
"No, I was thinking about something else just now. Not long ago I read a book on the history of Byzantium. Do you know what the Byzantines were doing when the Turks approached the city? They were arguing about which chariot would win in the races--the red or the blue."
"Why are you interested in our fate?"
"We have a common enemy. And besides. . .." After a moment's pause Sergei added: "I haven't been here long, but I have fallen in love with Paris."
She was touched, she wanted to take this man by the hand and tell him that there were real people here, too, that he must not judge her by the spiteful and silly things she said, that she felt very sad, and that in another minute she would burst into tears. . . . But instead she said coldly:
"They are waiting for you in the drawing room, coffee has been served there."
Sembat asked Sergei what the country was like in Russia. Sergei told him about the steppes and the forests.
"One doesn't want to paint the landscape in our country, but to sing it, it flows and, like music, it is elusive. You look--and it seems as if there is nothing there, but suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds and lights up a strip of field, or a little girl is walking along a field path, or everything becomes dark, presaging a storm--and how enchanting it is! And the blizzards! And the silence--after all, that too is music. ..."
"I look at you," said Sembat, "and all the time I'm thinking to myself, why would it be so difficult to paint you? You have just explained this yourself--your face is like the landscape in your country, it is constantly changing, I see not a shape, but an expression. It would be hellishly difficult to paint your portrait, but I'd like to have a try. . . .Are you staying in Paris long?"
Before Sergei had time to answer there was a knock at the door. It was Mado. She said in a tone of surprise:
"You have a visitor, Sembat?"
She greeted Sergei in a friendly way, but with reserve. Sergei felt embarrassed at first. Then the awkwardness of the first few minutes passed off and an animated conversation ensued. What did they not talk about! About the fairs in Brittany and the quiet rivers in Russia along which logs of felled trees floated, about Ronsard's sonnets, full of happiness with a slightly mournful touch, about sweet wine which left a bitter aftertaste, and about Frenchmen saying about a man who becomes maudlin after heavy drinking that "he's had sad wine," and that in the North they have white nights in the summer.
"Now that's where I'd like to live," said Mado. "One can dream there. . . . Don't look at me like that! I know everybody works in your country. I too would work--in the daytime. But at night. ... Isn't it wonderful to see the world different from what it is in the daytime! I suppose everything is different on a white night--houses, the sky, people.'"
"And then comes winter--when it's dark all the twenty-four hours round."
"That doesn't matter. ... It would be happiness to live in another world at least for an hour. . . ."
"You live in that other world--when you are at work," said Sembat.
"What am I as a painter? A pupil. I shall be swotting over the ABCs for another ten years. But I want to create something of my own now, without waiting all that time, even if it is frail, unreliable, but something into which I can put my whole soul. ..."
There was a bunch of wild flowers on the table. Mado asked:
"Do they tell fortunes with daisies in your country?"
"Of course. 'He loves me, he loves me not, in his arms he'll take me, to the devil he'll send me.'"
"That's better than what we say. French girls try to bargain with their hearts: 'A little, much, madly.' 'A little.. ..' I think 'to the devil he'll send me' is better. Tell me those words in Russian.''
Sergei told her: "K chortu poshlyot."
"Don't pull the petals off those flowers, Mado, you'll spoil my still life."
The only thought that occupied Mado's mind now was: if only Sembat would leave the room! Only for a minute! . . . Can't he guess? She had something to say to Sergei... . What she had to say she did not know, but she knew--she must say something to him.
"Sembat, dear, if you boil the water, I'll make coffee. All right?"
Sembat at last understood and went to the tiny kitchen. Mado asked Sergei:
"When are you leaving?"
"I don't know. Soon, I think."
It seemed to her that it was not she who was speaking--it was the voice of a stranger:
"It's a good thing you are going soon. Otherwise your friends might think that you have fallen in love with Paris."
He shrugged his shoulders. How unbearable she was! And charming ... What was it about her that had captivated him? Perhaps her unworldliness, the mournful gaiety that hovers over Paris like a light summer mist?
"Have I offended you?"
"Oh, no! What you said about your country was most interesting. I'm very grateful to you, very...." She got up. "Sembat, where have you got to?"
On reaching the kitchen door she turned round towards Srgei and with a comical grimace repeated the Russian words she had learned, "K chortu poshlyot.".
"Sembat, where's the kettle? What have you been doing here?"
"I thought you wanted...."
"I want coffee. Go and attend to your visitor, I'll do everything myself."
Half an hour passed. Sembat decided to go and see what had happened to the coffee. He found Mado in tears.
"Go away! No, wait.... Tell him I'm feeling bad, that I've had a heart attack. Think up something. I can't go out to him. I can't. . . "
That night Sergei slept badly: he kept thinking of Mado. What had he done to repel her? But perhaps she is laughing at him? No, people don't play like that.... But why does he think of her all the time? That girl, uninvited, without the rights that long friendship gives, without heart-to-heart talks, without ardent embraces, an alien, an alien in the true sense, had entered his life, had become so dear to him, so much his own, that he converses with her, questions her, soothes her. ... He turned over from side to side, fumed at himself, but still kept thinking of Mado. And suddenly he laughed: he remembered how comically she had said in Russian "k tshortu."
In the morning he was handed a small blue envelope.
"I behaved badly again yesterday. Don't be angry, I am suffering for it. You said that there are Juliets in your country who cannot find the words with which to express themselves. I too am a mute Juliet, only a French one. I cannot and do not want to enter your life, all I ask of you is--meet me, perhaps I shall be able to say to you what I want to say. I will wait for you at eight o'clock this evening on the Quais Voltaire, near the monument. If you cannot, or do not want to come, I shall not be offended, I shall speak to you from afar. I have chosen that place because there are few people there at that time and we shall be able to talk. Excuse the scrawl. I am hurrying and I don't want to rewrite it. Mado."
The rain was coming down in a fine drizzle. Sergei arrived at the embankment before the appointed time; Mado was waiting for him. They talked rapidly about the rain, about Voltaire, about Sembat's pictures--both tried to conceal their agitation. They walked along, now very slowly and haltingly, as if they did not know the way, and now rapidly, and an onlooker might have thought that they were hurrying somewhere; but they did not know where they were going. They crossed to the right bank and reached Place de la Concorde, which glittered like a ball room; they walked to the Champs Elysees, blinking their eyes at the lights and not noticing the passers-bys; then they found themselves in the Bois de Boulogne. As a rule, there were many strollers here, but the rain had driven them all away. They walked down a deserted avenue, the smell of damp grass, of autumn, filled the air. They had managed to tell each other everything it seemed, but not a word did they utter about what filled their hearts. They had to talk because they were afraid to remain silent; but the talk was exhausted; only the patter of the rain on the leaves was heard.
Mado stopped, looked at Sergei, silently shrunk away as if she saw something terrible in his eyes, and then as silently rushed towards him, threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. He remembered nothing, he only kept repeating softly: "Mado. . . . Mado.. . ." Tears mingled with raindrops rolled down her face.
"After all, I did not say what I wanted to say. ..."
"What I said just now...."
And so their love commenced. After this they met almost every evening. Nobody knew about this. They often said spiteful things to each other, quarreled, made it up, but even these quarrels were particles of their great and complete happiness.
Crowds poured out of the Metro; people were hurrying to the theatres and the cinema; there were crowds of idlers; foreigners--English, Czechs and Swedes--stood gazing in wonder at the people, the houses and the lights; vendors of newspapers, plans of the city and obscene postcards, darted among the crowd. Sergei did not notice Mado appear at his side. They walked on silently, while all around them everything glittered and whirled--the fiery letters of the advertisements, walking sticks, hats, small crimson roses.
They reached a broad quiet boulevard, and it looked as though an empty bench was waiting for them--the haven of old women who knitted in the daytime, and of loving couples who for hours repeated to each other, over and over again, the old stereotyped but nevertheless thrilling nonsense, an ordinary bench under an ordinary chestnut tree.
"When are you leaving, Sergei?"
"Why do you keep on asking me that?"
"You know why. But it's all the same to you... ."
"It has become a sort of a game with you--to say it's all the same to me."
"And it has become a game with you to say nothing."
"I can go if I bore you."
From an open window the sounds of a radio reached them; somebody, for the thousandth time, was singing in a husky voice:
All's well, Madame la Marquise.. . .
"I can't bear to hear about that Marquise! ..."
"I suppose in your country they sing: 'All's well, comrade tractor driveress. . ..' Is that better?"
"Why are you trying to pick a quarrel?"
"Yes, you. You ask me to talk to you about Moscow and then you get riled."
"Perhaps I'm jealous. I'm only a foolish girl, am I not? But when you talk to me about your country I believe you. I suppose there is much that is good there—the factories, houses, benches in the park, shoes.. . ."
"Not at all, the shoes are bad."
"Wait, you won't let me finish. . .. There is one thing you haven't got—that's art. That's because you want to put everything into life. Instead of art you have statistics—so many pictures, so many books.
"You don't know what you are talking about."
"Yes, I do. You even want to push love into life."
"I don't want anything. . . . It's you that keeps on asking, 'And what else?' "
"Why don't you trust me?"
"I don't trust myself. Do you know why France is falling to pieces? You are too easygoing with yourselves."
"You may abuse France to your heart's content, I don t mind. When you talk about yourself you talk simply. But as soon as your country is mentioned you get up on stilts. Do you know what makes Soviet people repulsive to me? Their smugness."
"You are wrong. We are not smug, but we have faith in ourselves. You have no faith in yourselves."
"Faith? What for?"
Suddenly Mado said in a different tone of voice, very softly:
"But suppose it is impossible to live? Sergei, will you take me with you?"
He made no reply. They got up and walked on quickly, as ifthey were afraid of being late. But when they had gone about a hundred paces they came up to another bench under another chestnut tree, the .leaves of which shaded them from the bright lamppost. Mado was grateful to the tree--she did not want Sergei to see her eyes just then.
"Mado, I have two lives, one--is my own, the real life, the other--is you."
"I don't want to enter your life, I don't want to be a hindrance to you. But if you go away. ..."
A woman stopped near them and cried out in a hoarse voice: Paris Soir! Sergei ran to the lamppost with the paper.
"Pardon me, but things are moving so quickly now."
She laughed a joyless laugh:
"Good God, how different we are! It's really a disaster--tree and wind.. .. You see me laughing, but I really want to cry. But it is funny, awfully funny--a tree and the wind. . . . Were you really born in Paris? You are quite different, as if you were born on Mars."
"Why on Mars?"
"I don't know. It's a warlike name.''
"Yes, war is coming, and soon too."
"I try not to think about it."
"'All's well, Madame la Marquise'.. . . And then a bomb will drop on Madame la Marquise, and on this bench.. .."
"Does the prospect please you?"
"I'm terribly anxious--about Paris, about you. You--like Paris--are alien and yet mine, gay and unhappy, very clever and very foolish. What is going to happen to you ? . . . You are so ... defenseless."
"I?. . . Life is different in our country. We have grown accustomed to a great deal. We will stand it."
"I will not be able to stand parting with you."
They got up and climbed the steep streets of Montmartre. They held hands, like little children. Now and again the bright light of shop windows or restaurants lit up their tense and seemingly petrified faces. Then the city became quiet, provincial; somebody was weeping in the dark; a young woman adjusted her stocking and ran on; a tramp was sitting in the road hugging an empty bottle. The stars became visible. Mado was breathing hard; the palm of her hand was cold. And at last Paris was revealed to their view, all enveloped in an orange-colored mist, it surged and rumbled like the sea.
Sergei felt the touch of a cold palm on his cheek; Mado asked softly:
"Why don't you want happiness?"
He did not answer. Instead, he tenderly, reverently, pressed the hand and kissed the palm. A cat meowed. The drunkard was singing in the dark:
Darling, don't sing now. .. .
Sergei began to speak in a low, halting voice, as if he were reading an indecipherable letter:
"I will tell you about old Paris, as if I had lived there then....The city was the same--and yet different, the same houses and cafes, but the people laughed differently--more gaily. And there were many poets. Fiacres--they pulled the blinds down and kissed. .. . Jaures talked about the early advent of brotherhood.... But instead came Verdun.... But I've got off the track; that's not what I wanted to talk about. ... Well, to that Paris came a young Russian woman, almost a girl, she had spent the year before that in prison. Can you picture the change--prison, gendarmes, snowdrifts, and suddenly Paris.... She was a modest young woman.... I don't know how it happened, but she made the acquaintance of a young Frenchman, he was a student, wrote poetry. They strolled through the streets, as you and I do, only--it was Shrovetide Carnival, so much confetti that your feet sank into it like snow, harlequins and pierrots. ... The young woman was to leave Paris next day--she was being sent to Russia with 'literature.' He loved her, or thought he loved her, which is all the same, and wanted to detain her. He said: 'Why do you renounce happiness?' She answered: 'There are different kinds of happiness, some people have one kind, some another.' That's the whole story."
"Did she go?"
"Next day. ... She returned a year later, but they never met again."
Mado was trembling all over, she spoke stammeringly, catching her breath:
"You have taken leave of your senses, Sergei! Tell me plainly, are you leaving tomorrow? Don't torture me! Why did you invent all this?"
"I didn't invent anything. My mother told me this...."
Neither of them could say any more. And the drunkard bawled again:
Oh,. do not sing, all's understood
Without song. . . .
Paris had vanished in the mist. It seemed as though love had vanished too. Then Mado kissed Sergei, and suddenly both were overcome with childish joy. They ran down the hill to the streets when the lights of the last bars still open gleamed feebly. They drank coffee at a stall among revellers, taxi drivers and workers--day dawned. Sergei said:
"You look very pale. But your eyes are glowing, your eyes are living separately from you, they are from a different play...."
She laughed in reply. He bought a bunch of gilly flowers, and they exhaled the fragrance of summer, childhood, happiness. They parted as if they had not gone through a night of torment. Only when Mado got into bed, still not thinking of anything, happy, did the tears rush to her eyes--"He's going away and will not take me with him." As she dozed off she consoled herself with the thought: "A bomb will drop--on Paris, on that bench, on me... ."
Only the evening before Mado had been happy; she and Sergei had roamed through the outskirts of Paris, had strayed into streets so narrow that they looked like crevices, had run out of them towards the lights in the squares, had gone to the fair, had listened to an old barrel organ, and Mado had her fortune told by the organ grinder's magpie. The ticket the bird drew out read: "Let your heart be appeased, the object of your love will not desert you." And although Mado had laughed at the words "object of your love," they had soothed her. Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because the whole evening had been so translucent--they had not exchanged any spiteful remarks, they had had no tiffs, she had not even asked Sergei whether he was leaving soon, as she usually did every time they met.
And now he was leaving. She was to see him soon for the last time.
Sergei knew he was leaving soon, but still he was not prepared for the parting. He had often pondered over his feelings towards Mado and had tried to grasp what had drawn him to this young woman, with the complex and often contradictory variations in her moods, but the riddle remained unsolved. All he knew was that the life, which before had been full to the brim, seemed dark and empty when Mado went home. And yet Mado was outside his life, he had never talked to her about his work, had never talked to her about his hopes and anxieties; he had never asked her about Corbeille, about her friends, about her alien and to him unintelligible life. Perhaps all this was a fantasy? But he at once answered himself: No, he loved a living woman, knew her as if he had lived with her for many years, although he did not know either her cares or her friends.
And yet he had never once thought of the possibility of introducing Mado into his life. Conscious that their parting was drawing near, he vaguely consoled himself with the thought: it is impossible that they should never meet again! ...
Only now did he suddenly ask himself: what was he doing? How many times had Mado repeated: "Take me with you." Why had he not heeded her, had not wanted to heed her? This will not occur again. . . . Mado was right—why was he renouncing happiness? . . .
But what would become of Mado in a country that was alien to her, without friends, without those small things of life which one becomes aware of only when they are lacking, and when they become a necessity? He knew what that meant, in Paris he had longed for the Moscow side-streets, for the lampposts round the Pushkin monument, for the songs, for a word, for trifles.. . . How could Mado live, connected with life only through him? He would be sent on a distant commission--and the thread would break. ... He knew a life that was not what life seemed to be when listening to an organ grinder at a Paris fair. He was older, had experienced more, he must think for both. How could he tear Mado away from these lights, from her painting, from the gaiety and sadness of Paris? . . . Sembat had said that chestnut trees cannot be transplanted--they wither....
But even to himself Sergei did not say the main thing. Ten years or so ago he had read a great deal, had been keenly interested in Tolstoy. Dickens and Stendhal; the heroes in novels seemed to him to be living personages, he knew them better than he knew his friends; every now and again, in the course of the day, he would return to this fanciful, but real world. Perhaps Mado, too, was a wonderful book to him. They were not bound by the everyday affairs of life, which are like the blood vessels. He loved Mado, he changed color when he saw her, but even in his dreams he could not unite this woman with his life: Mado always remained outside of it. This was not because his sentiments were feeble, but because of Mado's spiritual nature; one day he said to her: "Sometimes it seems to me that when I say 'yes' you hear me say 'no.' You I are made of different clay.. . ." She was a warm, living, beloved being, ; but still, she remained a dream.
He did not utter the words that she was still waiting for. She tried to be strong, repressed her tears, did not ask him about anything. They reached the avenue where their love was born, stood amidst the golden hues of early autumn and went on further; long they roamed through the streets of their happiness, smiling at the trees, at the lampposts, and at the two shadows on the bluish pavement; they recognized the benches—here weeks, years, a lifetime had passed.. . . From a flower girl they knew Sergei bought Mado the last bunch of flowers, a bunch of tiny tea roses.
But towards the end they broke down, tried to deceive each other with words of hope.
"Perhaps I will come here again in the spring... ."
"I will wait. But if it becomes too painful to you, send me a word, I will come. Promise that you will write. . . ."
"Of course, I will. I know now that I will find it. hard.''
"Then--why? . .."
"I don't know. .. . Mado, I cannot do otherwise.. . . Believe me, I am older than you and know life better. .. . Perhaps I am unable to explain, but it is so.... It is impossible now.... I shall certainly come back in the spring. . .. The chestnut trees will be in bloom, and suddenly I will see Mado--coming towards me in a green frock, for some reason I think it must be green. ... I am convinced that we shall meet again soon."
She shook her head.
"Why play hide-and-seek? .. . Sergei, I want to tell you something very important. It is true that you are older and wiser than I am, I am ready to obey, you know everything. I have been living in a hothouse, as it were, while you have been working, fighting. But there is one thing I know better. Don't argue, I am a woman. . . . And I know this better than you do.... Perhaps we shall never see each other again. You will be living your own life. Don't think I am jealous, I am saying this as simply as saying that you will breathe, walk and talk. Another woman . . . and she will live by your side, know all your affairs, share your joys and sorrows. But remember that there is Mado. Who knows, perhaps nobody will be dearer to you than I have been? And then you will feel this in a year's time, even in ten years' time. Don't reproach yourself for having left me, but remember everything, and you will feel better.... I am making no vows to you. How do I know what will happen to me tomorrow? Perhaps I, too, will lead a different life.... But listen, Sergei, if I begin to go out of my mind with longing, try to hide from myself, bite my pillow at night, I will say: there is Sergei! Have you understood me? We have put so much heart into this! . . . And there is anything in life that does not die. ..."
She did not finish the sentence, she felt her strength giving way; she enquired what time the train was leaving.
The station was filled with the tumult and agitation that came from the high, vaulted, sooty roof, from the engine whistles, the rattling luggage trucks and other people's bustling, parting, sandwiches, handkerchiefs and shouting.
"Are there many in your compartment?"
"How will you sleep?"
"I'll manage somehow.. .."
"Sergei, do you remember: 'in his arms he'll take me....' You must take your seat.. . . Let me hug you!"
The lights of the station, the factories and the suburbs had already flashed past. But he was still standing at the window repeating: "Mado!" Then night came, such as one does not see in town, it vanquished the smoke with the odor of damp fields and stunned one with its blackness. Sergei tried to doze off, but could not, he thought of words to fit in with the rhythmic clatter of the carriage wheels: endearing epithets and fragments of phrases. "In his arms he'll take me, to the devil he'll send me."... But the wheels kept up their steady stroke. He fell asleep before dawn, only to wake again in a fright an hour later: What has happened? ... He at once realized what it was: Mado was gone!
He knew that he could not rely upon the healing effects of time--he would have to live with this wound; he talked to his fellow passengers, agitatedly unfolded a newspaper--how were the Moscow negotiations going? He gazed at the neat but boring landscape of Germany. Then the fields of Poland stretched before him; he felt a twinge in the heart, they were the harbingers of Russia. Soon he would see peasants' huts, woods, daisies and bluebells, and fair-haired peasant girls! In Negoreloye he almost flung his arms around a snub-nosed Red Army man who, after reading Pravda, commented: "Those Frenchmen have no solidity."
At last he was in Moscow, the sultry summer heat, the smell of asphalt, men in summer jackets carrying briefcases, urchins with their faces smeared with cherry juice, the house with the lions, the one that Pushkin mentions. . . . Sergei did not tell an untruth when he said to his mother: "You can't imagine how happy I am to be back." Only he did not add that the heart was big, and that into his heart had entered for long, and perhaps forever, the shade of departed love.
Translated by: J. Fineberg.
Reprinted from The Storm. Ilya Ehrenburg. Foreign Languages Publishing House. Moscow. 1948.
The Thaw. Summary of Ehrenburg's 1954 novel which gave its name to an entire era of Soviet history.
Tribute to Ilya Ehrenburg. Reflections on Ilya Ehrenburg's accomplishments and significance. Written by Aleksandr Tvardovsky shortly after Ehrenburg's death in 1967.
Biography of Ilya Ehrenburg.
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