The Torrents of Spring

Produced by Keren Vergon, William Flis, and the Project
Online Distributed Proofreading Team



Translated from the Russian







  ’Years of gladness,

    Days of joy,

  Like the torrents of spring

    They hurried away.’

From an Old Ballad.

… At two o’clock in the night he had gone back to his study. He had
dismissed the servant after the candles were lighted, and throwing
himself into a low chair by the hearth, he hid his face in both hands.

Never had he felt such weariness of body and of spirit. He had passed
the whole evening in the company of charming ladies and cultivated
men; some of the ladies were beautiful, almost all the men were
distinguished by intellect or talent; he himself had talked with great
success, even with brilliance … and, for all that, never yet had
the taedium vitae of which the Romans talked of old, the ‘disgust
for life,’ taken hold of him with such irresistible, such suffocating
force. Had he been a little younger, he would have cried with misery,
weariness, and exasperation: a biting, burning bitterness, like
the bitter of wormwood, filled his whole soul. A sort of clinging
repugnance, a weight of loathing closed in upon him on all sides like
a dark night of autumn; and he did not know how to get free from this
darkness, this bitterness. Sleep it was useless to reckon upon; he
knew he should not sleep.

He fell to thinking … slowly, listlessly, wrathfully. He thought of
the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human.
All the stages of man’s life passed in order before his mental gaze
(he had himself lately reached his fifty-second year), and not one
found grace in his eyes. Everywhere the same ever-lasting pouring of
water into a sieve, the ever-lasting beating of the air, everywhere
the same self-deception—half in good faith, half conscious—any toy
to amuse the child, so long as it keeps him from crying. And then, all
of a sudden, old age drops down like snow on the head, and with it the
ever-growing, ever-gnawing, and devouring dread of death … and the
plunge into the abyss! Lucky indeed if life works out so to the end!
May be, before the end, like rust on iron, sufferings, infirmities
come…. He did not picture life’s sea, as the poets depict it,
covered with tempestuous waves; no, he thought of that sea as a
smooth, untroubled surface, stagnant and transparent to its darkest
depths. He himself sits in a little tottering boat, and down below
in those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just make
out the shapes of hideous monsters: all the ills of life, diseases,
sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness…. He gazes, and behold, one
of these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, rises
higher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and more
loathsomely distinct…. An instant yet, and the boat that bears him
will be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws,
sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in the
slime…. But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.

He shook his head, jumped up from his low chair, took two turns up and
down the room, sat down to the writing-table, and opening one drawer
after another, began to rummage among his papers, among old letters,
mostly from women. He could not have said why he was doing it; he was
not looking for anything—he simply wanted by some kind of external
occupation to get away from the thoughts oppressing him. Opening
several letters at random (in one of them there was a withered flower
tied with a bit of faded ribbon), he merely shrugged his shoulders,
and glancing at the hearth, he tossed them on one side, probably with
the idea of burning all this useless rubbish. Hurriedly, thrusting his
hands first into one, and then into another drawer, he suddenly opened
his eyes wide, and slowly bringing out a little octagonal box of
old-fashioned make, he slowly raised its lid. In the box, under two
layers of cotton wool, yellow with age, was a little garnet cross.

For a few instants he looked in perplexity at this cross—suddenly
he gave a faint cry…. Something between regret and delight was
expressed in his features. Such an expression a man’s face wears when
he suddenly meets some one whom he has long lost sight of, whom he has
at one time tenderly loved, and who suddenly springs up before his
eyes, still the same, and utterly transformed by the years.

He got up, and going back to the hearth, he sat down again in the
arm-chair, and again hid his face in his hands…. ‘Why to-day? just
to-day?’ was his thought, and he remembered many things, long since

This is what he remembered….

But first I must mention his name, his father’s name and his surname.

He was called Dimitri Pavlovitch Sanin.

Here follows what he remembered.


It was the summer of 1840. Sanin was in his twenty-second year, and he
was in Frankfort on his way home from Italy to Russia. He was a man of
small property, but independent, almost without family ties. By the
death of a distant relative, he had come into a few thousand roubles,
and he had decided to spend this sum abroad before entering the
service, before finally putting on the government yoke, without which
he could not obtain a secure livelihood. Sanin had carried out this
intention, and had fitted things in to such a nicety that on the day
of his arrival in Frankfort he had only just enough money left to take
him back to Petersburg. In the year 1840 there were few railroads in
existence; tourists travelled by diligence. Sanin had taken a place in
the ‘bei-wagon‘; but the diligence did not start till eleven o’clock
in the evening. There was a great deal of time to be got through
before then. Fortunately it was lovely weather, and Sanin after dining
at a hotel, famous in those days, the White Swan, set off to stroll
about the town. He went in to look at Danneker’s Ariadne, which he did
not much care for, visited the house of Goethe, of whose works he had,
however, only read Werter, and that in the French translation. He
walked along the bank of the Maine, and was bored as a well-conducted
tourist should be; at last at six o’clock in the evening, tired, and
with dusty boots, he found himself in one of the least remarkable
streets in Frankfort. That street he was fated not to forget long,
long after. On one of its few houses he saw a signboard: ‘Giovanni
Roselli, Italian confectionery,’ was announced upon it. Sanin went
into it to get a glass of lemonade; but in the shop, where, behind
the modest counter, on the shelves of a stained cupboard, recalling
a chemist’s shop, stood a few bottles with gold labels, and as many
glass jars of biscuits, chocolate cakes, and sweetmeats—in this room,
there was not a soul; only a grey cat blinked and purred, sharpening
its claws on a tall wicker chair near the window and a bright patch
of colour was made in the evening sunlight, by a big ball of red wool
lying on the floor beside a carved wooden basket turned upside down. A
confused noise was audible in the next room. Sanin stood a moment, and
making the bell on the door ring its loudest, he called, raising his
voice, ‘Is there no one here?’ At that instant the door from an inner
room was thrown open, and Sanin was struck dumb with amazement.


A young girl of nineteen ran impetuously into the shop, her dark curls
hanging in disorder on her bare shoulders, her bare arms stretched out
in front of her. Seeing Sanin, she rushed up to him at once, seized
him by the hand, and pulled him after her, saying in a breathless
voice, ‘Quick, quick, here, save him!’ Not through disinclination
to obey, but simply from excess of amazement, Sanin did not at once
follow the girl. He stood, as it were, rooted to the spot; he had
never in his life seen such a beautiful creature. She turned towards
him, and with such despair in her voice, in her eyes, in the gesture
of her clenched hand, which was lifted with a spasmodic movement to
her pale cheek, she articulated, ‘Come, come!’ that he at once darted
after her to the open door.

In the room, into which he ran behind the girl, on an old-fashioned
horse-hair sofa, lay a boy of fourteen, white all over—white, with
a yellowish tinge like wax or old marble—he was strikingly like the
girl, obviously her brother. His eyes were closed, a patch of shadow
fell from his thick black hair on a forehead like stone, and delicate,
motionless eyebrows; between the blue lips could be seen clenched
teeth. He seemed not to be breathing; one arm hung down to the floor,
the other he had tossed above his head. The boy was dressed, and his
clothes were closely buttoned; a tight cravat was twisted round his

The girl rushed up to him with a wail of distress. ‘He is dead, he is
dead!’ she cried; ‘he was sitting here just now, talking to me—and
all of a sudden he fell down and became rigid…. My God! can nothing
be done to help him? And mamma not here! Pantaleone, Pantaleone, the
doctor!’ she went on suddenly in Italian. ‘Have you been for the

‘Signora, I did not go, I sent Luise,’ said a hoarse voice at the
door, and a little bandy-legged old man came hobbling into the room in
a lavender frock coat with black buttons, a high white cravat, short
nankeen trousers, and blue worsted stockings. His diminutive little
face was positively lost in a mass of iron-grey hair. Standing up in
all directions, and falling back in ragged tufts, it gave the old
man’s figure a resemblance to a crested hen—a resemblance the more
striking, that under the dark-grey mass nothing could be distinguished
but a beak nose and round yellow eyes.

‘Luise will run fast, and I can’t run,’ the old man went on in
Italian, dragging his flat gouty feet, shod in high slippers with
knots of ribbon. ‘I’ve brought some water.’

In his withered, knotted fingers, he clutched a long bottle neck.

‘But meanwhile Emil will die!’ cried the girl, and holding out her
hand to Sanin, ‘O, sir, O mein Herr! can’t you do something for

‘He ought to be bled—it’s an apoplectic fit,’ observed the old man
addressed as Pantaleone.

Though Sanin had not the slightest notion of medicine, he knew one
thing for certain, that boys of fourteen do not have apoplectic fits.

‘It’s a swoon, not a fit,’ he said, turning to Pantaleone. ‘Have you
got any brushes?’

The old man raised his little face. ‘Eh?’

Pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |... 5 ... | Single Page