by Ivan Turgenev
By Ivan Turgenev
Translated by Herman Bernstein.
Copyright, 1907, by P. P. Collier &Son.
I was sitting in a birch grove in autumn, near the middle of
September. It had been drizzling ever since morning; occasionally the
sun shone warmly;the weather was changeable. Now the sky was overcast
with watery white clouds, now it suddenly cleared up for an instant,
and then the bright, soft azure, like a beautiful eye, appeared from
beyond the dispersed clouds. I was sitting looking about me and
listening. The leaves were slightly rustling over my head; and by their
very rustle one could tell what season of the year it was. It was not
the gay, laughing palpitation of spring; not a soft whispering, nor the
lingering chatter of summer, nor the timid and cold lisping of late
autumn, but a barely audible, drowsy prattle. A faint breeze was
whisking over the tree-tops. The interior of the grove, moist from the
rain, was forever changing, as the sun shone or hid beyond the clouds;
now the grove was all illuminated as if everything in it had burst into
a smile; the trunks of the birch trees suddenly assumed the soft
reflection of white silk; the small leaves which lay scattered on the
ground all at once became variegated and flashed up like red gold; and
the pretty stalks of the tall, branchy ferns, already tinted in their
autumn hue, resembling the color of overripe grapes, appeared here and
there tangling and crossing one another. Now again everything suddenly
turned blue; the bright colors died out instantaneously, the birch
trees stood all white, lustreless, like snow which had not yet been
touched by the coldly playing rays of the winter sunand stealthily,
slyly, a drizzling rain began to sprinkle and whisper over the forest.
The leaves on the birches were almost all green yet, though they had
turned somewhat pale; only here and there stood a solitary young little
birch, all red or all golden, and one should have seen how brightly
these birches flushed in the sun when its rays suddenly appeared
gliding and flashing through the dense net of the thin branches which
had just been washed around by the sparkling rain. Not a single bird
was heard; all had found shelter, and were silent; only rarely the
mocking voice of the bluebird sang out like a little steel bell. Before
stopping in this birch forest I passed with my dog through a poplar
grove. I confess I am not very fond of the poplar tree with its pale
lilac-colored trunk and its grayish-green, metallic leaves, which it
lifts high and spreads in the air like a trembling fanI do not like
the constant shaking of its round, untidy leaves, which are so
awkwardly attached to long stems. The poplar is pretty only on certain
summer evenings when, rising high amid the low shrubbery, it stands
against the red rays of the setting sun, shining and trembling, bathed
from root to top in uniform yellowish purpleor when, on a clear windy
day, it rocks noisily, lisping against the blue sky, and each leaf
seems as if eager to tear itself away, to fly and hurry off into the
distance. But in general I do not like this tree, and, therefore, not
stopping to rest in the poplar grove, I made my way to the birch
forest, and seated myself under a tree whose branches started near the
ground, and thus could protect me from the rain. Having admired the
surrounding view, I fell asleepI slept that tranquil, sweet sleep
which is familiar to hunters only.
I can not say how long I slept, but when I opened my eyes the entire
interior of the forest was filled with sunshine, and everywhere the
bright blue sky was flashing through the cheerfully droning leaves; the
clouds disappeared, driven asunder by the wind which had begun to play;
the weather was clear now, and one felt in the air that peculiar, dry
freshness which, filling the heart with a certain vigorous sensation,
almost always predicts a quiet, clear night after a rainy day. I was
about to rise and try my luck at hunting again, when my eyes suddenly
fell on a motionless human figure. I gassed at it fixedly; it was a
young peasant girl. She was sitting some twenty feet away from me, her
head bowed pensively and her hands dropped on her knees; in one hand,
which was half open, lay a heavy bunch of field flowers, and every time
she breathed the flowers were softly gliding over her checkered skirt.
A clear white shirt, buttoned at the neck and the wrists, fell in
short, soft folds about her waist; large yellow beads were hanging down
from her neck on her bosom in two rows. She was not at all bad-looking.
Her heavy fair hair, of a beautiful ash color, parted in two neatly
combed half-circles from under a narrow, dark-red head-band, which was
pulled down almost to her ivory-white forehead; the rest of her face
was slightly tanned with the golden sunburn peculiar to a tender skin.
I could not see her eyesshe did not lift them; but I saw her thin,
high eyebrows, her long lashes; these were moist, and on her cheek
gleamed a dried-up teardrop, which had stopped near her somewhat pale
lips. Her entire small head was very charming; even her somewhat thick
and round nose did not spoil it. I liked especially the expression of
her face; it was so simple and gentle, so sad and so full of childish
perplexity before her own sadness. She was apparently waiting for some
one. Something cracked faintly in the forest. Immediately she raised
her head and looked around; her eyes flashed quickly before me in the
transparent shadethey were large, bright, and shy like a deer's. She
listened for a few seconds, not moving her wide-open eyes from the spot
whence the faint sound had come; she heaved a sigh, turned her head
slowly, bent down still lower and began to examine the flowers. Her
eyelids turned red, her lips quivered bitterly and a new teardrop
rolled down from under her heavy eyelashes, stopping and sparkling on
her cheek. Thus quite a long while passed; the poor girl did hot
stironly occasionally she moved her hands and listenedlistened all
the time. Something cracked once more in the forestshe started. This
time the noise did not stop, it was becoming more distinct, it was
nearingat last firm footsteps were heard. She straightened herself,
and it seemed as if she lost her courage, for her eyes began to quiver.
The figure of a man appeared through the jungle. She looked fixedly,
suddenly flushed, and, smiling joyously and happily, seemed about to
rise, but she immediately cast down her head again, turned pale,
confusedonly then she lifted her quivering, almost prayerful, eyes to
the man as he paused beside her.
I looked at him from my hiding-place with curiosity. I confess he
did not produce a pleasant impression upon me. He was, by all
appearances, a spoiled valet of some rich young man. His clothes
betokened a claim to taste and smart carelessness. He wore a short
top-coat of bronze color, which evidently belonged to his master, and
which was buttoned up to the very top; he had on a pink necktie with
lilac-colored edges; and his black velvet cap, trimmed with gold
stripes, was pulled over his very eyebrows. The round collar of his
white shirt propped his ears up and cut his cheeks mercilessly, and the
starched cuffs covered his hands up to his red, crooked fingers, which
were ornamented with silver and gold rings, set with forget-me-nots of
turquoise. His red, fresh, impudent face belonged to those countenances
which, as far as I have observed, are almost always repulsive to men,
but, unfortunately, are often admired by women. Apparently trying to
give an expression of contempt and of weariness to his rough features,
he was forever closing his small, milky-gray eyes, knitting his brows,
lowering the corners of his lips, yawning forcedly, and, with careless,
although not too clever, ease, now adjusting his reddish, smartly
twisted temple-curls, now fingering the yellow hair which bristled upon
his thick upper lipin a word, he was making an insufferable display
of himself. He started to do this as soon as he noticed the young
peasant girl who was awaiting him. He advanced to her slowly, with
large strides, then stood for a while, twitched his shoulders, thrust
both hands into the pockets of his coat, and, casting a quick and
indifferent glance at the poor girl, sank down on the ground.
Well? he began, continuing to look aside, shaking his foot and
yawning. Have you waited long?
The girl could not answer him at once.
Long, Victor Alexandrich, she said at last, in a scarcely audible
Ah! He removed his cap, majestically passed his hand over his
thick, curly hair whose roots started almost at his eyebrows, and,
looking around with dignity, covered his precious head again
cautiously. And I almost forgot all about it. Besides, you see, it's
raining. He yawned again. I have a lot of work to do; you can't look
after everything, and he is yet scolding. We are leaving to-morrow
To-morrow? uttered the girl, and fixed a frightened look upon him.
To-morrowCome, come, come, please, he replied quickly, vexed,
noticing that she quivered, and bowed her head in silence. Please,
Akulina, don't cry. You know I can't bear it (and he twitched his flat
nose). If you don't stop, I'll leave you right away. What nonsenseto
Well, I shan't, I shan't, said Akulina hastily, swallowing the
tears with an effort. So you're going away to-morrow? she added,
after a brief silence. When will it please God to have me meet you
again, Victor Alexandrich?
We'll meet, we'll meet again. If it isn't next year, it'll be
later. My master, it seems, wants to enter the service in St.
Petersburg, he went on, pronouncing the words carelessly and somewhat
indistinctly. And it may be that we'll go abroad.
You will forget me, Victor Alexandrich, said Akulina sadly.
Nowhy should I? I'll not forget you, only you had rallier be
sensible; don't make a fool of yourself; obey your fatherAnd I'll not
forget youOh, no; oh, no. And he stretched himself calmly and yawned
Do not forget me, Victor Alexandrich, she resumed in a beseeching
voice. I have loved you so much, it seemsall, it seems, for youYou
tell me to obey father, Victor AlexandrichHow am I to obey my
How's that? He pronounced these words as if from the stomach,
lying on his back and holding his hands under his head.
Why, Victor Alexandrichyou know it yourself
She fell silent. Victor fingered his steel watch-chain.
Akulina, you are not a foolish girl, he said at last, therefore
don't talk nonsense. It's for your own good, do you understand me? Of
course, you are not foolish, you're not altogether a peasant, so to
say, and your mother wasn't always a peasant either. Still, you are
without educationtherefore you must obey when you are told to.
But it's terrible, Victor Alexandrich.
Oh, what nonsense, my dearwhat is she afraid of! What is that you
have there, he added, moving close to her, flowers?
Flowers, replied Akulina sadly. I have picked some field
tansies, she went on, with some animation. They're good for the
calves, And here I have some marigoldsfor scrofula. Here, look, what
a pretty flower! I haven't seen such a pretty flower in all my life.
Here are forget-me-nots, andand these I have picked for you, she
added, taking from under the tansies a small bunch of cornflowers, tied
around with a thin blade of grass; do you want them?
Victor held out his hand lazily, took the flowers, smelt them
carelessly, and began to turn them around in his fingers, looking up
with thoughtful importance. Akulina gazed at him. There was so much
tender devotion, reverent obedience, and love in her pensive eyes. She
at once feared him, and yet she dared not cry, and inwardly she bade
him farewell, and admired him for the last time; and he lay there,
stretched out like a sultan, and endured her admiration with
magnanimous patience and condescension. I confess I was filled with
indignation as I looked at his red face, which betrayed satisfied
selfishness through his feigned contempt and indifference. Akulina was
so beautiful at this moment. All her soul opened before him trustingly
and passionately;it reached out to him, caressed him, and heHe
dropped the cornflowers on the grass, took out from the side-pocket of
his coat a round glass in a bronze frame and began to force it into his
eye; but no matter how hard he tried to hold it with his knitted brow,
his raised cheek, and even with his nose, the glass dropped out and
fell into his hands.
What's this? asked Akulina at last, with surprise.
A lorgnette, he replied importantly.
What is it for?
To see better.
Let me see it.
Victor frowned, but gave her the glass.
Look out; don't break it.
Don't be afraid, I'll not break it. She lifted it timidly to her
I can't see anything, she said naively.
Shut your eye, he retorted in the tone of a dissatisfied teacher.
She closed the eye before which she held the glass.
Not that eye, not that one, you fool! The other one! exclaimed
Victor, and, not allowing her to correct her mistake, he took the
lorgnette away from her.
Akulina blushed, laughed slightly, and turned away.
It seems it's not for us.
Of course not!
The poor girl maintained silence, and heaved a deep sigh.
Oh, Victor Alexandrich, how will I get along without you? she said
Victor wiped the lorgnette and put it back into his pocket.
Yes, yes, he said at last. At first it will really be hard for
you. He tapped her on the shoulder condescendingly; she quietly took
his hand from her shoulder and kissed it. Well, yes, yes, you are
indeed a good girl, he went on, with a self-satisfied smile; but it
can't be helped! Consider it yourself! My master and I can't stay here,
can we? Winter is near, and to pass the winter in the country is simply
nastyyou know it yourself. It's a different thing in St. Petersburg!
There are such wonders over there that you could not imagine even in
your dreams, you sillyWhat houses, what streets, and society,
educationit's something wonderful! Akulina listened to him with
close attention, slightly opening her lips like a child. However, he
added, wriggling on the ground, why do I say all this to you? You
can't understand it anyway!
Why not, Victor Alexandrich? I understood, I understood
Just think of her!
Akulina cast down her eyes.
You did not speak to me like this before, Victor Alexandrich, she
said, without lifting her eyes.
Before?Before! Just think of her!Before! he remarked,
Both grew silent.
However, it's time for me to go, said Victor, and leaned on his
elbow, about to rise.
Wait a little, said Akulina in an imploring voice.
What for? I have already said to you, Good-by!
Wait, repeated Akulina.
Victor again stretched himself on the ground and began to whistle.
Akulina kept looking at him steadfastly. I could see that she was
growing agitated by degreesher lips twitched, her pale cheeks were
Victor Alexandrich, she said at last in a broken voice, it's a
sin for you, it's a sin, Victor Alexandrich, by God!
What's a sin? he asked, knitting his brows. He raised his head and
turned to her.
It's a sin, Victor Alexandrich. If you would only say a good word
to me before leavingif you would only say one word to me, miserable
little orphan that I am:
But what shall I say to you?
I don't know. You know better than I do, Victor Alexandrich. Here
you are going awayif you would only say one wordWhat have I done to
How strange you are! What can I say?
If only one word
There she's firing away one and the same thing, he muttered with
vexation, and got up.
Don't be angry, Victor Alexandrich, she added hastily, unable to
repress her tears.
I'm not angryonly you are foolishWhat do you want? I can't
marry you! I can't, can I? Well, then, what do you want? What? He
stared at her, as if awaiting an answer, and opened his fingers wide.
I want nothingnothing, she replied, stammering, not daring to
outstretch her trembling hands to him, but simply so, at least one
word, at parting
And the tears began to stream from her eyes.
Well, there you are, she's started crying, said Victor
indifferently, pulling the cap over his eyes.
I don't want anything, she went on, sobbing and covering her face
with her hands; but how will I feel now at home, how will I feel? And
what will become of me, what will become of me, wretched one that I am?
They'll marry the poor little orphan off to a man she does not like. My
poor little head!
Keep on singing, keep on singing, muttered Victor in a low voice,
If you only said one word, just one: 'AkulinaI'
Sudden heartrending sobs interrupted her. She fell with her face
upon the grass and cried bitterly, bitterlyAll her body shook
convulsively, the back of her neck seemed to riseThe long-suppressed
sorrow at last burst forth in a stream of tears. Victor stood a while
near her, then he shrugged his shoulders, turned around and walked off
with large steps.
A few moments went by. She grew silent, lifted her head, looked
around and clasped her hands; she was about to run after him, but her
feet failed hershe fell down on her knees. I could not endure it any
longer and rushed over to her; but before she had time to look at me,
she suddenly seemed to have regained her strengthand with a faint cry
she rose and disappeared behind the trees, leaving the scattered
flowers on the ground.
I stood a while, picked up the bunch of cornflowers, and walked out
of the grove to the field, The sun was low in the pale, clear sky; its
rays seemed to have faded and turned cold; they did not shine now, they
spread in an even, almost watery, light. There was only a half-hour
left until evening, and twilight was setting in. A violent wind was
blowing fast toward me across the yellow, dried-up stubble-field; the
small withered leaves were carried quickly past me across the road; the
side of the grove which stood like a wall by the field trembled and
flashed clearly, but not brightly; everywhere on the reddish grass, on
the blades, and the straw, innumerable autumn cobwebs flashed and
trembled. I stopped. I began to feel sad; it seemed a dismal fear of
approaching winter was stealing through the gay, though fresh, smile of
fading nature. High above me, a cautious raven flew by, heavily and
sharply cutting the air with his wings; then he turned his head, looked
at me sidewise, and, croaking abruptly, disappeared beyond the forest;
a large flock of pigeons rushed past me from a barn, and, suddenly
whirling about in a column, they came down and stationed themselves
bustlingly upon the fielda sign of spring autumn! Somebody rode by
beyond the bare hillock, making much noise with an empty wagon.
I returned home, but the image of poor Akulina did not leave my mind
for a long time, and the cornflowers, long withered, are in my
possession to this day.