Alexander Grin



(translated by Nicholas Luker)




A sad event has the advantage over other events in life that it casts over mans monotonous exixtence an elusive shadow of the beautiful, for which all moved by sorrow then begin to yearn.


So it happened that after many years, when we had nearly forgotten about the grief of the young woman who bore the strange name of Zella, the whole episode of her husbands disappearance had acquired in our eyes an irresistible fascination an impression based essentially on our memory of that summer evening when Planer sang in the oak grove his best song The Count in Exile. It began with these words:


The earth does not acept my footprints,

Too light, too carefree, too hurtful are they for her

Who has grown used to jouneymens heavy boots,

To the palpable tracks made by a life

That does not need itself.


When he finished, the sun was setting and the wind stirring the leaves brocaded with the bewitching, somnolent glow of sunset. After this Planer vanished. Perhaps it was just as unexpected for him as it was for us, because no one had time to notice the moment he disappeared. In everyones memory, both then and now, there remained his tall, errect figure, with his hand shading his eyes. He sang in this pose, and then he was gone. A week later, when searches by police and volunteers proved unsuccessful, Zella passed from paroxysms of acute grief to quiet despair.


Everything the human mind can set against fate in the shape of questions and awkward conjectures was produced by us, everything was examined, rejected, then forgotten. But around the mans disappearance there remained an aura of mysterious charm that rose from the terrible yet alluring abyss of profound shock. All of us who had been there that evening were closely linked by something stronger than our own will, making of us a group of people dispersed by life yet bound tightly together by one and the same feeling of melancholy.





In June of last year, excactly ten years after Planers disappearance, when I was busy in the garden one morning with my experiments to inoculate some plants with certain harmless diseases capable of altering their colouring, my brother, Dibakh, came in through the side gate accompanied by a middle-aged stranger who stopped some distance away from the flower-bed. I did not notice my brothers excited face to begin with; I remember it was only his nervous laaugh that made me look intently at both of them. I wiped my hands which were covered with soil and bid them good morning.


Atley, said my brother, turning towards the stranger, its Planer.


The blood must have rushed to my head at these words, because for just a moment the clear sky grew cloudy and quivered before my eyes. I remember that when I began to speak, my voice sounded weak and indistinct. I said:


Theres a joker for you. Just think, Planer, what hes saying!! Is it possible? How are you?


I think this nonsense nevertheless conveyed to him some idea of my state. Planer smiled uncertainly but said nothing; he may have considered his position somewhat delicate and odd.


I examined him three times while he stood on the reddish sand, lit up by the sun and the green reflections of the acacias. Planer had changed, as a man may change who has turned his life upside down. Grey streaks showed in his thick, dark hair, and his face had lost its feminine softness of skin; dark and drawn but with cheerful creases round the eyes, it reminded one of a portrait by some old master. In a light-coloured travelling suit, stately and powerful-looking, he stood before me it was he, Planer, for all that.


We were silent. I am amaized I did not shower him with the questions that are usual on such occasions. Dibakh said:


Im going, Atley, Zellas laughing and crying at the same time and she cant be left alone. Well remember today for the rest of our lives.


He made his way towards the gate and for the first time in my life I saw how a stout family man can fly skipping through the air.


That instant of miraculous tenseness when we were left alone together, sat down on the bench and began to speak even now it seems to me pervaded by the intense heat of a summers morning; fairy-tale flocks of ideas roamed through my head, and I could only smile and nod. Planer said:


No need for questions, Atley; theyll be useless in the strict sense of the word. I dont know a thing, but Ill try to tell you the beginning of the story all the same.

As you recall, I was singing in the grove not far from the railway bridge where the picnic was. As a matter of fact, the beginning of my recollections serves as the end of them too.

It seems to me that these past ten years havent been, at least theres no trace of them whatsoever in my memory. At the next moment which words can convey I saw myself as a second class passenger two hundred miles from here; I was coming home.

That moment wasnt alarming or startling. I was surprised, and that was all. At times it seemed to me that Id left only the day before on some business Id forgotten.

The train went racing along; the languor in my heart gave way to a profound feeling of distraction and drowsiness; before evening I looked in the mirror and turned round, my eyes searching for the other passenger, but I was alone in the compartment. The unexpectedness of what I saw disturbed me and I looked in the mirror again. It was I, much changed and with hair that had turned grey, the same man that sits before you now.


Planer fell silent and smiled shyly. No less moved than he, I could only express my sympathy and surprise in gestures.


My meeting with Zella, he went on, was irrefutable proof of my long absence, and Ive finally taken it in. To tell all this means to experience once more that strange blend of joyous terror and melancholy. I shant be up to it, and Ill burst out sobbing. By the way, Ive been here three days now. Im tormented by a new feeling the morbid desire to recall everything Ive lived through these mysterious ten years; a desire that becomes an hallucination, a vast game of the imagination. You know, it seems to me that if I can succeed in doing this, my life will be illumined with such a great light against which the joy at having saved my life will be like the gleam of a metallic disc beside the sun. Its a lucid, firm, melodious sensation of forgotten beauty.


He was quiet once more, and I did not dare to break his painful silence. The sincerity of his tone dispelled any doubts in me. The extraordinariness of the situation almost overwhelmed me; the garden, the familiar avenues, the flower-beds everything that till then had possessed a workday colouring seemed solemn and strange now, like this man who had returned from a forgotten world.


I tried to remember, he went on, but it was all in vain. The oak grove and the train, the train and the grove thats all I know.


I dont know why, but at that moment I decided to try an experiment which another time would have seemed amusing, but just then in my eyes it was of key importance. I said:


Planer, can you imagine the oak grove as it looked that evening?


Yes, he said, closing his eyes, I can see it clearly. Low branches; the river shining through them. I was standing by the big tree facing the water.


Thats right, I remarked, getting up. You were shading your eyes with your right hand. Could I ask you to stand in that position?


He followed my movements intently, inclining his head doubtfully, then suddenly, as if inwardly agreeing with me, went and stood in the middle of the clearing. His right hand rose hesitantly and shielded the upper part of his face.


Planer, I said, behind you, on the trampled grass, sits Zella. A little further away are Dibakh, I and the others. Your saddle-horse is wandering by the stream, to the left. So.


Silently he nodded, without taking his hand away. Now he understood what I was trying to do.


You were singing about The Count in Exile, I went on. I suggest you begin with the first line. Come on then, Planer, dear fellow!


He began to sing, and his voice quivered as it did then, in the grove:


The earth does not accept my footprints,

Too light,


The song grew stronger and rang out so mightily that I was afraid to stir. The tension in me was too great, I expected a miracle.


The separate moments of this scene merge in my memory into a feeling of strange, agonising gladness. When he reached the line:


Youll recall my anguish and youll bless it he went on, to the final words:


I forsake sad smiles

For the fullness of triumph

Over those whose regret is worthless

And whose rule is faint-hearted


His face turned towards me. He laughed a long, happy laugh, shuddering with the muffled sobs brought forth by his sudden, vivid recollection.


About a month later, one fine night, Planer told me of his forgotten, resurrected life. There was nothing special about it. He had lived under another name. He had loved and been loved, travelled and known many unusual adventures and impressions. But the day he sang in my garden he recalled only the joyful moments in the past. The shadowy side of life remained forgotten for him as before and remained so forever.


If that was a failure, then may we be thankful for it. Those chosen ones able to resurrect the joys of the road they have travelled, and lavishly, like a millionaire, to forget lifes debts are few indeed. Let there be one more man like that.





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