From the huge yard, transformed into a garden, was wafted an agreeable breeze. A canary was heard singing from a nearby window, and elsewhere a sweetly grieving strain from a Chopin ballad was audible. Tkalac followed the curling smoke of his cigarette, dreaming, with eyes open, like a savage. Suddenly he winced. On his bare, perspiring neck, he felt some drops. He wiped them off with his hand-kerchief, but, alas, rain again, and from a clear June sky. The young man turned his head, and above, from the upper window among the flower-pots and blossoms, there blushed a beautiful woman who lacked words to excuse herself and was powerless to turn her eyes from his confused countenance.
“Along with your beautiful flowers, you are also watering nettle, madame,” he finally said in his foreign French which, reminding them so much of a child’s prattle, caused him to be well liked by the ladies.
“I am too far away to be hurt,” she retorted, continuing to observe him with childish surprise.
“But there is also nettle without thorns.”
“I am quite poor in botany, but I am willing to accept what you say.”
“Please do not go, madame; it is wonderful to look up to heaven and you in that blue sky surrounded by those beautiful flowers.”
“You are a foreigner, I gather, from your accent and manner of speech.”
“I am, to my sorrow. I am an army officer who has failed and, as you doubtless know, I teach fencing and boxing.”
“Yes, I have read about you in the newspapers. You are on the path one do? A man must work. Should my plans succeed, I shall go to Paris and, besides, teach horseback-riding. I am a passionate equestrian, and you cannot understand how I feel here without my horse. At the sight of a fine horse I become as sad as a Bedouin. We horsemen alone know that a horse and a horseman may become one; not a horse’s soul in a human body—naturally!”
“You are a survival of extinct centaurs! And have you found an Amazon?”
Tkalac noticed how suddenly she paled and then blushed, and his eyes, darkening, filled with a surprising moisture, which confused her. He wanted to reply with warmth and great affection, but among the flowers there remained only a short greeting and a suppressed and siren-like giggle.
Thus they became acquainted.
In the evening, Tkalac did not wish to go to the city for dinner. He felt ashamed about something. The presence of a stranger embarrassed him. In the evening, in the dark room, lying on a leather sofa which served also as a bed, he felt utterly unhappy and alone. He thought of his dead mother who had spoiled him—her only child; even as a cadet he had had to go to her bed every morning before she arose.
His memories turned to his father, a colonel, the real “bruder Jovo, red of face with a white mustache, hard as a provost’s stick, wearing his civilian clothes as though they were on a hanger, and those red, dilapidated morning slippers. Even as an officer he dared not light a cigarette in the presence of his father without first asking for permission. He remembered, when taking his departure, the sudden burst of tears which flowed like molten iron, the burning of which he still felt on his cheeks.