"Was it you who yawned so, Clementina?"
The questioner was an old gentleman in his eightieth year or so, dressed in a splendid flowered silk Kaftan, with a woollen night-cap on his head, warm cotton stockings on his feet, and diamond, turquoise, and ruby rings on his fingers. He was reclining on an atlas ottoman, his face was as wooden as a mummy's, a mere patch-work of wrinkles, he had a dry, thin, pointed nose, shaggy, autumnal-yellow eyebrows, and his large prominent black eyes protected by irritably sensitive eyelids, lent little charm to his peculiar cast of countenance.
"Well! Will nobody answer? Who yawned so loudly behind my back just now?" he asked again, with an angry snort. "Will nobody answer?"
Nobody answered, and yet there was a sufficient number of people in the room to have found an answer between them. In front of the hearth was sitting a young woman about thirty or thirty-five, with just such a strongly-pronounced pointed nose, with just such high raised eyebrows as the old gentleman's, only her face was still red (though the favour of Nature had not much to do with that perhaps) and her eyebrows were still black; but her thin lips were just as hermetically sealed as the old man's, when she was not speaking. This young woman was playing at Patience.
My soul is saddened by the images thus conjured up; the figures out of the past blind my sight. Would that my hand were mighty enough to write down what my soul sees in that magic mirror. May your impressions, your recollections, complete the scene wherever the writer fails through weariness.
We find ourselves in the valley of the Drave, in one of those boundless tracts where even the wild beasts lose themselves. Here are primeval forests, the roots of which rest in the water of a great swamp encircled not by water lilies and reed-grass, but by giant trees whose branches, dropping below the surface, form new roots in the quickening water. Here the swan builds its nest; this is the haunt of the heron and all those wild creatures one of which only now and then marches out into more frequented regions. On the higher ground, where in late summer the waters ebb, spring such flowers as might have been seen just after the deluge, so luxuriant and so strange is their mighty growth out of the slimy mud. The branches of ivy, stout as grape vines, reach from tree to tree winding about the trunks and decking the dark maples as if some wood-nymph had garlanded her own consecrated grove.
Ever and anon the moon shines out from amid the fast-flying clouds; then, as though it has seen enough, hides itself again under the ghostly mist. The sighing of the wind through the forest is like the trembling of fever-stricken nature. In the stillness of night, through the pathless forest, rides a troop of horsemen. Their little long-maned horses sniff their way with low, sunk necks; by the shaggy fur caps of their riders, and their long lances hanging far back at their sides, they are to be recognized as a party of Don Cossacks.
champagne-foam ran over the edge of his glass and trickled down his fat
fingers, his lungs were expanded and his vocal chords strained to the
utmost in the delivery of the well-rounded period upon which he was
launched, and the blood was rushing to his head in the generous
enthusiasm of the moment. In that brilliant circle of guests every man
held his hand in readiness on the slender stem of his glass and waited,
all attention, for the toast to come to an end in a final dazzling
display of oratorical pyrotechnics. The attendants hastened to fill the
half-empty glasses, and the leader of the gypsy orchestra, which was
stationed at the farther end of the hall, held his violin-bow in the
air, ready to fall in at the right moment with a burst of melody that
should drown the clinking of glasses at the close of the toast.