Russian Literature

Feb 14, 2017, 1:43 PM |

A. G. Paustovskiy

Basket with spruce cones”


The composer Edvard Grieg spends the autumn in a forests near Bergen.

All forests are good with their mushroom air and rustle of leaves. But especially the mountain’s forests are good hear the sea. There the sound of the surf is heard. From the sea constantly is bringing the mist, and from a the abundance of moisture the moss thrives brightly. It hangs down from branches by green strands to an earth.

Moreover, in a mountains  forests is living the cheerful echo, as a mocking bird. It only waits, that to pick up any sound and throw it through the rocks.

Once Grieg had met a little girl with two hair braids – the daughter of forester. She picked up spruce cones in a basket.

The autumn was standing. If it will possible to assemble all gold and cuprum, which are on an earth, and to forge from it thousands of thousands thin leaves, then they would formed insignificant part from that autumn dress, that is laying down on mountains. In addition, forged leaves would seemed rough in comparison with the real, especial with leaves of aspen. Everybody knows, that aspen leaves is trembling even from bird’s whistling.

- What is your name, girl? - asked Grieg.

- Dagny Pedersen, - replied girl in a half voice.

She replied in a half voice not from a fear, but from a embarrassment. To be afraid she couldn’t, be course Grieg’s eyes was laughing.

- What a trouble! - said Grieg. - I have nothing to gift you. I don’t keep in my poсket neither dolls, nor ribbons, nor velvet rabbits.

- I have an old doll of my mom, - said a girl. - Sometime she closed eyes. By this way!

A girl slowly closed eyes. When she again opened it, Grieg noticed, that she has a green pupils and leafage is gleaming by lights in them.

- And now she sleeps with open eyes, - ruefully added Dagny. - Old people have a bad sleep. The grandfather also groans all night.

- Listen, Dagny, - said Grieg, - I thought of. I’ll gift you one interesting thing. But not now, and through around ten years.

Dagny even threw up one's hands.

- Oh, such a long time!

- Are you understand, I have to do it.

- And what is it?

- You’ll now later.

- Really for all Your life, - strictly asked Dagny, -You can do just five or six toys?

Grieg confused.

- No, it’s not this way, - he said uncertainly. - I’ll do it, perhaps, for a several days. But such things is not gift to a little children. I do gifts for adults.

- I’ll not split, - imploringly said Dagny and puled Grieg by sleeve. - And will not ruin. You’ll see! Grandfather has toy boat from a glass. I dust it and no one time not chipped even the smallest piece.

"She finally confused me, this Dagny," - thought with annoyance Grieg and said that always say adults, when they fall into awkward position in front of children:

-You're still small and don't understand a lot. Learn of patience.And now give me a basket. You're hard dragging it. I'll see off you, and we'll speak about something another.

Dagny breathed and gave Grieg a basket. It was really heavy. There are a lot of resin in a fir cones, and therefore they weight too more than pine's.

When among trees the house of forester became seen, Grieg said:

- Well, now you'll run to a home by yourself, Dagny Pedersen. In Norway there is a lot of girls with such name and surname, as you have. What is the name of your father?

- Hagerup, - replied Dagny and furrowed a forehead, asked: - Really You wont come to us? We have embroidered tablecloth, red cat and glass boat. Grandfather will allow You to take it in hands.

- Thanks. I have not time now. Bye, Dagny!

Grieg smoothed back girl's hairs and went to the sea side. Dagny, frowning, looked at his back. She held a basket sideways, and cones was falling from it.

"I'll write a music, - decided Grieg. - On a main page Ill order to print:  "To Dagny Pedersen - the daughter of forester Hagerup Pedersen, when she'll reach eighteeny  ears old".


* * * * *

All was going in old order in Bergen.

Everything, that could muffle sounds - carpets, curtains and soft furniture, Grieg removed from home long time ago. The old sofa just remained. Around ten guests could sit on it, and Grieg had not enough of courage to through it away.

Friend said, that the house of composer looks like a house of woodcutter. Only grand piano decorated it. If the person was endowed with imagination, he could hear among this white walls magic things – from the roar of north ocean, that rolled waves from the darkness and wind, that whistled over them its wild saga, to a song of girl, cradling a rag doll.

A grand piano could sing about everything - about impulse of human spirit to a great, and about love. White and black keys, escaping from under strong Grieg's fingers, was yearning, was laughing, was thundering by storm and by anger, and suddenly immediately became silent.

Then in a silence still long time was sounding only one little string, as well as Cinderella was crying, oppressed  by sisters.

Grieg, leaning back, listened, while this last sound not died in a kitchen, wherein has long been settled the house cricket.

It became audible, how counting seconds with a precision of the metronome the water is dropping from a tap. Drops asserted, that time doesn't wait and it's necessary to rush, for doing everything, that conceived.

Grieg was writing music for Dagny Pedersen more than a month. The Winter was coming. The mist enveloped the city up to the neck. Rusty ships came from various countries and dozed near wood wharfs, quietly puffing by steam.

The snow came soon. Grieg saw from his window, how it flew sideways, clinging to the tops of trees.

It's impossible, of course, to transmit the music by words, no matter, how is rich our language.

Grieg wrote about deepest charm of girlhood and happiness. He wrote and saw, how to meet him a girl with green shining eyes is running, breathlessly from a joy.

She embraces him for a neck and press her hot cheek to his gray unshaven cheek.

“Thanks!” - she said, still doesn’t knowing, for what she thanks him.

"You're like a sun, - Grieg tell her. - Like a tender wind and early morning. The white flower blossomed on your heart and fullfilled all your existence by fragrance of spring. I saw a life. And what wouldn’t they tell you about it, believe always, that it's wonderful and beautiful. I'm an old man, but I gave to the youth a life, a work, a talent. I gave without returning. And therefore I, perhaps, even more happier than you, Dagny.

You're the white night with her mysterious light. You're the happiness. You're the shine of sunrise. From your voice the heart shudders.

Be blessed everything, that surrounds you, that touches you and to what you touch, that rejoice you and induce to think".

Grieg thought this way and played about everything, about what he thought. He guessed, that somebody overhear him. He even guessed, who do it. It was tits on a tree, going to a spree sailors from a harbor, laundress from neighboring house, the cricket, the snow, flying from a beetling sky, and Cinderella in a patched dress.

Everyone listened in its own way.

Tits worried. No matter how they turned, their crackling could not drown the grand piano.

Went to a spree sailors took seats on stair of house and listened, sobbing. The laundress straighten the back, wiped her reddened eyes with hand and was swinging by head. The cricket was climbing out the crack in the tiled stove and was watching through the gap for Grieg.

Falling snow stopped and hung in the air, order to listen to the ring, poured out by streams from home. And Cinderella looked, being smiling, on a floor. Near her bare feet were glass shoes. They quivered, pushing off each other, in response to the chords, flew from Griegs room.

These listeners Grieg appreciated more, than the well-dressed  and  polite visitors of concerts.

* * * * *

In eighteen years old Dagny graduated school.

Due this fact the father sent her in Christiania to guest with his sister Magda. “Let a girl (a father considered her a girl, although Dagny was already a slim girl, with heavy blond braids) will see, how the world arranged, how people live, and have fun a little”.

Who knows, what is waits Dagny in a future? Perhaps, honest and loving, but a little stingy husband? Or job of a saleswoman in the village shop? Or service in one of many steamship offices in Bergen?

Magda worked as a theater dressmaker. Her husband Niels served in the same theater hairdresser.

They lived in little room under the theater roof. From there was visible the bay, motley from the sea flags and monument to Ibsen.

Ships shouted all day in open windows. Uncle Niels learned such good their voices, that, according his words, knew without mistakes, who is humming - “Norderney” from Copenhagen, “Scottish singer” from Glasgow or "Joan of Arc” from Bordeaux.

There was a lot of theater things: brocade, silk, tulle, ribbons, laces, old felt hats with black ostrich feathers, gypsy shawls, gray wigs, boots with copper spurs, swords, fans and silver shoes, worn in the bends. All this was necessary to sew, to repair, to clean and to iron.

On the walls was hunging pictures, carved from books and magazines: Knights of the time of Louis XIV, beauties in crinolines, knights, Russian women in sundresses, the sailors and the Vikings with oak wreaths on their heads.

To come up in room was necessary to go along the steep stairs. It always smelled there of paint and lacquer from the gold.


* * * * *

Dagny went to the theater often. It was a fascinating work. But after performances Dagny didn’t sleep long time and even cried sometimes in her bed.

Frightened by this Magda reassured Dagny. She said, that must not to believe blindly to all, that happens on a stage. But uncle Niels called Magda as “broody” and said, that contrary, in a theater is necessary to believe in everything. Otherwise people would not needed any theaters. And Dagny trusted.

But aunt Magda insisted on to go to a concert for a variety.

Niels didn’t argue against it. “The music, - he said, - is a mirror of genius”.

Niels liked to express lofty and vague. He said about Dagny, that she like a first chord of overture. And Magda has, from his words, the magic power over the people. It expressed in that Magda sewed the theater costumes.

And who doesn’t know, that person every time, when he put on the new dress, changes absolutely. So it happens this way, that the same actor yesterday was heinous murderer, today became hot lover, tomorrow will the king’s tomfool, and after tomorrow – the national  hero.

- Dagny, - cried in that cases ant Magda, - plug up ears and don’t listen this terrible chatting! He doesn’t understand himself, what he says, this attic philosopher!

It was warm June. The white nights stood. The concerts passed in the town’s park under open sky.

Dagny went to the concert with Magda and Niels. She wanted to put on her alone white dress. But Niels said, that the beautiful girl must be dressed with that way to stand out from environment. In general, his long speech about this had conclusion, that in white nights it’s necessary to be in black, and contrary, in the dark to bright with whiteness of dress.

To outargue Niels was impossible, and Dagni put on black dress from the silk soft velvet. This dress Magda brought from the dressing room.

When Dagny put that dress, Magda agreed, that Niels maybe is right – nothing didn’t fetch out the strict paleness of Dagny’s face and her long braids, with reflection of the old gold, as this mysterious velvet.

- Look, Magda, - said in half voice Niels, - Dagny such beautiful, that comes to the first date.

- Exactly! - answered Magda. - Somehow I didn’t see near me crazy handsome man, when you came to the first date with me. You’re simple talker.

And Magda kissed uncle Niels to a head.


* * * * * 

The concert started after usual evening shot out of a cannon in a harbor. A shot meant the sunset.

Despite a evening, neither conductor, nor the musicians did not switch on lights over the music stands. The evening was such light, that lights, burning in foliage of lime trees, was switched on, obviously, only for to give elegance to the concert.

Dagny was listening a symphonic music in a first time. It produced at her a strange action. All spillovers and thunders of orchestra called at Dagny many pictures, similar to dreams.

In some moment she winced and lifted eyes. It seemed to her, that thin man in a tail-coat, announced the program of concert, said her name.

- Did you call me, Niels? - asked Dagni the unlce Niels, looked at him and immediately frowned.

Uncle Niels looked at her neither with a horror, nor with an admiration. And the same way looked at her, pressing the handkerchief to her mouth ant Magda.

- What happened? - asked Dagny.

Magda grasped her hand and whispered:

- Listen!

Then Dagny heared, how the man in a tail-coat said:

- The listeners of the last series ask me to repeat. So, now will be performed the famous music of Edward Grieg, dedicated Dagny Pedersen, the daughter of forester Hagerup Pedersen on the occasion of that fact she reached eighteen years old.


Dagny breathed in such deeply, that her chest became hurt. She wanted to restrain with this the rising tears to the throat, but it didn’t help.

In the beginning she heard nothing. The storm noised inside her. At last she heard, how in the early morning the shepherd's flute sings and how in reply to it with hundreds voices, a little shuddered, the string orchestra is responding.

The melody grew, rising, storming like a wind, was dashing over tops of trees, took away leaves, rocking the grass, beating in the face with cool splashes.

Dagny felt the breath of air, going from the music, and forced herself to calm down.

Yes!  It was her forest, her Motherland!  Her mounts, songs of flutes, the noise of her sea! The glass ships made foam water. The wind trumpeted in their equipment. This sound invisible came to chime of forest bells, the whistling of birds, somersaulting in the air, to cries of children, to a song about a girl – her lover threw in her window at dawn a handful of sand. Dagny heard this song in her mounts.

So, means, that who he was! That grey-haired man, who helped her to bring at home the basket with spruce cones. It was Edward Grieg, a magician and a great musician! And she reproached him, that he can not work quickly.

So this is that gift he promised to do for her for the ten years!

Dagny cried, not hiding, with tears of gratitude. To that moment music fulfilled all space between earth and clouds, hanging over the town. From melodic waves on the clouds appeared the light ripple. Stars shone through it.

Music already didn’t not sing. It called. Called with her to that country, where any sadness couldn’t cool love, where nobody takes happiness from another one, where sun is shining as a crone in hears of fairy tail enchantress.

In the flow of sounds suddenly grew up familiar voice: “You are the happiness, - he said, - You’re the gleam of dawn!”

Music abated. In the beginning slowly, after expanding the applause thundered.

Dagny stood up and quickly went to exit from the park. All looked back at her. Maybe to someone of the listeners came up with the idea that this girl was that Dagny Pedersen, to whom Grieg dedicated his immortal music.

"He dead!" - Dagni thought. - For what?”

If it would be possible to see him! If would he appeared here! With such precipitously beating heart she ran to him, embraced by the neck, pressed her wet with tears cheek against his cheek, and would said only one word:

“Thanks!” - “For what?” - he would asked. “I don’t know… - would replied Dagny”

Dagny was going across desert streets. She didn’t see, that followed her, trying to keep out of her eyes, Niels was going, being sending by Magda. He swung, as a drunk, and mumbled something about miracle, that happened in their small life.

The night dusk was still laying over the town. But in windows by small gilding the north sunrise already was set on fire.

Dagny came out to a sea. It was laying down in a deep dream, without any splash.

Dagny clenched hands and moaned from unclear still to herself, but seized the whole her essence the feeling of beauty of this world.

- Listen , life, - silent said Dagny, - I love you.

And she laughed, looking with wide open eyes at the lights of ships. They slowly was swinging in a transparent gray water.

 Niels, which was standing at the distance, have heard her laugh and went to home. Now he was calm about Dagny. Now he new, that her life wont pass in vain.

* * * * *