On the Eve/XXIX

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XXIX
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Nikolai Artemyevitch was walking up and down in his study with a scowl on his face. Shubin was sitting at the window with his legs crossed, tranquilly smoking a cigar.

'Leave off tramping from corner to corner, please,' he observed, knocking the ash off his cigar. 'I keep expecting you to speak; there's a rick in my neck from watching you. Besides, there's something artificial, melodramatic in your striding.'

'You can never do anything but joke,' responded Nikolai Artemyevitch. 'You won't enter into my position, you refuse to realise that I am used to that woman, that I am attached to her in fact, that her absence is bound to distress me. Here it's October, winter is upon us. . . . What can she be doing in Revel?'

'She must be knitting stockings—for herself; for herself—not for you.'

'You may laugh, you may laugh; but I tell you I know no woman like her. Such honesty; such disinterestedness.'

'Has she cashed that bill yet?' inquired Shubin.

'Such disinterestedness,' repeated Nikolai Artemyevitch; 'it's astonishing. They tell me there are a million other women in the world, but I say, show me the million; show me the million, I say; ces femmes, qu'on me les montre! And she doesn't write—that's what's killing me!'

'You're eloquent as Pythagoras,' remarked Shubin; 'but do you know what I would advise you?'

'What?'

'When Augustina Christianovna comes back—you take my meaning?'

'Yes, yes; well, what?'

'When you see her again—you follow the line of my thought?'

'Yes, yes, to be sure.'

'Try beating her; see what that would do.'

Nikolai Artemyevitch turned away exasperated.

'I thought he was really going to give me some practical advice. But what can one expect from him! An artist, a man of no principles——'

'No principles! By the way, I'm told your favourite Mr. Kurnatovsky, the man of principle, cleaned you out of a hundred roubles last night. That was hardly delicate, you must own now.'

'What of it? We were playing high. Of course, I might expect—but they understand so little how to appreciate him in this house——'

'That he thought: get what I can!' put in Shubin: 'whether he's to be my father-in-law or not, is still on the knees of the gods, but a hundred roubles is worth something to a man who doesn't take bribes.'

'Father-in-law! How the devil am I his father-in-law? Vous revez, mon cher. Of course, any other girl would be delighted with such a suitor. Only consider: a man of spirit and intellect, who has gained a position in the world, served in two provinces——'

'Led the governor in one of them by the nose,' remarked Shubin.

'Very likely. To be sure, that's how it should be. Practical, a business man——'

'And a capital hand at cards,' Shubin remarked again.

'To be sure, and a capital hand at cards. But Elena Nikolaevna. ... Is there any understanding her? I should be glad to know if there is any one who would undertake to make out what it is she wants. One day she's cheerful, another she's dull; all of a sudden she's so thin there's no looking at her, and then suddenly she's well again, and all without any apparent reason——'

A disagreeable-looking man-servant came in with a cup of coffee, cream and sugar on a tray.

'The father is pleased with a suitor,' pursued Nikolai Artemyevitch, breaking off a lump of sugar; 'but what is that to the daughter! That was all very well in the old patriarchal days, but now we have changed all that. Nous avons change tout ca. Nowadays a young girl talks to any one she thinks fit, reads what she thinks fit; she goes about Moscow alone without a groom or a maid, just as in Paris; and all that is permitted. The other day I asked, "Where is Elena Nikolaevna?" I'm told she has gone out. Where? No one knows. Is that—the proper thing?'

'Take your coffee, and let the man go,' said Shubin. 'You say yourself that one ought not devant les domestiques' he added in an undertone.

The servant gave Shubin a dubious look, while Nikolai Artemyevitch took the cup of coffee, added some cream, and seized some ten lumps of sugar.

'I was just going to say when the servant came in,' he began, 'that I count for nothing in this house. That's the long and short of the matter. For nowadays every one judges from appearances; one man's an empty-headed fool, but gives himself airs of importance, and he's respected; while another, very likely, has talents which might—which might gain him great distinction, but through modesty——'

'Aren't you a born statesman?' asked Shubin in a jeering voice.

'Give over playing the fool!' Nikolai Artemyevitch cried with heat. 'You forget yourself! Here you have another proof that I count for nothing in this house, nothing!'

'Anna Vassilyevna ill-uses you . . . poor fellow!' said Shubin, stretching. 'Ah, Nikolai Artemyevitch, we're a pair of sinners! You had much better be getting a little present ready for Anna Vassilyevna, It's her birthday in a day or two, and you know how she appreciates the least attention on your part.'

'Yes, yes,' answered Nikolai Artemyevitch hastily. 'I'm much obliged to you for reminding me. Of course, of course; to be sure. I have a little thing, a dressing-case, I bought it the other day at Rosenstrauch's; but I don't know really if it will do.'

'I suppose you bought it for her, the lady at Revel?'

'Why, certainly.—I had some idea.'

'Well, in that case, it will be sure to do.' Shubin got up from his seat.

'Are we going out this evening, Pavel Yakovlitch, eh?' Nikolai Artemyevitch asked with an amicable leer.

'Why yes, you are going to your club.'

'After the club ... after the club.'

Shubin stretched himself again.

'No, Nikolai Artemyevitch, I want to work to-morrow. Another time.' And he walked off.

Nikolai Artemyevitch scowled, walked twice up and down the room, took a velvet box with the dressing-case out of the bureau and looked at it a long while, rubbing it with a silk handkerchief. Then he sat down before a looking-glass and began carefully arranging his thick black hair, turning his head to right and to left with a dignified countenance, his tongue pressed into his cheek, never taking his eyes off his parting. Some one coughed behind his back; he looked round and saw the manservant who had brought him in his coffee.

'What do you want?' he asked him.

'Nikolai Artemyevitch,' said the man with a certain solemnity, 'you are our master?'

'I know that; what next!'

'Nikolai Artemyevitch, graciously do not be angry with me; but I, having been in your honour's service from a boy, am bound in dutiful devotion to bring you——'

'Well what is it?'

The man shifted uneasily as he stood.

'You condescended to say, your honour,' he began, 'that your honour did not know where Elena Nikolaevna was pleased to go. I have information about that.'

'What lies are you telling, idiot?'

'That's as your honour likes, but T saw our young lady three days ago, as she was pleased to go into a house!'

'Where? what? what house?'

'In a house, near Povarsky. Not far from here. I even asked the doorkeeper who were the people living there.'

Nikolai Artemyevitch stamped with his feet.

'Silence, scoundrel! How dare you? ... Elena Nikolaevna, in the goodness of her heart, goes to visit the poor and you ... Be off, fool!'

The terrified servant was rushing to the door.

'Stop!' cried Nikolai Artemyevitch. 'What did the doorkeeper say to you?'

'Oh no—nothing—he said nothing—He told me—a stu—student——'

'Silence, scoundrel! Listen, you dirty beast; if you ever breathe a word in your dreams even——'

'Mercy on us——'

'Silence! if you blab—if any one—if I find out—you shall find no hiding-place even underground! Do you hear? You can go!'

The man vanished.

'Good Heavens, merciful powers! what does it mean?' thought Nikolai Artemyevitch when he was left alone. 'What did that idiot tell me? Eh? I shall have to find out, though, what house it is, and who lives there. I must go myself. Has it come to this! . . . Un laquais! Quelle humiliation!'

And repeating aloud: Un laquais! Nikolai Artemyevitch shut the dressing-case up in the bureau, and went up to Anna Vassilyevna. He found her in bed with her face tied up. But the sight of her sufferings only irritated him, and he very soon reduced her to tears.