The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy

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During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly. The two old ladies were pin-pricking one another, and Liza was skillfully manoeuvring between them.

“I am so vexed that we had not finished washing your room before you got back,” she said to her husband. “But I do so want to get everything arranged.”

“Well, did you sleep well after I got up?”

“Yes, I slept well and I fell well.”

“How can a woman be well in her condition during this intolerable heat, when her windows face the sun,” said Varvara Alexeevna, her mother. “And they have no venetian-blinds or awnings. I always had awnings.”

“But you know we are in the shade after ten o’clock,” said Mary Pavlovna.

“That’s what causes fever; it comes of dampness,” said Varvara Alexeevna, not noticing that what she was saying did not agree with what she had just said. “My doctor always says that it is impossible to diagnose an illness unless one knows the patient. and he certainly knows, for he is the leading physician and we pay him a hundred rubles a visit. My late husband did not believe in doctors, but he did not grudge me anything.”

“How can a man grudge anything to a woman when perhaps her

life and the child’s depend . . . ”

“Yes, when she has means a wife need not depend on her husband. A good wife submits to her husband,” said Varvara Alexeevna — “only Liza is too weak after her illness.”

 “Oh no, mamma, I feel quite well. But why have they not brought you any boiled cream?”

“I don’t want any. I can do with raw cream.”

“I offered some to Varvara Alexeevna, but she declined,” said Mary Pavlovna, as if justifying herself.

“No, I don’t want any today.” and as if to terminate an unpleasant conversation and yield magnanimously, Varvara Alexeevna turned to Eugene and said: “Well, and have you sprinkled the phosphates?”

Liza ran to fetch the cream.

“But I don’t want it. I don’t want it.”

“Liza, Liza, go gently,” said Mary Pavlovna. “Such rapid movements do her harm.”

“Nothing does harm if one’s mind is at peace,” said Varvara Alexeevna as if referring to something, though she knew that there was nothing her words could refer to.

Liza returned with the cream and Eugene drank his coffee and listened morosely. He was accustomed to these conversations, but today he was particularly annoyed by its lack of sense. He wanted to think over what had happened to him but this chatter disturbed him. Having finished her coffee Varvara Alexeevna went away in a bad humour. Liza, Eugene, and Mary Pavlovna stayed behind, and their conversation was simple and pleasant. But Liza, being sensitive, at once noticed that something was tormenting Eugene, and she asked him whether anything unpleasant had happened. He was not prepared for this question and hesitated a little before replying that there had been nothing. This reply made Liza think all the more. That something was tormenting him, and greatly tormenting, was as evident to her as that a fly had fallen into the milk, yet he would not speak of it. What could it be?

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04