It takes less than an hour in these days by rail from Frankfort to Wiesbaden; at that time the extra post did it in three hours. They changed horses five times. Part of the time Polozov dozed and part of the time he simply shook from side to side, holding a cigar in his teeth; he talked very little; he did not once look out of the window; picturesque views did not interest them; he even announced that ‘nature was the death of him!’ Sanin did not speak either, nor did he admire the scenery; he had no thought for it. He was all absorbed in reflections and memories. At the stations Polozov paid with exactness, took the time by his watch, and tipped the postillions — more or less — according to their zeal. When they had gone half way, he took two oranges out of the hamper of edibles, and choosing out the better, offered the other to Sanin. Sanin looked steadily at his companion, and suddenly burst out laughing.
‘What are you laughing at?’ the latter inquired, very carefully peeling his orange with his short white nails.
‘What at?’ repeated Sanin. ‘Why, at our journey together.’
‘What about it?’ Polozov inquired again, dropping into his mouth one of the longitudinal sections into which an orange parts.
‘It’s so very strange. Yesterday I must confess I thought no more of you than of the Emperor of China, and today I’m driving with you to sell my estate to your wife, of whom, too, I have not the slightest idea.’
‘Anything may happen,’ responded Polozov. ‘When you’ve lived a bit longer, you won’t be surprised at anything. For instance, can you fancy me riding as an orderly officer? But I did, and the Grand Duke Mihail Pavlovitch gave the order, ‘Trot! let him trot, that fat cornet! Trot now! Look sharp!’
Sanin scratched behind his ear.
‘Tell me, please, Ippolit Sidorovitch, what is your wife like? What is her character? It’s very necessary for me to know that, you see.’
‘It was very well for him to shout, “Trot!”’ Polozov went on with sudden vehemence, ‘But me! how about me? I thought to myself, “You can take your honours and epaulettes — and leave me in peace!” But . . . you asked about my wife? What my wife is? A person like any one else. Don’t wear your heart upon your sleeve with her — she doesn’t like that. The great thing is to talk a lot to her . . . something for her to laugh at. Tell her about your love, or something . . . but make it more amusing, you know.’
‘How more amusing?’
‘Oh, you told me, you know, that you were in love, wanting to get married. Well, then, describe that.’
Sanin was offended. ‘What do you find laughable in that?’
Polozov only rolled his eyes. The juice from the orange was trickling down his chin.
‘Was it your wife sent you to Frankfort to shop for her?’ asked Sanin after a short time.
‘Yes, it was she.’
‘What are the purchases?’
‘Toys, of course.’
‘Toys? have you any children?’
Polozov positively moved away from Sanin.
‘That’s likely! What do I want with children? Feminine fallals . . . finery. For the toilet.’
‘Do you mean to say you understand such things?’
‘To be sure I do.’
‘But didn’t you tell me you didn’t interfere in any of your wife’s affairs?’
‘I don’t in any other. But this . . . is no consequence. To pass the time — one may do it. And my wife has confidence in my taste. And I’m a first-rate hand at bargaining.’
Polozov began to speak by jerks; he was exhausted already. ‘And is your wife very rich?’
‘Rich; yes, rather! Only she keeps the most of it for herself.’
‘But I expect you can’t complain either?’
‘Well, I’m her husband. I’m hardly likely not to get some benefit from it! And I’m of use to her. With me she can do just as she likes! I’m easy-going!’
Polozov wiped his face with a silk handkerchief and puffed painfully, as though to say, ‘Have mercy on me; don’t force me to utter another word. You see how hard it is for me.’
Sanin left him in peace, and again sank into meditation.
The hotel in Wiesbaden, before which the carriage stopped, was exactly like a palace. Bells were promptly set ringing in its inmost recesses; a fuss and bustle arose; men of good appearance in black frock-coats skipped out at the principal entrance; a door-keeper who was a blaze of gold opened the carriage doors with a flourish.
Like some triumphant general Polozov alighted and began to ascend a staircase strewn with rugs and smelling of agreeable perfumes. To him flew up another man, also very well dressed but with a Russian face — his valet. Polozov observed to him that for the future he should always take him everywhere with him, for the night before at Frankfort, he, Polozov, had been left for the night without hot water! The valet portrayed his horror on his face, and bending down quickly, took off his master’s goloshes.
‘Is Maria Nikolaevna at home?’ inquired Polozov.
‘Yes, sir. Madam is pleased to be dressing. Madam is pleased to be dining to-night at the Countess Lasunsky’s.’
‘Ah! there? . . . Stay! There are things there in the carriage; get them all yourself and bring them up. And you, Dmitri Pavlovitch,’ added Polozov, ‘take a room for yourself and come in in three-quarters of an hour. We will dine together.’
Polozov waddled off, while Sanin asked for an inexpensive room for himself; and after setting his attire to rights, and resting a little, he repaired to the immense apartment occupied by his Serenity (Durchlaucht) Prince von Polozov.
He found this ‘prince’ enthroned in a luxurious velvet arm-chair in the middle of a most magnificent drawing-room. Sanin’s phlegmatic friend had already had time to have a bath and to array himself in a most sumptuous satin dressing-gown; he had put a crimson fez on his head. Sanin approached him and scrutinised him for some time. Polozov was sitting rigid as an idol; he did not even turn his face in his direction, did not even move an eyebrow, did not utter a sound. It was truly a sublime spectacle! After having admired him for a couple of minutes, Sanin was on the point of speaking, of breaking this hallowed silence, when suddenly the door from the next room was thrown open, and in the doorway appeared a young and beautiful lady in a white silk dress trimmed with black lace, and with diamonds on her arms and neck — Maria Nikolaevna Polozov. Her thick fair hair fell on both sides of her head, braided, but not fastened up into a knot.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01