‘Ah, I beg your pardon!’ she said with a smile half-embarrassed, half-ironical, instantly taking hold of one end of a plait of her hair and fastening on Sanin her large, grey, clear eyes.
‘I did not think you had come yet.’
‘Sanin, Dmitri Pavlovitch — known him from a boy,’ observed Polozov, as before not turning towards him and not getting up, but pointing at him with one finger.
‘Yes. . . . I know. . . . You told me before. Very glad to make your acquaintance. But I wanted to ask you, Ippolit Sidorovitch. . . . My maid seems to have lost her senses today . . . ’
‘To do your hair up?’
‘Yes, yes, please. I beg your pardon,’ Maria Nikolaevna repeated with the same smile. She nodded to Sanin, and turning swiftly, vanished through the doorway, leaving behind her a fleeting but graceful impression of a charming neck, exquisite shoulders, an exquisite figure.
Polozov got up, and rolling ponderously, went out by the same door.
Sanin did not doubt for a single second that his presence in ‘Prince Polozov’s’ drawing-room was a fact perfectly well known to its mistress; the whole point of her entry had been the display of her hair, which was certainly beautiful. Sanin was inwardly delighted indeed at this freak on the part of Madame Polozov; if, he thought, she is anxious to impress me, to dazzle me, perhaps, who knows, she will be accommodating about the price of the estate. His heart was so full of Gemma that all other women had absolutely no significance for him; he hardly noticed them; and this time he went no further than thinking, ‘Yes, it was the truth they told me; that lady’s really magnificent to look at!’
But had he not been in such an exceptional state of mind he would most likely have expressed himself differently; Maria Nikolaevna Polozov, by birth Kolishkin, was a very striking personality. And not that she was of a beauty to which no exception could be taken; traces of her plebeian origin were rather clearly apparent in her. Her forehead was low, her nose rather fleshy and turned up; she could boast neither of the delicacy of her skin nor of the elegance of her hands and feet — but what did all that matter? Any one meeting her would not, to use Pushkin’s words, have stood still before ‘the holy shrine of beauty,’ but before the sorcery of a half-Russian, half-Gipsy woman’s body in its full flower and full power . . . and he would have been nothing loath to stand still!
But Gemma’s image preserved Sanin like the three-fold armour of which the poets sing.
Ten minutes later Maria Nikolaevna appeared again, escorted by her husband. She went up to Sanin . . . and her walk was such that some eccentrics of that — alas! — already, distant day, were simply crazy over her walk alone. ‘That woman, when she comes towards one, seems as though she is bringing all the happiness of one’s life to meet one,’ one of them used to say. She went up to Sanin, and holding out her hand to him, said in her caressing and, as it were, subdued voice in Russian, ‘You will wait for me, won’t you? I’ll be back soon.’
Sanin bowed respectfully, while Maria Nikolaevna vanished behind the curtain over the outside door; and as she vanished turned her head back over her shoulder, and smiled again, and again left behind her the same impression of grace.
When she smiled, not one and not two, but three dimples came out on each cheek, and her eyes smiled more than her lips — long, crimson, juicy lips with two tiny moles on the left side of them.
Polozov waddled into the room and again established himself in the arm-chair. He was speechless as before; but from time to time a queer smile puffed out his colourless and already wrinkled cheeks. He looked like an old man, though he was only three years older than Sanin.
The dinner with which he regaled his guest would of course have satisfied the most exacting gourmand, but to Sanin it seemed endless, insupportable! Polozov ate slowly, ‘with feeling, with judgment, with deliberation,’ bending attentively over his plate, and sniffing at almost every morsel. First he rinsed his mouth with wine, then swallowed it and smacked his lips. . . . Over the roast meat he suddenly began to talk — but of what? Of merino sheep, of which he was intending to order a whole flock, and in such detail, with such tenderness, using all the while endearing pet names for them. After drinking a cup of coffee, hot to boiling point (he had several times in a voice of tearful irritation mentioned to the waiter that he had been served the evening before with coffee, cold — cold as ice!) and bitten off the end of a Havannah cigar with his crooked yellow teeth, he dropped off, as his habit was, into a nap, to the intense delight of Sanin, who began walking up and down with noiseless steps on the soft carpet, and dreaming of his life with Gemma and of what news he would bring back to her. Polozov, however, awoke, as he remarked himself, earlier than usual — he had slept only an hour and a half — and after drinking a glass of iced seltzer water, and swallowing eight spoonfuls of jam, Russian jam, which his valet brought him in a dark-green genuine ‘Kiev’ jar, and without which, in his own words, he could not live, he stared with his swollen eyes at Sanin and asked him wouldn’t he like to play a game of ‘fools’ with him. Sanin agreed readily; he was afraid that Polozov would begin talking again about lambs and ewes and fat tails. The host and the visitor both adjourned to the drawing-room, the waiter brought in the cards, and the game began, not — of course, for money.
At this innocent diversion Maria Nikolaevna found them on her return from the Countess Lasunsky’s. She laughed aloud directly she came into the room and saw the cards and the open card-table. Sanin jumped up, but she cried, ‘Sit still; go on with the game. I’ll change my dress directly and come back to you,’ and vanished again with a swish of her dress, pulling off her gloves as she went.
She did in fact return very soon. Her evening dress she had exchanged for a full lilac silk tea-gown, with open hanging sleeves; a thick twisted cord was fastened round her waist. She sat down by her husband, and, waiting till he was left ‘fool,’ said to him, ‘Come, dumpling, that’s enough!’ (At the word ‘dumpling’ Sanin glanced at her in surprise, and she smiled gaily, answering his look with a look, and displaying all the dimples on her cheeks.) ‘I see you are sleepy; kiss my hand and get along; and Monsieur Sanin and I will have a chat together alone.’
‘I’m not sleepy,’ observed Polozov, getting up ponderously from his easy-chair; ‘but as for getting along, I’m ready to get along and to kiss your hand.’ She gave him the palm of her hand, still smiling and looking at Sanin.
Polozov, too, looked at him, and went away without taking leave of him.
‘Well, tell me, tell me,’ said Maria Nikolaevna eagerly, setting both her bare elbows on the table and impatiently tapping the nails of one hand against the nails of the other, ‘Is it true, they say, you are going to be married?’
As she said these words, Maria Nikolaevna positively bent her head a little on one side so as to look more intently and piercingly into Sanin’s eyes.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01