Long after midnight the lamp was burning in Sanin’s room. He sat down to the table and wrote to ‘his Gemma.’ He told her everything; he described the Polozovs — husband and wife — but, more than all, enlarged on his own feelings, and ended by appointing a meeting with her in three days!!! (with three marks of exclamation). Early in the morning he took this letter to the post, and went for a walk in the garden of the Kurhaus, where music was already being played. There were few people in it as yet; he stood before the arbour in which the orchestra was placed, listened to an adaptation of airs from ‘Robert le Diable,’ and after drinking some coffee, turned into a solitary side walk, sat down on a bench, and fell into a reverie. The handle of a parasol gave him a rapid, and rather vigorous, thump on the shoulder. He started. . . . Before him in a light, grey-green barége dress, in a white tulle hat, and suède gloves, stood Maria Nikolaevna, fresh and rosy as a summer morning, though the languor of sound unbroken sleep had not yet quite vanished from her movements and her eyes.
‘Good-morning,’ she said. ‘I sent after you today, but you’d already gone out. I’ve only just drunk my second glass — they’re making me drink the water here, you know — whatever for, there’s no telling . . . am I not healthy enough? And now I have to walk for a whole hour. Will you be my companion? And then we’ll have some coffee.’
‘I’ve had some already,’ Sanin observed, getting up; ‘but I shall be very glad to have a walk with you.’
‘Very well, give me your arm then; don’t be afraid: your betrothed is not here — she won’t see you.’
Sanin gave a constrained smile. He experienced a disagreeable sensation every time Maria Nikolaevna referred to Gemma. However, he made haste to bend towards her obediently. . . . Maria Nikolaevna’s arm slipped slowly and softly into his arm, and glided over it, and seemed to cling tight to it.
‘Come — this way,’ she said to him, putting up her open parasol over her shoulder. ‘I’m quite at home in this park; I will take you to the best places. And do you know what? (she very often made use of this expression), we won’t talk just now about that sale, we’ll have a thorough discussion of that after lunch; but you must tell me now about yourself . . . so that I may know whom I have to do with. And afterwards, if you like, I will tell you about myself. Do you agree?’
‘But, Maria Nikolaevna, what interest can there be for you . . . ’
‘Stop, stop. You don’t understand me. I don’t want to flirt with you.’ Maria Nikolaevna shrugged her shoulders. ‘He’s got a betrothed like an antique statue, is it likely I am going to flirt with him? But you’ve something to sell, and I’m the purchaser. I want to know what your goods are like. Well, of course, you must show what they are like. I don’t only want to know what I’m buying, but whom I’m buying from. That was my father’s rule. Come, begin . . . come, if not from childhood — come now, have you been long abroad? And where have you been up till now? Only don’t walk so fast, we’re in no hurry.’
‘I came here from Italy, where I spent several months.’
‘Ah, you feel, it seems, a special attraction towards everything Italian. It’s strange you didn’t find your lady-love there. Are you fond of art? of pictures? or more of music?’
‘I am fond of art. . . . I like everything beautiful.’
‘I like music too.’
‘Well, I don’t at all. I don’t care for anything but Russian songs — and that in the country and in the spring — with dancing, you know . . . red shirts, wreaths of beads, the young grass in the meadows, the smell of smoke . . . delicious! But we weren’t talking of me. Go on, tell me.’
Maria Nikolaevna walked on, and kept looking at Sanin. She was tall — her face was almost on a level with his face.
He began to talk — at first reluctantly, unskilfully — but afterwards he talked more freely, chattered away in fact. Maria Nikolaevna was a very good listener; and moreover she seemed herself so frank, that she led others unconsciously on to frankness. She possessed that great gift of ‘intimateness’— le terrible don de la familiarité — to which Cardinal Retz refers. Sanin talked of his travels, of his life in Petersburg, of his youth. . . . Had Maria Nikolaevna been a lady of fashion, with refined manners, he would never have opened out so; but she herself spoke of herself as a ‘good fellow,’ who had no patience with ceremony of any sort; it was in those words that she characterised herself to Sanin. And at the same time this ‘good fellow’ walked by his side with feline grace, slightly bending towards him, and peeping into his face; and this ‘good fellow’ walked in the form of a young feminine creature, full of the tormenting, fiery, soft and seductive charm, of which — for the undoing of us poor weak sinful men — only Slav natures are possessed, and but few of them, and those never of pure Slav blood, with no foreign alloy. Sanin’s walk with Maria Nikolaevna, Sanin’s talk with Maria Nikolaevna lasted over an hour. And they did not stop once; they kept walking about the endless avenues of the park, now mounting a hill and admiring the view as they went, and now going down into the valley, and getting hidden in the thick shadows — and all the while arm-inarm. At times Sanin felt positively irritated; he had never walked so long with Gemma, his darling Gemma . . . but this lady had simply taken possession of him, and there was no escape! ‘Aren’t you tired?’ he said to her more than once. ‘I never get tired,’ she answered. Now and then they met other people walking in the park; almost all of them bowed — some respectfully, others even cringingly. To one of them, a very handsome, fashionably dressed dark man, she called from a distance with the best Parisian accent, ‘Comte, vous savez, il ne faut pas venir me voir — ni aujourd’hui ni demain.’ The man took off his hat, without speaking, and dropped a low bow.
‘Who’s that?’ asked Sanin with the bad habit of asking questions characteristic of all Russians.
‘Oh, a Frenchman, there are lots of them here . . . He’s dancing attendance on me too. It’s time for our coffee, though. Let’s go home; you must be hungry by this time, I should say. My better half must have got his eye-peeps open by now.’
‘Better half! Eye-peeps!’ Sanin repeated to himself . . . ‘And speaks French so well . . . what a strange creature!’
Maria Nikolaevna was not mistaken. When she went back into the hotel with Sanin, her ‘better half or ‘dumpling’ was already seated, the invariable fez on his head, before a table laid for breakfast.
‘I’ve been waiting for you!’ he cried, making a sour face. ‘I was on the point of having coffee without you.’
‘Never mind, never mind,’ Maria Nikolaevna responded cheerfully. ‘Are you angry? That’s good for you; without that you’d turn into a mummy altogether. Here I’ve brought a visitor. Make haste and ring! Let us have coffee — the best coffee — in Saxony cups on a snow-white cloth!’
She threw off her hat and gloves, and clapped her hands.
Polozov looked at her from under his brows.
‘What makes you so skittish today, Maria Nikolaevna?’ he said in an undertone.
‘That’s no business of yours, Ippolit Sidoritch! Ring! Dimitri Pavlovitch, sit down and have some coffee for the second time. Ah, how nice it is to give orders! There’s no pleasure on earth like it!’
‘When you’re obeyed,’ grumbled her husband again.
‘Just so, when one’s obeyed! That’s why I’m so happy! Especially with you. Isn’t it so, dumpling? Ah, here’s the coffee.’
On the immense tray, which the waiter brought in, there lay also a playbill. Maria Nikolaevna snatched it up at once.
‘A drama!’ she pronounced with indignation, ‘a German drama. No matter; it’s better than a German comedy. Order a box for me — baignoire — or no . . . better the Fremden-Loge,’ she turned to the waiter. ‘Do you hear: the Fremden-Loge it must be!’
‘But if the Fremden-Loge has been already taken by his excellency, the director of the town (seine Excellenz der Herr Stadt-Director),’ the waiter ventured to demur.
‘Give his excellency ten thalers, and let the box be mine! Do you hear!’
The waiter bent his head humbly and mournfully.
‘Dimitri Pavlovitch, you will go with me to the theatre? the German actors are awful, but you will go . . . Yes? Yes? How obliging you are! Dumpling, are you not coming?
‘You settle it,’ Polozov observed into the cup he had lifted to his lips.
‘Do you know what, you stay at home. You always go to sleep at the theatre, and you don’t understand much German. I’ll tell you what you’d better do, write an answer to the overseer — you remember, about our mill . . . about the peasants’ grinding. Tell him that I won’t have it, and I won’t and that’s all about it! There’s occupation for you for the whole evening.’
‘All right,’ answered Polozov.
‘Well then, that’s first-rate. You’re a darling. And now, gentlemen, as we have just been speaking of my overseer, let’s talk about our great business. Come, directly the waiter has cleared the table, you shall tell me all, Dimitri Pavlovitch, about your estate, what price you will sell it for, how much you want paid down in advance, everything, in fact! (At last, thought Sanin, thank God!) You have told me something about it already, you remember, you described your garden delightfully, but dumpling wasn’t here. . . . Let him hear, he may pick a hole somewhere! I’m delighted to think that I can help you to get married, besides, I promised you that I would go into your business after lunch, and I always keep my promises, isn’t that the truth, Ippolit Sidoritch?’
Polozov rubbed his face with his open hand. ‘The truth’s the truth. You don’t deceive any one.’
‘Never! and I never will deceive any one. Well, Dimitri Pavlovitch, expound the case as we express it in the senate.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14