Sanin proceeded to expound his case, that is to say, again, a second time, to describe his property, not touching this time on the beauties of nature, and now and then appealing to Polozov for confirmation of his ‘facts and figures.’ But Polozov simply gasped and shook his head, whether in approval or disapproval, it would have puzzled the devil, one might fancy, to decide. However, Maria Nikolaevna stood in no need of his aid. She exhibited commercial and administrative abilities that were really astonishing! She was familiar with all the ins-and-outs of farming; she asked questions about everything with great exactitude, went into every point; every word of hers went straight to the root of the matter, and hit the nail on the head. Sanin had not expected such a close inquiry, he had not prepared himself for it. And this inquiry lasted for fully an hour and a half. Sanin experienced all the sensations of the criminal on his trial, sitting on a narrow bench confronted by a stern and penetrating judge. ‘Why, it’s a cross-examination!’ he murmured to himself dejectedly. Maria Nikolaevna kept laughing all the while, as though it were a joke; but Sanin felt none the more at ease for that; and when in the course of the ‘cross-examination’ it turned out that he had not clearly realised the exact meaning of the words ‘repartition’ and ‘tilth,’ he was in a cold perspiration all over.
‘Well, that’s all right!’ Maria Nikolaevna decided at last. ‘I know your estate now . . . as well as you do. What price do you suggest per soul?’ (At that time, as every one knows, the prices of estates were reckoned by the souls living as serfs on them.)
‘Well . . . I imagine . . . I could not take less than five hundred roubles for each,’ Sanin articulated with difficulty. O Pantaleone, Pantaleone, where were you! This was when you ought to have cried again, ‘Barbari!’
Maria Nikolaevna turned her eyes upwards as though she were calculating.
‘Well?’ she said at last. ‘I think there’s no harm in that price. But I reserved for myself two days’ grace, and you must wait till tomorrow. I imagine we shall come to an arrangement, and then you will tell me how much you want paid down. And now, basta cosi!’ she cried, noticing Sanin was about to make some reply. ‘We’ve spent enough time over filthy lucre . . . à demain les affaires. Do you know what, I’ll let you go now . . . (she glanced at a little enamelled watch, stuck in her belt) . . . till three o’clock . . . I must let you rest. Go and play roulette.’
‘I never play games of chance,’ observed Sanin.
‘Really? Why, you’re a paragon. Though I don’t either. It’s stupid throwing away one’s money when one’s no chance. But go into the gambling saloon, and look at the faces. Very comic ones there are there. There’s one old woman with a rustic headband and a moustache, simply delicious! Our prince there’s another, a good one too. A majestic figure with a nose like an eagle’s, and when he puts down a thaler, he crosses himself under his waistcoat. Read the papers, go a walk, do what you like, in fact. But at three o’clock I expect you . . . de pied ferme. We shall have to dine a little earlier. The theatre among these absurd Germans begins at half-past six. She held out her hand. ‘Sans rancune, n’est-ce pas?’
‘Really, Maria Nikolaevna, what reason have I to be annoyed?’
‘Why, because I’ve been tormenting you. Wait a little, you’ll see. There’s worse to come,’ she added, fluttering her eyelids, and all her dimples suddenly came out on her flushing cheeks. ‘Till we meet!’
Sanin bowed and went out. A merry laugh rang out after him, and in the looking-glass which he was passing at that instant, the following scene was reflected: Maria Nikolaevna had pulled her husband’s fez over his eyes, and he was helplessly struggling with both hands.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01