Oh, what a deep sigh of delight Sanin heaved, when he found himself in his room! Indeed, Maria Nikolaevna had spoken the truth, he needed rest, rest from all these new acquaintances, collisions, conversations, from this suffocating atmosphere which was affecting his head and his heart, from this enigmatical, uninvited intimacy with a woman, so alien to him! And when was all this taking place? Almost the day after he had learnt that Gemma loved him, after he had become betrothed to her. Why, it was sacrilege! A thousand times he mentally asked forgiveness of his pure chaste dove, though he could not really blame himself for anything; a thousand times over he kissed the cross she had given him. Had he not the hope of bringing the business, for which he had come to Wiesbaden, to a speedy and successful conclusion, he would have rushed off headlong, back again, to sweet Frankfort, to that dear house, now his own home, to her, to throw himself at her loved feet. . . . But there was no help for it! The cup must be drunk to the dregs, he must dress, go to dinner, and from there to the theatre. . . . If only she would let him go tomorrow!
One other thing confounded him, angered him; with love, with tenderness, with grateful transport he dreamed of Gemma, of their life together, of the happiness awaiting him in the future, and yet this strange woman, this Madame Polozov persistently floated — no! not floated, poked herself, so Sanin with special vindictiveness expressed it — poked herself in and faced his eyes, and he could not rid himself of her image, could not help hearing her voice, recalling her words, could not help being aware even of the special scent, delicate, fresh and penetrating, like the scent of yellow lilies, that was wafted from her garments. This lady was obviously fooling him, and trying in every way to get over him . . . what for? what did she want? Could it be merely the caprice of a spoiled, rich, and most likely unprincipled woman? And that husband! What a creature he was! What were his relations with her? And why would these questions keep coming into his head, when he, Sanin, had really no interest whatever in either Polozov or his wife? Why could he not drive away that intrusive image, even when he turned with his whole soul to another image, clear and bright as God’s sunshine? How, through those almost divine features, dare those others force themselves upon him? And not only that; those other features smiled insolently at him. Those grey, rapacious eyes, those dimples, those snake-like tresses, how was it all that seemed to cleave to him, and to shake it all off, and fling it away, he was unable, had not the power?
Nonsense! nonsense! tomorrow it would all vanish and leave no trace. . . . But would she let him go tomorrow?
Yes. . . . All these question he put to himself, but the time was moving on to three o’clock, and he put on a black frockcoat and after a turn in the park, went in to the Polozovs!
He found in their drawing-room a secretary of the legation, a very tall light-haired German, with the profile of a horse, and his hair parted down the back of his head (at that time a new fashion), and . . . oh, wonder! whom besides? Von Dönhof, the very officer with whom he had fought a few days before! He had not the slightest expectation of meeting him there and could not help being taken aback. He greeted him, however.
‘Are you acquainted?’ asked Maria Nikolaevna who had not failed to notice Sanin’s embarrassment.
‘Yes . . . I have already had the honour,’ said Dönhof, and bending a little aside, in an undertone he added to Maria Nikolaevna, with a smile, ‘The very man . . . your compatriot . . . the Russian . . . ’
‘Impossible!’ she exclaimed also in an undertone; she shook her finger at him, and at once began to bid good-bye both to him and the long secretary, who was, to judge by every symptom, head over ears in love with her; he positively gaped every time he looked at her. Dönhof promptly took leave with amiable docility, like a friend of the family who understands at half a word what is expected of him; the secretary showed signs of restiveness, but Maria Nikolaevna turned him out without any kind of ceremony.
‘Get along to your sovereign mistress,’ she said to him (there was at that time in Wiesbaden a certain princess di Monaco, who looked surprisingly like a cocotte of the poorer sort); ‘what do you want to stay with a plebeian like me for?’
‘Really, dear madam,’ protested the luckless secretary,’ all the princesses in the world. . . . ’
But Maria Nikolaevna was remorseless, and the secretary went away, parting and all.
Maria Nikolaevna was dressed that day very much ‘to her advantage,’ as our grandmothers used to say. She wore a pink glacé silk dress, with sleeves à la Fontange, and a big diamond in each ear. Her eyes sparkled as much as her diamonds; she seemed in a good humour and in high spirits.
She made Sanin sit beside her, and began talking to him about Paris, where she was intending to go in a few days, of how sick she was of Germans, how stupid they were when they tried to be clever, and how inappropriately clever sometimes when they were stupid; and suddenly, point-blank, as they say —à brûle pourpoint — asked him, was it true that he had fought a duel with the very officer who had been there just now, only a few days ago, on account of a lady?
‘How did you know that?’ muttered Sanin, dumfoundered.
‘The earth is full of rumours, Dimitri Pavlovitch; but anyway, I know you were quite right, perfectly right, and behaved like a knight. Tell me, was that lady your betrothed?’
Sanin slightly frowned . . .
‘There, I won’t, I won’t,’ Maria Nikolaevna hastened to say. ‘You don’t like it, forgive me, I won’t do it, don’t be angry!’ Polozov came in from the next room with a newspaper in his hand. ‘What do you want? Or is dinner ready?’
‘Dinner’ll be ready directly, but just see what I’ve read in the Northern Bee . . . Prince Gromoboy is dead.’
Maria Nikolaevna raised her head.
‘Ah! I wish him the joys of Paradise! He used,’ she turned to Sanin, ‘to fill all my rooms with camellias every February on my birthday, But it wasn’t worth spending the winter in Petersburg for that. He must have been over seventy, I should say?’ she said to her husband.
‘Yes, he was. They describe his funeral in the paper. All the court were present. And here’s a poem too, of Prince Kovrizhkin’s on the occasion.’
‘Shall I read them? The prince calls him the good man of wise counsel.’
‘No, don’t. The good man of wise counsel? He was simply the goodman of Tatiana Yurevna. Come to dinner. Life is for the living. Dimitri Pavlovitch, your arm.’
The dinner was, as on the day before, superb, and the meal was a very lively one. Maria Nikolaevna knew how to tell a story . . . a rare gift in a woman, and especially in a Russian one! She did not restrict herself in her expressions; her countrywomen received particularly severe treatment at her hands. Sanin was more than once set laughing by some bold and well-directed word. Above all, Maria Nikolaevna had no patience with hypocrisy, cant, and humbug. She discovered it almost everywhere. She, as it were, plumed herself on and boasted of the humble surroundings in which she had begun life. She told rather queer anecdotes of her relations in the days of her childhood, spoke of herself as quite as much of a clodhopper as Natalya Kirilovna Narishkin. It became apparent to Sanin that she had been through a great deal more in her time than the majority of women of her age.
Polozov ate meditatively, drank attentively, and only occasionally cast first on his wife, then on Sanin, his lightish, dim-looking, but, in reality, very keen eyes.
‘What a clever darling you are!’ cried Maria Nikolaevna, turning to him; ‘how well you carried out all my commissions in Frankfort! I could give you a kiss on your forehead for it, but you’re not very keen after kisses.’
‘I’m not,’ responded Polozov, and he cut a pine-apple with a silver knife.
Maria Nikolaevna looked at him and drummed with her fingers on the table. ‘So our bet’s on, isn’t it?’ she said significantly. ‘Yes, it’s on.’
‘All right. You’ll lose it.’
Polozov stuck out his chin. ‘Well, this time you mustn’t be too sanguine, Maria Nikolaevna, maybe you will lose.’
‘What is the bet? May I know?’ asked Sanin.
‘No . . . not now,’ answered Maria Nikolaevna, and she laughed.
It struck seven. The waiter announced that the carriage was ready. Polozov saw his wife out, and at once waddled back to his easy-chair.
‘Mind now! Don’t forget the letter to the overseer,’ Maria Nikolaevna shouted to him from the hall.
‘I’ll write, don’t worry yourself. I’m a business-like person.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14