The play lasted over an hour longer, but Maria Nikolaevna and Sanin soon gave up looking at the stage. A conversation sprang up between them again, and went on the same lines as before; only this time Sanin was less silent. Inwardly he was angry with himself and with Maria Nikolaevna; he tried to prove to her all the inconsistency of her ‘theory,’ as though she cared for theories! He began arguing with her, at which she was secretly rejoiced; if a man argues, it means that he is giving in or will give in. He had taken the bait, was giving way, had left off keeping shyly aloof! She retorted, laughed, agreed, mused dreamily, attacked him . . . and meanwhile his face and her face were close together, his eyes no longer avoided her eyes. . . . Those eyes of hers seemed to ramble, seemed to hover over his features, and he smiled in response to them — a smile of civility, but still a smile. It was so much gained for her that he had gone off into abstractions, that he was discoursing upon truth in personal relations, upon duty, the sacredness of love and marriage. . . . It is well known that these abstract propositions serve admirably as a beginning . . . as a starting-point. . . .
People who knew Maria Nikolaevna well used to maintain that when her strong and vigorous personality showed signs of something soft and modest, something almost of maidenly shamefacedness, though one wondered where she could have got it from . . . then . . . then, things were taking a dangerous turn.
Things had apparently taken such a turn for Sanin. . . . He would have felt contempt for himself, if he could have succeeded in concentrating his attention for one instant; but he had not time to concentrate his mind nor to despise himself.
She wasted no time. And it all came from his being so very good-looking! One can but exclaim, No man knows what may be his making or his undoing!
The play was over. Maria Nikolaevna asked Sanin to put on her shawl and did not stir, while he wrapped the soft fabric round her really queenly shoulders. Then she took his arm, went out into the corridor, and almost cried out aloud. At the very door of the box Dönhof sprang up like some apparition; while behind his back she got a glimpse of the figure of the Wiesbaden critic. The ‘literary man’s’ oily face was positively radiant with malignancy.
‘Is it your wish, madam, that I find you your carriage?’ said the young officer addressing Maria Nikolaevna with a quiver of ill-disguised fury in his voice.
‘No, thank you,’ she answered . . . ‘my man will find it. Stop!’ she added in an imperious whisper, and rapidly withdrew drawing Sanin along with her.
‘Go to the devil! Why are you staring at me?’ Dönhof roared suddenly at the literary man. He had to vent his feelings upon some one!
‘Sehr gut! sehr gut!’ muttered the literary man, and shuffled off.
Maria Nikolaevna’s footman, waiting for her in the entrance, found her carriage in no time. She quickly took her seat in it; Sanin leapt in after her. The doors were slammed to, and Maria Nikolaevna exploded in a burst of laughter.
‘What are you laughing at?’ Sanin inquired.
‘Oh, excuse me, please . . . but it struck me: what if Dönhof were to have another duel with you . . . on my account. . . . wouldn’t that be wonderful?’
‘Are you very great friends with him?’ Sanin asked.
‘With him? that boy? He’s one of my followers. You needn’t trouble yourself about him!’
‘Oh, I’m not troubling myself at all.’
Maria Nikolaevna sighed. ‘Ah, I know you’re not. But listen, do you know what, you’re such a darling, you mustn’t refuse me one last request. Remember in three days’ time I am going to Paris, and you are returning to Frankfort. . . . Shall we ever meet again?’
‘What is this request?’
‘You can ride, of course?’
‘Well, then, tomorrow morning I’ll take you with me, and we’ll go a ride together out of the town. We’ll have splendid horses. Then we’ll come home, wind up our business, and amen! Don’t be surprised, don’t tell me it’s a caprice, and I’m a madcap — all that’s very likely — but simply say, I consent.’
Maria Nikolaevna turned her face towards him. It was dark in the carriage, but her eyes glittered even in the darkness.
‘Very well, I consent,’ said Sanin with a sigh.
‘Ah! You sighed!’ Maria Nikolaevna mimicked him. ‘That means to say, as you’ve begun, you must go on to the bitter end. But no, no. . . . You’re charming, you’re good, and I’ll keep my promise. Here’s my hand, without a glove on it, the right one, for business. Take it, and have faith in its pressure. What sort of a woman I am, I don’t know; but I’m an honest fellow, and one can do business with me.’
Sanin, without knowing very well what he was doing, lifted the hand to his lips. Maria Nikolaevna softly took it, and was suddenly still, and did not speak again till the carriage stopped.
She began getting out. . . . What was it? Sanin’s fancy? or did he really feel on his cheek a swift burning kiss?
‘Till tomorrow!’ whispered Maria Nikolaevna on the steps, in the light of the four tapers of a candelabrum, held up on her appearance by the gold-laced door-keeper. She kept her eyes cast down. ‘Till tomorrow!’
When he got back to his room, Sanin found on the table a letter from Gemma. He felt a momentary dismay, and at once made haste to rejoice over it to disguise his dismay from himself. It consisted of a few lines. She was delighted at the ‘successful opening of negotiations,’ advised him to be patient, and added that all at home were well, and were already rejoicing at the prospect of seeing him back again. Sanin felt the letter rather stiff, he took pen and paper, however . . . and threw it all aside again. ‘Why write? I shall be back myself tomorrow . . . it’s high time!’
He went to bed immediately, and tried to get to sleep as quickly as possible. If he had stayed up and remained on his legs, he would certainly have begun thinking about Gemma, and he was for some reason . . . ashamed to think of her. His conscience was stirring within him. But he consoled himself with the reflection that tomorrow it would all be over for ever, and he would take leave for good of this feather-brained lady, and would forget all this rotten idiocy! . . .
Weak people in their mental colloquies, eagerly make use of strong expressions.
Et puis . . . cela ne tire pas à consequence!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14