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- A House of Gentlefolk - 2/35 -
"Well, that does not prove it."
"Fedor Ivanitch looked much more robust," continued Gedeonovsky, affecting not to have heard Marfa Timofyevna's last remark. "Fedor Ivanitch is broader and has quite a colour."
"He looked more robust," said Marya Dmitrievna, dwelling on each syllable. "I should have thought he had little enough to make him look robust."
"Yes, indeed," observed Gedeonovsky; "any other man in Fedor Ivanitch's position would have hesitated to appear in society."
"Why so, pray?" interposed Marfa Timofyevna. "What nonsense are you talking! The man's come back to his home--where would you have him go? And has he been to blame, I should like to know!"
"The husband is always to blame, madam, I venture to assure you, when a wife misconducts herself."
"You say that, my good sir, because you have never been married yourself." Gedeonovsky listened with a forced smile.
"If I may be so inquisitive," he asked, after a short pause, "for whom is that pretty scarf intended?"
Marfa Timofyevna gave him a sharp look.
"It's intended," she replied, "for a man who does not talk scandal, nor play the hypocrite, nor tell lies, if there's such a man to be found in the world. I know Fedya well; he was only to blame in being too good to his wife. To be sure, he married for love, and no good ever comes of those love-matches," added the old lady, with a sidelong glance at Marya Dmitrievna, as she got up from her place. "And now, my good sir, you may attack any one you like, even me if you choose; I'm going. I will not hinder you." And Marfa Timofyevna walked away.
"That's always how she is," said Marya Dmitrievna, following her aunt with her eyes.
"We must remember your aunt's age...there's no help for it," replied Gedeonovsky. "She spoke of a man not playing the hypocrite. But who is not hypocritical nowadays? It's the age we live in. One of my friends, a most worthy man, and, I assure you, a man of no mean position, used to say, that nowadays the very hens can't pick up a grain of corn without hypocrisy--they always approach it from one side. But when I look at you, dear lady--your character is so truly angelic; let me kiss your little snow-white hand!"
Marya Dmitrievna with a faint smile held out her plump hand to him with the little finger held apart from the rest. He pressed his lips to it, and she drew her chair nearer to him, and bending a little towards him, asked in an undertone--
"So you saw him? Was he really--all right--quite well and cheerful?"
"Yes, he was well and cheerful," replied Gedeonovsky in a whisper.
"You haven't heard where his wife is now?"
"She was lately in Paris; now, they say, she has gone away to Italy."
"It is terrible, indeed--Fedya's position; I wonder how he can bear it. Every one, of course, has trouble; but he, one may say, has been made the talk of all Europe."
"Yes, indeed, yes, indeed. They do say, you know that she associates with artists and musicians, and as the saying is, with strange creatures of all kinds. She has lost all sense of shame completely."
"I am deeply, deeply grieved." said Marya Dmitrievna. "On account of our relationship. You know, Sergei Petrovitch, he's my cousin many times removed."
"Of course, of course. Don't I know everything that concerns your family? I should hope so, indeed."
"Will he come to see us--what do you think?"
"One would suppose so; though, they say, he is intending to go home to his country place."
Mary Dmitrievna lifted her eyes to heaven.
"Ah, Sergei Petrovitch, Sergei Petrovitch, when I think how careful we women ought to be in our conduct!"
"There are women and women, Marya Dmitrievna. There are unhappily such . . . of flighty character . . . and at a certain age too, and then they are not brought up in good principles." (Sergei Petrovitch drew a blue checked handkerchief out of his pocket and began to unfold it.) "There are such women, no doubt." (Sergei Petrovitch applied a corner of the handkerchief first to one and then to the other eye.) "But speaking generally, if one takes into consideration, I mean...the dust in the town is really extraordinary to-day," he wound up.
"Maman, maman," cried a pretty little girl of eleven running into the room, "Vladimir Nikolaitch is coming on horseback!"
Marya Dmitrievna got up; Sergei Petrovitch also rose and made a bow. "Our humble respects to Elena Mihalovna," he said, and turning aside into a corner for good manners, he began blowing his long straight nose.
"What a splendid horse he has!" continued the little girl. "He was at the gate just now, he told Lisa and me he would dismount at the steps."
The sound of hoofs was heard; and a graceful young man, riding a beautiful bay horse, was seen in the street, and stopped at the open window.
"How do you do, Marya Dmitrievna?" cried the young man in a pleasant, ringing voice. "How do you like my new purchase?"
Marya Dmitrievna went up to the window.
"How do you do, Woldemar! Ah, what a splendid horse! Where did you buy it?"
"I bought it from the army contractor . . . . He made me pay for it too, the brigand!"
"What's its name?"
"Orlando . . . . But it's a stupid name; I want to change . . . . Eh bien, eh bien, mon garcon . . . . What a restless beast it is!" The horse snorted, pawed the ground, and shook the foam off the bit.
"Lenotchka, stroke him, don't be afraid."
The little girl stretched her hand out of the window, but Orlando suddenly reared and started. The rider with perfect self-possession gave it a cut with the whip across the neck, and keeping a tight grip with his legs forced it in spite of its opposition, to stand still again at the window.
"Prenez garde, prenez garde," Marya Dmitrievna kept repeating.
"Lenotchka, pat him," said the young man, "I won't let him be perverse."
The little girl again stretched out her hand and timidly patted the quivering nostrils of the horse, who kept fidgeting and champing the bit.
"Bravo!" cried Marya Dmitrievna, "but now get off and come in to us."
The rider adroitly turned his horse, gave him a touch of the spur, and galloping down the street soon reached the courtyard. A minute later he ran into the drawing-room by the door from the hall, flourishing his whip; at the same moment there appeared in the other doorway a tall, slender dark-haired girl of nineteen, Marya Dmitrievna's eldest daughter, Lisa.
The name of the young man whom we have just introduced to the reader was Vladimir Nikolaitch Panshin. He served in Petersburg on special commissions in the department of internal affairs. He had come to the town of O---- to carry out some temporary government commissions, and was in attendance on the Governor-General Zonnenberg, to whom he happened to be distantly related. Panshin's father, a retired cavalry officer and a notorious gambler, was a man with insinuating eyes, a battered countenance, and a nervous twitch about the mouth. He spent his whole life hanging about the aristocratic world; frequented the English clubs of both capitals, and had the reputation of a smart, not very trustworthy, but jolly good-natured fellow. In spite of his smartness, he was almost always on the brink of ruin, and the property he left his son was small and heavily-encumbered. To make up for that, however, he did exert himself, after his own fashion, over his son's education. Vladimir Nikolaitch spoke French very well, English well, and German badly; that is the proper thing; fashionable people would be ashamed to speak German well; but to utter an occasional--generally a humorous--phrase in German is quite correct, c'est meme tres chic, as the Parisians of Petersburg express themselves. By the time he was fifteen, Vladimir knew how to enter any drawing-room without embarrassment, how to move about in it gracefully and to leave it at the appropriate moment. Panshin's father gained many connections for his son. He never lost an opportunity, while shuffling the cards between two rubbers, or playing a successful trump, of dropping a hint about his Volodka to any personage of importance who was a devotee of cards. And Vladimir, too, during his residence at the university, which he left without a very brilliant degree, formed an acquaintance with several young men of quality, and gained an entry into the best houses. He was received cordially everywhere: he was very good-looking, easy in his manners, amusing, always in good health, and ready for everything; respectful, when he ought to be; insolent, when he dared to be; excellent company, un charmant garcon. The promised land lay before him. Panshin quickly learnt the secret of getting on in the world; he knew how to yield with genuine respect to its decrees; he knew how to take up trifles with half ironical seriousness, and to appear to regard
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