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- Rudin - 4/32 -
'God is merciful, Matrona; perhaps you will be better soon. Did you take the medicine I sent you?'
The old woman groaned painfully, and did not answer. She had hardly heard the question.
'She has taken it,' said the old man who was standing at the door.
Alexandra Pavlovna turned to him.
'Is there no one with her but you?' she inquired.
'There is the girl--her granddaughter, but she always keeps away. She won't sit with her; she's such a gad-about. To give the old woman a drink of water is too much trouble for her. And I am old; what use can I be?'
'Shouldn't she be taken to me--to the hospital?'
'No. Why take her to the hospital? She would die just the same. She has lived her life; it's God's will now seemingly. She will never get up again. How could she go to the hospital? If they tried to lift her up, she would die.'
'Oh!' moaned the sick woman, 'my pretty lady, don't abandon my little orphan; our master is far away, but you----'
She could not go on, she had spent all her strength in saying so much.
'Do not worry yourself,' replied Alexandra Pavlovna, 'everything shall be done. Here is some tea and sugar I have brought you. If you can fancy it you must drink some. Have you a samovar, I wonder?' she added, looking at the old man.
'A samovar? We haven't a samovar, but we could get one.'
'Then get one, or I will send you one. And tell your granddaughter not to leave her like this. Tell her it's shameful.'
The old man made no answer but took the parcel of tea and sugar with both hands.
'Well, good-bye, Matrona!' said Alexandra Pavlovna, 'I will come and see you again; and you must not lose heart but take your medicine regularly.'
The old woman raised her head and drew herself a little towards Alexandra Pavlovna.
'Give me your little hand, dear lady,' she muttered.
Alexandra Pavlovna did not give her hand; she bent over her and kissed her on the forehead.
'Take care, now,' she said to the old man as she went out, 'and give her the medicine without fail, as it is written down, and give her some tea to drink.'
Again the old man made no reply, but only bowed.
Alexandra Pavlovna breathed more freely when she came out into the fresh air. She put up her parasol and was about to start homewards, when suddenly there appeared round the corner of a little hut a man about thirty, driving a low racing droshky and wearing an old overcoat of grey linen, and a foraging cap of the same. Catching sight of Alexandra Pavlovna he at once stopped his horse and turned round towards her. His broad and colourless face with its small light grey eyes and almost white moustache seemed all in the same tone of colour as his clothes.
'Good-morning!' he began, with a lazy smile; 'what are you doing here, if I may ask?'
'I have been visiting a sick woman . . . And where have you come from, Mihailo Mihailitch?'
The man addressed as Mihailo Mihailitch looked into her eyes and smiled again.
'You do well,' he said, 'to visit the sick, but wouldn't it be better for you to take her into the hospital?'
'She is too weak; impossible to move her.'
'But don't you intend to give up your hospital?'
'Give it up? Why?'
'Oh, I thought so.'
'What a strange notion! What put such an idea into your head?'
'Oh, you are always with Madame Lasunsky now, you know, and seem to be under her influence. And in her words--hospitals, schools, and all that sort of things, are mere waste of time--useless fads. Philanthropy ought to be entirely personal, and education too, all that is the soul's work . . . that's how she expresses herself, I believe. From whom did she pick up that opinion I should like to know?'
Alexandra Pavlovna laughed.
'Darya Mihailovna is a clever woman, I like and esteem her very much; but she may make mistakes, and I don't put faith in everything she says.'
'And it's a very good thing you don't,' rejoined Mihailo Mihailitch, who all the while remained sitting in his droshky, 'for she doesn't put much faith in what she says herself. I'm very glad I met you.'
'That's a nice question! As though it wasn't always delightful to meet you? To-day you look as bright and fresh as this morning.'
Alexandra Pavlovna laughed again.
'What are you laughing at?'
'What, indeed! If you could see with what a cold and indifferent face you brought out your compliment! I wonder you didn't yawn over the last word!'
'A cold face. . . . You always want fire; but fire is of no use at all. It flares and smokes and goes out.'
'And warms,' . . . put in Alexandra Pavlovna.
'Yes . . . and burns.'
'Well, what if it does burn! That's no great harm either! It's better anyway than----'
'Well, we shall see what you will say when you do get nicely burnt one day,' Mihailo Mihailitch interrupted her in a tone of vexation and made a cut at the horse with the reins, 'Good-bye.'
'Mihailo Mihailitch, stop a minute!' cried Alexandra Pavlovna, 'when are you coming to see us?'
'To-morrow; my greetings to your brother.'
And the droshky rolled away.
Alexandra Pavlovna looked after Mihailo Mihailitch.
'What a sack!' she thought. Sitting huddled up and covered with dust, his cap on the back of his head and tufts of flaxen hair straggling from beneath it, he looked strikingly like a huge sack of flour.
Alexandra Pavlovna turned tranquilly back along the path homewards. She was walking with downcast eyes. The tramp of a horse near made her stop and raise her head. . . . Her brother had come on horseback to meet her; beside him was walking a young man of medium height, wearing a light open coat, a light tie, and a light grey hat, and carrying a cane in his hand. He had been smiling for a long time at Alexandra Pavlovna, even though he saw that she was absorbed in thought and noticing nothing, and when she stopped he went up to her and in a tone of delight, almost of emotion, cried:
'Good-morning, Alexandra Pavlovna, good-morning!'
'Ah! Konstantin Diomiditch! good-morning!' she replied. 'You have come from Darya Mihailovna?'
'Precisely so, precisely so,' rejoined the young man with a radiant face, 'from Darya Mihailovna. Darya Mihailovna sent me to you; I preferred to walk. . . . It's such a glorious morning, and the distance is only three miles. When I arrived, you were not at home. Your brother told me you had gone to Semenovka; and he was just going out to the fields; so you see I walked with him to meet you. Yes, yes. How very delightful!'
The young man spoke Russian accurately and grammatically but with a foreign accent, though it was difficult to determine exactly what accent it was. In his features there was something Asiatic. His long hook nose, his large expressionless prominent eyes, his thick red lips, and retreating forehead, and his jet black hair,--everything about him suggested an Oriental extraction; but the young man gave his surname as Pandalevsky and spoke of Odessa as his birthplace, though he was brought up somewhere in White Russia at the expense of a rich and benevolent widow.
Another widow had obtained a government post for him. Middle-aged ladies were generally ready to befriend Konstantin Diomiditch; he knew well how to court them and was successful in coming across them. He was at this very time living with a rich lady, a landowner, Darya Mihailovna Lasunsky, in a position between that of a guest and of a dependant. He was very polite and obliging, full of sensibility and secretly given to sensuality, he had a pleasant voice, played well on the piano, and had the habit of gazing intently into the eyes of any one he was speaking to. He dressed very neatly, and wore his clothes a very long time, shaved his broad chin carefully, and arranged his hair curl by curl.
Alexandra Pavlovna heard his speech to the end and turned to her brother.
'I keep meeting people to-day; I have just been talking to Lezhnyov.'
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