Read THREE YEARS XI of The Darling, free online book, by Anton Chekhov, on ReadCentral.com.

She travelled with Panaurov in a reserved compartment; he had on his head an astrachan cap of peculiar shape.

“Yes, Petersburg did not satisfy me,” he said, drawling, with a sigh.  “They promise much, but nothing definite.  Yes, my dear girl.  I have been a Justice of the Peace, a member of the local Board, chairman of the Board of Magistrates, and finally councillor of the provincial administration.  I think I have served my country and have earned the right to receive attention; but ­would you believe it? ­I can never succeed in wringing from the authorities a post in another town. . . .”

Panaurov closed his eyes and shook his head.

“They don’t recognise me,” he went on, as though dropping asleep.  “Of course I’m not an administrator of genius, but, on the other hand, I’m a decent, honest man, and nowadays even that’s something rare.  I regret to say I have not been always quite straightforward with women, but in my relations with the Russian government I’ve always been a gentleman.  But enough of that,” he said, opening his eyes; “let us talk of you.  What put it into your head to visit your papa so suddenly?”

“Well. . . .  I had a little misunderstanding with my husband,” said Yulia, looking at his cap.

“Yes.  What a queer fellow he is!  All the Laptevs are queer.  Your husband’s all right ­he’s nothing out of the way, but his brother Fyodor is a perfect fool.”

Panaurov sighed and asked seriously: 

“And have you a lover yet?”

Yulia looked at him in amazement and laughed.

“Goodness knows what you’re talking about.”

It was past ten o’clock when they got out at a big station and had supper.  When the train went on again Panaurov took off his greatcoat and his cap, and sat down beside Yulia.

“You are very charming, I must tell you,” he began.  “Excuse me for the eating-house comparison, but you remind me of fresh salted cucumber; it still smells of the hotbed, so to speak, and yet has a smack of the salt and a scent of fennel about it.  As time goes on you will make a magnificent woman, a wonderful, exquisite woman.  If this trip of ours had happened five years ago,” he sighed, “I should have felt it my duty to join the ranks of your adorers, but now, alas, I’m a veteran on the retired list.”

He smiled mournfully, but at the same time graciously, and put his arm round her waist.

“You must be mad!” she said; she flushed crimson and was so frightened that her hands and feet turned cold.

“Leave off, Grigory Nikolaevitch!”

“What are you afraid of, dear?” he asked softly.  “What is there dreadful about it?  It’s simply that you’re not used to it.”

If a woman protested he always interpreted it as a sign that he had made an impression on her and attracted her.  Holding Yulia round the waist, he kissed her firmly on the cheek, then on the lips, in the full conviction that he was giving her intense gratification.  Yulia recovered from her alarm and confusion, and began laughing.  He kissed her once more and said, as he put on his ridiculous cap: 

“That is all that the old veteran can give you.  A Turkish Pasha, a kind-hearted old fellow, was presented by some one ­or inherited, I fancy it was ­a whole harem.  When his beautiful young wives drew up in a row before him, he walked round them, kissed each one of them, and said:  ‘That is all that I am equal to giving you.’  And that’s just what I say, too.”

All this struck her as stupid and extraordinary, and amused her.  She felt mischievous.  Standing up on the seat and humming, she got a box of sweets from the shelf, and throwing him a piece of chocolate, shouted: 

“Catch!”

He caught it.  With a loud laugh she threw him another sweet, then a third, and he kept catching them and putting them into his mouth, looking at her with imploring eyes; and it seemed to her that in his face, his features, his expression, there was a great deal that was feminine and childlike.  And when, out of breath, she sat down on the seat and looked at him, laughing, he tapped her cheek with two fingers, and said as though he were vexed: 

“Naughty girl!”

“Take it,” she said, giving him the box.  “I don’t care for sweet things.”

He ate up the sweets ­every one of them, and locked the empty box in his trunk; he liked boxes with pictures on them.

“That’s mischief enough, though,” he said.  “It’s time for the veteran to go bye-bye.”

He took out of his hold-all a Bokhara dressing-gown and a pillow, lay down, and covered himself with the dressing-gown.

“Good-night, darling!” he said softly, and sighed as though his whole body ached.

And soon a snore was heard.  Without the slightest feeling of constraint, she, too, lay down and went to sleep.

When next morning she drove through her native town from the station homewards, the streets seemed to her empty and deserted.  The snow looked grey, and the houses small, as though some one had squashed them.  She was met by a funeral procession:  the dead body was carried in an open coffin with banners.

“Meeting a funeral, they say, is lucky,” she thought.

There were white bills pasted in the windows of the house where Nina Fyodorovna used to live.

With a sinking at her heart she drove into her own courtyard and rang at the door.  It was opened by a servant she did not know ­a plump, sleepy-looking girl wearing a warm wadded jacket.  As she went upstairs Yulia remembered how Laptev had declared his love there, but now the staircase was unscrubbed, covered with foot-marks.  Upstairs in the cold passage patients were waiting in their out-door coats.  And for some reason her heart beat violently, and she was so excited she could scarcely walk.

The doctor, who had grown even stouter, was sitting with a brick-red face and dishevelled hair, drinking tea.  Seeing his daughter, he was greatly delighted, and even lacrymose.  She thought that she was the only joy in this old man’s life, and much moved, she embraced him warmly, and told him she would stay a long time ­till Easter.  After taking off her things in her own room, she went back to the dining-room to have tea with him.  He was pacing up and down with his hands in his pockets, humming, “Ru-ru-ru”; this meant that he was dissatisfied with something.

“You have a gay time of it in Moscow,” he said.  “I am very glad for your sake. . . .  I’m an old man and I need nothing.  I shall soon give up the ghost and set you all free.  And the wonder is that my hide is so tough, that I’m alive still!  It’s amazing!”

He said that he was a tough old ass that every one rode on.  They had thrust on him the care of Nina Fyodorovna, the worry of her children, and of her burial; and that coxcomb Panaurov would not trouble himself about it, and had even borrowed a hundred roubles from him and had never paid it back.

“Take me to Moscow and put me in a madhouse,” said the doctor.  “I’m mad; I’m a simple child, as I still put faith in truth and justice.”

Then he found fault with her husband for his short-sightedness in not buying houses that were being sold so cheaply.  And now it seemed to Yulia that she was not the one joy in this old man’s life.  While he was seeing his patients, and afterwards going his rounds, she walked through all the rooms, not knowing what to do or what to think about.  She had already grown strange to her own town and her own home.  She felt no inclination to go into the streets or see her friends; and at the thought of her old friends and her life as a girl, she felt no sadness nor regret for the past.

In the evening she dressed a little more smartly and went to the evening service.  But there were only poor people in the church, and her splendid fur coat and hat made no impression.  And it seemed to her that there was some change in the church as well as in herself.  In old days she had loved it when they read the prayers for the day at evening service, and the choir sang anthems such as “I will open my lips.”  She liked moving slowly in the crowd to the priest who stood in the middle of the church, and then to feel the holy oil on her forehead; now she only waited for the service to be over.  And now, going out of the church, she was only afraid that beggars would ask for alms; it was such a bore to have to stop and feel for her pockets; besides, she had no coppers in her pocket now ­nothing but roubles.

She went to bed early, and was a long time in going to sleep.  She kept dreaming of portraits of some sort, and of the funeral procession she had met that morning.  The open coffin with the dead body was carried into the yard, and brought to a standstill at the door; then the coffin was swung backwards and forwards on a sheet, and dashed violently against the door.  Yulia woke and jumped up in alarm.  There really was a bang at the door, and the wire of the bell rustled against the wall, though no ring was to be heard.

The doctor coughed.  Then she heard the servant go downstairs, and then come back.

“Madam!” she said, and knocked at the door.  “Madam!”

“What is it?” said Yulia.

“A telegram for you!”

Yulia went out to her with a candle.  Behind the servant stood the doctor, in his night-clothes and greatcoat, and he, too, had a candle in his hand.  “Our bell is broken,” he said, yawning sleepily.  “It ought to have been mended long ago.”

Yulia broke open the telegram and read: 

“We drink to your health. ­YARTSEV, KOTCHEVOY.”

“Ah, what idiots!” she said, and burst out laughing; and her heart felt light and gay.

Going back into her room, she quietly washed and dressed, then she spent a long time in packing her things, until it was daylight, and at midday she set off for Moscow.