It was a painful moment! Everyone seemed to wince and as it were shrink together. The same fearful, incredible thought flashed like lightning through every head in the court, the thought of possibly fatal coincidence, and not one person in the court dared to look at the soldier’s face. Everyone refused to trust his thought and believed that he had heard wrong.
“Prisoner, conversation with the guards is forbidden . . .” the president made haste to say.
No one saw the escort’s face, and horror passed over the hall unseen as in a mask. The usher of the court got up quietly from his place and tiptoeing with his hand held out to balance himself went out of the court. Half a minute later there came the muffled sounds and footsteps that accompany the change of guard.
All raised their heads and, trying to look as though nothing had happened, went on with their work. . . .
A PIANO-TUNER called Murkin, a close-shaven man with a yellow face, with a nose stained with snuff, and cotton-wool in his ears, came out of his hotel-room into the passage, and in a cracked voice cried: “Semyon! Waiter!”
And looking at his frightened face one might have supposed that the ceiling had fallen in on him or that he had just seen a ghost in his room.
“Upon my word, Semyon!” he cried, seeing the attendant running towards him. “What is the meaning of it? I am a rheumatic, delicate man and you make me go barefoot! Why is it you don’t give me my boots all this time? Where are they?”
Semyon went into Murkin’s room, looked at the place where he was in the habit of putting the boots he had cleaned, and scratched his head: the boots were not there.
“Where can they be, the damned things?” Semyon brought out. “I fancy I cleaned them in the evening and put them here. . . . H’m! . . . Yesterday, I must own, I had a drop. . . . I must have put them in another room, I suppose. That must be it, Afanasy Yegoritch, they are in another room! There are lots of boots, and how the devil is one to know them apart when one is drunk and does not know what one is doing? . . . I must have taken them in to the lady that’s next door . . . the actress. . . .”
“And now, if you please, I am to go in to a lady and disturb her all through you! Here, if you please, through this foolishness I am to wake up a respectable woman.”
Sighing and coughing, Murkin went to the door of the next room and cautiously tapped.
“Who’s there?” he heard a woman’s voice a minute later.
“It’s I!” Murkin began in a plaintive voice, standing in the attitude of a cavalier addressing a lady of the highest society. “Pardon my disturbing you, madam, but I am a man in delicate health, rheumatic . . . . The doctors, madam, have ordered me to keep my feet warm, especially as I have to go at once to tune the piano at Madame la Generale Shevelitsyn’s. I can’t go to her barefoot.”