“Yes. . . three children,” sighs Ginger Trousers.
“It’s abominable altogether. . . . It’s a wonder we are still alive.”
At last the summer visitors reached their destination. Zaikin said good-bye to Ginger Trousers and went into his villa. He found a death-like silence in the house. He could hear nothing but the buzzing of the gnats, and the prayer for help of a fly destined for the dinner of a spider. The windows were hung with muslin curtains, through which the faded flowers of the geraniums showed red. On the unpainted wooden walls near the oleographs flies were slumbering. There was not a soul in the passage, the kitchen, or the dining-room. In the room which was called indifferently the parlour or the drawing-room, Zaikin found his son Petya, a little boy of six. Petya was sitting at the table, and breathing loudly with his lower lip stuck out, was engaged in cutting out the figure of a knave of diamonds from a card.
“Oh, that’s you, father!” he said, without turning round. “Good-evening.”
“Good-evening. . . . And where is mother?”
“Mother? She is gone with Olga Kirillovna to a rehearsal of the play. The day after tomorrow they will have a performance. And they will take me, too. . . . And will you go?”
“H’m! . . . When is she coming back?”
“She said she would be back in the evening.”
“And where is Natalya?”
“Mamma took Natalya with her to help her dress for the performance, and Akulina has gone to the wood to get mushrooms. Father, why is it that when gnats bite you their stomachs get red?”
“I don’t know. . . . Because they suck blood. So there is no one in the house, then?”
“No one; I am all alone in the house.”
Zaikin sat down in an easy-chair, and for a moment gazed blankly at the window.
“Who is going to get our dinner?” he asked.
“They haven’t cooked any dinner today, father. Mamma thought you were not coming today, and did not order any dinner. She is going to have dinner with Olga Kirillovna at the rehearsal.”
“Oh, thank you very much; and you, what have you to eat?”
“I’ve had some milk. They bought me six kopecks’ worth of milk. And, father, why do gnats suck blood?”
Zaikin suddenly felt as though something heavy were rolling down on his liver and beginning to gnaw it. He felt so vexed, so aggrieved, and so bitter, that he was choking and tremulous; he wanted to jump up, to bang something on the floor, and to burst into loud abuse; but then he remembered that his doctor had absolutely forbidden him all excitement, so he got up, and making an effort to control himself, began whistling a tune from “Les Huguenots.”
“Father, can you act in plays?” he heard Petya’s voice.
“Oh, don’t worry me with stupid questions!” said Zaikin, getting angry. “He sticks to one like a leaf in the bath! Here you are, six years old, and just as silly as you were three years ago. . . . Stupid, neglected child! Why are you spoiling those cards, for instance? How dare you spoil them?”