“Mamma!” shrieked Petya.
Zaikin peeped out of his study and saw his wife, Nadyezhda Stepanovna, healthy and rosy as ever; with her he saw Olga Kirillovna, a spare woman with fair hair and heavy freckles, and two unknown men: one a lanky young man with curly red hair and a big Adam’s apple; the other, a short stubby man with a shaven face like an actor’s and a bluish crooked chin.
“Natalya, set the samovar,” cried Nadyezhda Stepanovna, with a loud rustle of her skirts. “I hear Pavel Matveyitch is come. Pavel, where are you? Good-evening, Pavel!” she said, running into the study breathlessly. “So you’ve come. I am so glad. . . . Two of our amateurs have come with me. . . . Come, I’ll introduce you. . . . Here, the taller one is Koromyslov . . . he sings splendidly; and the other, the little one . . . is called Smerkalov: he is a real actor . . . he recites magnificently. Oh, how tired I am! We have just had a rehearsal. . . . It goes splendidly. We are acting ’The Lodger with the Trombone’ and ‘Waiting for Him.’ . . . The performance is the day after tomorrow. . . .”
“Why did you bring them?” asked Zaikin.
“I couldn’t help it, Poppet; after tea we must rehearse our parts and sing something. . . . I am to sing a duet with Koromyslov. . . . Oh, yes, I was almost forgetting! Darling, send Natalya to get some sardines, vodka, cheese, and something else. They will most likely stay to supper. . . . Oh, how tired I am!”
“H’m! I’ve no money.”
“You must, Poppet! It would be awkward! Don’t make me blush.”
Half an hour later Natalya was sent for vodka and savouries; Zaikin, after drinking tea and eating a whole French loaf, went to his bedroom and lay down on the bed, while Nadyezhda Stepanovna and her visitors, with much noise and laughter, set to work to rehearse their parts. For a long time Pavel Matveyitch heard Koromyslov’s nasal reciting and Smerkalov’s theatrical exclamations. . . . The rehearsal was followed by a long conversation, interrupted by the shrill laughter of Olga Kirillovna. Smerkalov, as a real actor, explained the parts with aplomb and heat. . . .
Then followed the duet, and after the duet there was the clatter of crockery. . . . Through his drowsiness Zaikin heard them persuading Smerkalov to read “The Woman who was a Sinner,” and heard him, after affecting to refuse, begin to recite. He hissed, beat himself on the breast, wept, laughed in a husky bass. . . . Zaikin scowled and hid his head under the quilt.
“It’s a long way for you to go, and it’s dark,” he heard Nadyezhda Stepanovna’s voice an hour later. “Why shouldn’t you stay the night here? Koromyslov can sleep here in the drawing-room on the sofa, and you, Smerkalov, in Petya’s bed. . . . I can put Petya in my husband’s study. . . . Do stay, really!”
At last when the clock was striking two, all was hushed, the bedroom door opened, and Nadyezhda Stepanovna appeared.