Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, my hero lay down on the lounge chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.
“Good-evening, Nikolay Ilyitch!” he heard a child’s voice. “Mother will be here directly. She has gone with Sonia to the dressmaker’s.”
Olga Ivanovna’s son, Alyosha—a boy of eight who looked graceful and very well cared for, who was dressed like a picture, in a black velvet jacket and long black stockings—was lying on the sofa in the same room. He was lying on a satin cushion and, evidently imitating an acrobat he had lately seen at the circus, stuck up in the air first one leg and then the other. When his elegant legs were exhausted, he brought his arms into play or jumped up impulsively and went on all fours, trying to stand with his legs in the air. All this he was doing with the utmost gravity, gasping and groaning painfully as though he regretted that God had given him such a restless body.
“Ah, good-evening, my boy,” said Belyaev. “It’s you! I did not notice you. Is your mother well?”
Alyosha, taking hold of the tip of his left toe with his right hand and falling into the most unnatural attitude, turned over, jumped up, and peeped at Belyaev from behind the big fluffy lampshade.
“What shall I say?” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “In reality mother’s never well. You see, she is a woman, and women, Nikolay Ilyitch, have always something the matter with them.”
Belyaev, having nothing better to do, began watching Alyosha’s face. He had never before during the whole of his intimacy with Olga Ivanovna paid any attention to the boy, and had completely ignored his existence; the boy had been before his eyes, but he had not cared to think why he was there and what part he was playing.
In the twilight of the evening, Alyosha’s face, with his white forehead and black, unblinking eyes, unexpectedly reminded Belyaev of Olga Ivanovna as she had been during the first pages of their romance. And he felt disposed to be friendly to the boy.
“Come here, insect,” he said; “let me have a closer look at you.”
The boy jumped off the sofa and skipped up to Belyaev.
“Well,” began Nikolay Ilyitch, putting a hand on the boy’s thin shoulder. “How are you getting on?”
“How shall I say! We used to get on a great deal better.”
“It’s very simple. Sonia and I used only to learn music and reading, and now they give us French poetry to learn. Have you been shaved lately?”
“Yes, I see you have. Your beard is shorter. Let me touch it. . . . Does that hurt?”
“Why is it that if you pull one hair it hurts, but if you pull a lot at once it doesn’t hurt a bit? Ha, ha! And, you know, it’s a pity you don’t have whiskers. Here ought to be shaved . . . but here at the sides the hair ought to be left. . . .”