“Excuse me for having come in here in your absence,” said Anna Akimovna.
The workman looked at her in surprise, smiled in confusion and did not speak.
“You must speak a little louder, madam . . . .” said Tchalikov softly. “When Mr. Pimenov comes home from the factory in the evenings he is a little hard of hearing.”
But Anna Akimovna was by now relieved that there was nothing more for her to do here; she nodded to them and went rapidly out of the room. Pimenov went to see her out.
“Have you been long in our employment?” she asked in a loud voice, without turning to him.
“From nine years old. I entered the factory in your uncle’s time.”
“That’s a long while! My uncle and my father knew all the workpeople, and I know hardly any of them. I had seen you before, but I did not know your name was Pimenov.”
Anna Akimovna felt a desire to justify herself before him, to pretend that she had just given the money not seriously, but as a joke.
“Oh, this poverty,” she sighed. “We give charity on holidays and working days, and still there is no sense in it. I believe it is useless to help such people as this Tchalikov.”
“Of course it is useless,” he agreed. “However much you give him, he will drink it all away. And now the husband and wife will be snatching it from one another and fighting all night,” he added with a laugh.
“Yes, one must admit that our philanthropy is useless, boring, and absurd. But still, you must agree, one can’t sit with one’s hand in one’s lap; one must do something. What’s to be done with the Tchalikovs, for instance?”
She turned to Pimenov and stopped, expecting an answer from him; he, too, stopped and slowly, without speaking, shrugged his shoulders. Obviously he knew what to do with the Tchalikovs, but the treatment would have been so coarse and inhuman that he did not venture to put it into words. And the Tchalikovs were to him so utterly uninteresting and worthless, that a moment later he had forgotten them; looking into Anna Akimovna’s eyes, he smiled with pleasure, and his face wore an expression as though he were dreaming about something very pleasant. Only, now standing close to him, Anna Akimovna saw from his face, and especially from his eyes, how exhausted and sleepy he was.
“Here, I ought to give him the fifteen hundred roubles!” she thought, but for some reason this idea seemed to her incongruous and insulting to Pimenov.
“I am sure you are aching all over after your work, and you come to the door with me,” she said as they went down the stairs. “Go home.”
But he did not catch her words. When they came out into the street, he ran on ahead, unfastened the cover of the sledge, and helping Anna Akimovna in, said:
“I wish you a happy Christmas!”