There were sounds of applause. The young man had finished playing. Olga Mihalovna remembered her guests and hurried into the drawing-room.
“I have so enjoyed your playing,” she said, going up to the piano. “I have so enjoyed it. You have a wonderful talent! But don’t you think our piano’s out of tune?”
At that moment the two schoolboys walked into the room, accompanied by the student.
“My goodness! Mitya and Kolya,” Olga Mihalovna drawled joyfully, going to meet them: “How big they have grown! One would not know you! But where is your mamma?”
“I congratulate you on the name-day,” the student began in a free-and-easy tone, “and I wish you all happiness. Ekaterina Andreyevna sends her congratulations and begs you to excuse her. She is not very well.”
“How unkind of her! I have been expecting her all day. Is it long since you left Petersburg?” Olga Mihalovna asked the student. “What kind of weather have you there now?” And without waiting for an answer, she looked cordially at the schoolboys and repeated:
“How tall they have grown! It is not long since they used to come with their nurse, and they are at school already! The old grow older while the young grow up. . . . Have you had dinner?”
“Oh, please don’t trouble!” said the student.
“Why, you have not had dinner?”
“For goodness’ sake, don’t trouble!”
“But I suppose you are hungry?” Olga Mihalovna said it in a harsh, rude voice, with impatience and vexation—it escaped her unawares, but at once she coughed, smiled, and flushed crimson. “How tall they have grown!” she said softly.
“Please don’t trouble!” the student said once more.
The student begged her not to trouble; the boys said nothing; obviously all three of them were hungry. Olga Mihalovna took them into the dining-room and told Vassily to lay the table.
“How unkind of your mamma!” she said as she made them sit down. “She has quite forgotten me. Unkind, unkind, unkind . . . you must tell her so. What are you studying?” she asked the student.
“Well, I have a weakness for doctors, only fancy. I am very sorry my husband is not a doctor. What courage any one must have to perform an operation or dissect a corpse, for instance! Horrible! Aren’t you frightened? I believe I should die of terror! Of course, you drink vodka?”
“Please don’t trouble.”
“After your journey you must have something to drink. Though I am a woman, even I drink sometimes. And Mitya and Kolya will drink Malaga. It’s not a strong wine; you need not be afraid of it. What fine fellows they are, really! They’ll be thinking of getting married next.”
Olga Mihalovna talked without ceasing; she knew by experience that when she had guests to entertain it was far easier and more comfortable to talk than to listen. When you talk there is no need to strain your attention to think of answers to questions, and to change your expression of face. But unawares she asked the student a serious question; the student began a lengthy speech and she was forced to listen. The student knew that she had once been at the University, and so tried to seem a serious person as he talked to her.