The worst of it was that Orlov had thoughtlessly let Polya, too, into the secret of his deception, telling her to bring his shirts to Sergievsky Street. After that, she looked at Zinaida Fyodorovna with a malignant joy and hatred I could not understand, and was never tired of snorting with delight to herself in her own room and in the hall.
“She’s outstayed her welcome; it’s time she took herself off!” she would say with zest. “She ought to realise that herself. . . .”
She already divined by instinct that Zinaida Fyodorovna would not be with us much longer, and, not to let the chance slip, carried off everything she set her eyes on—smelling-bottles, tortoise-shell hairpins, handkerchiefs, shoes! On the day after New Year’s Day, Zinaida Fyodorovna summoned me to her room and told me in a low voice that she missed her black dress. And then she walked through all the rooms, with a pale, frightened, and indignant face, talking to herself:
“It’s too much! It’s beyond everything. Why, it’s unheard-of insolence!”
At dinner she tried to help herself to soup, but could not—her hands were trembling. Her lips were trembling, too. She looked helplessly at the soup and at the little pies, waiting for the trembling to pass off, and suddenly she could not resist looking at Polya.
“You can go, Polya,” she said. “Stepan is enough by himself.”
“I’ll stay; I don’t mind,” answered Polya.
“There’s no need for you to stay. You go away altogether,” Zinaida Fyodorovna went on, getting up in great agitation. “You may look out for another place. You can go at once.”
“I can’t go away without the master’s orders. He engaged me. It must be as he orders.”
“You can take orders from me, too! I am mistress here!” said Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she flushed crimson.
“You may be the mistress, but only the master can dismiss me. It was he engaged me.”
“You dare not stay here another minute!” cried Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she struck the plate with her knife. “You are a thief! Do you hear?”
Zinaida Fyodorovna flung her dinner-napkin on the table, and with a pitiful, suffering face, went quickly out of the room. Loudly sobbing and wailing something indistinct, Polya, too, went away. The soup and the grouse got cold. And for some reason all the restaurant dainties on the table struck me as poor, thievish, like Polya. Two pies on a plate had a particularly miserable and guilty air. “We shall be taken back to the restaurant to-day,” they seemed to be saying, “and to-morrow we shall be put on the table again for some official or celebrated singer.”
“She is a fine lady, indeed,” I heard uttered in Polya’s room. “I could have been a lady like that long ago, but I have some self-respect! We’ll see which of us will be the first to go!”
Zinaida Fyodorovna rang the bell. She was sitting in her room, in the corner, looking as though she had been put in the corner as a punishment.