I shall never forget the feeling that this man left behind him.
Zinaida Fyodorovna still walked about the room in her excitement. That she was walking about and not still lying down was so much to the good. I wanted to take advantage of this mood to speak to her openly and then to go away, but I had hardly seen Gruzin out when I heard a ring. It was Kukushkin.
“Is Georgy Ivanitch at home?” he said. “Has he come back? You say no? What a pity! In that case, I’ll go in and kiss your mistress’s hand, and so away. Zinaida Fyodorovna, may I come in?” he cried. “I want to kiss your hand. Excuse my being so late.”
He was not long in the drawing-room, not more than ten minutes, but I felt as though he were staying a long while and would never go away. I bit my lips from indignation and annoyance, and already hated Zinaida Fyodorovna. “Why does she not turn him out?” I thought indignantly, though it was evident that she was bored by his company.
When I held his fur coat for him he asked me, as a mark of special good-will, how I managed to get on without a wife.
“But I don’t suppose you waste your time,” he said, laughingly. “I’ve no doubt Polya and you are as thick as thieves. . . . You rascal!”
In spite of my experience of life, I knew very little of mankind at that time, and it is very likely that I often exaggerated what was of little consequence and failed to observe what was important. It seemed to me it was not without motive that Kukushkin tittered and flattered me. Could it be that he was hoping that I, like a flunkey, would gossip in other kitchens and servants’ quarters of his coming to see us in the evenings when Orlov was away, and staying with Zinaida Fyodorovna till late at night? And when my tittle-tattle came to the ears of his acquaintance, he would drop his eyes in confusion and shake his little finger. And would not he, I thought, looking at his little honeyed face, this very evening at cards pretend and perhaps declare that he had already won Zinaida Fyodorovna from Orlov?
That hatred which failed me at midday when the old father had come, took possession of me now. Kukushkin went away at last, and as I listened to the shuffle of his leather goloshes, I felt greatly tempted to fling after him, as a parting shot, some coarse word of abuse, but I restrained myself. And when the steps had died away on the stairs, I went back to the hall, and, hardly conscious of what I was doing, took up the roll of papers that Gruzin had left behind, and ran headlong downstairs. Without cap or overcoat, I ran down into the street. It was not cold, but big flakes of snow were falling and it was windy.
“Your Excellency!” I cried, catching up Kukushkin. “Your Excellency!”
He stopped under a lamp-post and looked round with surprise. “Your Excellency!” I said breathless, “your Excellency!”