He was not changed in the least: the same well-groomed, unpleasant face, the same irony. And a new book was lying on the table just as of old, with an ivory paper-knife thrust in it. He had evidently been reading before I came in. He made me sit down, offered me a cigar, and with a delicacy only found in well-bred people, concealing the unpleasant feeling aroused by my face and my wasted figure, observed casually that I was not in the least changed, and that he would have known me anywhere in spite of my having grown a beard. We talked of the weather, of Paris. To dispose as quickly as possible of the oppressive, inevitable question, which weighed upon him and me, he asked:
“Zinaida Fyodorovna is dead?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Yes, in childbirth. The doctor suspected another cause of death, but . . . it is more comforting for you and for me to think that she died in childbirth.”
He sighed decorously and was silent. The angel of silence passed over us, as they say.
“Yes. And here everything is as it used to be—no changes,” he said briskly, seeing that I was looking about the room. “My father, as you know, has left the service and is living in retirement; I am still in the same department. Do you remember Pekarsky? He is just the same as ever. Gruzin died of diphtheria a year ago. . . . Kukushkin is alive, and often speaks of you. By the way,” said Orlov, dropping his eyes with an air of reserve, “when Kukushkin heard who you were, he began telling every one you had attacked him and tried to murder him . . . and that he only just escaped with his life.”
I did not speak.
“Old servants do not forget their masters. . . . It’s very nice of you,” said Orlov jocosely. “Will you have some wine and some coffee, though? I will tell them to make some.”
“No, thank you. I have come to see you about a very important matter, Georgy Ivanitch.”
“I am not very fond of important matters, but I shall be glad to be of service to you. What do you want?”
“You see,” I began, growing agitated, “I have here with me Zinaida Fyodorovna’s daughter. . . . Hitherto I have brought her up, but, as you see, before many days I shall be an empty sound. I should like to die with the thought that she is provided for.”
Orlov coloured a little, frowned a little, and took a cursory and sullen glance at me. He was unpleasantly affected, not so much by the “important matter” as by my words about death, about becoming an empty sound.
“Yes, it must be thought about,” he said, screening his eyes as though from the sun. “Thank you. You say it’s a girl?”
“Yes, a girl. A wonderful child!”
“Yes. Of course, it’s not a lap-dog, but a human being. I understand we must consider it seriously. I am prepared to do my part, and am very grateful to you.”
He got up, walked about, biting his nails, and stopped before a picture.