Startsev thought this, and at the same time he wanted to cry out that he wanted love, that he was eager for it at all costs. To his eyes they were not slabs of marble, but fair white bodies in the moonlight; he saw shapes hiding bashfully in the shadows of the trees, felt their warmth, and the languor was oppressive. . . .
And as though a curtain were lowered, the moon went behind a cloud, and suddenly all was darkness. Startsev could scarcely find the gate—by now it was as dark as it is on an autumn night. Then he wandered about for an hour and a half, looking for the side-street in which he had left his horses.
“I am tired; I can scarcely stand on my legs,” he said to Panteleimon.
And settling himself with relief in his carriage, he thought: “Och! I ought not to get fat!”
The following evening he went to the Turkins’ to make an offer. But it turned out to be an inconvenient moment, as Ekaterina Ivanovna was in her own room having her hair done by a hair-dresser. She was getting ready to go to a dance at the club.
He had to sit a long time again in the dining-room drinking tea. Ivan Petrovitch, seeing that his visitor was bored and preoccupied, drew some notes out of his waistcoat pocket, read a funny letter from a German steward, saying that all the ironmongery was ruined and the plasticity was peeling off the walls.
“I expect they will give a decent dowry,” thought Startsev, listening absent-mindedly.
After a sleepless night, he found himself in a state of stupefaction, as though he had been given something sweet and soporific to drink; there was fog in his soul, but joy and warmth, and at the same time a sort of cold, heavy fragment of his brain was reflecting:
“Stop before it is too late! Is she the match for you? She is spoilt, whimsical, sleeps till two o’clock in the afternoon, while you are a deacon’s son, a district doctor. . . .”
“What of it?” he thought. “I don’t care.”
“Besides, if you marry her,” the fragment went on, “then her relations will make you give up the district work and live in the town.”
“After all,” he thought, “if it must be the town, the town it must be. They will give a dowry; we can establish ourselves suitably.”
At last Ekaterina Ivanovna came in, dressed for the ball, with a low neck, looking fresh and pretty; and Startsev admired her so much, and went into such ecstasies, that he could say nothing, but simply stared at her and laughed.
She began saying good-bye, and he—he had no reason for staying now—got up, saying that it was time for him to go home; his patients were waiting for him.
“Well, there’s no help for that,” said Ivan Petrovitch. “Go, and you might take Kitten to the club on the way.”
It was spotting with rain; it was very dark, and they could only tell where the horses were by Panteleimon’s husky cough. The hood of the carriage was put up.