“You really take me for quite a different person from what I am,” sighed Orlov.
“Say simply that you don’t want to talk to me. You dislike me, that’s all,” said Zinaida Fyodorovna through her tears.
“Look here, my dear,” said Orlov admonishingly, sitting up in his chair. “You were pleased to observe yourself that I am a clever, well-read man, and to teach one who knows does nothing but harm. I know very well all the ideas, great and small, which you mean when you call me a man of ideas. So if I prefer the service and cards to those ideas, you may be sure I have good grounds for it. That’s one thing. Secondly, you have, so far as I know, never been in the service, and can only have drawn your ideas of Government service from anecdotes and indifferent novels. So it would not be amiss for us to make a compact, once for all, not to talk of things we know already or of things about which we are not competent to speak.”
“Why do you speak to me like that?” said Zinaida Fyodorovna, stepping back as though in horror. “What for? George, for God’s sake, think what you are saying!”
Her voice quivered and broke; she was evidently trying to restrain her tears, but she suddenly broke into sobs.
“George, my darling, I am perishing!” she said in French, dropping down before Orlov, and laying her head on his knees. “I am miserable, I am exhausted. I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it. . . . In my childhood my hateful, depraved stepmother, then my husband, now you . . . you! . . . You meet my mad love with coldness and irony. . . . And that horrible, insolent servant,” she went on, sobbing. “Yes, yes, I see: I am not your wife nor your friend, but a woman you don’t respect because she has become your mistress. . . . I shall kill myself!”
I had not expected that her words and her tears would make such an impression on Orlov. He flushed, moved uneasily in his chair, and instead of irony, his face wore a look of stupid, schoolboyish dismay.
“My darling, you misunderstood me,” he muttered helplessly, touching her hair and her shoulders. “Forgive me, I entreat you. I was unjust and I hate myself.”
“I insult you with my whining and complaints. You are a true, generous . . . rare man—I am conscious of it every minute; but I’ve been horribly depressed for the last few days. . .”
Zinaida Fyodorovna impulsively embraced Orlov and kissed him on the cheek.
“Only please don’t cry,” he said.
“No, no. . . . I’ve had my cry, and now I am better.”
“As for the servant, she shall be gone to-morrow,” he said, still moving uneasily in his chair.
“No, she must stay, George! Do you hear? I am not afraid of her now. . . . One must rise above trifles and not imagine silly things. You are right! You are a wonderful, rare person!”