They talked of Fyodor, and of its being the fashion nowadays to adopt some pose or other. Fyodor, for instance, tried to appear like a plain merchant, though he had ceased to be one; and when the teacher came from the school, of which old Laptev was the patron, to ask Fyodor for his salary, the latter changed his voice and deportment, and behaved with the teacher as though he were some one in authority.
There was nothing to be done; after dinner they went into the study. They talked about the decadents, about “The Maid of Orleans,” and Kostya delivered a regular monologue; he fancied that he was very successful in imitating Ermolova. Then they sat down and played whist. The little girls had not gone back to the lodge but were sitting together in one arm-chair, with pale and mournful faces, and were listening to every noise in the street, wondering whether it was their father coming. In the evening when it was dark and the candles were lighted, they felt deeply dejected. The talk over the whist, the footsteps of Pyotr, the crackling in the fireplace, jarred on their nerves, and they did not like to look at the fire. In the evenings they did not want to cry, but they felt strange, and there was a load on their hearts. They could not understand how people could talk and laugh when their mother was dead.
“What did you see through the field-glasses today?” Yulia Sergeyevna asked Kostya.
“Nothing to-day, but yesterday I saw the old Frenchman having his bath.”
At seven o’clock Yulia and Kostya went to the Little Theatre. Laptev was left with the little girls.
“It’s time your father was here,” he said, looking at his watch. “The train must be late.”
The children sat in their arm-chair dumb and huddling together like animals when they are cold, while he walked about the room looking impatiently at his watch. It was quiet in the house. But just before nine o’clock some one rang at the bell. Pyotr went to open the door.
Hearing a familiar voice, the children shrieked, burst into sobs, and ran into the hall. Panaurov was wearing a sumptuous coat of antelope skin, and his head and moustaches were white with hoar frost. “In a minute, in a minute,” he muttered, while Sasha and Lida, sobbing and laughing, kissed his cold hands, his hat, his antelope coat. With the languor of a handsome man spoilt by too much love, he fondled the children without haste, then went into the study and said, rubbing his hands:
“I’ve not come to stay long, my friends. I’m going to Petersburg to-morrow. They’ve promised to transfer me to another town.”
He was staying at the Dresden Hotel.
A friend who was often at the Laptevs’ was Ivan Gavrilitch Yartsev. He was a strong, healthy man with black hair and a clever, pleasant face. He was considered to be handsome, but of late he had begun to grow stout, and that rather spoilt his face and figure; another thing that spoilt him was that he wore his hair cut so close that the skin showed through.