“You are very charming, I must tell you,” he began. “Excuse me for the eating-house comparison, but you remind me of fresh salted cucumber; it still smells of the hotbed, so to speak, and yet has a smack of the salt and a scent of fennel about it. As time goes on you will make a magnificent woman, a wonderful, exquisite woman. If this trip of ours had happened five years ago,” he sighed, “I should have felt it my duty to join the ranks of your adorers, but now, alas, I’m a veteran on the retired list.”
He smiled mournfully, but at the same time graciously, and put his arm round her waist.
“You must be mad!” she said; she flushed crimson and was so frightened that her hands and feet turned cold.
“Leave off, Grigory Nikolaevitch!”
“What are you afraid of, dear?” he asked softly. “What is there dreadful about it? It’s simply that you’re not used to it.”
If a woman protested he always interpreted it as a sign that he had made an impression on her and attracted her. Holding Yulia round the waist, he kissed her firmly on the cheek, then on the lips, in the full conviction that he was giving her intense gratification. Yulia recovered from her alarm and confusion, and began laughing. He kissed her once more and said, as he put on his ridiculous cap:
“That is all that the old veteran can give you. A Turkish Pasha, a kind-hearted old fellow, was presented by some one—or inherited, I fancy it was—a whole harem. When his beautiful young wives drew up in a row before him, he walked round them, kissed each one of them, and said: ‘That is all that I am equal to giving you.’ And that’s just what I say, too.”
All this struck her as stupid and extraordinary, and amused her. She felt mischievous. Standing up on the seat and humming, she got a box of sweets from the shelf, and throwing him a piece of chocolate, shouted:
He caught it. With a loud laugh she threw him another sweet, then a third, and he kept catching them and putting them into his mouth, looking at her with imploring eyes; and it seemed to her that in his face, his features, his expression, there was a great deal that was feminine and childlike. And when, out of breath, she sat down on the seat and looked at him, laughing, he tapped her cheek with two fingers, and said as though he were vexed:
“Take it,” she said, giving him the box. “I don’t care for sweet things.”
He ate up the sweets—every one of them, and locked the empty box in his trunk; he liked boxes with pictures on them.
“That’s mischief enough, though,” he said. “It’s time for the veteran to go bye-bye.”
He took out of his hold-all a Bokhara dressing-gown and a pillow, lay down, and covered himself with the dressing-gown.
“Good-night, darling!” he said softly, and sighed as though his whole body ached.
And soon a snore was heard. Without the slightest feeling of constraint, she, too, lay down and went to sleep.