It was an autumn day. Yulia had just gone to the lodge to cry, while Laptev lay on a sofa in the study thinking where he could go. Just at that moment Pyotr announced Polina Razsudin. Laptev was delighted; he leapt up and went to meet the unexpected visitor, who had been his closest friend, though he had almost begun to forget her. She had not changed in the least since that evening when he had seen her for the last time, and was just the same as ever.
“Polina,” he said, holding out both hands to her. “What ages! If you only knew how glad I am to see you! Do come in!”
Polina greeted him, jerked him by the hand, and without taking off her coat and hat, went into the study and sat down.
“I’ve come to you for one minute,” she said. “I haven’t time to talk of any nonsense. Sit down and listen. Whether you are glad to see me or not is absolutely nothing to me, for I don’t care a straw for the gracious attentions of you lords of creation. I’ve only come to you because I’ve been to five other places already to-day, and everywhere I was met with a refusal, and it’s a matter that can’t be put off. Listen,” she went on, looking into his face. “Five students of my acquaintance, stupid, unintelligent people, but certainly poor, have neglected to pay their fees, and are being excluded from the university. Your wealth makes it your duty to go straight to the university and pay for them.”
“With pleasure, Polina.”
“Here are their names,” she said, giving him a list. “Go this minute; you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your domestic happiness afterwards.”
At that moment a rustle was heard through the door that led into the drawing-room; probably the dog was scratching itself. Polina turned crimson and jumped up.
“Your Dulcinea’s eavesdropping,” she said. “That’s horrid!”
Laptev was offended at this insult to Yulia.
“She’s not here; she’s in the lodge,” he said. “And don’t speak of her like that. Our child is dead, and she is in great distress.”
“You can console her,” Polina scoffed, sitting down again; “she’ll have another dozen. You don’t need much sense to bring children into the world.”
Laptev remembered that he had heard this, or something very like it, many times in old days, and it brought back a whiff of the romance of the past, of solitary freedom, of his bachelor life, when he was young and thought he could do anything he chose, when he had neither love for his wife nor memory of his baby.
“Let us go together,” he said, stretching.
When they reached the university Polina waited at the gate, while Laptev went into the office; he came back soon afterwards and handed Polina five receipts.
“Where are you going now?” he asked.
“I’ll come with you.”
“But you’ll prevent him from writing.”
“No, I assure you I won’t,” he said, and looked at her imploringly.