“That’s all quite right, my dear fellow,” said Yartsev, and he sighed. “That only proves once again how rich and varied Russian life is. Ah, how rich it is! Do you know, I feel more convinced every day that we are on the eve of the greatest triumph, and I should like to live to take part in it. Whether you like to believe it or not, to my thinking a remarkable generation is growing up. It gives me great enjoyment to teach the children, especially the girls. They are wonderful children!”
Yartsev went to the piano and struck a chord.
“I’m a chemist, I think in chemical terms, and I shall die a chemist,” he went on. “But I am greedy, and I am afraid of dying unsatisfied; and chemistry is not enough for me, and I seize upon Russian history, history of art, the science of teaching music. . . . Your wife asked me in the summer to write an historical play, and now I’m longing to write and write. I feel as though I could sit for three days and three nights without moving, writing all the time. I am worn out with ideas—my brain’s crowded with them, and I feel as though there were a pulse throbbing in my head. I don’t in the least want to become anything special, to create something great. I simply want to live, to dream, to hope, to be in the midst of everything . . . . Life is short, my dear fellow, and one must make the most of everything.”
After this friendly talk, which was not over till midnight, Laptev took to coming to see Yartsev almost every day. He felt drawn to him. As a rule he came towards evening, lay down on the sofa, and waited patiently for Yartsev to come in, without feeling in the least bored. When Yartsev came back from his work, he had dinner, and sat down to work; but Laptev would ask him a questions a conversation would spring up, and there was no more thought of work and at midnight the friends parted very well pleased with one another.
But this did not last long. Arriving one day at Yartsev’s, Laptev found no one there but Polina, who was sitting at the piano practising her exercises. She looked at him with a cold, almost hostile expression, and asked without shaking hands:
“Tell me, please: how much longer is this going on?”
“This? What?” asked Laptev, not understanding.
“You come here every day and hinder Yartsev from working. Yartsev is not a tradesman; he is a scientific man, and every moment of his life is precious. You ought to understand and to have some little delicacy!”
“If you think that I hinder him,” said Laptev, mildly, disconcerted, “I will give up my visits.”
“Quite right, too. You had better go, or he may be home in a minute and find you here.”
The tone in which this was said, and the indifference in Polina’s eyes, completely disconcerted him. She had absolutely no sort of feeling for him now, except the desire that he should go as soon as possible—and what a contrast it was to her old love for him! He went out without shaking hands with her, and he fancied she would call out to him, bring him back, but he heard the scales again, and as he slowly went down the stairs he realised that he had become a stranger to her now.