“Oh, come, a rouble’s not dear,” says the shopman persuasively, with a condescending smile. “It’s a French trimming, pure silk. . . . We have a commoner sort, if you like, heavier. That’s forty-five kopecks a yard; of course, it’s nothing like the same quality.”
“I want a bead corselet, too, with gimp buttons,” says Polinka, bending over the gimp and sighing for some reason. “And have you any bead motifs to match?”
Polinka bends still lower over the counter and asks softly:
“And why did you leave us so early on Thursday, Nikolay Timofeitch?”
“Hm! It’s queer you noticed it,” says the shopman, with a smirk. “You were so taken up with that fine student that . . . it’s queer you noticed it!”
Polinka flushes crimson and remains mute. With a nervous quiver in his fingers the shopman closes the boxes, and for no sort of object piles them one on the top of another. A moment of silence follows.
“I want some bead lace, too,” says Polinka, lifting her eyes guiltily to the shopman.
“What sort? Black or coloured? Bead lace on tulle is the most fashionable trimming.”
“And how much is it?”
“The black’s from eighty kopecks and the coloured from two and a half roubles. I shall never come and see you again,” Nikolay Timofeitch adds in an undertone.
“Why? It’s very simple. You must understand that yourself. Why should I distress myself? It’s a queer business! Do you suppose it’s a pleasure to me to see that student carrying on with you? I see it all and I understand. Ever since autumn he’s been hanging about you and you go for a walk with him almost every day; and when he is with you, you gaze at him as though he were an angel. You are in love with him; there’s no one to beat him in your eyes. Well, all right, then, it’s no good talking.”
Polinka remains dumb and moves her finger on the counter in embarrassment.
“I see it all,” the shopman goes on. “What inducement have I to come and see you? I’ve got some pride. It’s not every one likes to play gooseberry. What was it you asked for?”
“Mamma told me to get a lot of things, but I’ve forgotten. I want some feather trimming too.”
“What kind would you like?”
“The best, something fashionable.”
“The most fashionable now are real bird feathers. If you want the most fashionable colour, it’s heliotrope or kanak—that is, claret with a yellow shade in it. We have an immense choice. And what all this affair is going to lead to, I really don’t understand. Here you are in love, and how is it to end?”
Patches of red come into Nikolay Timofeitch’s face round his eyes. He crushes the soft feather trimming in his hand and goes on muttering: