“Pretend to be looking at the things,” Nikolay Timofeitch whispers, bending down to Polinka with a forced smile. “Dear me, you do look pale and ill; you are quite changed. He’ll throw you over, Pelagea Sergeevna! Or if he does marry you, it won’t be for love but from hunger; he’ll be tempted by your money. He’ll furnish himself a nice home with your dowry, and then be ashamed of you. He’ll keep you out of sight of his friends and visitors, because you’re uneducated. He’ll call you ‘my dummy of a wife.’ You wouldn’t know how to behave in a doctor’s or lawyer’s circle. To them you’re a dressmaker, an ignorant creature.”
“Nikolay Timofeitch!” somebody shouts from the other end of the shop. “The young lady here wants three yards of ribbon with a metal stripe. Have we any?”
Nikolay Timofeitch turns in that direction, smirks and shouts:
“Yes, we have! Ribbon with a metal stripe, ottoman with a satin stripe, and satin with a moire stripe!”
“Oh, by the way, I mustn’t forget, Olga asked me to get her a pair of stays!” says Polinka.
“There are tears in your eyes,” says Nikolay Timofeitch in dismay. “What’s that for? Come to the corset department, I’ll screen you —it looks awkward.”
With a forced smile and exaggeratedly free and easy manner, the shopman rapidly conducts Polinka to the corset department and conceals her from the public eye behind a high pyramid of boxes.
“What sort of corset may I show you?” he asks aloud, whispering immediately: “Wipe your eyes!”
“I want . . . I want . . . size forty-eight centimetres. Only she wanted one, lined . . . with real whalebone . . . I must talk to you, Nikolay Timofeitch. Come to-day!”
“Talk? What about? There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You are the only person who . . . cares about me, and I’ve no one to talk to but you.”
“These are not reed or steel, but real whalebone. . . . What is there for us to talk about? It’s no use talking. . . . You are going for a walk with him to-day, I suppose?”
“Yes; I . . . I am.”
“Then what’s the use of talking? Talk won’t help. . . . You are in love, aren’t you?”
“Yes . . .” Polinka whispers hesitatingly, and big tears gush from her eyes.
“What is there to say?” mutters Nikolay Timofeitch, shrugging his shoulders nervously and turning pale. “There’s no need of talk. . . . Wipe your eyes, that’s all. I . . . I ask for nothing.”
At that moment a tall, lanky shopman comes up to the pyramid of boxes, and says to his customer:
“Let me show you some good elastic garters that do not impede the circulation, certified by medical authority . . .”
Nikolay Timofeitch screens Polinka, and, trying to conceal her emotion and his own, wrinkles his face into a smile and says aloud:
“There are two kinds of lace, madam: cotton and silk! Oriental, English, Valenciennes, crochet, torchon, are cotton. And rococo, soutache, Cambray, are silk. . . . For God’s sake, wipe your eyes! They’re coming this way!”