At the thought of Olga, Volodya’s face softened.
“Here, you are a clever man, Volodya,” said Sofya Lvovna. “Show me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent. Life isn’t easy for me,” she added after a brief pause. “Tell me what to do. . . . Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me something, if it’s only one word.”
“One word? By all means: tararaboomdeeay.”
“Volodya, why do you despise me?” she asked hotly. “You talk to me in a special, fatuous way, if you’ll excuse me, not as one talks to one’s friends and women one respects. You are so good at your work, you are fond of science; why do you never talk of it to me? Why is it? Am I not good enough?”
Volodya frowned with annoyance and said:
“Why do you want science all of a sudden? Don’t you perhaps want constitutional government? Or sturgeon and horse-radish?”
“Very well, I am a worthless, trivial, silly woman with no convictions. I have a mass, a mass of defects. I am neurotic, corrupt, and I ought to be despised for it. But you, Volodya, are ten years older than I am, and my husband is thirty years older. I’ve grown up before your eyes, and if you would, you could have made anything you liked of me—an angel. But you”—her voice quivered— “treat me horribly. Yagitch has married me in his old age, and you . . .”
“Come, come,” said Volodya, sitting nearer her and kissing both her hands. “Let the Schopenhauers philosophise and prove whatever they like, while we’ll kiss these little hands.”
“You despise me, and if only you knew how miserable it makes me,” she said uncertainly, knowing beforehand that he would not believe her. “And if you only knew how I want to change, to begin another life! I think of it with enthusiasm!” and tears of enthusiasm actually came into her eyes. “To be good, honest, pure, not to be lying; to have an object in life.”
“Come, come, come, please don’t be affected! I don’t like it!” said Volodya, and an ill-humoured expression came into his face. “Upon my word, you might be on the stage. Let us behave like simple people.”
To prevent him from getting cross and going away, she began defending herself, and forced herself to smile to please him; and again she began talking of Olga, and of how she longed to solve the problem of her life and to become something real.
“Ta-ra-ra-boomdee-ay,” he hummed. “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay!”
And all at once he put his arm round her waist, while she, without knowing what she was doing, laid her hands on his shoulders and for a minute gazed with ecstasy, almost intoxication, at his clever, ironical face, his brow, his eyes, his handsome beard.
“You have known that I love you for ever so long,” she confessed to him, and she blushed painfully, and felt that her lips were twitching with shame. “I love you. Why do you torture me?”