“Most likely,” she answered. “It’s early for him to have gone to the club.”
There were gardens all along the lane, and a row of lime-trees growing by the fence cast a broad patch of shadow in the moonlight, so that the gate and the fences were completely plunged in darkness on one side, from which came the sounds of women whispering, smothered laughter, and someone playing softly on a balalaika. There was a fragrance of lime-flowers and of hay. This fragrance and the murmur of the unseen whispers worked upon Laptev. He was all at once overwhelmed with a passionate longing to throw his arms round his companion, to shower kisses on her face, her hands, her shoulders, to burst into sobs, to fall at her feet and to tell her how long he had been waiting for her. A faint scarcely perceptible scent of incense hung about her; and that scent reminded him of the time when he, too, believed in God and used to go to evening service, and when he used to dream so much of pure romantic love. And it seemed to him that, because this girl did not love him, all possibility of the happiness he had dreamed of then was lost to him forever.
She began speaking sympathetically of the illness of his sister, Nina Fyodorovna. Two months before his sister had undergone an operation for cancer, and now every one was expecting a return of the disease.
“I went to see her this morning,” said Yulia Sergeyevna, “and it seemed to me that during the last week she has, not exactly grown thin, but has, as it were, faded.”
“Yes, yes,” Laptev agreed. “There’s no return of the symptoms, but every day I notice she grows weaker and weaker, and is wasting before my eyes. I don’t understand what’s the matter with her.”
“Oh dear! And how strong she used to be, plump and rosy!” said Yulia Sergeyevna after a moment’s silence. “Every one here used to call her the Moscow lady. How she used to laugh! On holidays she used to dress up like a peasant girl, and it suited her so well.”
Doctor Sergey Borisovitch was at home; he was a stout, red-faced man, wearing a long coat that reached below his knees, and looking as though he had short legs. He was pacing up and down his study, with his hands in his pockets, and humming to himself in an undertone, “Ru-ru-ru-ru.” His grey whiskers looked unkempt, and his hair was unbrushed, as though he had just got out of bed. And his study with pillows on the sofa, with stacks of papers in the corners, and with a dirty invalid poodle lying under the table, produced the same impression of unkemptness and untidiness as himself.
“M. Laptev wants to see you,” his daughter said to him, going into his study.
“Ru-ru-ru-ru,” he hummed louder than ever, and turning into the drawing-room, gave his hand to Laptev, and asked: “What good news have you to tell me?”
It was dark in the drawing-room. Laptev, still standing with his hat in his hand, began apologising for disturbing him; he asked what was to be done to make his sister sleep at night, and why she was growing so thin; and he was embarrassed by the thought that he had asked those very questions at his visit that morning.