“My sister thanks you for your message. She often recalls how she used to take Kostya Kotchevoy to the preparatory class, and never speaks of you except as poor Kostya, as she still thinks of you as the little orphan boy she remembers. And so, poor orphan, I’m in love. While it’s a secret, don’t say anything to a ’certain person.’ I think it will all come right of itself, or, as the footman says in Tolstoy, will ‘come round.’”
When he had finished his letter Laptev went to bed. He was so tired that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, but for some reason he could not get to sleep; the noise in the street seemed to prevent him. The cattle were driven by to the blowing of a horn, and soon afterwards the bells began ringing for early mass. At one minute a cart drove by creaking; at the next, he heard the voice of some woman going to market. And the sparrows twittered the whole time.
The next morning was a cheerful one; it was a holiday. At ten o’clock Nina Fyodorovna, wearing a brown dress and with her hair neatly arranged, was led into the drawing-room, supported on each side. There she walked about a little and stood by the open window, and her smile was broad and naive, and, looking at her, one recalled a local artist, a great drunkard, who wanted her to sit to him for a picture of the Russian carnival. And all of them—the children, the servants, her brother, Alexey Fyodorovitch, and she herself— were suddenly convinced, that she was certainly going to get well. With shrieks of laughter the children ran after their uncle, chasing him and catching him, and filling the house with noise.
People called to ask how she was, brought her holy bread, told her that in almost all the churches they were offering up prayers for her that day. She had been conspicuous for her benevolence in the town, and was liked. She was very ready with her charity, like her brother Alexey, who gave away his money freely, without considering whether it was necessary to give it or not. Nina Fyodorovna used to pay the school fees for poor children; used to give away tea, sugar, and jam to old women; used to provide trousseaux for poor brides; and if she picked up a newspaper, she always looked first of all to see if there were any appeals for charity or a paragraph about somebody’s being in a destitute condition.
She was holding now in her hand a bundle of notes, by means of which various poor people, her proteges, had procured goods from a grocer’s shop.
They had been sent her the evening before by the shopkeeper with a request for the payment of the total—eighty-two roubles.
“My goodness, what a lot they’ve had! They’ve no conscience!” she said, deciphering with difficulty her ugly handwriting. “It’s no joke! Eighty-two roubles! I declare I won’t pay it.”
“I’ll pay it to-day,” said Laptev.
“Why should you? Why should you?” cried Nina Fyodorovna in agitation. “It’s quite enough for me to take two hundred and fifty every month from you and our brother. God bless you!” she added, speaking softly, so as not to be overheard by the servants.