“Laptev made me an offer to-day,” said Yulia Sergeyevna, and she flushed crimson.
The doctor looked at her and did not seem to understand.
“Laptev?” he queried. “Panaurov’s brother-in-law?”
He was fond of his daughter; it was most likely that she would sooner or later be married, and leave him, but he tried not to think about that. He was afraid of being alone, and for some reason fancied, that if he were left alone in that great house, he would have an apoplectic stroke, but he did not like to speak of this directly.
“Well, I’m delighted to hear it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I congratulate you with all my heart. It offers you a splendid opportunity for leaving me, to your great satisfaction. And I quite understand your feelings. To live with an old father, an invalid, half crazy, must be very irksome at your age. I quite understand you. And the sooner I’m laid out and in the devil’s clutches, the better every one will be pleased. I congratulate you with all my heart.”
“I refused him.”
The doctor felt relieved, but he was unable to stop himself and went on:
“I wonder, I’ve long wondered, why I’ve not yet been put into a madhouse—why I’m still wearing this coat instead of a strait-waistcoat? I still have faith in justice, in goodness. I am a fool, an idealist, and nowadays that’s insanity, isn’t it? And how do they repay me for my honesty? They almost throw stones at me and ride rough-shod over me. And even my nearest kith and kin do nothing but try to get the better of me. It’s high time the devil fetched an old fool like me. . . .”
“There’s no talking to you like a rational being!” said Yulia.
She got up from the table impulsively, and went to her room in great wrath, remembering how often her father had been unjust to her. But a little while afterwards she felt sorry for her father, too, and when he was going to the club she went downstairs with him, and shut the door after him. It was a rough and stormy night; the door shook with the violence of the wind, and there were draughts in all directions in the passage, so that the candle was almost blown out. In her own domain upstairs Yulia Sergeyevna went the round of all the rooms, making the sign of the cross over every door and window; the wind howled, and it sounded as though some one were walking on the roof. Never had it been so dreary, never had she felt so lonely.
She asked herself whether she had done right in rejecting a man, simply because his appearance did not attract her. It was true he was a man she did not love, and to marry him would mean renouncing forever her dreams, her conceptions of happiness in married life, but would she ever meet the man of whom she dreamed, and would he love her? She was twenty-one already. There were no eligible young men in the town. She pictured all the men she knew—government clerks, schoolmasters, officers, and some of them were