Sasha began going to the high school. His mother departed to Harkov to her sister’s and did not return; his father used to go off every day to inspect cattle, and would often be away from home for three days together, and it seemed to Olenka as though Sasha was entirely abandoned, that he was not wanted at home, that he was being starved, and she carried him off to her lodge and gave him a little room there.
And for six months Sasha had lived in the lodge with her. Every morning Olenka came into his bedroom and found him fast asleep, sleeping noiselessly with his hand under his cheek. She was sorry to wake him.
“Sashenka,” she would say mournfully, “get up, darling. It’s time for school.”
He would get up, dress and say his prayers, and then sit down to breakfast, drink three glasses of tea, and eat two large cracknels and a half a buttered roll. All this time he was hardly awake and a little ill-humoured in consequence.
“You don’t quite know your fable, Sashenka,” Olenka would say, looking at him as though he were about to set off on a long journey. “What a lot of trouble I have with you! You must work and do your best, darling, and obey your teachers.”
“Oh, do leave me alone!” Sasha would say.
Then he would go down the street to school, a little figure, wearing a big cap and carrying a satchel on his shoulder. Olenka would follow him noiselessly.
“Sashenka!” she would call after him, and she would pop into his hand a date or a caramel. When he reached the street where the school was, he would feel ashamed of being followed by a tall, stout woman, he would turn round and say:
“You’d better go home, auntie. I can go the rest of the way alone.”
She would stand still and look after him fixedly till he had disappeared at the school-gate.
Ah, how she loved him! Of her former attachments not one had been so deep; never had her soul surrendered to any feeling so spontaneously, so disinterestedly, and so joyously as now that her maternal instincts were aroused. For this little boy with the dimple in his cheek and the big school cap, she would have given her whole life, she would have given it with joy and tears of tenderness. Why? Who can tell why?
When she had seen the last of Sasha, she returned home, contented and serene, brimming over with love; her face, which had grown younger during the last six months, smiled and beamed; people meeting her looked at her with pleasure.
“Good-morning, Olga Semyonovna, darling. How are you, darling?”
“The lessons at the high school are very difficult now,” she would relate at the market. “It’s too much; in the first class yesterday they gave him a fable to learn by heart, and a Latin translation and a problem. You know it’s too much for a little chap.”
And she would begin talking about the teachers, the lessons, and the school books, saying just what Sasha said.