“How glad I am to see you!” said Fyodor, kissing his brother and pressing his hand warmly. “I have been impatiently looking forward to seeing you every day, my dear fellow. When you wrote that you were getting married, I was tormented with curiosity, and I’ve missed you, too, brother. Only fancy, it’s six months since we saw each other. Well? How goes it? Nina’s very bad? Awfully bad?”
“It’s in God’s hands,” sighed Fyodor. “Well, what of your wife? She’s a beauty, no doubt? I love her already. Of course, she is my little sister now. We’ll make much of her between us.”
Laptev saw the broad, bent back—so familiar to him—of his father, Fyodor Stepanovitch. The old man was sitting on a stool near the counter, talking to a customer.
“Father, God has sent us joy!” cried Fyodor. “Brother has come!”
Fyodor Stepanovitch was a tall man of exceptionally powerful build, so that, in spite of his wrinkles and eighty years, he still looked a hale and vigorous man. He spoke in a deep, rich, sonorous voice, that resounded from his broad chest as from a barrel. He wore no beard, but a short-clipped military moustache, and smoked cigars. As he was always too hot, he used all the year round to wear a canvas coat at home and at the warehouse. He had lately had an operation for cataract. His sight was bad, and he did nothing in the business but talk to the customers and have tea and jam with them.
Laptev bent down and kissed his head and then his lips.
“It’s a good long time since we saw you, honoured sir,” said the old man—“a good long time. Well, am I to congratulate you on entering the state of holy matrimony? Very well, then; I congratulate you.”
And he put his lips out to be kissed. Laptev bent down and kissed him.
“Well, have you brought your young lady?” the old man asked, and without waiting for an answer, he said, addressing the customer:” ’Herewith I beg to inform you, father, that I’m going to marry such and such a young lady.’ Yes. But as for asking for his father’s counsel or blessing, that’s not in the rules nowadays. Now they go their own way. When I married I was over forty, but I went on my knees to my father and asked his advice. Nowadays we’ve none of that.”
The old man was delighted to see his son, but thought it unseemly to show his affection or make any display of his joy. His voice and his manner of saying “your young lady” brought back to Laptev the depression he had always felt in the warehouse. Here every trifling detail reminded him of the past, when he used to be flogged and put on Lenten fare; he knew that even now boys were thrashed and punched in the face till their noses bled, and that when those boys grew up they would beat others. And before he had been five minutes in the warehouse, he always felt as though he were being scolded or punched in the face.
Fyodor slapped the customer on the shoulder and said to his brother: