The old man’s voice boomed unceasingly. Having nothing to do, he was laying down the law to a customer, telling him how he should order his life and his business, always holding himself up as an example. That boastfulness, that aggressive tone of authority, Laptev had heard ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. The old man adored himself; from what he said it always appeared that he had made his wife and all her relations happy, that he had been munificent to his children, and a benefactor to his clerks and employes, and that every one in the street and all his acquaintances remembered him in their prayers. Whatever he did was always right, and if things went wrong with people it was because they did not take his advice; without his advice nothing could succeed. In church he stood in the foremost place, and even made observations to the priests, if in his opinion they were not conducting the service properly, and believed that this was pleasing God because God loved him.
At two o’clock every one in the warehouse was hard at work, except the old man, who still went on booming in his deep voice. To avoid standing idle, Laptev took some trimmings from a workgirl and let her go; then listened to a customer, a merchant from Vologda, and told a clerk to attend to him.
“T. V. A.!” resounded on all sides (prices were denoted by letters in the warehouse and goods by numbers). “R. I. T.!” As he went away, Laptev said good-bye to no one but Fyodor.
“I shall come to Pyatnitsky Street with my wife to-morrow,” he said; “but I warn you, if father says a single rude thing to her, I shall not stay there another minute.”
“You’re the same as ever,” sighed Fyodor. “Marriage has not changed you. You must be patient with the old man. So till eleven o’clock, then. We shall expect you impatiently. Come directly after mass, then.”
“I don’t go to mass.”
“That does not matter. The great thing is not to be later than eleven, so you may be in time to pray to God and to lunch with us. Give my greetings to my little sister and kiss her hand for me. I have a presentiment that I shall like her,” Fyodor added with perfect sincerity. “I envy you, brother!” he shouted after him as Alexey went downstairs.
“And why does he shrink into himself in that shy way as though he fancied he was naked?” thought Laptev, as he walked along Nikolsky Street, trying to understand the change that had come over his brother. “And his language is new, too: ’Brother, dear brother, God has sent us joy; to pray to God’—just like Iudushka in Shtchedrin.”