With people on whose work they were engaged they behaved like wily courtiers, and almost every day I was reminded of Shakespeare’s Polonius.
“I fancy it is going to rain,” the man whose house was being painted would say, looking at the sky.
“It is, there is not a doubt it is,” the painters would agree.
“I don’t think it is a rain-cloud, though. Perhaps it won’t rain after all.”
“No, it won’t, your honour! I am sure it won’t.”
But their attitude to their patrons behind their backs was usually one of irony, and when they saw, for instance, a gentleman sitting in the verandah reading a newspaper, they would observe:
“He reads the paper, but I daresay he has nothing to eat.”
I never went home to see my own people. When I came back from work I often found waiting for me little notes, brief and anxious, in which my sister wrote to me about my father; that he had been particularly preoccupied at dinner and had eaten nothing, or that he had been giddy and staggering, or that he had locked himself in his room and had not come out for a long time. Such items of news troubled me; I could not sleep, and at times even walked up and down Great Dvoryansky Street at night by our house, looking in at the dark windows and trying to guess whether everything was well at home. On Sundays my sister came to see me, but came in secret, as though it were not to see me but our nurse. And if she came in to see me she was very pale, with tear-stained eyes, and she began crying at once.
“Our father will never live through this,” she would say. “If anything should happen to him—God grant it may not—your conscience will torment you all your life. It’s awful, Misail; for our mother’s sake I beseech you: reform your ways.”
“My darling sister,” I would say, “how can I reform my ways if I am convinced that I am acting in accordance with my conscience? Do understand!”
“I know you are acting on your conscience, but perhaps it could be done differently, somehow, so as not to wound anybody.”
“Ah, holy Saints!” the old woman sighed through the door. “Your life is ruined! There will be trouble, my dears, there will be trouble!”
One Sunday Dr. Blagovo turned up unexpectedly. He was wearing a military tunic over a silk shirt and high boots of patent leather.
“I have come to see you,” he began, shaking my hand heartily like a student. “I am hearing about you every day, and I have been meaning to come and have a heart-to-heart talk, as they say. The boredom in the town is awful, there is not a living soul, no one to say a word to. It’s hot, Holy Mother,” he went on, taking off his tunic and sitting in his silk shirt. “My dear fellow, let me talk to you.”
I was dull myself, and had for a long time been craving for the society of someone not a house painter. I was genuinely glad to see him.