“I’ll tell you,” said the doctor, beckoning over Sludin’s head to his coachman to bring the carriage round. “It’s just this,” said the doctor, taking a finger of his kid glove in his white hands and pulling it, “if you don’t strain the strings, and then try to break them, you’ll find it a difficult job; but strain a string to its very utmost, and the mere weight of one finger on the strained string will snap it. And with his close assiduity, his conscientious devotion to his work, he’s strained to the utmost; and there’s some outside burden weighing on him, and not a light one,” concluded the doctor, raising his eyebrows significantly. “Will you be at the races?” he added, as he sank into his seat in the carriage.
“Yes, yes, to be sure; it does waste a lot of time,” the doctor responded vaguely to some reply of Sludin’s he had not caught.
Directly after the doctor, who had taken up so much time, came the celebrated traveler, and Alexey Alexandrovitch, by means of the pamphlet he had only just finished reading and his previous acquaintance with the subject, impressed the traveler by the depth of his knowledge of the subject and the breadth and enlightenment of his view of it.
At the same time as the traveler there was announced a provincial marshal of nobility on a visit to Petersburg, with whom Alexey Alexandrovitch had to have some conversation. After his departure, he had to finish the daily routine of business with his secretary, and then he still had to drive round to call on a certain great personage on a matter of grave and serious import. Alexey Alexandrovitch only just managed to be back by five o’clock, his dinner-hour, and after dining with his secretary, he invited him to drive with him to his country villa and to the races.
Though he did not acknowledge it to himself, Alexey Alexandrovitch always tried nowadays to secure the presence of a third person in his interviews with his wife.
Anna was upstairs, standing before the looking glass, and, with Annushka’s assistance, pinning the last ribbon on her gown when she heard carriage wheels crunching the gravel at the entrance.
“It’s too early for Betsy,” she thought, and glancing out of the window she caught sight of the carriage and the black hat of Alexey Alexandrovitch, and the ears that she knew so well sticking up each side of it. “How unlucky! Can he be going to stay the night?” she wondered, and the thought of all that might come of such a chance struck her as so awful and terrible that, without dwelling on it for a moment, she went down to meet him with a bright and radiant face; and conscious of the presence of that spirit of falsehood and deceit in herself that she had come to know of late, she abandoned herself to that spirit and began talking, hardly knowing what she was saying.
“Ah, how nice of you!” she said, giving her husband her hand, and greeting Sludin, who was like one of the family, with a smile. “You’re staying the night, I hope?” was the first word the spirit of falsehood prompted her to utter; “and now we’ll go together. Only it’s a pity I’ve promised Betsy. She’s coming for me.”