In my house there was then living an aged aunt with her niece. They were both greatly agitated when they heard of Misha’s arrival; they did not understand how I could have invited him to my house! He bore a very bad reputation. But, in the first place, I knew that he was always very polite to ladies; and, in the second place, I trusted to his promise to reform. And, as a matter of fact, during the early days of his sojourn under my roof Misha not only justified my expectations, but exceeded them; and he simply enchanted my ladies. He played picquet with the old lady; he helped her to wind yarn; he showed her two new games of patience; he accompanied the niece, who had a small voice, on the piano; he read her French and Russian poetry; he narrated diverting but decorous anecdotes to both ladies;—in a word, he was serviceable to them in all sorts of ways, so that they repeatedly expressed to me their surprise, while the old woman even remarked: “How unjust people sometimes are!... What all have not they said about him ... while he is so discreet and polite ... poor Misha!”
It is true that at table “poor Misha” licked his lips in a peculiarly-hasty way every time he even looked at a bottle. But all I had to do was to shake my finger, and he would roll up his eyes, and press his hand to his heart ... as much as to say: “I have sworn....”
“I am regenerated now!” he assured me.—“Well, God grant it!” I thought to myself.... But this regeneration did not last long.
During the early days he was very loquacious and jolly. But beginning with the third day he quieted down, somehow, although, as before, he kept close to the ladies and amused them. A half-sad, half-thoughtful expression began to flit across his face, and the face itself grew pale and thin.
“Art thou ill?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he answered;—“my head aches a little.”
On the fourth day he became perfectly silent; he sat in a corner most of the time, with dejectedly drooping head; and by his downcast aspect evoked a feeling of compassion in the two ladies, who now, in their turn, tried to divert him. At table he ate nothing, stared at his plate, and rolled bread-balls. On the fifth day the feeling of pity in the ladies began to be replaced by another—by distrust and even fear. Misha had grown wild, he avoided people and kept walking along the wall, as though creeping stealthily, and suddenly darting glances around him, as though some one had called him. And what had become of his rosy complexion? It seemed to be covered with earth.
“Art thou still ill?” I asked him.
“No; I am well,” he answered abruptly.
“Art thou bored?”
“Why should I be bored?”—But he turned away and would not look me in the eye.
“Or hast thou grown melancholy again?”—To this he made no reply.
On the following day my aunt ran into my study in a state of great excitement, and declared that she and her niece would leave my house if Misha were to remain in it.