“As black as coal!” merrily roared Kupfer, and disappeared.
Aratoff went off to his own room, while Platonida Ivanovna remained rooted to the spot, repeating: “Help, Lord! Lord, help!”
The large hall in a private house on Ostozhyonka Street was already half filled with spectators when Aratoff and Kupfer arrived. Theatrical representations were sometimes given in that hall, but on this occasion neither stage-scenery nor curtain were visible. Those who had organised the “morning” had confined themselves to erecting a platform at one end, placing thereon a piano and a couple of music-racks, a few chairs, a table with a carafe of water and a glass, and hanging a curtain of red cloth over the door which led to the room set apart for the artists. In the first row the Princess was already seated, clad in a bright green gown; Aratoff placed himself at some distance from her, after barely exchanging a bow with her. The audience was what is called motley; it consisted chiefly of young men from various institutions of learning. Kupfer, in his quality of a manager, with a white ribbon on the lapel of his dress-coat, bustled and fussed about with all his might; the Princess was visibly excited, kept looking about her, launching smiles in all directions, and chatting with her neighbours ... there were only men in her immediate vicinity.
The first to make his appearance on the platform was a flute-player of consumptive aspect, who spat out ... that is to say, piped out a piece which was consumptive like himself. Two persons shouted “Bravo!” Then a fat gentleman in spectacles, very sedate and even grim of aspect, recited in a bass voice a sketch by Shtchedrin; the audience applauded the sketch, not him.—Then the pianist, who was already known to Aratoff, presented himself, and pounded out the same Liszt fantasia; the pianist was favoured with a recall. He bowed, with his hand resting on the back of a chair, and after each bow he tossed back his hair exactly like Liszt! At last, after a decidedly long intermission, the red cloth over the door at the rear of the platform moved, was drawn widely apart, and Clara Militch made her appearance. The hall rang with applause. With unsteady steps she approached the front of the platform, came to a halt, and stood motionless, with her large, red, ungloved hands crossed in front of her, making no curtsey, neither bending her head nor smiling.
She was a girl of nineteen, tall, rather broad-shouldered, but well built. Her face was swarthy, partly Hebrew, partly Gipsy in type; her eyes were small and black beneath thick brows which almost met, her nose was straight, slightly up-turned, her lips were thin with a beautiful but sharp curve; she had a huge braid of black hair, which was heavy even to the eye, a low, impassive, stony brow, tiny ears ... her whole countenance was thoughtful, almost surly. A passionate, self-willed nature,—not likely to be either kindly or even intelligent,—but gifted, was manifested by everything about her.