“There! there!” Miguev muttered with a pale face, twisting his lips into a smile. “It was a joke.... It’s not my baby,... it’s the washer-woman’s!... I... I was joking.... Take it to the porter.”
“HONORED Sir, Father and Benefactor!” a petty clerk called Nevyrazimov was writing a rough copy of an Easter congratulatory letter. “I trust that you may spend this Holy Day even as many more to come, in good health and prosperity. And to your family also I...”
The lamp, in which the kerosene was getting low, was smoking and smelling. A stray cockroach was running about the table in alarm near Nevyrazimov’s writing hand. Two rooms away from the office Paramon the porter was for the third time cleaning his best boots, and with such energy that the sound of the blacking-brush and of his expectorations was audible in all the rooms.
“What else can I write to him, the rascal?” Nevyrazimov wondered, raising his eyes to the smutty ceiling.
On the ceiling he saw a dark circle—the shadow of the lamp-shade. Below it was the dusty cornice, and lower still the wall, which had once been painted a bluish muddy color. And the office seemed to him such a place of desolation that he felt sorry, not only for himself, but even for the cockroach.
“When I am off duty I shall go away, but he’ll be on duty here all his cockroach-life,” he thought, stretching. “I am bored! Shall I clean my boots?”
And stretching once more, Nevyrazimov slouched lazily to the porter’s room. Paramon had finished cleaning his boots. Crossing himself with one hand and holding the brush in the other, he was standing at the open window-pane, listening.
“They’re ringing,” he whispered to Nevyrazimov, looking at him with eyes intent and wide open. “Already!”
Nevyrazimov put his ear to the open pane and listened. The Easter chimes floated into the room with a whiff of fresh spring air. The booming of the bells mingled with the rumble of carriages, and above the chaos of sounds rose the brisk tenor tones of the nearest church and a loud shrill laugh.
“What a lot of people!” sighed Nevyrazimov, looking down into the street, where shadows of men flitted one after another by the illumination lamps. “They’re all hurrying to the midnight service.... Our fellows have had a drink by now, you may be sure, and are strolling about the town. What a lot of laughter, what a lot of talk! I’m the only unlucky one, to have to sit here on such a day: And I have to do it every year!”
“Well, nobody forces you to take the job. It’s not your turn to be on duty today, but Zastupov hired you to take his place. When other folks are enjoying themselves you hire yourself out. It’s greediness!”