He sat down. At close quarters the rouged cheekbones, the wrinkles, the fine lines on each side of the vivid lips, astounded him. He was being received graciously, with a smile which made him think of a grinning skull.
“We have been hearing about you for some time.”
He did not know what to say, and murmured some disconnected words. The grinning skull effect vanished.
“And do you know that the general complaint is that you have shown yourself very reserved everywhere?”
Razumov remained silent for a time, thinking of his answer.
“I, don’t you see, am a man of action,” he said huskily, glancing upwards.
Peter Ivanovitch stood in portentous expectant silence by the side of his chair. A slight feeling of nausea came over Razumov. What could be the relations of these two people to each other? She like a galvanized corpse out of some Hoffman’s Tale—he the preacher of feminist gospel for all the world, and a super-revolutionist besides! This ancient, painted mummy with unfathomable eyes, and this burly, bull-necked, deferential...what was it? Witchcraft, fascination.... “It’s for her money,” he thought. “She has millions!”
The walls, the floor of the room were bare like a barn. The few pieces of furniture had been discovered in the garrets and dragged down into service without having been properly dusted, even. It was the refuse the banker’s widow had left behind her. The windows without curtains had an indigent, sleepless look. In two of them the dirty yellowy-white blinds had been pulled down. All this spoke, not of poverty, but of sordid penuriousness.
The hoarse voice on the sofa uttered angrily—
“You are looking round, Kirylo Sidorovitch. I have been shamefully robbed, positively ruined.”
A rattling laugh, which seemed beyond her control, interrupted her for a moment.
“A slavish nature would find consolation in the fact that the principal robber was an exalted and almost a sacrosanct person—a Grand Duke, in fact. Do you understand, Mr. Razumov? A Grand Duke—No! You have no idea what thieves those people are! Downright thieves!”
Her bosom heaved, but her left arm remained rigidly extended along the back of the couch.
“You will only upset yourself,” breathed out a deep voice, which, to Razumov’s startled glance, seemed to proceed from under the steady spectacles of Peter Ivanovitch, rather than from his lips, which had hardly moved.
“What of hat? I say thieves! Voleurs! Voleurs!”
Razumov was quite confounded by this unexpected clamour, which had in it something of wailing and croaking, and more than a suspicion of hysteria.
“Voleurs! Voleurs! Vol....”
“No power on earth can rob you of your genius,” shouted Peter Ivanovitch in an overpowering bass, but without stirring, without a gesture of any kind. A profound silence fell.