“Fool, stiff, daughter of a dog!” one was yelling. “Youse ain’t fit to kiss me right here.” And, turning her back around to her foe, she loudly slapped herself below the spine. “Right here! Here!”
While the other, infuriated, squealed in answer:
“You lie, you slut, for I am fit, I am fit!”
Lichonin utilized the minute. As though he had just recalled something, he hurriedly jumped up from the bench and called out:
“Wait for me, Aunty Luckeriya, I’ll come in three minutes!” and dived through the living ring of spectators.
“Master! Master!” his neighbour cried after him: “Come back the quickest you can, now! I’ve one little word to say to you.”
Having turned the corner, he for some time racked his head trying to recall what it was that he absolutely had to do, now, this very minute. And again, in the very depths of his soul, he knew just what he had to do, but he procrastinated confessing this to his own self. It was already a clear, bright day, about nine or ten o’clock. Janitors were watering the streets with rubber hose. Flower girls were sitting on the squares and near the gates of the boulevards, with roses, stock-gillyflowers and narcissi. The radiant, gay, rich southern town was beginning to get animated. Over the pavement jolted an iron cage filled with dogs of every possible colour, breed, and age. On the coach box were sitting two dog-catchers, or, as they deferentially style themselves, “the king’s dog-catchers”—i. e., hunters of stray dogs—returning home with this morning’s catch.
“She must be awake by now,” Lichonin’s secret thought finally took form; “but if she isn’t yet awake, then I’ll quietly lie down on the divan and sleep a little.”
In the corridor the dying kerosene lamp emitted a dim light and smoked as before, and the watery, murky half-light penetrated into the narrow, long box. The door of the room had remained unlocked, after all. Lichonin opened it without a sound and entered.
The faint, blue half-light poured in through the interstices between the blinds and the windows. Lichonin stopped in the middle of the room and with an intensified avidity heard the quiet, sleeping breathing of Liubka. His lips became so hot and dry that he had to lick them incessantly. His knees began to tremble.
“Ask if she needs anything,” suddenly darted through his head.
Like a drunkard, breathing hard, with mouth open, staggering on his shaking legs, he walked up to the bed.
Liubka was sleeping on her back, with one bare arm stretched out along the body, and the other on her breast. Lichonin bent nearer, to her very face. She was breathing evenly and deeply. This breathing of her young, healthy body was, despite sleep, pure and almost aromatic. He cautiously ran his fingers over her bare arm and stroked her breast a little below the clavicle. “What am I doing?” his reason suddenly cried out within him in terror; but some one else answered for Lichonin: “But I’m not doing anything. I only want to ask if she’s sleeping comfortably, and whether she doesn’t want some tea.”