“The first family quarrel,” thought Lichonin, but thought it without malice, in jest.
The wash-up, the beauty of the gold and blue southern sky, and the naive, partly submissive, partly displeased face of Liubka, as well as the consciousness that after all he was a man, and that he and not she had to answer for the porridge he had cooked—all this together braced up his nerves and compelled him to take himself in hand. He opened the door and roared into the darkness of the stinking corridor:
“Al-lexa-andra! A samova-ar! Two lo-oaves, bu-utter, and sausage! And a small bottle of vo-odka!”
The patter of slippers was heard in the corridor, and an aged voice, even from afar, began to speak thickly:
“What are you bawling for? What are you bawling for, eh? Ho, ho, ho! Like a stallion in a stall. You ain’t little, to look at you; you’re grown up already, yet you carry on like a street boy! Well, what do you want?”
Into the room walked a little old woman, with red-lidded eyes, like little narrow cracks, and with a face amazingly like parchment, upon which a long, sharp nose stuck downward, morosely and ominously. This was Alexandra, the servant of old of the student bird-houses; the friend and creditor of all the students; a woman of sixty-five, argumentative, and a grumbler.
Lichonin repeated his order to her and gave her a rouble note. But the old woman would not go away; shuffled in one place, snorted, chewed with her lips and looked inimically at the girl sitting— with her back to the light.
“What’s the matter with you now, Alexandra, that you seem ossified?” asked Lichonin, laughing. “Or are you lost in admiration? Well, then, know: this is my cousin, my first cousin, that is—Liubov..."[Footnote: Love.—Trans.] he was confused for only a second, but immediately fired away: “Liubov Vasilievna, but for me—simply Liubochka. I’ve known her when she was only that high,” he showed a quarter of a yard off the table. “And I pulled her ears and slapped her for her caprices over the place where the legs grow from. And then ... I caught all sorts of bugs for her ... But, however ... However, you go on, go on, you Egyptian mummy, you fragment of former ages! Let one leg be here and the other there!”
But the old woman lingered. Stamping all around herself, she barely, barely turned to the door and kept a keen, spiteful, sidelong glance on Liubka. And at the same time she muttered with her sunken mouth:
“First cousin! We know these first cousins! There’s lots of them walking around Kashtanovaya Street. There, these he-dogs can never get enough!”
“Well, you old barque! Lively and don’t growl!” Lichonin shouted after her. “Or else, like your friend, the student Triassov, I’ll take and lock you up in the dressing room for twenty-four hours!”
Alexandra went away, and for a long time her aged, flapping steps and indistinct muttering could be heard in the corridor. She was inclined, in her austere, grumbling kindliness, to forgive a great deal to the studying youths, whom she had served for nigh unto forty years. She forgave drunkenness, card playing, scandals, loud singing, debts; but, alas! she was a virgin, and there was only one thing her continent soul could not abide—libertinage.