“And that’s splendid ... And fine and charming,” Lichonin was saying, bustling about the lame table and without need shifting the tea things from one place to another. “For a long time, like an old crocodile, I haven’t drunk tea as it should be drunk, in a Christian manner, in a domestic setting. Sit down, Liuba, sit down, my dear, right here on the divan, and keep house. Vodka, in all probability, you don’t drink of a morning, but I, with your permission, will drink some ... This braces up the nerves right off. Make mine a little stronger, please, with a piece of lemon. Ah, what can taste better than a glass of hot tea, poured out by charming feminine hands?”
Liubka listened to his chatter, a trifle too noisy to seem fully natural; and her smile, in the beginning mistrusting, wary, was softening and brightening. But she did not get on with the tea especially well. At home, in the backwoods village, where this beverage was still held a rarity, the dainty luxury of well-to-do families, to be brewed only for honored guests and on great holidays—there over the pouring of the tea officiated the eldest man of the family. Later, when Liubka served with “all found” in the little provincial capital city, in the beginning at a priest’s, and later with an insurance agent (who had been the first to put her on the road of prostitution)—she was usually left some strained, tepid tea, which had already been drunk off, with a bit of gnawn sugar, by the mistress herself—the thin, jaundiced, malicious wife of the priest; or the wife of the agent, a fat, old, wrinkled, malignant, greasy, jealous and stingy common woman. Therefore, the simple business of preparing the tea was now as difficult for her as it is difficult for all of us in childhood to distinguish the left hand from the right, or to tie a rope in a small noose. The bustling Lichonin only hindered her and threw her into confusion.
“My dear, the art of brewing tea is a great art. It ought to be studied at Moscow. At first a dry teapot is slightly warmed up. Then the tea is put into it and is quickly scalded with boiling water. The first liquid must at once be poured off into the slop-bowl—the tea thus becomes purer and more aromatic; and by the way, it’s also known that Chinamen are pagans and prepare their herb very filthily. After that the tea-pot must be filled anew, up to a quarter of its volume; left on the tray, covered over with a towel and kept so for three and a half minutes. Afterwards pour in more boiling water almost up to the top, cover it again, let it stay just a bit, and you have ready, my dear, a divine beverage; fragrant, refreshing, and strengthening.”
The homely, but pleasant-looking face of Liubka, all spotted from freckles, like a cuckoo’s egg, lengthened and paled a little.
“Well, for God’s sake, don’t you be angry at me ... You’re called Vassil Vassilich, isn’t that so? Don’t get angry, darling Vassil Vassilich. Really, now, I’ll learn fast, I’m quick. And why do you say you and you [Footnote: In contradistinction to “thou,” as used to familiars and inferiors in Russia.—Trans] to me all the time? It seems that we aren’t strangers now?”