An Anonymous Story
The worst of it was that Orlov had thoughtlessly let Polya, too,
into the secret of his deception, telling her to bring his
shirts to Sergievsky Street. After that, she looked at Zinaida
Fyodorovna with a malignant joy and hatred I could not
understand, and was never tired of snorting with delight to
herself in her own room and in the hall.
"She's outstayed her welcome; it's time she took herself off!"
she would say with zest. "She ought to realise that herself. . .
She already divined by instinct that Zinaida Fyodorovna would
not be with us much longer, and, not to let the chance slip,
carried off everything she set her eyes on -- smelling-bottles,
tortoise-shell hairpins, handkerchiefs, shoes! On the day after
New Year's Day, Zinaida Fyodorovna summoned me to her room and
told me in a low voice that she missed her black dress. And then
she walked through all the rooms, with a pale, frightened, and
indignant face, talking to herself:
"It's too much! It's beyond everything. Why, it's unheard-of
At dinner she tried to help herself to soup, but could not --
her hands were trembling. Her lips were trembling, too. She
looked helplessly at the soup and at the little pies, waiting
for the trembling to pass off, and suddenly she could not resist
looking at Polya.
"You can go, Polya," she said. "Stepan is enough by himself."
"I'll stay; I don't mind," answered Polya.
"There's no need for you to stay. You go away altogether,"
Zinaida Fyodorovna went on, getting up in great agitation. "You
may look out for another place. You can go at once."
"I can't go away without the master's orders. He engaged me. It
must be as he orders."
"You can take orders from me, too! I am mistress here!" said
Zinaida Fyodorovna, and she flushed crimson.
"You may be the mistress, but only the master can dismiss me. It
was he engaged me."
"You dare not stay here another minute!" cried Zinaida
Fyodorovna, and she struck the plate with her knife. "You are a
thief! Do you hear?"
Zinaida Fyodorovna flung her dinner-napkin on the table, and
with a pitiful, suffering face, went quickly out of the room.
Loudly sobbing and wailing something indistinct, Polya, too,
went away. The soup and the grouse got cold. And for some reason
all the restaurant dainties on the table struck me as poor,
thievish, like Polya. Two pies on a plate had a particularly
miserable and guilty air. "We shall be taken back to the
restaurant to-day," they seemed to be saying, "and to-morrow we
shall be put on the table again for some official or celebrated
"She is a fine lady, indeed," I heard uttered in Polya's room.
"I could have been a lady like that long ago, but I have some
self-respect! We'll see which of us will be the first to go!"
Zinaida Fyodorovna rang the bell. She was sitting in her room,
in the corner, looking as though she had been put in the corner
as a punishment.
"No telegram has come?" she asked.
"Ask the porter; perhaps there is a telegram. And don't leave
the house," she called after me. "I am afraid to be left alone."
After that I had to run down almost every hour to ask the porter
whether a telegram had come. I must own it was a dreadful time!
To avoid seeing Polya, Zinaida Fyodorovna dined and had tea in
her own room; it was here that she slept, too, on a short sofa
like a half-moon, and she made her own bed. For the first days I
took the telegrams; but, getting no answer, she lost her faith
in me and began telegraphing herself. Looking at her, I, too,
began impatiently hoping for a telegram. I hoped he would
contrive some deception, would make arrangements, for instance,
that a telegram should be sent to her from some station. If he
were too much engrossed with cards or had been attracted by some
other woman, I thought that both Gruzin and Kukushkin would
remind him of us. But our expectations were vain. Five times a
day I would go in to Zinaida Fyodorovna, intending to tell her
the truth, But her eyes looked piteous as a fawn's, her
shoulders seemed to droop, her lips were moving, and I went away
again without saying a word. Pity and sympathy seemed to rob me
of all manliness. Polya, as cheerful and well satisfied with
herself as though nothing had happened, was tidying the master's
study and the bedroom, rummaging in the cupboards, and making
the crockery jingle, and when she passed Zinaida Fyodorovna's
door, she hummed something and coughed. She was pleased that her
mistress was hiding from her. In the evening she would go out
somewhere, and rang at two or three o'clock in the morning, and
I had to open the door to her and listen to remarks about my
cough. Immediately afterwards I would hear another ring; I would
run to the room next to the study, and Zinaida Fyodorovna,
putting her head out of the door, would ask, "Who was it rung?"
while she looked at my hands to see whether I had a telegram.
When at last on Saturday the bell rang below and she heard the
familiar voice on the stairs, she was so delighted that she
broke into sobs. She rushed to meet him, embraced him, kissed
him on the breast and sleeves, said something one could not
understand. The hall porter brought up the portmanteaus; Polya's
cheerful voice was heard. It was as though some one had come
home for the holidays.
"Why didn't you wire?" asked Zinaida Fyodorovna, breathless with
joy. "Why was it? I have been in misery; I don't know how I've
lived through it. . . . Oh, my God!"
"It was very simple! I returned with the senator to Moscow the
very first day, and didn't get your telegrams," said Orlov.
"After dinner, my love, I'll give you a full account of my
doings, but now I must sleep and sleep. . . . I am worn out with
It was evident that he had not slept all night; he had probably
been playing cards and drinking freely. Zinaida Fyodorovna put
him to bed, and we all walked about on tiptoe all that day. The
dinner went off quite satisfactorily, but when they went into
the study and had coffee the explanation began. Zinaida
Fyodorovna began talking of something rapidly in a low voice;
she spoke in French, and her words flowed like a stream. Then I
heard a loud sigh from Orlov, and his voice.
"My God!" he said in French. "Have you really nothing fresher to
tell me than this everlasting tale of your servant's misdeeds?"
"But, my dear, she robbed me and said insulting things to me."
"But why is it she doesn't rob me or say insulting things to me?
Why is it I never notice the maids nor the porters nor the
footmen? My dear, you are simply capricious and refuse to know
your own mind. . . . I really begin to suspect that you must be
in a certain condition. When I offered to let her go, you
insisted on her remaining, and now you want me to turn her away.
I can be obstinate, too, in such cases. You want her to go, but
I want her to remain. That's the only way to cure you of your
"Oh, very well, very well," said Zinaida Fyodorovna in alarm.
"Let us say no more about that. . . . Let us put it off till
to-morrow. . . . Now tell me about Moscow. . . . What is going
on in Moscow?"