Meanwhile Vassily Lukitch had not
at first understood who this lady was, and had learned
from their conversation that it was no other person
than the mother who had left her husband, and whom
he had not seen, as he had entered the house after
her departure. He was in doubt whether to go
in or not, or whether to communicate with Alexey Alexandrovitch.
Reflecting finally that his duty was to get Seryozha
up at the hour fixed, and that it was therefore not
his business to consider who was there, the mother
or anyone else, but simply to do his duty, he finished
dressing, went to the door and opened it.
But the embraces of the mother and
child, the sound of their voices, and what they were
saying, made him change his mind.
He shook his head, and with a sigh
he closed the door. “I’ll wait another
ten minutes,” he said to himself, clearing his
throat and wiping away tears.
Among the servants of the household
there was intense excitement all this time.
All had heard that their mistress had come, and that
Kapitonitch had let her in, and that she was even now
in the nursery, and that their master always went
in person to the nursery at nine o’clock, and
every one fully comprehended that it was impossible
for the husband and wife to meet, and that they must
prevent it. Korney, the valet, going down to
the hall porter’s room, asked who had let her
in, and how it was he had done so, and ascertaining
that Kapitonitch had admitted her and shown her up,
he gave the old man a talking-to. The hall porter
was doggedly silent, but when Korney told him he ought
to be sent away, Kapitonitch darted up to him, and
waving his hands in Korney’s face, began:
“Oh yes, to be sure you’d
not have let her in! After ten years’
service, and never a word but of kindness, and there
you’d up and say, ‘Be off, go along, get
away with you!’ Oh yes, you’re a shrewd
one at politics, I dare say! You don’t
need to be taught how to swindle the master, and to
filch fur coats!”
“Soldier!” said Korney
contemptuously, and he turned to the nurse who was
coming in. “Here, what do you think, Marya
Efimovna: he let her in without a word to anyone,”
Korney said addressing her. “Alexey Alexandrovitch
will be down immediately and go into the
“A pretty business, a pretty
business!” said the nurse. “You,
Korney Vassilievitch, you’d best keep him some
way or other, the master, while I’ll run and
get her away somehow. A pretty business!”
When the nurse went into the nursery,
Seryozha was telling his mother how he and Nadinka
had had a fall in sledging downhill, and had turned
over three times. She was listening to the sound
of his voice, watching his face and the play of expression
on it, touching his hand, but she did not follow what
he was saying. She must go, she must leave him, this
was the only thing she was thinking and feeling.
She heard the steps of Vassily Lukitch coming up
to the door and coughing; she heard, too, the steps
of the nurse as she came near; but she sat like one
turned to stone, incapable of beginning to speak or
to get up.
“Mistress, darling!” began
the nurse, going up to Anna and kissing her hands
and shoulders. “God has brought joy indeed
to our boy on his birthday. You aren’t
changed one bit.”
“Oh, nurse dear, I didn’t
know you were in the house,” said Anna, rousing
herself for a moment.
“I’m not living here,
I’m living with my daughter. I came for
the birthday, Anna Arkadyevna, darling!”
The nurse suddenly burst into tears,
and began kissing her hand again.
Seryozha, with radiant eyes and smiles,
holding his mother by one hand and his nurse by the
other, pattered on the rug with his fat little bare
feet. The tenderness shown by his beloved nurse
to his mother threw him into an ecstasy.
“Mother! She often comes
to see me, and when she comes…” he was beginning,
but he stopped, noticing that the nurse was saying
something in a whisper to his mother, and that in his
mother’s face there was a look of dread and
something like shame, which was so strangely unbecoming
She went up to him.
“My sweet!” she said.
She could not say good-bye,
but the expression on her face said it, and he understood.
“Darling, darling Kootik!” she used the
name by which she had called him when he was little,
“you won’t forget me? You…”
but she could not say more.
How often afterwards she thought of
words she might have said. But now she did not
know how to say it, and could say nothing. But
Seryozha knew all she wanted to say to him. He
understood that she was unhappy and loved him.
He understood even what the nurse had whispered.
He had caught the words “always at nine o’clock,”
and he knew that this was said of his father, and that
his father and mother could not meet. That he
understood, but one thing he could not understand why
there should be a look of dread and shame in her face?…
She was not in fault, but she was afraid of him and
ashamed of something. He would have liked to
put a question that would have set at rest this doubt,
but he did not dare; he saw that she was miserable,
and he felt for her. Silently he pressed close
to her and whispered, “Don’t go yet.
He won’t come just yet.”
The mother held him away from her
to see what he was thinking, what to say to him, and
in his frightened face she read not only that he was
speaking of his father, but, as it were, asking her
what he ought to think about his father.
“Seryozha, my darling,”
she said, “love him; he’s better and kinder
than I am, and I have done him wrong. When you
grow up you will judge.”
“There’s no one better
than you!…” he cried in despair through his
tears, and, clutching her by the shoulders, he began
squeezing her with all his force to him, his arms trembling
with the strain.
“My sweet, my little one!”
said Anna, and she cried as weakly and childishly
At that moment the door opened.
Vassily Lukitch came in.
At the other door there was the sound
of steps, and the nurse in a scared whisper said,
“He’s coming,” and gave Anna her
Seryozha sank onto the bed and sobbed,
hiding his face in his hands. Anna removed his
hands, once more kissed his wet face, and with rapid
steps went to the door. Alexey Alexandrovitch
walked in, meeting her. Seeing her, he stopped
short and bowed his head.
Although she had just said he was
better and kinder than she, in the rapid glance she
flung at him, taking in his whole figure in all its
details, feelings of repulsion and hatred for him and
jealousy over her son took possession of her.
With a swift gesture she put down her veil, and,
quickening her pace, almost ran out of the room.
She had not time to undo, and so carried
back with her, the parcel of toys she had chosen the
day before in a toy shop with such love and sorrow.