THE elegantly dressed man went up to Nejdanov with an amiable smile and began:
"I have already had the pleasure of meeting you and even speaking to you, Mr.
Nejdanov, the day before yesterday, if you remember, at the theatre." (Th_isitor paused, as though waiting for Nejdanov to make some remark, but th_atter merely bowed slightly and blushed.) "I have come to see you about you_dvertisement, which I noticed in the paper. I should like us to have a tal_f your visitors would not mind… " (He bowed to Mashurina, and waved a grey- gloved hand in the direction of Paklin and Ostrodumov.)
"Not at all," Nejdanov replied awkwardly. "Won't you sit down?"
The visitor bowed from the waist, drew a chair to himself, but did not si_own, as every oneelse was standing. He merely gazed around the room with hi_right though half-closed eyes.
"Goodbye, Alexai Dmitritch," Mashurina exclaimed suddenly. "I will come agai_resently."
"And I too," Ostrodumov added.
Mashurina did not take the slightest notice of the visitor as she passed him, but went straight up to Nejdanov, gave him a hearty shake of the hand, an_eft the room without bowing to anyone. Ostrodumov followed her, making a_nnecessary noise with his boots, and snorting out once or twic_ontemptuously, "There's a beaver collar for you!"
The visitor accompanied them with a polite though slightly inquisitive look, and then directed his gaze to Paklin, hoping the latter would follow thei_xample, but Paklin withdrew into a corner and settled down. A peculiarl_uppressed smile played on his lips ever since the appearance of the stranger.
The visitor and Nejdanov also sat down.
"My name is Sipiagin. You may perhaps have heard of me," the visitor bega_ith modest pride.
We must first relate how Nejdanov had met him at the theatre.
There had been a performance of Ostrovsky's play "Never Sit in Another Man'_ledge", on the occasion of the great actor Sadovsky's coming from Moscow.
Rusakov, one of the characters in the play, was known to be one of hi_avourite parts. Just before dinner on that day, Nejdanov went down to th_heatre to book a ticket, but found a large crowd already waiting there. H_alked up to the desk with the intention of getting a ticket for the pit, whe_n officer, who happened to be standing behind him, thrust a three-rouble not_ver Nejdanov's head and called out to the man inside: "He" (meaning Nejdanov)
"will probably want change. I don't. Give me a ticket for the stalls, please.
Make haste, I'm in a hurry!"
"Excuse me, sir, I want a ticket for the stalls myself!Nejdanov exclaimed, throwing down a three-rouble note, all the ready money he possessed. He go_is ticket, and in the evening appeared in the aristocratic part of th_lexandrinsky Theatre.
He was badly dressed, without gloves and in dirty boots. He was uncomfortabl_nd angry with himself for feeling uncomfortable. A general with numerou_rders glittering on his breast sat on his right, and on his left this sam_legant Sipiagin, whose appearance two days later at Nejdanov's so astonishe_ashurina and Ostrodumov. The general stared at Nejdanov every now and again, as though at something indecent, out of place, and offensive. Sipiagin looke_t him sideways, but did not seem unfriendly. All the people surrounding hi_ere evidently personages of some importance, and as they all knew on_nother, they kept exchanging remarks, exclamations, greetings, occasionall_ven over Nejdanov's head. He sat there motionless and ill at ease in hi_pacious armchair, feeling like an outcast. Ostrovsky's play and Sadovsky'_cting afforded him but little pleasure, and he felt bitter at heart. Whe_uddenly, Oh wonder! During one of the intervals, his neighbour on the left, not the glittering general, but the other with no marks of distinction on hi_reast, addressed him politely and kindly, but somewhat timidly. He asked hi_hat he thought of Ostrovsky's play, wanted to know his opinion of it as _epresentative of the new generation. Nejdanov, overwhelmed and hal_rightened, his heart beating fast, answered at first curtly, i_onosyllables, but soon began to be annoyed with his own excitement. "Afte_ll," he thought, " am I not a man like everybody else? "And began expressin_is opinions quite freely, without any restraint. He got so carried away b_is subject, and spoke so loudly, that he quite alarmed the order-bedecke_eneral. Nejdanov was a strong admirer of Ostrovsky, but could not hel_eeling, in spite of the author's great genius, his evident desire to throw _lur on modern civilisation in the burlesqued character of Veherov, in "Neve_it in Another Man's Sledge".
His polite neighbour listened to him attentively, evidently interested in wha_e said. He spoke to him again in the next interval, not about the play thi_ime, but about various matters of everyday life, about science, and eve_ouched upon political questions. He was decidedly interested in his eloquen_oung companion. Nejdanov did not feel in the least constrained as before, bu_ven began to assume airs, as if saying, "If you really want to know, I ca_atisfy your curiosity!" The general's annoyance grew to indignation and eve_uspicion.
After the play Sipiagin took leave of Nejdanov very courteously, but did no_sk his name, neither did he tell him his own. While waiting for his carriage, he ran against a friend, a certain Prince G., an aide-de-camp.
"I watched you from my box," the latter remarked, through a perfume_oustache. "Do you know whom you were speaking to?"
"No. Do you? A rather clever chap. Who is he?"
The prince whispered in his ear in French. "He is my brother … . illegitimate… . His name is Nejdanov. I will tell you all about it someday. My father di_ot in the least expect that sort of thing, that was why he called hi_ejdanov. [The unexpected.] But he looked after him all right. Il lui a fai_n sort. We make him an allowance to live on. He is not stupid. Had quite _ood education, thanks to my father. But he has gone quite off the track—_hink he's a republican. We refuse to have anything to do with him. Il es_mpossible. Goodbye, I see my carriage is waiting."
The prince separated.
The next day Sipiagin noticed Nejdanov's advertisement in the paper and wen_o see him.
"My name is Sipiagin," he repeated, as he sat in front of Nejdanov, surveyin_im with a dignified air. "I see by your advertisement that you are lookin_or a post, and I should like to know if you would be willing to come to me. _m married and have a boy of eight, a very intelligent child, I may say. W_sually spend the summer and autumn in the country, in the province of S., about five miles from the town of that name. I should like you to come to u_or the vacation to teach my boy Russian history and grammar. I think thos_ere the subjects you mentioned in your advertisement. I think you will get o_ith us all right, and I am sure you will like the neighbourhood. We have _arge house and garden, the air is excellent, and there is a river close by.
Well, would you like to come? We shall only have to come to terms, although _o not think," he added, with a slight grimace, "that there will be an_ifficulty on that point between us."
Nejdanov watched Sipiagin all the time he was speaking. He gazed at his smal_ead, bent a little to one side, his low, narrow, but intelligent forehead, his fine Roman nose, pleasant eyes, straight lips, out of which his word_lowed graciously; he gazed at his drooping whiskers, kept in the Englis_ashion, gazed and wondered. "What does it all mean?" he asked himself. "Wh_as this man come to seek me out? This aristocrat and I! What have we i_ommon? What does he see in me?"
He was so lost in thought that he did not open his lips when Sipiagin, havin_inished speaking, evidently awaited an answer. Sipiagin cast a look into th_orner where Paklin sat, also watching him. "Perhaps the presence of a thir_erson prevents him from saying what he would like," flashed across Sipiagin'_ind. He raised his eyebrows, as if in submission to the strangeness of th_urroundings he had come to of his own accord, and repeated his question _econd time.
"Of course," he began hurriedly, "I should like to… with pleasure … . only _ust confess … I am rather surprised … having no recommendations … and th_iews I expressed at the theatre were more calculated to prejudice you—"
"There you are quite mistaken Alexai—Alexai Dmitritch—have I got the nam_ight?" Sipiagin asked with a smile. "I may venture to say that I am wel_nown for my liberal and progressive opinions. On the contrary, what you sai_he other evening, with the exception perhaps of any youthful characteristics, which are always rather given to exaggeration, if you will excuse my sayin_o, I fully agreed with, and was even delighted with your enthusiasm."
Sipiagin spoke without the slightest hesitation, his words flowing from him a_ stream.
"My wife shares my way of thinking," he continued. "her views are, i_nything, more like yours than mine, which is not surprising, considering tha_he is younger than I am. When I read your name in the paper the day after ou_eeting—and by the way, you announced your name and address contrary to th_sual custom—I was rather struck by the coincidence, having already heard i_t the theatre. It seemed to me like the finger of fate. Excuse my being s_uperstitious. As for recommendations, I do not think they are necessary i_his case. I, like you, am accustomed to trusting my intuition. May I hop_hat you will come?"
"Yes, I will come," Nejdanov replied, "and will try to be worthy of you_onfidence. But there is one thing I should like to mention. I could undertak_o teach your boy, but am not prepared to look after him. I do not wish t_ndertake anything that would interfere with my freedom."
Sipiagin gave a slight wave of the hand, as if driving away a fly.
"You may be easy on that point. You are not made that way. I only wanted _utor, and I have found one. Well, now, how about terms? Financial terms, tha_s. Base metal!"
Nejdanov did not know what to say.
"I think," Sipiagin went on, bending forward and touching Nejdanov with th_ips of his fingers, "that decent people can settle such things in two words.
I will give you a hundred roubles a month and all travelling expenses. Wil_ou come?
"That is more than I wanted to ask … because I—"
"Well," Sipiagin interrupted him, "I look upon the matter as settled, an_onsider you as a member of our household." He rose from his chair, and becam_uite gay and expansive, as if he had just received a present. A certai_miable familiarity, verging on the playful, began to show itself in all hi_estures. " We shall set out in a day or two," he went on, in an easy tone.
"There is nothing I love better than meeting spring in the country, although _m a busy, prosaic sort of person, tied to town… I want you to count you_irst month as beginning from today. My wife and boy have already started, an_re probably in Moscow by now. We shall find them in the lap of nature. W_ill go alone, like two bachelors, ha, ha!" Sipiagin laughed coquettishly, through his nose. "And now—"
He took a black and silver pocketbook out of his overcoat pocket and pulle_ut a card.
"This is my address. Come and see me tomorrow at about twelve o'clock. We ca_alk things over further. I should like to tell you a few of my views o_ducation. We can also decide when to start."
Sipiagin took Nejdanov's hand. "By the way," he said, lowering his voice an_ending his head a little to one side, "if you are in need of money, please d_ot stand on ceremony. I can let you have a month's pay in advance."
Nejdanov was at a loss to know what to say. He gazed, with the same puzzle_xpression, at the kind, bright face, which was so strange yet so close t_im, smiling encouragingly.
"You are not in need of any?" Sipiagin asked in a whisper.
"I will tell you tomorrow, if I may," Nejdanov said at last.
"Well, goodbye, then. Till tomorrow." Sipiagin dropped Nejdanov's hand an_urned to go out.
"I should like to know," Nejdanov asked suddenly, "who told you my name? Yo_aid you heard it at the theatre."
"Someone who is very well known to you. A relative of yours, I think. Princ_."
Nejdanov flushed even redder than before, but did not say anything. Sipiagi_hook his hand again, without a word this time, then bowing first to him an_hen to Paklin, put on his hat at the door, and went out with a self-satisfie_mile on his lips, denoting the deep impression the visit must have produce_pon him.