Stepan Arkadyevich was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He was incapable of self-deception and of persuading himself that he repented his conduct. He could not at this date repent the fact that he, handsome, susceptible to love, a man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, and only a year younger than himself. All he repented was that he had not succeeded better in hiding this from his wife. But he felt all the difficulty of his position and was sorry for his wife, his children, and himself. Possibly he might have managed to conceal his sins better from his wife if he had anticipated that the knowledge of them would have had such an effect upon her. He had never clearly reflected on the subject, but he had vaguely conceived that his wife must long ago have suspected him of being unfaithful to her, and had shut her eyes to the fact. He had even supposed that she, a worn-out woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way remarkable or uncommon- merely a good mother- ought from a sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. It had turned out quite the other way.
"Oh, it's awful! Oh dear, oh dear! Awful!" Stepan Arkadyevich kept repeating to himself, and he could think of nothing to be done. "And how well things were going up till now! How well we got on! She was contented and happy in her children; I never interfered with her in anything; I let her manage the children and the house just as she liked. True, it's bad her having been a governess in our house. That's bad! There's something common, vulgar, in flirting with one's governess. But what a governess!" (He vividly recalled the roguish black eyes of Mlle. Roland and her smile.) "But after all, while she was in the house, I kept myself in hand. And the worst of it all is that she's already... It seems as if ill luck would have it so! Oh, oh! But what, what is to be done?"
There was no solution, save that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insolvable: One must live in the needs of the day- that is, forget oneself. To forget himself in sleep was impossible now, at least till nighttime; he could not go back now to the music sung by the decanter women; so he must forget himself in the dream of daily life.
"Then we shall see," Stepan Arkadyevich said to himself, and getting up he put on a gray dressing gown lined with blue silk, tied the tassels in a knot, and, drawing a deep breath of air into his broad chest, he walked to the window with his usual confident step, turning out his feet that carried his full frame so easily. He pulled up the blind and rang the bell loudly. It was at once answered by the appearance of an old friend, his valet, Matvei, carrying his clothes, his boots and a telegram. Matvei was followed by the barber with all the necessaries for shaving.
"Are there any papers from the board?" asked Stepan Arkadyevich, taking the telegram and seating himself at the looking glass.
"On the table," replied Matvei, glancing with inquiring sympathy at his master; and, after a short pause, he added with a sly smile:
"They've sent from the carriage jobber."
Stepan Arkadyevich made no reply, but merely glanced at Matvei in the looking glass. The glance, in which their eyes met in the looking glass, made it clear that they understood one another. Stepan Arkadyevich's eyes seemed to ask: "Why do you tell me that? Don't you know?"
Matvei put his hands in his jacket pockets, thrust out one leg, and gazed silently, with a good-humored, faint smile, at his master.
"I told them to come on Sunday, and till then not to trouble you or themselves for nothing," he said. He had obviously prepared the sentence beforehand.
Stepan Arkadyevich saw Matvei wanted to make a joke and attract attention to himself. Tearing open the telegram, he read it through, guessing at the words, misspelled as they always are in telegrams, and his face brightened.
"Matvei, my sister Anna Arkadyevna will be here tomorrow," he said, checking for a minute the sleek, plump hand of the barber, cutting a pink path between his long, curly side whiskers.
"Thank God!" said Matvei, showing by this response that he, like his master, realized the significance of this arrival: Anna Arkadyevna, the sister his master was so fond of, might bring about a reconciliation between husband and wife.
"Alone, or with her husband?" inquired Matvei.
Stepan Arkadyevich could not answer, as the barber was at work on his upper lip, and he raised one finger. Matvei nodded at the looking glass.
"Alone. Is the room to be got ready upstairs?"
"Inform Darya Alexandrovna: where she orders."
"Darya Alexandrovna?" Matvei repeated, as though in doubt.
"Yes, inform her. Here, take the telegram; give it to her, and then do what she tells you."
"You want to try it out," Matvei guessed, but only said: "Yes, sir."
Stepan Arkadyevich was already washed and combed and ready to be dressed, when Matvei, stepping slowly in his creaky boots, came back into the room with the telegram in his hand. The barber had gone.
"Darya Alexandrovna told me to inform you that she is going away. 'Let him'- that is you- 'do as he likes,'" he said, laughing only with his eyes, and, putting his hands in his pockets, he watched his master with his head on one side. Stepan Arkadyevich was silent a minute. Then a good-humored and rather pitiful smile showed itself on his handsome face.
"Eh, Matvei?" he said, shaking his head.
"Never mind, sir; everything will come round," said Matvei.
"Just so, sir."
"Do you think so?- Who's there?" asked Stepan Arkadyevich, hearing the rustle of a woman's dress at the door.
"It's I," said a firm, pleasant feminine voice, and the stern, pockmarked face of Matriona Philimonovna, the nurse, was thrust in at the door.
"Well, what's the matter, Matriosha?" queried Stepan Arkadyevich, meeting her in the doorway.
Although Stepan Arkadyevich was completely in the wrong as regards his wife, and was conscious of this himself, almost everyone in the house (even the nurse, Darya Alexandrovna's chief ally) was on his side.
"Well, what now?" he asked cheerlessly.
"Go to her, sir; own your fault again. Maybe God will aid you. She is suffering so, it's pitiful to see her; and besides, everything in the house is topsy-turvy. You must have pity, sir, on the children. Beg her forgiveness, sir. There's no help for it! One must pay the piper...."
"But she won't see me."
"You do your part. God is merciful; pray to God, sir- pray to God."
"Come, that'll do, you can go," said Stepan Arkadyevich, blushing suddenly. "Well, now, let's dress," he turned to Matvei and resolutely threw off his dressing gown.
Matvei was already holding up the shirt like a horse's collar, and, blowing off some invisible speck, he slipped it with obvious pleasure over the well-cared-for person of his master.