The Schoolmistress, and other stories
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Having drunk two glasses of porter, the artist became suddenly tipsy and grew unnaturally lively. When he had brought his fri ends to the house which in his opinion was the best, he declared his firm intention of dancing a quadrille. They began dancing.
It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here there were just the same looking-glasses and pictures, the same styles of coiffure and dress.
Looking round at the furnishing of the rooms and the costumes, Vassilyev realized that this was not lack of taste, but something that might be called the taste, and even the style, of S. Street, which could not be found elsewhere--something intentional in its ugliness, not accidental, but elaborated in the course of years. After he had been in eight houses he was no longer surprised at the color of the dresses, at the long trains, the gaudy ribbons, the sailor dresses, and the. Modest black dresses, pale faces, mournful smiles, and darkness would be far more effective than this clumsy tawdriness.
If they don't understand it of themselves, their visitors might surely have taught them. A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came up to him and sat down beside him. Our madam keeps the girls well. But why do you ask all this? Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many things.
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He felt an intense desire to find out where she came from, whether her parents were living, and whether they knew that she was here; how she had come into this house; whether she were cheerful and satisfied, or sad and oppressed by gloomy thoughts; whether she hoped some day to get out of her present position. But he could not think how to begin or in what shape to put his questions so as not to seem impertinent. He thought for a long time, and asked:.
All at once she burst out laughing at something, and uttered a long cynical sentence loud enough to be heard by everyone. Vassilyev was aghast, and not knowing how to look, gave a constrained smile. He was the only one who smiled; all the others, his friends, the musicians, the women, did not even glance towards his neighbor, but seemed not to have heard her. Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voice, and walked away from her.
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It seemed to him hot and stifling, and his heart began throbbing slowly but violently, like a hammer -- one! While the artist and the medical student were finishing the quadrille, to avoid looking at the women, Vassilyev scrutinized the musicians. A respectable-looking old man in spectacles, rather like Marshal Bazaine, was playing the piano; a young man with a fair beard, dressed in the latest fashion, was playing the violin. The young man had a face that did not look stupid nor exhausted, but intelligent, youthful, and fresh. He was dressed. It was a mystery how he and the respectable-looking old man had come here.
How was it they were not ashamed to sit here? What were they thinking about when they looked at the women? If the violin and the piano had been played by men in rags, looking hungry, gloomy, drunken, with dissipated or stupid faces, then one could have understood their presence, perhaps.
As it was, Vassilyev could not understand it at all. He recalled the story of the fallen woman he had once read, and he thought now that that human figure with the guilty smile had nothing in common with what he was seeing now. It seemed to him that he was seeing not fallen women, but some different world quite apart, alien to him and incomprehensible; if he had seen this world before on the stage, or read of it in a book, he would not have believed in it. The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again and uttered a loathsome sentence in a loud voice.
A feeling of disgust took possession of him. He flushed crimson and went out of the room. We talked about her first romance. He, the hero, was an accountant at Smolensk with a wife and five children. She was seventeen, and she lived with her papa and mamma, who sold soap and candles. Besides, I am bored, disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human beings -- but they are savages and animals. I am going; do as you like.
Let's go to one more together and damnation take them! Please do, Grisha! They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the carpet and the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the door, and in the panels that decorated the hall, the same S.
The Schoolmistress, and other stories eBook
Street style was apparent, but carried to a greater perfection, more imposing. Gri-gri, be a good comrade! We came together, we will go back together. What a beast you are, really! If it is loathsome, you can observe it! Do you understand? You can observe! Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a number of visitors in the room besides him and his friends: two infantry officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman in spectacles, two beardless youths from the institute of land-surveying, and a very tipsy man who looked like an actor.
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All the young ladies were taken up with these visitors and paid no attention to Vassilyev. He was tormented by the thought that he, a decent and loving man such as he had hitherto considered himself , hated these women and felt nothing but repulsion towards them.
He felt pity neither for the women nor the musicians nor the flunkeys. One must understand them and then judge. And he began gazing at each of the women with strained attention, looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not know how to read their faces, or not one of these women felt herself to be guilty; he read on every face nothing but a blank expression of everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stupid faces, stupid smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent movements, and nothing else.
Apparently each of them had in the past a romance with an accountant based on underclothes for fifty roubles, and looked for no other charm in the present but coffee, a dinner of three courses, wines, quadrilles, sleeping till two in the afternoon.
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Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether there was not one intelligent face. And his attention was caught by one pale, rather sleepy, exhausted-looking face. It was a dark woman, not very young, wearing a dress covered with spangles; she was sitting in an easy-chair, looking at the floor lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room to the other, and, as though casually, sat down beside her.
No doubt she loves the place if she has been born there. Even if I hadn't anyone could understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, and you are a slave.