The Grasshopper - VII
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfast, and did not go to the hospital, but spent the whole time lying on his sofa in the study. Olga Ivanovna went as usual at midday to see Ryabovsky, to show him her still-life sketch, and to ask him why he had not been to see her the evening before. The sketch seemed to her worthless, and she had painted it only in order to have an additional reason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringing, and as she was taking off her goloshes in the entry she heard a sound as of something running softly in the studio, with a feminine rustle of skirts; and as she hastened to peep in she caught a momentary glimpse of a bit of brown petticoat, which vanished behind a big picture draped, together with the easel, with black calico, to the floor. There could be no doubt that a woman was hiding there. How often Olga Ivanovna herself had taken refuge behind that picture!
Ryabovsky, evidently much embarrassed, held out both hands to her, as though surprised at her arrival, and said with a forced smile:
“Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?”
Olga Ivanovna’s eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and bitter, and would not for a million roubles have consented to speak in the presence of the outsider, the rival, the deceitful woman who was standing now behind the picture, and probably giggling malignantly.
“I have brought you a sketch,” she said timidly in a thin voice, and her lips quivered. “Nature morte.”
“Ah—ah!... A sketch?”
The artist took the sketch in his hands, and as he examined it walked, as it were mechanically, into the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
“Nature morte... first-rate sort,” he muttered, falling into rhyme. “Kurort... sport... port...”
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the rustle of a skirt.
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloud, to hit the artist on the head with something heavy, but she could see nothing through her tears, was crushed by her shame, and felt herself, not Olga Ivanovna, not an artist, but a little insect.
“I am tired...” said the artist languidly, looking at the sketch and tossing his head as though struggling with drowsiness. “It’s very nice, of course, but here a sketch today, a sketch last year, another sketch in a month... I wonder you are not bored with them. If I were you I should give up painting and work seriously at music or something. You’re not an artist, you know, but a musician. But you can’t think how tired I am! I’ll tell them to bring us some tea, shall I?”
He went out of the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him give some order to his footman. To avoid farewells and explanations, and above all to avoid bursting into sobs, she ran as fast as she could, before Ryabovsky came back, to the entry, put on her goloshes, and went out into the street; then she breathed easily, and felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky and from painting and from the burden of shame which had so crushed her in the studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker’s; then to see Barnay, who had only arrived the day before; from Barnay to a music-shop, and all the time she was thinking how she would write Ryabovsky a cold, cruel letter full of personal dignity, and how in the spring or the summer she would go with Dymov to the Crimea, free herself finally from the past there, and begin a new life.
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the drawing-room, without taking off her things, to begin the letter. Ryabovsky had told her she was not an artist, and to pay him out she wrote to him now that he painted the same thing every year, and said exactly the same thing every day; that he was at a standstill, and that nothing more would come of him than had come already. She wanted to write, too, that he owed a great deal to her good influence, and that if he was going wrong it was only because her influence was paralysed by various dubious persons like the one who had been hiding behind the picture that day.
“Little mother!” Dymov called from the study, without opening the door.
“What is it?”
“Don’t come in to me, but only come to the door—that’s right.... The day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at the hospital, and now... I am ill. Make haste and send for Korostelev.”
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surname, as she did all the men of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian name, Osip, because it reminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the silly pun on his name. But now she cried:
“Osip, it cannot be!”
“Send for him; I feel ill,” Dymov said behind the door, and she could hear him go back to the sofa and lie down. “Send!” she heard his voice faintly.
“Good Heavens!” thought Olga Ivanovna, turning chill with horror. “Why, it’s dangerous!”
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroom, and there, reflecting what she must do, glanced casually at herself in the pier glass. With her pale, frightened face, in a jacket with sleeves high on the shoulders, with yellow ruches on her bosom, and with stripes running in unusual directions on her skirt, she seemed to herself horrible and disgusting. She suddenly felt poignantly sorry for Dymov, for his boundless love for her, for his young life, and even for the desolate little bed in which he had not slept for so long; and she remembered his habitual, gentle, submissive smile. She wept bitterly, and wrote an imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o’clock in the night.