The Grasshopper - VIII
When towards eight o’clock in the morning Olga Ivanovna, her head heavy from want of sleep and her hair unbrushed, came out of her bedroom, looking unattractive and with a guilty expression on her face, a gentleman with a black beard, apparently the doctor, passed by her into the entry. There was a smell of drugs. Korostelev was standing near the study door, twisting his left moustache with his right hand.
“Excuse me, I can’t let you go in,” he said surlily to Olga Ivanovna; “it’s catching. Besides, it’s no use, really; he is delirious, anyway.”
“Has he really got diphtheria?” Olga Ivanovna asked in a whisper.
“People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and punished for it,” muttered Korostelev, not answering Olga Ivanovna’s question. “Do you know why he caught it? On Tuesday he was sucking up the mucus through a pipette from a boy with diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid.... Just from folly....”
“Is it dangerous, very?” asked Olga Ivanovna.
“Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for Shrek really.”
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent arrived; then a tall, stooping, shaggy individual, who looked like a head deacon; then a stout young man with a red face and spectacles. These were doctors who came to watch by turns beside their colleague. Korostelev did not go home when his turn was over, but remained and wandered about the rooms like an uneasy spirit. The maid kept getting tea for the various doctors, and was constantly running to the chemist, and there was no one to do the rooms. There was a dismal stillness in the flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was punishing her for having deceived her husband. That silent, unrepining, uncomprehended creature, robbed by his mildness of all personality and will, weak from excessive kindness, had been suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofa, and had not complained. And if he were to complain even in delirium, the doctors watching by his bedside would learn that diphtheria was not the only cause of his sufferings. They would ask Korostelev. He knew all about it, and it was not for nothing that he looked at his friend’s wife with eyes that seemed to say that she was the real chief criminal and diphtheria was only her accomplice. She did not think now of the moonlight evening on the Volga, nor the words of love, nor their poetical life in the peasant’s hut. She thought only that from an idle whim, from self-indulgence, she had sullied herself all over from head to foot in something filthy, sticky, which one could never wash off....
“Oh, how fearfully false I’ve been!” she thought, recalling the troubled passion she had known with Ryabovsky. “Curse it all!...”
At four o’clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but scowl and drink red wine, and did not eat a morsel. She ate nothing, either. At one minute she was praying inwardly and vowing to God that if Dymov recovered she would love him again and be a faithful wife to him. Then, forgetting herself for a minute, she would look at Korostelev, and think: “Surely it must be dull to be a humble, obscure person, not remarkable in any way, especially with such a wrinkled face and bad manners!”
Then it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute for not having once been in her husband’s study, for fear of infection. And altogether she had a dull, despondent feeling and a conviction that her life was spoilt, and that there was no setting it right anyhow....
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room Korostelev was asleep on the sofa, with a gold-embroidered silk cushion under his head.
“Khee-poo-ah,” he snored—“khee-poo-ah.”
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did not notice this disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep and snoring in the drawing-room, and the sketches on the walls and the exquisite decoration of the room, and the fact that the lady of the house was dishevelled and untidy—all that aroused not the slightest interest now. One of the doctors chanced to laugh at something, and the laugh had a strange and timid sound that made one’s heart ache.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next time, Korostelev was not asleep, but sitting up and smoking.
“He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity,” he said in a low voice, “and the heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad way, really.”
“But you will send for Shrek?” said Olga Ivanovna.
“He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had passed into the nose. What’s the use of Shrek! Shrek’s no use at all, really. He is Shrek, I am Korostelev, and nothing more.”
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in her clothes on her bed, that had not been made all day, and sank into a doze. She dreamed that the whole flat was filled up from floor to ceiling with a huge piece of iron, and that if they could only get the iron out they would all be light-hearted and happy. Waking, she realized that it was not the iron but Dymov’s illness that was weighing on her.
“Nature morte, port...” she thought, sinking into forgetfulness again. “Sport... Kurort... and what of Shrek? Shrek... trek... wreck.... And where are my friends now? Do they know that we are in trouble? Lord, save... spare! Shrek... trek...”
And again the iron was there.... The time dragged on slowly, though the clock on the lower storey struck frequently. And bells were continually ringing as the doctors arrived.... The house-maid came in with an empty glass on a tray, and asked, “Shall I make the bed, madam?” and getting no answer, went away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the Volga; and again some one came into her bedroom, she thought a stranger. Olga Ivanovna jumped up, and recognized Korostelev.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Well, what is it?”
“What, indeed!... I’ve come to tell you he is passing....”
He gave a sob, sat down on the bed beside her, and wiped away the tears with his sleeve. She could not grasp it at once, but turned cold all over and began slowly crossing herself.
“He is passing,” he repeated in a shrill voice, and again he gave a sob. “He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a loss for science!” he said bitterly. “Compare him with all of us. He was a great man, an extraordinary man! What gifts! What hopes we all had of him!” Korostelev went on, wringing his hands: “Merciful God, he was a man of science; we shall never look on his like again. Osip Dymov, what have you done—aie, aie, my God!”
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despair, and shook his head.
“And his moral force,” he went on, seeming to grow more and more exasperated against some one. “Not a man, but a pure, good, loving soul, and clean as crystal. He served science and died for science. And he worked like an ox night and day—no one spared him—and with his youth and his learning he had to take a private practice and work at translations at night to pay for these... vile rags!”
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovna, snatched at the sheet with both hands and angrily tore it, as though it were to blame.
“He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him. Oh, what’s the use of talking!”
“Yes, he was a rare man,” said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the beginning to the end, with all its details, and suddenly she understood that he really was an extraordinary, rare, and, compared with every one else she knew, a great man. And remembering how her father, now dead, and all the other doctors had behaved to him, she realized that they really had seen in him a future celebrity. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and the carpet on the floor, seemed to be winking at her sarcastically, as though they would say, “You were blind! you were blind!” With a wail she flung herself out of the bedroom, dashed by some unknown man in the drawing-room, and ran into her husband’s study. He was lying motionless on the sofa, covered to the waist with a quilt. His face was fearfully thin and sunken, and was of a greyish-yellow colour such as is never seen in the living; only from the forehead, from the black eyebrows and from the familiar smile, could he be recognized as Dymov. Olga Ivanovna hurriedly felt his chest, his forehead, and his hands. The chest was still warm, but the forehead and hands were unpleasantly cold, and the half-open eyes looked, not at Olga Ivanovna, but at the quilt.
“Dymov!” she called aloud, “Dymov!” She wanted to explain to him that it had been a mistake, that all was not lost, that life might still be beautiful and happy, that he was an extraordinary, rare, great man, and that she would all her life worship him and bow down in homage and holy awe before him....
“Dymov!” she called him, patting him on the shoulder, unable to believe that he would never wake again. “Dymov! Dymov!”
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
“Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they live. They’ll wash the body and lay it out, and do everything that is necessary.”