Ignaty Potapenko: Dethroned
WELL?" Captain Zarubkin's wife called out impatiently to her husband, rising from the sofa and turning to face him as he entered.
"He doesn't know anything about it," he replied indifferently, as if the matter were of no interest to him. Then he asked in a businesslike tone: "Nothing for me from the office?"
"Why should I know? Am I your errand boy?"
"How they dilly-dally! If only the package doesn't come too late. It's so important!"
"Who's an idiot?"
"You, with your indifference, your stupid egoism."
The captain said nothing. He was neither surprised nor insulted. On the contrary, the smile on his face was as though he had received a compliment. These wifely animad-versions, probably oft-heard, by no means interfered with his domestic peace.
"It can't be that the man doesn't know when his wife is coming back home," Mrs. Zarubkin continued excitedly. "She's written to him every day of the four months that she's been away. The postmaster told me so."
"Semyonov! Ho, Semyonov! Has any one from the office been here?"
"I don't know, your Excellency," came in a loud, clear voice from back of the room.
"Why don't you know? Where have you been?"
"I went to Abramka, your Excellency."
"The tailor again?"
"Yes, your Excellency, the tailor Abramka."
The captain spat in annoyance.
"And where is Krynka?"
"He went to market, your Excellency."
"Was he told to go to market?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
The captain spat again.
"Why do you keep spitting? Such vulgar manners!" his wife cried angrily. "You behave at home like a drunken subaltern. You haven't the least consideration for your wife. You are so coarse in your behaviour towards me! Do, please, go to your office."
"If the package comes, please have it sent back to the office and say I've gone there. And listen! Some one must always be here. I won't have everybody out of the house at the same time. Do you hear?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
The captain put on his cap to go. In the doorway he turned and addressed his wife.
"Please, Tasya, please don't send all the servants on your errands at the same time. Something important may turn up, and then there's nobody here to attend to it."
He went out, and his wife remained reclining in the sofa corner as if his plea were no concern of hers. But scarcely had he left the house, when she called out:
"Semyonov, come here. Quick!"
A bare-footed unshaven man in dark blue pantaloons and cotton shirt presented himself. His stocky figure and red face made a wholesome appearance. He was the Captain's orderly.
"At your service, your Excellency."
"Listen, Semyonov, you don't seem to be stupid."
"I don't know, your Excellency."
"For goodness' sake, drop 'your Excellency.' I am not your superior officer."
"Yes, your Excel—"
But the lady's manner toward the servant was far friendlier than toward her husband. Semyonov had it in his power to perform important services for her, while the captain had not come up to her expectations.
"Listen, Semyonov, how do you and the doctor's men get along together? Are you friendly?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
"Intolerable!" cried the lady, jumping up. "Stop using that silly title. Can't you speak like a sensible man?"
Semyonov had been standing in the stiff attitude of attention, with the palms of his hands at the seams of his trousers. Now he suddenly relaxed, and even wiped his nose with his fist.
"That's the way we are taught to do," he said carelessly, with a clownish grin. "The gentlemen, the officers, insist on it."
"Now, tell me, you are on good terms with the doctor's men?"
"You mean Podmar and Shuchok? Of course, we're friends."
"Very well, then go straight to them and try to find out when Mrs. Shaldin is expected back. They ought to know. They must be getting things ready against her return—cleaning her bedroom and fixing it up. Do you understand? But be careful to find out right. And also be very careful not to let on for whom you are finding it out. Do you understand?'
"Of course, I understand."
"Well, then, go. But one more thing. Since you're going out, you may as well stop at Abramka's again and tell him to come here right away. You understand?"
"But his Excellency gave me orders to stay at home," said Semyonov, scratching himself behind his ears.
"Please don't answer back. Just do as I tell you. Go on, now."
"At your service." And the orderly, impressed by the lady's severe military tone, left the room.
Mrs. Zarubkin remained reclining on the sofa for a while. Then she rose and walked up and down the room and finally went to her bedroom, where her two little daughters were playing in their nurse's care. She scolded them a bit and returned to her former place on the couch. Her every movement betrayed great excitement.. . . . . .
Tatyana Grigoryevna Zarubkin was one of the most looked-up to ladies of the S— Regiment and even of the whole town of Chmyrsk, where the regiment was quartered. To be sure, you hardly could say that, outside the regiment, the town could boast any ladies at all. There were very respectable women, decent wives, mothers, daughters and widows of honourable citizens; but they all dressed in cotton and flannel, and on high holidays made a show of cheap Cashmere gowns over which they wore gay shawls with borders of wonderful arabesques. Their hats and other headgear gave not the faintest evidence of good taste. So they could scarcely be dubbed "ladies." They were satisfied to be called "women." Each one of them, almost, had the name of her husband's trade or position tacked to her name—Mrs. Grocer so-and-so, Mrs. Mayor so-and-so, Mrs. Milliner so-and-so, etc. Genuine ladies in the Russian society sense had never come to the town before the S— Regiment had taken up its quarters there; and it goes without saying that the ladies of the regiment had nothing in common, and therefore no intercourse with, the women of the town. They were so dissimilar that they were like creatures of a different species.
There is no disputing that Tatyana Grigoryevna Zarubkin was one of the most looked-up-to of the ladies. She invariably played the most important part at all the regimental affairs—the amateur theatricals, the social evenings, the afternoon teas. If the captain's wife was not to be present, it was a foregone conclusion that the affair would not be a success.
The most important point was that Mrs. Zarubkin had the untarnished reputation of being the best-dressed of all the ladies. She was always the most distinguished looking at the annual ball. Her gown for the occasion, ordered from Moscow, was always chosen with the greatest regard for her charms and defects, and it was always exquisitely beautiful. A new fashion could not gain admittance to the other ladies of the regiment except by way of the captain's wife. Thanks to her good taste in dressing, the stately blonde was queen at all the balls and in all the salons of Chmyrsk. Another advantage of hers was that although she was nearly forty she still looked fresh and youthful, so that the young officers were constantly hovering about her and paying her homage.