‘Hullo! hullo! here he is!’ he suddenly heard a squeaky voice just above his ear, and a plump hand slapped him on the shoulder. He lifted his head, and perceived one of his few Moscow acquaintances, a certain Bambaev, a good-natured but good-for-nothing fellow. He was no longer young, he had a flabby nose and soft cheeks, that looked as if they had been boiled, dishevelled greasy locks, and a fat squat person. Everlastingly short of cash, and everlastingly in raptures over something, Rostislav Bambaev wandered, aimless but exclamatory, over the face of our long-suffering mother-earth.
‘Well, this is something like a meeting!’ he repeated, opening wide his sunken eyes, and drawing down his thick lips, over which the straggling dyed moustaches seemed strangely out of place. ‘Ah, Baden! All the world runs here like black-beetles! How did you come here, Grisha?’
There was positively no one in the world Bambaev did not address by his Christian name.
‘I came here three days ago.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Why indeed? But stop, stop a minute, Grisha. You are, perhaps, not aware who has just arrived here! Gubaryov himself, in person! That’s who’s here! He came yesterday from Heidelberg. You know him of course?’
‘I have heard of him.’
‘Is that all? Upon my word! At once, this very minute we will haul you along to him. Not know a man like that! And by the way here’s Voroshilov.... Stop a minute, Grisha, perhaps you don’t know him either? I have the honour to present you to one another. Both learned men! He’s a phœnix indeed! Kiss each other!’
And uttering these words, Bambaev turned to a good-looking young man standing near him with a fresh and rosy, but prematurely demure face. Litvinov got up, and, it need hardly be said, did not kiss him, but exchanged a cursory bow with the phœnix, who, to judge from the severity of his demeanour, was not overpleased at this unexpected introduction.
‘I said a phœnix, and I will not go back from my word,’ continued Bambaev; ‘go to-15- Petersburg, to the military school, and look at the golden board; whose name stands first there? The name of Voroshilov, Semyon Yakovlevitch! But, Gubaryov, Gubaryov, my dear fellow! It’s to him we must fly! I absolutely worship that man! And I’m not alone, every one’s at his feet! Ah, what a work he is writing, O—O—O!...’
‘What is his work about?’ inquired Litvinov.
‘About everything, my dear boy, after the style of Buckle, you know ... but more profound, more profound.... Everything will be solved and made clear in it.’
‘And have you read this work yourself?’
‘No, I have not read it, and indeed it’s a secret, which must not be spread about; but from Gubaryov one may expect everything, everything! Yes!’ Bambaev sighed and clasped his hands. ‘Ah, if we had two or three intellects like that growing up in Russia, ah, what mightn’t we see then, my God! I tell you one thing, Grisha; whatever pursuit you may have been engaged in in these latter days—and I don’t even know what your pursuits are in general—whatever your convictions may be—I don’t know them either—from him, Gubaryov, you will find something to learn. Unluckily, he is not here for long. We must make the most of him; we must go. To him, to him!’
A passing dandy with reddish curls and a blue ribbon on his low hat, turned round and stared through his eyeglass with a sarcastic smile at Bambaev. Litvinov felt irritated.
‘What are you shouting for?’ he said; ‘one would think you were hallooing dogs on at a hunt! I have not had dinner yet.’
‘Well, think of that! we can go at once to Weber’s ... the three of us ... capital! You have the cash to pay for me?’ he added in an undertone.
‘Yes, yes; only, I really don’t know——’
‘Leave off, please; you will thank me for it, and he will be delighted. Ah, heavens!’ Bambaev interrupted himself. ‘It’s the finale from Ernani they’re playing. How delicious!... A som ... mo Carlo.... What a fellow I am, though! In tears in a minute. Well, Semyon Yakovlevitch! Voroshilov! shall we go, eh?’
Voroshilov, who had remained all the while standing with immovable propriety, still maintaining his former haughty dignity of demeanour, dropped his eyes expressively, frowned, and muttered something between his teeth ... But he did not refuse; and Litvinov thought, ‘Well, we may as well do it, as I’ve plenty of time on my hands.’ Bambaev took his arm, but before turning towards the café he beckoned to Isabelle the renowned flower-girl of-17- the Jockey Club: he had conceived the idea of buying a bunch of flowers of her. But the aristocratic flower-girl did not stir; and, indeed, what should induce her to approach a gentleman without gloves, in a soiled fustian jacket, streaky cravat, and boots trodden down at heel, whom she had not even seen in Paris? Then Voroshilov in his turn beckoned to her. To him she responded, and he, taking a tiny bunch of violets from her basket, flung her a florin. He thought to astonish her by his munificence, but not an eyelash on her face quivered, and when he had turned away, she pursed up her mouth contemptuously. Voroshilov was dressed very fashionably, even exquisitely, but the experienced eye of the Parisian girl noted at once in his get-up and in his bearing, in his very walk, which showed traces of premature military drill, the absence of genuine, pure-blooded ‘chic.’
When they had taken their seats in the principal dining-hall at Weber’s, and ordered dinner, our friends fell into conversation. Bambaev discoursed loudly and hotly upon the immense importance of Gubaryov, but soon he ceased speaking, and, gasping and chewing noisily, drained off glass after glass. Voroshilov ate and drank little, and as it were reluctantly, and after questioning Litvinov as to the nature-18- of his interests, fell to giving expression to his own opinions—not so much on those interests, as on questions of various kinds in general.... All at once he warmed up, and set off at a gallop like a spirited horse, boldly and decisively assigning to every syllable, every letter, its due weight, like a confident cadet going up for his ‘final’ examination, with vehement, but inappropriate gestures. At every instant, since no one interrupted him, he became more eloquent, more emphatic; it seemed as though he were reading a dissertation or lecture. The names of the most recent scientific authorities—with the addition of the dates of the birth or death of each of them—the titles of pamphlets that had only just appeared, and names, names, names ... fell in showers together from his tongue, affording himself intense satisfaction, reflected in his glowing eyes. Voroshilov, seemingly, despised everything old, and attached value only to the cream of culture, the latest, most advanced points of science; to mention, however inappropriately, a book of some Doctor Zauerbengel on Pennsylvanian prisons, or yesterday’s articles in the Asiatic Journal on the Vedas and Puranas (he pronounced it Journal in the English fashion, though he certainly did not know English) was for him a real joy, a felicity. Litvinov listened and-19- listened to him, and could not make out what could be his special line. At one moment his talk was of the part played by the Celtic race in history; then he was carried away to the ancient world, and discoursed upon the Æginetan marbles, harangued with great warmth on the sculptor living earlier than Phidias, Onetas, who was, however, transformed by him into Jonathan, which lent his whole discourse a half-Biblical, half-American flavour; then he suddenly bounded away to political economy and called Bastiat a fool or a blockhead, ‘as bad as Adam Smith and all the physiocrats.’ ‘Physiocrats,’ murmured Bambaev after him ... ‘aristocrats?’ Among other things Voroshilov called forth an expression of bewilderment on Bambaev’s face by a criticism, dropped casually in passing, of Macaulay, as an old-fashioned writer, superseded by modern historical science; as for Gneist, he declared he need scarcely refer to him, and he shrugged his shoulders. Bambaev shrugged his shoulders too. ‘And all this at once, without any inducement, before strangers, in a café’—Litvinov reflected, looking at the fair hair, clear eyes, and white teeth of his new acquaintance (he was specially embarrassed by those large sugar-white teeth, and those hands with their inappropriate gesticulations),-20- ‘and he doesn’t once smile; and with it all, he would seem to be a nice lad, and absolutely inexperienced.’ Voroshilov began to calm down at last, his voice, youthfully resonant and shrill as a young cock’s, broke a little.... Bambaev seized the opportunity to declaim verses and again nearly burst into tears, which scandalised one table near them, round which was seated an English family, and set another tittering; two Parisian cocottes were dining at this second table with a creature who resembled an ancient baby in a wig. The waiter brought the bill; the friends paid it.
‘Well,’ cried Bambaev, getting heavily up from his chair, ‘now for a cup of coffee, and quick march. There she is, our Russia,’ he added, stopping in the doorway, and pointing almost rapturously with his soft red hand to Voroshilov and Litvinov.... ‘What do you think of her?...’
‘Russia, indeed,’ thought Litvinov; and Voroshilov, whose face had by now regained its concentrated expression, again smiled condescendingly, and gave a little tap with his heels.
Within five minutes they were all three mounting the stairs of the hotel where Stepan Nikolaitch Gubaryov was staying.... A tall slender lady, in a hat with a short black veil, was coming quickly down the same staircase.-21- Catching sight of Litvinov she turned suddenly round to him, and stopped still as though struck by amazement. Her face flushed instantaneously, and then as quickly grew pale under its thick lace veil; but Litvinov did not observe her, and the lady ran down the wide steps more quickly than before.