‘A strange man!’ thought Litvinov, as he turned into the hotel where he was staying; ‘a strange man! I must see more of him!’ He went into his room; a letter on the table caught his eye. ‘Ah! from Tanya!’ he thought, and was overjoyed at once; but the letter was from his country place, from his father. Litvinov broke the thick heraldic seal, and was just setting to work to read it ... when he was struck by a strong, very agreeable, and familiar fragrance, and saw in the window a great bunch of fresh heliotrope in a glass of water. Litvinov bent over them not without amazement, touched them, and smelt them.... Something seemed to stir in his memory, something very remote ... but what, precisely, he could not discover. He rang for the servant and asked him where these flowers had come from. The man replied that they had been brought by a lady who would not give her name, but said that ‘Herr Zlitenhov’ would be sure to guess who she was by the-60- flowers. Again something stirred in Litvinov’s memory. He asked the man what the lady looked like, and the servant informed him that she was tall and grandly dressed and had a veil over her face. ‘A Russian countess most likely,’ he added.
‘What makes you think that?’ asked Litvinov.
‘She gave me two guldens,’ responded the servant with a grin.
Litvinov dismissed him, and for a long while after he stood in deep thought before the window; at last, however, with a wave of his hand, he began again upon the letter from the country. His father poured out to him his usual complaints, asserting that no one would take their corn, even for nothing, that the people had got quite out of all habits of obedience, and that probably the end of the world was coming soon. ‘Fancy,’ he wrote, among other things, ‘my last coachman, the Kalmuck boy, do you remember him? has been bewitched, and the fellow would certainly have died, and I should have had none to drive me, but, thank goodness, some kind folks suggested and advised to send the sick man to Ryazan, to a priest, well-known as a master against witchcraft: and his cure has actually succeeded as well as possible, in confirmation of which I lay before you the-61- letter of the good father as a document.’ Litvinov ran through this document with curiosity. In it was set forth: ‘that the serving-man Nicanor Dmitriev was beset with a malady which could not be touched by the medical faculty; and this malady was the work of wicked people; but he himself, Nicanor, was the cause of it, since he had not fulfilled his promise to a certain girl, and therefore by the aid of others she had made him unfit for anything, and if I had not appeared to aid him in these circumstances, he would surely have perished utterly, like a worm; but I, trusting in the All-seeing Eye, have become a stay to him in his life; and how I accomplished it, that is a mystery; I beg your excellency not to countenance a girl who has such wicked arts, and even to chide her would be no harm, or she may again work him a mischief.’
Litvinov fell to musing over this document; it brought him a whiff of the desert, of the steppes, of the blind darkness of the life mouldering there, and it seemed a marvellous thing that he should be reading such a letter in Baden, of all places. Meanwhile it had long struck midnight; Litvinov went to bed and put out his light. But he could not get to sleep; the faces he had seen, the talk he had heard, kept coming back and revolving,-62- strangely interwoven and entangled in his burning head, which ached from the fumes of tobacco. Now he seemed to hear Gubaryov’s muttering, and fancied his eyes with their dull, persistent stare fastened on the floor; then suddenly those eyes began to glow and leap, and he recognised Madame Suhantchikov, and listened to her shrill voice, and involuntarily repeated after her in a whisper, ‘she did, she did, slap his face.’ Then the clumsy figure of Potugin passed before him; and for the tenth, and the twentieth time he went over every word he had uttered; then, like a jack in the box, Voroshilov jumped up in his trim coat, which fitted him like a new uniform; and Pishtchalkin gravely and sagaciously nodded his well-cut and truly well-intentioned head; and then Bindasov bawled and swore, and Bambaev fell into tearful transports.... And above all—this scent, this persistent, sweet, heavy scent gave him no rest, and grew more and more powerful in the darkness, and more and more importunately it reminded him of something which still eluded his grasp.... The idea occurred to Litvinov that the scent of flowers at night in a bedroom was injurious, and he got up, and groping his way to the nosegay, carried it into the next room; but even from there the oppressive fragrance penetrated to-63- him on his pillow and under the counterpane, and he tossed in misery from side to side. A slight delirium had already begun to creep over him; already the priest, ‘the master against witchcraft’ had twice run across his road in the guise of a very playful hare with a beard and a pig-tail, and Voroshilov was trilling before him, sitting in a huge general’s plumed cock-hat like a nightingale in a bush.... When suddenly he jumped up in bed, and clasping his hands, cried, ‘Can it be she? it can’t be!’
But to explain this exclamation of Litvinov’s we must beg the indulgent reader to go back a few years with us.