The Emotions of a Small Town

In the morning, even at an earlier hour than was suitable for visits, a lady in an elegant plaid cloak emerged from the door of an orange-coloured wooden mansion with blue columns, accompanied by a lackey in a coat with numerous capes, and a gold band on his glossy round hat.

The lady, with remarkable haste, entered a calash which stood at the entrance. The lackey immediately slammed the door after her, put up the steps, and seizing the strap behind, called out to the coachman, “Drive on!” The lady had just learned some news, and she felt an unconquerable desire to impart it to her friends. She looked out of the window every instant, and saw, to her indescribable vexation, that she was still only half way to her destination. Every house seemed longer to her than usual: the white stone hospital, with it narrow windows, dragged out to an interminable length, so that at last she could not restrain her impatience, but said, “There’s no end to that cursed building!” Twice did the coachman receive the order, “Faster, faster, Andriushka! You drive intolerably slow to-day!” Finally, however, the lady reached her destination. The calash halted before a one-storey wooden house of a dark grey hue, with white bas-reliefs over the windows, a lofty wooden grating before the windows, and a narrow palisade in front, behind which some slender trees gleamed white with the city dust which never left them. In the windows of the house some pots of flowers were to be seen, together with a parrot swinging in a cage, and clinging to his ring with his beak, and there were also two poodles lying asleep in the sunshine. In this house dwelt a feminine friend of the lady who had just driven up. For various reasons we prefer to call this friend by the nickname which was almost universally accorded to her in the town of N——; namely, “The charming lady.” She had acquired this cognomen in a legitimate manner; for indeed she spared no pains to make herself extremely agreeable.

Still, amid all her amiability there certainly did peep out some disagreeable traits, and at times her gracious words pricked one most unmercifully. However everything was dispensed with a refined art such as is only met with in provincial towns. Each of her movements was tasteful; she was very fond of poetry; she even knew how to hold her head in a dreamy way; and everyone agreed that she was really charming in every respect.

But the other lady—that is to say, the visitor—was not so many-sided in character, so we will simply call her “the nice lady.” The arrival of this visitor awakened the poodles, who were slumbering in the sun—shaggy Adèle and the thin-legged male puppy, Potpourri. Both carried their curled tails into the ante-room, where the visitor had freed herself of her cloak, and stood in a gown of fashionable pattern and colour. There was a long scarf about her neck, and an odour of jasmine was wafted through the room. No sooner had the charming lady heard of the arrival of her friend, the nice lady, than she ran out into the ante-room. The ladies seized each other by the hand, kissed each other, and screamed as schoolgirls scream when they meet shortly after their release from their studies, and before their mammas have succeeded in explaining to them that the father of one suitor is poorer and of lower rank than the other. The kisses were very loud, so that the poodles began to bark again, for doing which they were switched with a handkerchief. Then both ladies betook themselves to the drawing-room, which was blue, of course, with a divan, an oval table, and even a plush-covered screen; after them ran shaggy Adèle and Potpourri on his slender legs. “Here, here, in this nice little corner!” said the hostess, seating her guest in one corner of the sofa. “That’s it, that’s it! Now, here’s a cushion for you.” So saying, she thrust behind the other’s back a cushion, which had a knight worked upon it in wool, in the fashion in which such things are always worked on canvas: his nose projected like a staircase, and his lips were square. “How glad I am that you have called,” now resumed the charming lady. “I heard someone arrive, and I thought to myself, ‘Who can it be so early?’ Parasha suggested the wife of the vice-governor; but I said to myself, ‘What! has that fool come here to bore us again?’ and I was on the point of saying that I was not at home.”

The visitor was certainly anxious to communicate her news at once; but an exclamation which the charming lady uttered at that moment gave another turn to the conversation.

“What a gay, pretty chintz!” exclaimed the charming lady, gazing at the gown of the nice lady.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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