“How do you mean, mamma, one on the top of another, how is that?” muttered the captain affectionately, though a little anxious on her account.

“That’s how they ride in. They get on each other’s shoulders in the passage and prance in like that on a respectable family. Strange sort of visitors!”

“But who’s come in like that, mamma?”

“Why, that boy came in riding on that one’s back and this one on that one’s.”

Kolya was already by Ilusha’s bedside. The sick boy turned visibly paler. He raised himself in the bed and looked intently at Kolya. Kolya had not seen his little friend for two months, and he was overwhelmed at the sight of him. He had never imagined that he would see such a wasted, yellow face, such enormous, feverishly glowing eyes and such thin little hands. He saw, with grieved surprise, Ilusha’s rapid, hard breathing and dry lips. He stepped close to him, held out his hand, and almost overwhelmed, he said:

“Well, old man…how are you?” But his voice failed him, he couldn’t achieve an appearance of ease; his face suddenly twitched and the corners of his mouth quivered. Ilusha smiled a pitiful little smile, still unable to utter a word. Something moved Kolya to raise his hand and pass it over Ilusha’s hair.

“Never mind!” he murmured softly to him to cheer him up, or perhaps not knowing why he said it. For a minute they were silent again.

“Hullo, so you’ve got a new puppy?” Kolya said suddenly, in a most callous voice.

“Ye-es,” answered Ilusha in a long whisper, gasping for breath.

“A black nose, that means he’ll be fierce, a good house-dog,” Kolya observed gravely and stolidly, as if the only thing he cared about was the puppy and its black nose. But in reality he still had to do his utmost to control his feelings not to burst out crying like a child, and do what he would he could not control it. “When it grows up, you’ll have to keep it on the chain, I’m sure.”

“He’ll be a huge dog!” cried one of the boys.

“Of course he will,” “a mastiff,” “large,” “like this,” “as big as a calf,” shouted several voices.

“As big as a calf, as a real calf,” chimed in the captain. “I got one like that on purpose, one of the fiercest breed, and his parents are huge and very fierce, they stand as high as this from the floor.…Sit down here, on Ilusha’s bed, or here on the bench. You are welcome, we’ve been hoping to see you a long time…You were so kind as to come with Alexey Fyodorovitch?”

Krassotkin sat on the edge of the bed, at Ilusha’s feet. Though he had perhaps prepared a free-and- easy opening for the conversation on his way, now he completely lost the thread of it.

“No…I came with Perezvon. I’ve got a dog now, called Perezvon. A Slavonic name. He’s out there…if I whistle, he’ll run in. I’ve brought a dog too,” he said addressing Ilusha all at once. “Do you remember Zhutchka, old man?” he suddenly fired the question at him.

Ilusha’s little face quivered. He looked with an agonised expression at Kolya. Alyosha, standing at the door, frowned and signed to Kolya not to speak of Zhutchka, but he did not or would not notice.

“Where…is Zhutchka?” Ilusha asked in a broken voice.

“Oh, well, my boy, your Zhutchka’s lost and done for!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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