The Head of the Family

It is, as a rule, after losing heavily at cards or after a drinking-bout when an attack of dyspepsia is setting in that Stepan Stepanitch Zhilin wakes up in an exceptionally gloomy frame of mind. He looks sour, rumpled, and dishevelled; there is an expression of displeasure on his grey face, as though he were offended or disgusted by something. He dresses slowly, sips his Vichy water deliberately, and begins walking about the rooms.

“I should like to know what b-b-beast comes in here and does not shut the door!” he grumbles angrily, wrapping his dressing-gown about him and spitting loudly. “Take away that paper! Why is it lying about here? We keep twenty servants, and the place is more untidy than a pot-house. Who was that ringing? Who the devil is that?”

“That’s Anfissa, the midwife who brought our Fedya into the world,” answers his wife.

“Always hanging about … these cadging toadies!”

“There’s no making you out, Stepan Stepanitch. You asked her yourself, and now you scold.”

“I am not scolding; I am speaking. You might find something to do, my dear, instead of sitting with your hands in your lap trying to pick a quarrel. Upon my word, women are beyond my comprehension! Beyond my comprehension! How can they waste whole days doing nothing? A man works like an ox, like a b- beast, while his wife, the partner of his life, sits like a pretty doll, sits and does nothing but watch for an opportunity to quarrel with her husband by way of diversion. It’s time to drop these schoolgirlish ways, my dear. You are not a schoolgirl, not a young lady; you are a wife and mother! You turn away? Aha! It’s not agreeable to listen to the bitter truth!”

“It’s strange that you only speak the bitter truth when your liver is out of order.”

“That’s right; get up a scene.”

“Have you been out late? Or playing cards?”

“What if I have? Is that anybody’s business? Am I obliged to give an account of my doings to any one? It’s my own money I lose, I suppose? What I spend as well as what is spent in this house belongs to me—me. Do you hear? To me!”

And so on, all in the same style. But at no other time is Stepan Stepanitch so reasonable, virtuous, stern or just as at dinner, when all his household are sitting about him. It usually begins with the soup. After swallowing the first spoonful Zhilin suddenly frowns and puts down his spoon.

“Damn it all!” he mutters; “I shall have to dine at a restaurant, I suppose.”

“What’s wrong?” asks his wife anxiously. “Isn’t the soup good?”

“One must have the taste of a pig to eat hogwash like that! There’s too much salt in it; it smells of dirty rags … more like bugs than onions.… It’s simply revolting, Anfissa Ivanovna,” he says, addressing the midwife. “Every day I give no end of money for housekeeping.… I deny myself everything, and this is what they provide for my dinner! I suppose they want me to give up the office and go into the kitchen to do the cooking myself.”

“The soup is very good to-day,” the governess ventures timidly.

“Oh, you think so?” says Zhilin, looking at her angrily from under his eyelids. “Every one to his taste, of course. It must be confessed our tastes are very different, Varvara Vassilyevna. You, for instance, are satisfied with the behaviour of this boy” (Zhilin with a tragic gesture points to his son Fedya); “you are delighted with him, while I … I am disgusted. Yes!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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