"You undoubtedly know, excellente amie, " he spoke, drawing the words out fashionably and coquettishly, "what is meant by a Russian administrator, generally speaking, and what is meant by a new Russian administrator—that is, newly baked, newly installed... Ces interminables mots russes![ix]... But it is unlikely that you can have learned in practice what administrative rapture means and what sort of thing it is!"
"Administrative rapture? I have no idea."
"That is... Vous savez, chez nous... En un mot,[x]set some utter nonentity to selling some paltry railroad tickets, and this nonentity will at once decide he has the right to look at you like Jupiter when you come to buy a ticket, pour vous montrer son pouvoir,[xi] 'Come,' he thinks, 'I'll show my power over you...' And it reaches the point of administrative rapture with them ... En un mot, I've just read that some beadle in one of our churches abroad—mais c'est très curieux[xii]—chased out, I mean literally chased out of the church, a wonderful English family, les dames charmantes, just before the start of the Lenten service—vous savez ces chants et le livre de Job[xiii]—on the sole pretext that 'it is not in order for foreigners to hang about in Russian churches and they should come at the proper time...' and he sent them all into a faint... This beadle was in a fit of administrative rapture et il a montré son pouvoir[xiv]. . ."
"Abbreviate if you can, Stepan Trofimovich."
"Mr. von Lembke is now touring the province. En un mot, this Andrei Antonovich, though he is a Russian German of Orthodox faith and even—I will grant him that—a remarkably handsome man, of the forty-year-old sort ..."
"Where did you get that he's a handsome man? He has sheep's eyes."
"In the highest degree. But, very well, I yield to the opinion of our ladies..."
"Let's move on, Stepan Trofimovich, I beg you! By the way, since when have you been wearing a red necktie?"
"I... only today..."
"And do you take your exercise? Do you go for a four-mile walk every day, as the doctor prescribed?"
"Not... not always."
"Just as I thought! I felt it even in Switzerland!" she cried irritably. "You are now going to walk not four but six miles a day! You've gone terribly to seed, terribly, ter-ri-bly! You're not just old, you're decrepit ... I was struck when I saw you today, in spite of your red necktie ... quelle idée rouge![xv]Go on about von Lembke, if there really is anything to say, but let it end somewhere, I beg you, I'm tired."
"En un mot, I merely wanted to say that he is one of those administrators who start out at the age of forty, who vegetate in insignificance until they're forty and then suddenly make their way by means of an unexpectedly acquired wife or by some other no less desperate means... That he is away now... that is, I mean to say that he at once had it whispered in both ears that I am a corrupter of youth and a fomenter of provincial atheism... He began making inquiries at once."
"Can it be true?"
"I've even taken measures. When it was 're-por-ted' that you 'ruled the province,' vous savez,[xvi]he allowed himself to say that 'such things will not continue.’”
"Is that what he said?"
"That 'such things will not continue,' and avec cette morgue[xvii] ... His spouse, Yulia Mikhailovna, we shall behold here at the end of August, direct from Petersburg."
"From abroad. I met her there."
"In Paris and in Switzerland. She's related to the Drozdovs."
"Related? What a remarkable coincidence! They say she's ambitious and... supposedly has good connections?"
"Nonsense! Nothing to speak of! She sat a spinster without a kopeck until she was forty-five, then she went and married her von Lembke, and now, of course, her whole goal is to pull him up. A pair of intriguers."
"And they say she's two years older than he is."
"Five. Her mother wore out the train of her dress on my doorstep in Moscow; she used to get herself invited to my balls out of charity when Vsevolod Nikolaevich was alive. And the girl used to sit alone in the corner all evening with a turquoise fly on her forehead, no one would dance with her, so when it got to be past two I'd take pity on her and send her her first partner. She was already twenty-five then, and they still took her out in short skirts like a schoolgirl. It became indecent to invite them."
"That fly, I can just see it!"
"I tell you, I arrived and stumbled right onto an intrigue. You've just read Drozdov's letter—what could be clearer? And what did I find? That fool Drozdov herself—she's never been anything but a fool— suddenly looked at me as if she were asking why I had come. You can imagine how surprised I was! I looked and there was this finagling Lembke woman, and this cousin with her, old Drozdov's nephew—it was all clear! Of course, I undid it all at once, and Praskovya is on my side again; but the intrigue, the intrigue!"
"Which you overcame, however! Oh, you Bismarck!"
"Bismarck or not, I'm still able to see through falseness and stupidity when I meet them. Lembke is falseness, and Praskovya—stupidity. I've rarely met a more flaccid woman, and moreover her legs are swollen, and moreover she's kind. What could be stupider than someone who is stupid and kind?"
"The wicked kind, ma bonne amie, the wicked kind are even stupider," Stepan Trofimovich parried nobly.
"Perhaps you're right, but do you remember Liza?"
"And no longer an enfant now, but a woman, and a woman of character. Noble and passionate, and what I love in her is that she stands up to her gullible fool of a mother. The whole story took place because of that cousin."
"Hah, but in fact he's not related to Lizaveta Nikolaevna at all... Does he have intentions or something?"
"You see, he's a young officer, very taciturn, even modest. I wish always to be just. It seems to me that he's against the whole intrigue himself and doesn't want anything, and the only finagler was Lembke. He had great respect for Nicolas. You understand, it all depends on Liza, but I left her on excellent terms with Nicolas, and he himself promised me that he would certainly come to us in November. So Lembke alone is intriguing here, and Praskovya is simply a blind woman. She suddenly told me that my suspicions were all a fantasy, and I told her to her face that she was a fool. I'm ready to repeat it at the Last Judgment. And if it weren't for Nicolas, who asked me to let it be for a while, I would never have gone away without exposing that false woman. She paid court to Count K. through Nicolas, she tried to come between a mother and her son. But Liza is on our side, and I came to an understanding with Praskovya. You know she's related to Karmazinov."
"Who? Madame von Lembke?"
"Why, yes. Distantly."
"Karmazinov, the novelist?"
"The writer, yes—why are you surprised? Of course, he considers himself great. A puffed-up creature! She'll bring him with her, and now she's fussing over him there. She intends to introduce something here, some sort of literary gatherings. He'll come for a month, he wants to sell his last estate here. I very nearly met him in Switzerland, not that I really wanted to. However, I hope he will deign to recognize me. In the old days he used to write me letters, he used to visit our house. I wish you were better dressed, Stepan Trofimovich; you're getting more slovenly by the day ... Oh, how you torment me! What are you reading now?"