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I AM FETED AT DINNER
Dubkoff and Woloda knew every one at the restaurant by name, and
every one, from the waiters to the proprietor, paid them great
respect. No time was lost in allotting us a private room, where a
bottle of iced champagne-upon which I tried to look with as much
indifference as I could--stood ready waiting for us, and where we
were served with a most wonderful repast selected by Dubkoff from
the French menu. The meal went off most gaily and agreeably,
notwithstanding that Dubkoff, as usual, told us blood-curdling
tales of doubtful veracity (among others, a tale of how his
grandmother once shot dead three robbers who were attacking her--
a recital at which I blushed, closed my eyes, and turned away
from the narrator), and that Woloda reddened visibly whenever I
opened my mouth to speak--which was the more uncalled for on his
part, seeing that never once, so far as I can remember, did I say
anything shameful. After we had been given champagne, every one
congratulated me, and I drank "hands across" with Dimitri and
Dubkoff, and wished them joy. Since, however, I did not know to
whom the bottle of champagne belonged (it was explained to me
later that it was common property), I considered that, in return,
I ought to treat my friends out of the money which I had never
ceased to finger in my pocket. Accordingly, I stealthily extracted
a ten-rouble note, and, beckoning the waiter to my side, handed
him the money, and told him in a whisper (yet not so softly but
that every one could hear me, seeing that every one was staring
at me in dead silence) to "bring, if you please, a half-bottle of
champagne." At this Woloda reddened again, and began to fidget so
violently, and to gaze upon myself and every one else with such a
distracted air, that I felt sure I had somehow put my foot in it.
However, the half-bottle came, and we drank it with great gusto.
After that, things went on merrily. Dubkoff continued his
unending fairy tales, while Woloda also told funny stories--and
told them well, too--in a way I should never have credited him: so
that our laughter rang long and loud. Their best efforts lay in
imitation, and in variants of a certain well-known saw. "Have you
ever been abroad?" one would say to the other, for instance.
"No," the one interrogated would reply, "but my brother plays the
fiddle." Such perfection had the pair attained in this species of
comic absurdity that they could answer any question by its means,
while they would also endeavour to unite two absolutely
unconnected matters without a previous question having been asked
at all, yet say everything with a perfectly serious face and
produce a most comic effect. I too began to try to be funny, but
as soon as ever I spoke they either looked at me askance or did
not look at me until I had finished: so that my anecdotes fell
flat. Yet, though Dubkoff always remarked, "Our DIPLOMAT is
lying, brother," I felt so exhilarated with the champagne and the
company of my elders that the remark scarcely touched me. Only
Dimitri, though he drank level with the rest of us, continued in
the same severe, serious frame of mind--a fact which put a
certain check upon the general hilarity.
"Now, look here, gentlemen," said Dubkoff at last. "After dinner
we ought to take the DIPLOMAT in hand. How would it be for him to
go with us to see Auntie? There we could put him through his
"Ah, but Nechludoff will not go there," objected Woloda.
"O unbearable, insupportable man of quiet habits that you are!"
cried Dubkoff, turning to Dimitri. "Yet come with us, and you
shall see what an excellent lady my dear Auntie is."
"I will neither go myself nor let him go," replied Dimitri.
"Let whom go? The DIPLOMAT? Why, you yourself saw how he
brightened up at the very mention of Auntie."
"It is not so much that I WILL NOT LET HIM go," continued
Dimitri, rising and beginning to pace the room without looking at
me, "as that I neither wish him nor advise him to go. He is not a
child now, and if he must go he can go alone--without you. Surely
you are ashamed of this, Dubkoff?--ashamed of always wanting
others to do all the wrong things that you yourself do?"
"But what is there so very wrong in my inviting you all to come
and take a cup of tea with my Aunt?" said Dubkoff, with a wink at
Woloda. "If you don't like us going, it is your affair; yet we
are going all the same. Are you coming, Woloda?"
"Yes, yes," assented Woloda. "We can go there, and then return to
my rooms and continue our piquet."
"Do you want to go with them or not?" said Dimitri, approaching
"No," I replied, at the same time making room for him to sit down
beside me on the divan. "I did not wish to go in any case, and
since you advise me not to, nothing on earth will make me go now.
Yet," I added a moment later, "I cannot honestly say that I have
NO desire to go. All I say is that I am glad I am not going."
"That is right," he said. "Live your own life, and do not dance
to any one's piping. That is the better way."
This little tiff not only failed to mar our hilarity, but even
increased it. Dimitri suddenly reverted to the kindly mood which
I loved best--so great (as I afterwards remarked on more than one
occasion) was the influence which the consciousness of having
done a good deed exercised upon him. At the present moment the
source of his satisfaction was the fact that he had stopped my
expedition to "Auntie's." He grew extraordinarily gay, called for
another bottle of champagne (which was against his rules),
invited some one who was a perfect stranger into our room, plied
him with wine, sang "Gaudeamus igitur," requested every one to
join him in the chorus, and proposed that we should and rink at
the Sokolniki. [Mews.]
"Let us enjoy ourselves to-night," he said with a laugh. "It is
in honour of his matriculation that you now see me getting drunk
for the first time in my life."
Yet somehow this merriment sat ill upon him. He was like some
good-natured father or tutor who is pleased with his young
charges, and lets himself go for their amusement, yet at the same
time tries to show them that one can enjoy oneself decently and
in an honourable manner. However, his unexpected gaiety had an
infectious influence upon myself and my companions, and the more
so because each of us had now drunk about half a bottle of
It was in this pleasing frame of mind that I went out into the
main salon to smoke a cigarette which Dubkoff had given me. In
rising I noticed that my head seemed to swim a little, and that
my legs and arms retained their natural positions only when I
bent my thoughts determinedly upon them. At other moments my legs
would deviate from the straight line, and my arms describe
strange gestures. I concentrated my whole attention upon the
members in question, forced my hands first to raise themselves
and button my tunic, and then to smooth my hair (though they
ruffled my locks in doing so), and lastly commanded my legs to
march me to the door--a function which they duly performed,
though at one time with too much reluctance, and at another with
too much ABANDON (the left leg, in particular, coming to a halt
every moment on tiptoe). Some one called out to me, "Where are
you going to? They will bring you a cigar-light directly," but I
guessed the voice to be Woloda's, and, feeling satisfied,
somehow, that I had succeeded in divining the fact, merely smiled
airily in reply, and continued on my way.
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