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|Page 127 of 129|
"You wait; I'll teach you to smile so blissfully," he muttered. "You are not a boarding-school miss, you are not a girl. An old fright ought to realise she is a fright!"
Petty feelings of envy, vexation, wounded vanity, of that small, provincial misanthropy engendered in petty officials by vodka and a sedentary life, swarmed in his heart like mice. Waiting for the end of the mazurka, he went into the hall and walked up to his wife. Anna Pavlovna was sitting with her partner, and, flirting her fan and coquettishly dropping her eyelids, was describing how she used to dance in Petersburg (her lips were pursed up like a rosebud, and she pronounced "at home in Pütürsburg").
"Anyuta, let us go home," croaked the tax-collector.
Seeing her husband standing before her, Anna Pavlovna started as though recalling the fact that she had a husband; then she flushed all over: she felt ashamed that she had such a sickly-looking, ill-humoured, ordinary husband.
"Let us go home," repeated the tax-collector.
"Why? It's quite early!"
"I beg you to come home!" said the tax-collector deliberately, with a spiteful expression.
"Why? Has anything happened?" Anna Pavlovna asked in a flutter.
"Nothing has happened, but I wish you to go home at once. . . . I wish it; that's enough, and without further talk, please."
Anna Pavlovna was not afraid of her husband, but she felt ashamed on account of her partner, who was looking at her husband with surprise and amusement. She got up and moved a little apart with her husband.
"What notion is this?" she began. "Why go home? Why, it's not eleven o'clock."
"I wish it, and that's enough. Come along, and that's all about it."
"Don't be silly! Go home alone if you want to."
"All right; then I shall make a scene."
The tax-collector saw the look of beatitude gradually vanish from his wife's face, saw how ashamed and miserable she was--and he felt a little happier.
"Why do you want me at once?" asked his wife.
"I don't want you, but I wish you to be at home. I wish it, that's all."
At first Anna Pavlovna refused to hear of it, then she began entreating her husband to let her stay just another half-hour; then, without knowing why, she began to apologise, to protest--and all in a whisper, with a smile, that the spectators might not suspect that she was having a tiff with her husband. She began assuring him she would not stay long, only another ten minutes, only five minutes; but the tax-collector stuck obstinately to his point.
"Stay if you like," he said, "but I'll make a scene if you do."
And as she talked to her husband Anna Pavlovna looked thinner, older, plainer. Pale, biting her lips, and almost crying, she went out to the entry and began putting on her things.
"You are not going?" asked the ladies in surprise. "Anna Pavlovna, you are not going, dear?"