Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in the most festive state of mind. And they beheld a pretty woman in a hired sledge; she overtakes them, looks round at them, and, so they fancy anyway, nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her. They gallop at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at the entrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one darts upstairs to the top story. They get a glimpse of red lips under a short veil, and exquisite little feet.
And after what you said, just now! Well, the young men go in to their comrades; he was giving a farewell dinner. There they certainly did drink a little too much, as one always does at farewell dinners. And at dinner they inquire who lives at the top in that house. No one knows; only their hosts valet, in answer to their inquiry whether any young ladies are living on the top floor, answered that there were a great many of them about there. After dinner the two young men go into their hosts study, and write a letter to the unknown fair one. They compose an ardent epistle, a declaration in fact, and they carry the letter upstairs themselves, so as to elucidate whatever might appear not perfectly intelligible in the letter.
They ring. A maid-servant opens the door, they hand her the letter, and assure the maid that theyre both so in love that theyll die on the spot at the door. The maid, stupefied, carries in their messages. All at once a gentleman appears with whiskers like sausages, as red as a lobster, announces that there is no one living in that flat except his wife, and sends them both about their business.
Thats the most interesting part of the story. It appears that its a happy couple, a government clerk and his lady. The government clerk lodges a complaint, and I became a mediator, such a mediator! I assure you Talleyrand couldnt hold a candle to me.
Ah, you shall hear. We apologise in due form: we are in despair, we entreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding. The government clerk with the sausages begins to melt, but he, too, desires to express his sentiments, and as soon as ever he begins to express them, he begins to get hot and say nasty things, and again Im obliged to trot out all my diplomatic talents. I allowed that their conduct was bad, but I urged him to take into consideration their heedlessness, their youth; then, too, the young men had only just been lunching together. You understand. They regret it deeply, and beg you to overlook their misbehaviour. The government clerk was softened once more. I consent, count, and am ready to overlook it; but you perceive that my wifemy wifes a respectable womanhas been exposed to the persecution, and insults, and effrontery of young upstarts, scoundrels And you must understand, the young upstarts are present all the while, and I have to keep the peace between them. Again I call out all my diplomacy, and again as soon as the thing was about at an end, our friend the government clerk gets hot and red, and his sausages stand on end with wrath, and once more I launch out into diplomatic wiles.
Well, bonne chance! she added, giving Vronsky one finger of the hand in which she held her fan, and with a shrug of her shoulders she twitched down the bodice of her gown that had worked up, so as to be duly naked as she moved forward towards the footlights into the light of the gas, and the sight of all eyes.
Vronsky drove to the French theatre, where he really had to see the colonel of his regiment, who never missed a single performance there. He wanted to see him, to report on the result of his mediation, which had occupied and amused him for the last three days. Petritsky, whom he liked, was implicated in the affair, and the other culprit was a capital fellow and first-rate comrade, who had lately joined the regiment, the young Prince Kedrov. And what was most important, the interests of the regiment were involved in it too.
Both the young men were in Vronskys company. The colonel of the regiment was waited upon by the government clerk, Venden, with a complaint against his officers, who had insulted his wife. His young wife, so Venden told the storyhe had been married half a yearwas at church with her mother, and suddenly overcome by indisposition, arising from her interesting condition, she could not remain standing, she drove home in the first sledge, a smart-looking one, she came across. On the spot the officers set off in pursuit of her; she was alarmed, and feeling still more unwell, ran up the staircase home. Venden himself, on returning from his office, heard a ring at their bell and voices, went out, and seeing the intoxicated officers with a letter, he had turned them out. He asked for exemplary punishment.
Yes, its all very well, said the colonel to Vronsky, whom he had invited to come and see him. Petritskys becoming impossible. Not a week goes by without some scandal. This government clerk wont let it drop, hell go on with the thing.
Vronsky saw all the thanklessness of the business, and that there could be no question of a duel in it, that everything must be done to soften the government clerk, and hush the matter up. The colonel had called in Vronsky just because he knew him to be an honourable and intelligent man, and, more than all, a man who cared for the honour of the regiment. They talked it over, and decided that Petritsky and Kedrov must go with Vronsky to Vendens to apologise. The colonel and Vronsky were both fully aware that Vronskys name and rank would be sure to contribute greatly to the softening of the injured husbands feelings.
On reaching the French theatre, Vronsky retired to the foyer with the colonel, and reported to him his success, or non-success. The colonel, thinking it all over, made up his mind not to pursue the matter further, but then for his own satisfaction proceeded to cross-examine Vronsky about his interview; and it was a long while before he could restrain his laughter, as Vronsky described how the government clerk, after subsiding for a while, would suddenly flare up again, as he recalled the details, and how Vronsky, at the last half word of conciliation skilfully manuvred a retreat, shoving Petritsky out before him.
Its a disgraceful story, but killing. Kedrov really cant fight the gentleman! Was he so awfully hot? he commented, laughing. But what do you say to Claire to-day? Shes marvellous, he went on, speaking of a new French actress. However often you see her, every day shes different. Its only the French who can do that.