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CHAPTER IV. MISSY.
WHEN Nekhludoff had finished his coffee, he went to his study to look at the summons, and find out what time he was to appear at the court, before writing his answer to the princess. Passing through his studio, where a few studies hung on the walls and, facing the easel, stood an unfinished picture, a feeling of inability to advance in art, a sense of his incapacity, came over him. He had often had this feeling, of late, and explained it by his too finely-developed aesthetic taste; still, the feeling was a very unpleasant one. Seven years before this he had given up military service, feeling sure that he had a talent for art, and had looked down with some disdain at all other activity from the height of his artistic standpoint. And now it turned out that he had no right to do so, and therefore everything that reminded him of all this was unpleasant. He looked at the luxurious fittings of the studio with a heavy heart, and it was in no cheerful mood that he entered his study, a large, lofty room fitted up with a view to comfort, convenience, and elegant appearance. He found the summons at once in a pigeon hole, labelled "immediate," of his large writing table. He had to appear at the court at 11 o'clock.
Nekhludoff sat down to write a note in reply to the princess, thanking her for the invitation, and promising to try and come to dinner. Having written one note, he tore it up, as it seemed too intimate. He wrote another, but it was too cold; he feared it might give offence, so he tore it up, too. He pressed the button of an electric bell, and his servant, an elderly, morose-looking man, with whiskers and shaved chin and lip, wearing a grey cotton apron, entered at the door.
"Send to fetch an isvostchik, please."
"And tell the person who is waiting that I send thanks for the invitation, and shall try to come."
"It is not very polite, but I can't write; no matter, I shall see her today," thought Nekhludoff, and went to get his overcoat.
When he came out of the house, an isvostchik he knew, with india-rubber tires to his trap, was at the door waiting for him. "You had hardly gone away from Prince Korchagin's yesterday," he said, turning half round, "when I drove up, and the Swiss at the door says, 'just gone.'" The isvostchik knew that Nekhludoff visited at the Korchagins, and called there on the chance of being engaged by him.
"Even the isvostchiks know of my relations with the Korchagins," thought Nekhludoff, and again the question whether he should not marry Princess Korchagin presented itself to him, and he could not decide it either way, any more than most of the questions that arose in his mind at this time.
It was in favour of marriage in general, that besides the comforts of hearth and home, it made a moral life possible, and chiefly that a family would, so Nekhludoff thought, give an aim to his now empty life.
Against marriage in general was the fear, common to bachelors past their first youth, of losing freedom, and an unconscious awe before this mysterious creature, a woman.
In this particular case, in favour of marrying Missy (her name was Mary, but, as is usual among a certain set, a nickname had been given her) was that she came of good family, and differed in everything, manner of speaking, walking, laughing, from the common people, not by anything exceptional, but by her "good breeding" - he could find no other term for this quality, though he prized it very highly - -and, besides, she thought more of him than of anybody else, therefore evidently understood him. This understanding of him, i.e., the recognition of his superior merits, was to Nekhludoff a proof of her good sense and correct judgment. Against marrying Missy in particular, was, that in all likelihood, a girl with even higher qualities could be found, that she was already 27, and that he was hardly her first love. This last idea was painful to him. His pride would not reconcile itself with the thought that she had loved some one else, even in the past. Of course, she could not have known that she should meet him, but the thought that she was capable of loving another offended him. So that he had as many reasons for marrying as against it; at any rate, they weighed equally with Nekhludoff, who laughed at himself, and called himself the ass of the fable, remaining like that animal undecided which haycock to turn to.
"At any rate, before I get an answer from Mary Vasilievna (the marechal's wife), and finish completely with her, I can do nothing," he said to himself. And the conviction that he might, and was even obliged, to delay his decision, was comforting. "Well, I shall consider all that later on," he said to himself, as the trap drove silently along the asphalt pavement up to the doors of the Court.
"Now I must fulfil my public duties conscientiously, as I am in the habit of always doing, and as I consider it right to do. Besides, they are often interesting." And he entered the hall of the Law Courts, past the doorkeeper.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER V. THE JURYMEN.