The Duel and Other Stories
GRACEFULLY swaying in the saddle, a young man wearing the snow-white tunic of an
officer rode into the great yard of the vodka distillery belonging to the heirs of M. E.
Rothstein. The sun smiled carelessly on the lieutenant's little stars, on the white trunks of
the birch-trees, on the heaps of broken glass scattered here and there in the yard. The
radiant, vigorous beauty of a summer day lay over everything, and nothing hindered the
snappy young green leaves from dancing gaily and winking at the clear blue sky. Even
the dirty and soot-begrimed appearance of the bricksheds and the stifling fumes of the
distillery did not spoil the general good impression. The lieutenant sprang gaily out of the
saddle, handed over his horse to a man who ran up, and stroking with his finger his
delicate black moustaches, went in at the front door. On the top step of the old but light
and softly carpeted staircase he was met by a maidservant with a haughty, not very
youthful face. The lieutenant gave her his card without speaking.
As she went through the rooms with the card, the maid could see on it the name
"Alexandr Grigoryevitch Sokolsky." A minute later she came back and told the lieutenant
that her mistress could not see him, as she was not feeling quite well. Sokolsky looked at
the ceiling and thrust out his lower lip.
"How vexatious!" he said. "Listen, my dear," he said eagerly. "Go and tell Susanna
Moiseyevna, that it is very necessary for me to speak to her--very. I will only keep her
one minute. Ask her to excuse me."
The maid shrugged one shoulder and went off languidly to her mistress.
"Very well!" she sighed, returning after a brief interval. "Please walk in!"
The lieutenant went with her through five or six large, luxuriously furnished rooms and a
corridor, and finally found himself in a large and lofty square room, in which from the
first step he was impressed by the abundance of flowers and plants and the sweet, almost
revoltingly heavy fragrance of jasmine. Flowers were trained to trellis-work along the
walls, screening the windows, hung from the ceiling, and were wreathed over the corners,
so that the room was more like a greenhouse than a place to live in. Tits, canaries, and
goldfinches chirruped among the green leaves and fluttered against the window-panes.
"Forgive me for receiving you here," the lieutenant heard in a mellow feminine voice
with a burr on the letter _r_ which was not without charm. "Yesterday I had a sick
headache, and I'm trying to keep still to prevent its coming on again. What do you want?"
Exactly opposite the entrance, he saw sitting in a big low chair, such as old men use, a
woman in an expensive Chinese dressing-gown, with her head wrapped up, leaning back
on a pillow. Nothing could be seen behind the woollen shawl in which she was muffled