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PAGE 2

A Desperate Character
by [?]

II

I remember Misha at thirteen. He was a very pretty boy, with rosy little cheeks and soft lips (indeed he was soft and plump-looking all over), with prominent liquid eyes, carefully brushed and combed, caressing and modest–a regular little girl! There was only one thing about him I did not like: he rarely laughed; but when he did laugh, his teeth–large white teeth, pointed like an animal’s–showed disagreeably, and the laugh itself had an abrupt, even savage, almost animal sound, and there were unpleasant gleams in his eyes. His mother was always praising him for being so obedient and well behaved, and not caring to make friends with rude boys, but always preferring feminine society. ‘A mother’s darling, a milksop,’ his father, Andrei Nikolaevitch, would call him; ‘but he’s always ready to go into the house of God…. And that I am glad to see.’ Only one old neighbour, who had been a police captain, once said before me, speaking of Misha, ‘Mark my words, he’ll be a rebel.’ And this saying, I remember, surprised me very much at the time. The old police captain, it is true, used to see rebels on all sides.

Just such an exemplary youth Misha continued to be till the eighteenth year of his age, up to the death of his parents, both of whom he lost almost on the same day. As I was all the while living constantly at Moscow, I heard nothing of my young kinsman. An acquaintance coming from his province did, it is true, inform me that Misha had sold the paternal estate for a trifling sum; but this piece of news struck me as too wildly improbable! And behold, all of a sudden, one autumn morning there flew into the courtyard of my house a carriage, with a pair of splendid trotting horses, and a coachman of monstrous size on the box; and in the carriage, wrapped in a cloak of military cut, with a beaver collar two yards deep, and with a foraging cap cocked on one side, a la diable m’emporte, sat … Misha! On catching sight of me (I was standing at the drawing-room window, gazing in astonishment at the flying equipage), he laughed his abrupt laugh, and jauntily flinging back his cloak, he jumped out of the carriage and ran into the house.

‘Misha! Mihail Andreevitch!’ I was beginning, … ‘Is it you?’

‘Call me Misha,’–he interrupted me. ‘Yes, it’s I, … I, in my own person…. I have come to Moscow … to see the world … and show myself. And here I am, come to see you. What do you say to my horses?… Eh?’ he laughed again.

Though it was seven years since I had seen Misha last, I recognised him at once. His face had remained just as youthful and as pretty as ever–there was no moustache even visible; only his cheeks looked a little swollen under his eyes, and a smell of spirits came from his lips. ‘Have you been long in Moscow?’ I inquired.

‘I supposed you were at home in the country, looking after the place.’ …

‘Eh! The country I threw up at once! As soon as my parents died–may their souls rest in peace–(Misha crossed himself scrupulously, without a shade of mockery) at once, without a moment’s delay, … ein, zwei, drei! ha, ha! I let it go cheap, damn it! A rascally fellow turned up. But it’s no matter! Anyway, I am living as I fancy, and amusing other people. But why are you staring at me like that? Was I, really, to go dragging on in the same old round, do you suppose? … My dear fellow, couldn’t I have a glass of something?’

Misha spoke fearfully quick and hurriedly, and, at the same time, as though he were only just waked up from sleep.

‘Misha, upon my word!’ I wailed; ‘have you no fear of God? What do you look like? What an attire! And you ask for a glass too! And to sell such a fine estate for next to nothing….’