Petersburg Pompadour

Angel Peri stood in front of the dim oval mirror that was ever so slightly deflected: everything disappeared down into there and grew dim down there: the ceiling, the walls and the floor; and she herself disappeared down there, into the depth, the greenish dimness; and there, there – out of the fountain of objects and the muslin – lace foam there was now emerging a beautiful woman with luxuriantly fluffed hair and a beauty-spot on her cheek: Madame Pompadour!

Her hair, which curled in ringlets and was only just held together by a ribbon, was grey as snow, and the powder-puff was frozen above the powder-box in such slender little fingers; her tautly drawn-in, pale azure waist bent just so slightly to the left with a black mask in her hand; from her tightly cut corsage, like living pearls, breathing, her breasts showed mistily, while from her tight, rustling sleeves Valenciennes lace surged quietly in airy folds; and everywhere, everywhere around her d├ęcolletage, below the d├ęcolletage, surged that lace; beneath her corsage the flounces of the panniered skirt, which looked as though it had risen above the languorous breathing of zephyrs, rocked and played, and it shone with a garland of silver grasses in the form of airy festoons; below that were those same little dancing shoes; and on each of the little shoes a pompon showed silver. But it was strange: in this attire she seemed suddenly older and less attractive; instead of small rosy lips, she had indecently red ones that pouted, and they spoiled her little face, those too-heavy lips; and when she looked askance, for a moment there was something witch-like about Madame Pompadour: at that moment she hid the letter in the slit of her corsage.

At this same moment Mavrushka came running into the room holding a staff of light-coloured wood with a gold handle, from which ribbons fluttered: but when Madame Pompadour stretched out her little hand in order to take this staff, what proved to be in her hand was a note from her husband; it said: ‘If you go out this evening, you will never return to my house again. Sergei Sergeyevich Likhutin.’

That note related not to her, Madame Pompadour, of course, but to Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, and Madame Pompadour smiled at the note contemptuously; she looked fixedly at the mirror, at the depth, the greenish dimness: there far, far away a gentle ripple seemed to rush; suddenly out of that depth and greenish dimness some sort of waxen face seemed to thrust itself into the crimson light of the vermilion lampshade; and she turned round.

Behind her shoulders motionlessly stood her husband, the officer; but again she laughed contemptuously, and raising her panniered skirt slightly by the festoons, she floated smoothly away from him in curtsies; a quietly flowing zephyr carried her away from him, and her crinoline rustled, swaying like a bell in the zephyr’s sweet currents; and when she was in the doorway, she turned to face him, and with her hand, on which a satin mask dangled, she thumbed her nose at the officer, smiling slyly as she did so; then outside the door a peal of laughter resounded and the innocent exclamation:

‘Mavrushka, my coat!’

Then Sergei Sergeich Likhutin, second lieutenant in His Majesty’s Gregorian Regiment, white as death, completely calm, ironically smiling, skipped along after the graceful mask and then, with a click of his spurs, stood deferentially with the fur coat in his hand; with even greater deference did he throw the coat about her shoulders, opened wide the door and courteously pointed outside – into the dark-coloured dark; and when, rustling, she passed into that darkness, turning up her little face at such a humble service, the humble servant, with a click of his spurs, made her another low bow. The dark-coloured darkness surged over her – surged from all sides: it flooded her rustling outlines; for a long time something went on rustling and rustling, out there on the steps of the staircase. The outer door banged shut; then Sergei Sergeich Likhutin, still with the same abrupt gestures, began to walk about everywhere and everywhere put out the electric lights.