Out of delicacy I pretended to notice nothing and turned aside, but the other footmen present gathered round and looked approvingly at the old servant.
"Hm--well, I DID tear it in pieces," at length confessed Etienne, shrinking from further explanations. "However, I will pay for it. Did you ever hear anything so absurd?" he added to me as he drew me towards the drawing-room.
"But excuse me, sir; HOW are you going to pay for it? I know your ways of paying. You have owed Maria Valericana twenty copecks these eight months now, and you have owed me something for two years, and Peter for--"
"Hold your tongue, will you! " shouted the young fellow, pale with rage "I shall report you for this."
"Oh, you may do so," said the footman. "Yet it is not fair, your highness," he added, with a peculiar stress on the title, as he departed with the ladies' wraps to the cloak-room. We ourselves entered the salon.
"Quite right, footman," remarked someone approvingly from the ball behind us.
Grandmamma had a peculiar way of employing, now the second person singular, now the second person plural, in order to indicate her opinion of people. When the young Prince Etienne went up to her she addressed him as "YOU," and altogether looked at him with such an expression of contempt that, had I been in his place, I should have been utterly crestfallen. Etienne, however, was evidently not a boy of that sort, for he not only took no notice of her reception of him, but none of her person either. In fact, he bowed to the company at large in a way which, though not graceful, was at least free from embarrassment.
Sonetchka now claimed my whole attention. I remember that, as I stood in the salon with Etienne and Woloda, at a spot whence we could both see and be seen by Sonetchka, I took great pleasure in talking very loud (and all my utterances seemed to me both bold and comical) and glancing towards the door of the drawing-room, but that, as soon as ever we happened to move to another spot whence we could neither see nor be seen by her, I became dumb, and thought the conversation had ceased to be enjoyable. The rooms were now full of people--among them (as at all children's parties) a number of elder children who wished to dance and enjoy themselves very much, but who pretended to do everything merely in order to give pleasure to the mistress of the house.