Stepan Arkadyevitch was about to go away when Korney came in to announce:
“Who’s Sergey Alexyevitch?” Stepan Arkadyevitch was beginning, but he remembered immediately.
“Ah, Seryozha!” he said aloud. “Sergey Alexyevitch! I thought it was the director of a department. Anna asked me to see him too,” he thought.
And he recalled the timid, piteous expression with which Anna had said to him at parting: “Anyway, you will see him. Find out exactly where he is, who is looking after him. And Stiva … if it were possible! Could it be possible?” Stepan Arkadyevitch knew what was meant by that “if it were possible,”—if it were possible to arrange the divorce so as to let her have her son…. Stepan Arkadyevitch saw now that it was no good to dream of that, but still he was glad to see his nephew.
Alexey Alexandrovitch reminded his brother-in-law that they never spoke to the boy of his mother, and he begged him not to mention a single word about her.
“He was very ill after that interview with his mother, which we had not foreseen,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. “Indeed, we feared for his life. But with rational treatment, and sea-bathing in the summer, he regained his strength, and now, by the doctor’s advice, I have let him go to school. And certainly the companionship of school has had a good effect on him, and he is perfectly well, and making good progress.”
“What a fine fellow he’s grown! He’s not Seryozha now, but quite full-fledged Sergey Alexyevitch!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling, as he looked at the handsome, broad-shouldered lad in blue coat and long trousers, who walked in alertly and confidently. The boy looked healthy and good-humored. He bowed to his uncle as to a stranger, but recognizing him, he blushed and turned hurriedly away from him, as though offended and irritated at something. The boy went up to his father and handed him a note of the marks he had gained in school.
“Well, that’s very fair,” said his father, “you can go.”
“He’s thinner and taller, and has grown out of being a child into a boy; I like that,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Do you remember me?”
The boy looked back quickly at his uncle.
“Yes, mon oncle,” he answered, glancing at his father, and again he looked downcast.
His uncle called him to him, and took his hand.
“Well, and how are you getting on?” he said, wanting to talk to him, and not knowing what to say.
The boy, blushing and making no answer, cautiously drew his hand away. As soon as Stepan Arkadyevitch let go his hand, he glanced doubtfully at his father, and like a bird set free, he darted out of the room.
A year had passed since the last time Seryozha had seen his mother. Since then he had heard nothing more of her. And in the course of that year he had gone to school, and made friends among his schoolfellows. The dreams and memories of his mother, which had made him ill after seeing her, did not occupy his thoughts now. When they came back to him, he studiously drove them away, regarding them as shameful and girlish, below the dignity of a boy and a schoolboy. He knew that his father and mother were separated by some quarrel, he knew that he had to remain with his father, and he tried to get used to that idea.
He disliked seeing his uncle, so like his mother, for it called up those memories of which he was ashamed. He disliked it all the more as from some words he had caught as he waited at the study door, and still more from the faces of his father and uncle, he guessed that they must have been talking of his mother. And to avoid condemning the father with whom he lived and on whom he was dependent, and, above all, to avoid giving way to sentimentality, which he considered so degrading, Seryozha tried not to look at his uncle who had come to disturb his peace of mind, and not to think of what he recalled to him.
But when Stepan Arkadyevitch, going out after him, saw him on the stairs, and calling to him, asked him how he spent his playtime at school, Seryozha talked more freely to him away from his father’s presence.
“We have a railway now,” he said in answer to his uncle’s question. “It’s like this, do you see: two sit on a bench—they’re the passengers; and one stands up straight on the bench. And all are harnessed to it by their arms or by their belts, and they run through all the rooms—the doors are left open beforehand. Well, and it’s pretty hard work being the conductor!”
“That’s the one that stands?” Stepan Arkadyevitch inquired, smiling.
“Yes, you want pluck for it, and cleverness too, especially when they stop all of a sudden, or someone falls down.”
“Yes, that must be a serious matter,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, watching with mournful interest the eager eyes, like his mother’s; not childish now—no longer fully innocent. And though he had promised Alexey Alexandrovitch not to speak of Anna, he could not restrain himself.
“Do you remember your mother?” he asked suddenly.
“No, I don’t,” Seryozha said quickly. He blushed crimson, and his face clouded over. And his uncle could get nothing more out of him. His tutor found his pupil on the staircase half an hour later, and for a long while he could not make out whether he was ill-tempered or crying.
“What is it? I expect you hurt yourself when you fell down?” said the tutor. “I told you it was a dangerous game. And we shall have to speak to the director.”
“If I had hurt myself, nobody should have found it out, that’s certain.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“Leave me alone! If I remember, or if I don’t remember?… what business is it of his? Why should I remember? Leave me in peace!” he said, addressing not his tutor, but the whole world.