As there were only three of us – me, my wife and the maid – and the summer cottage was rather big, one of the rooms – a small corner one – remained vacant.
I wanted to turn it into my study, but my wife disagreed.
- What do you need a study for? You don’t work in summer and hardly ever write anything, and if there is something to write – a letter, a telegram or a note – you can do it in the bedroom.
- But why should there be an empty room?
- I have an idea: why don’t we let it?
- To whom? – I inquired anxiously. – A woman? There will be constant whining, fussing, hot irons… A man? But the creature might start making love to you. And you know my views on the subject: they are very clear.
- Oh, no, my love. This tiny room is too small for a man or a woman. We need a boy or a girl. I do love children so much…
It had always been our dream to have children, but, alas, we had none. That is to say I did have a child somewhere, but my wife was not involved.
So we went on living, just the two of us, modestly and peacefully; only rarely did a furious storm rage in our souls and sorrow squeeze our hearts, when we saw a nurse dragging a perambulator occupied by a plump, ruddy-faced baby.
O children! Wayside flowers that adorn the thorny roads of our bitter lives… Why are you so particular, avoiding some, rejoicing the fortunate others?
- You are right, my dear, – I said, biting my lip, for I felt a pang in my heart - You are right. It won’t be ours, but for a few months it will brighten our solitude.
That very day I went to the city and put an advertisement in a paper:
‘Young childless couple spending the summer in the country (an excellent wholesome situation) offers a spare room to let for a boy or a girl whose parents are unable to leave the town. Terms: 30 rubles, all found. Loving and attentive care, delicious, generous food. Address…”
Three days later we had an answer:
‘Dear Sir and Madam,
I hasten to respond to your kind advertisement. Would you please take my little Paul, who cannot play and romp in the fresh air this year, because business keeps me in town all summer. And fresh air is so needful for my little angel. He is a meek creature, not at all cranky, and will not trouble you. I hope that you will also use him kindly.
I telegraphed her back the same day:
Agreed. Send or bring dear little Paul. Waiting.
We were busy all morning, building a pretty nest for our little visitor. I bought him a bed, put a small table at the window, hung some pictures on the walls, spread a carpet on the floor – and the tiny room became bright and cozy.
At lunchtime a telegram came:
Meet today 7 pm train. Regretfully unable come myself; nurse will bring him. If restless at night, do not worry: it is teeth. Yours, Zavidonskaya.
- Darn… What does she mean – teeth? If the lad is teething, it will be a pretty mess. He’ll scream through the night. We should have mentioned the age desired. I thought he would be 8 or 10, but a one-year-old baby… Thank you very much indeed!
- Do you see now? – my wife returned. – And you bought him a bed nearly two yards long. How can we put him on it? He’ll fall off…
- Who cares? – I said cynically (I was already losing my enthusiasm for the whole thing). – We can tie him down with cords. But if the little devil starts to scream…
My wife flashed her eyes at me.
- You have no heart! But don’t worry… If the poor baby starts to cry – I will calm him down. I will hold him on my breast and rock him quietly to sleep…
A tear hung on her eyelashes. I nodded pensively and stepped out in silence.
By seven o’clock we were waiting at the train station, while the maid was ordered to prepare some warm milk.
The clattering train rumbled into our minuscule station. Only few passengers got off: a parson, a girl with a valise, a tall fellow with sinewy neck and awkward movements and a fat old lady carrying a birdcage with a canary.
- But where is our little Paul? – my wife asked after the train whistled and sped away. – Didn’t he come? And there is no nurse.
- Maybe this is the nurse. – I suggested timidly. – The one with the valise.
- But where is little Paul, then?
- Maybe she… sort of… in the valise?
- Don’t be silly. He is not a kitten.
The fat old lady with the canary approached us cautiously:
- Aren’t you waiting for little Paul, ma’am?
- Yes, yes, we are! – cried my wife. – What’s happened to him? Is he ill?
- Why, ma’am, there he is!
- Right there! Master Paul, come and say hullo to the gentleman and lady!
The sinewy-necked fellow turned around, lumbered slowly to us, spit an enormous cigarette out of the left corner of his mouth, and said in a thick, raspy voice:
- G’d’vng! Mother sends regards.
My wife turned pale.
- So, you are the… little Paul? – I asked sternly.
- Eh? Me. Don’t worry – here’s the money. First month in advance. Told to hand them to you. Thirty rubles. Just two rubles missing – took a little bite in the city… and some cigarettes… - He giggled.
- Nurse! – I whispered severely to the fat old lady, taking her aside. – This is monstrous! A little boy, forsooth. If I meet this little boy alone in the woods, I’ll hand him my watch and money without smallest resistance. Is this your idea of a little boy?
The nurse looked me sweetly in the face and said:
- But he is still a child… Almost a baby…
- How old is he? – I asked abruptly.
- Just over eighteen.
- Then why the devil did his mother say his teeth troubled him at night? I thought he was teething!
- Oh, no! That’s over. – She said reassuringly. – But he suffers from toothaches something terrible. Please, Sir, be kind to our poor little Paul.
- Dare I be unkind to him? – I whispered in awe, eyeing his broad shoulders. – Let him stay here a month, but then, for God’s sake, please take him back…
- Good bye, Master Paul, - said the nurse kissing the fellow. – My train is coming. Behave yourself, do not upset these nice people, don’t catch a cold. Please, ma’am, don’t let him run outside dressed too lightly; it’s summertime, but still it doesn’t hurt to have some warm clothes on. And… Here’s a canary for you, Master Paul. Let it be a memory from your old nurse. It will sing to you… Good bye, kind sir! Good bye, kind lady!