But when he did tell her at last, he told her also that Clara and Elisa had asked immediately what was to be done. This seemed to be the way of women, he had said, to assume that something should be done. He had replied, quite severely, “Nothing.” In the morning Sophia took a clean though crumpled frock out of her bag—she had never learned how to pack tidily—fixed her curly hair as well as she could to hide some little patches of gray, and came downstairs to the sounds of a household already astir. Her place was the only one still set in the dining room. Elisa brought in the coffee and the first German breakfast that Sophia had ever eaten in this house—cold sliced meat and cheese and thickly buttered bread. She said that Clara was upstairs preparing their brother for his meeting with Sophia. “At first we had the barber come in,” she said. “But then Clara learned to do it quite well. She turned out to be the one who has the skills of a nurse, it is fortunate one of us has them.” Even before she said this Sophia had sensed that they were short of money. The damask and net curtains had a dingy look, the silver knife and fork she used had not recently been polished. Through the open door to the sitting room a rough-looking young girl, their present servant, was visible cleaning out the grate and raising clouds of dust. Elisa looked her way, as if to ask her to shut the door, then got up and did it herself. She came back to the table with a flushed, downcast face, and Sophia asked hastily, if rather impolitely, what was the illness of Herr Weierstrass? “It is a weakness of his heart for one thing, and the pneumonia he had in the autumn that he cannot seem to get over. Also he has a growth in the generative organs,” said Elisa, lowering her voice but speaking frankly as German women did. Clara appeared in the doorway. “He is waiting for you now.” Sophia climbed the stairs thinking not of the professor but of these two women who had made him the center of their lives. Knitting mufflers, mending the linen, making the puddings and preserves that could never be trusted to a servant. Honoring the Roman Catholic Church as their brother did—a cold undiverting religion in Sophia’s opinion—and all without a moment of mutiny as far as you could see, or any flicker of dissatisfaction. I would go mad, she thought. Even to be a professor, she thought, I would go mad. Students have mediocre minds, generally speaking. Only the most obvious, regular patterns can be impressed on them. She would not have dared admit this to herself before she had Maksim. She entered the bedroom smiling at her luck, her coming freedom, her soon-to-be husband. “Ah, here you are at last,” said Weierstrass, speaking somewhat weakly and laboriously. “The
naughty child, we thought she had deserted us. Are you on your way to Paris again, off to amuse yourself?” “I am on my way back from Paris,” said Sophia. “I am going back to Stockholm. Paris was not at all amusing, it was dreary as can be.” She gave him her hands to kiss, one after the other.
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