The autumn darkness, with its sharp, acid, sweet tang, was already falling as Agrenev proceeded homeward with the head-miner, Eduardovich Bitska, a Lithuanian, and the lights from the engine- house shone brightly in the distance.
All the summer Olya had begged Agrenev to bring her books to read; she did not notice, however, that he had never once brought her any! Then one evening, early in September, after a spell of rain which had prevented their meeting for some days, there happened that which was bound to happen which happens to a maiden only once in her life.
And she turned away, sat down at the table, and took up her book again. In the early hours of the morning a horse was yoked, and Agrenev drove with Bitska over the main road to the station. It was wet. The sombre figures of workmen were dimly seen through the rain and darkness, hastening to the factory. The staff drove round in a motor as the shrill sound of the factory horn split the silence.
It had become known that a woman was to visit Agrenev, and forthwith he was ordered away for twenty-four hours on Detachment. Who then would ever know what guard had opened the door, what officer had wrought the deed? Would a woman dare scream, having come where she had no right to be? Or would she dare tell ... to a husband or a lover? No, not to a husband, nor a lover, nor to anyone!
The child Agrenev had vividly pictured to himself how Nina Kallistratovna had walked, holding her daughter with one hand, an attache-case in the other: of course her bearing must have been singular, as she was going to the flat to administer a slap in the face; no doubt she had walked either in a squatting or a bandy-legged fashion.
Agrenev walked along, carrying a lantern, by the light of which he mechanically picked his steps; close to his heels, Nina hurried through the darkness and puddles. On every side there was the rustling of pines, hundreds of them, their immense stems towering upwards into obscurity. Although invisible, their presence could be felt.
Before he went to bed Agrenev laid out cards to play Patience, ate a cold supper, stood a long time staring at the light from under Anna's door, then knocked. "Come in." He entered for a moment, and found her sitting at a table with a book, which she laid down upon an open copybook diary. When, when is he to know what is written there?
Bitska in a bowler-hat, red-faced, with thin whiskers such as are worn by the Letts, looked gravely round: "You have not slept, Robert Edouardovitch?" asked Agrenev. "No, I have not, and I am not in a good humour either." The man was silent a moment, then burst out; "Now I am forty years, and my vife she is eighteen. I am in vants of an earnest housekeeper.
Now in the Wolf's Ravine Agrenev recalled this incident, and he brooded bitterly over the certainty that no one would ever deliver a slap in the face on his account! What vulgarity slaps in the face!... and a slap in the face was no solution.
The town lay over hillocks and fields and the ancient quarries, all its energies flowing out from the factory at the further end and a casual conversation which occured in the spring at the beginning of Agrenev's acquaintance with Olya was characteristic alike of the town and of her. Agrenev had said apropos of something: "Balmont, Blok, Brusov, Sologub..."