Mashenka Pavletsky, a young girl who had only just finished her studies at a boarding school, returning from a walk to the house of the Kushkins, with whom she was living as a governess, found the household in a terrible turmoil. Mihailo, the porter who opened the door to her, was excited and red as a crab.
Loud voices were heard from upstairs.
“Madame Kushkin is in a fit, most likely, or else she has quarrelled with her husband,” thought Mashenka.
In the hall and in the corridor she met maid-servants. One of them was crying. Then Mashenka saw, running out of her room, the master of the house himself, Nikolay Sergeitch, a little man with a flabby face and a bald head, though he was not old. He was red in the face and twitching all over. He passed the governess without noticing her, and throwing up his arms, exclaimed:
“Oh, how horrible it is! How tactless! How stupid! How barbarous! Abominable!”
Mashenka went into her room, and then, for the first time in her life, it was her lot to experience in all its acuteness the feeling that is so familiar to persons in dependent positions, who eat the bread of the rich and powerful, and cannot speak their minds. There was a search going on in her room. The lady of the house, Fedosya Vassilyevna, a stout, broad-shouldered, uncouth woman with thick black eyebrows, a faintly perceptible moustache, and red hands, who was exactly like a plain, illiterate cook in face and manners, was standing, without her cap on, at the table, putting back into Mashenka’s workbag balls of wool, scraps of materials, and bits of paper. . . . Evidently the governess’s arrival took her by surprise, since, on looking round and seeing the girl’s pale and astonished face, she was a little taken aback, and muttered:
“Pardon. I. . . I upset it accidentally. . . . My sleeve caught in it. . .”
And saying something more, Madame Kushkin rustled her long skirts
and went out. Mashenka looked round her room with wondering eyes, and, unable to understand it, not knowing what to think, shrugged her shoulders, and turned cold with dismay. What had Fedosya Vassilyevna been looking for in her work-bag? If she really had, as she said, caught her sleeve in it and upset everything, why had Nikolay Sergeitch dashed out of her room so excited and red in the face? Why was one drawer of the table pulled out a little way? The money-box, in which the governess put away ten kopeck pieces and old stamps, was open. They had opened it, but did not know how to shut it, though they had scratched the lock all over. The whatnot with her books on it, the things on the table, the bed – all bore fresh traces of a search. Her linen-basket, too. The linen had been carefully folded, but it was not in the same order as Mashenka had left it when she went out. So the search had been thorough, most thorough. But what was it for? Why? What had happened? Mashenka remembered the excited porter, the general turmoil which was still going on, the weeping servant-girl; had it not all some connection with the search that had just been made in her room? Was not she mixed up in something dreadful? Mashenka turned pale, and feeling cold all over, sank on to her linen-basket.
A maid-servant came into the room.
“Liza, you don’t know why they have been rummaging in my room?” the governess asked her.
“Mistress has lost a brooch worth two thousand,” said Liza.
“Yes, but why have they been rummaging in my room?”
“They’ve been searching every one, miss. They’ve searched all my things, too. They stripped us all naked and searched us. . . .