He looked at the address on the letter once more. Oh, he was not in the least degree alarmed about Aglaya writing such a letter; he could trust her. What he did not like about it was that he could not trust Gania.

Nastasia gazed at the prince in bewilderment. “Prince? He a Prince? Why, I took him for the footman, just now, and sent him in to announce me! Ha, ha, ha, isn’t that good!”

Here there was a frantic noise upstairs once more; several people seemed to be rushing downstairs at once.

“But it is so difficult, and even impossible to understand, that surely I am not to be blamed because I could not fathom the incomprehensible?

“Really?” asked the prince, gleefully, and he laughed in delight.

“What do you mean?” said the prince.

“It’s true then, Lebedeff, that you advertise to lend money on gold or silver articles?”

“Oh! yes, long ago,” continued Ivan Petrovitch, “while you were living with my cousin at Zlatoverhoff. You don’t remember me? No, I dare say you don’t; you had some malady at the time, I remember. It was so serious that I was surprised--”

“Yes.”

XIV.

“I should not be surprised by anything. She is mad!”

“Why, where are you going to squeeze lodgers in here? Don’t you use a study? Does this sort of thing pay?” she added, turning to Nina Alexandrovna.

“Don’t lose your temper. You are just like a schoolboy. You think that all this sort of thing would harm you in Aglaya’s eyes, do you? You little know her character. She is capable of refusing the most brilliant party, and running away and starving in a garret with some wretched student; that’s the sort of girl she is. You never could or did understand how interesting you would have seen in her eyes if you had come firmly and proudly through our misfortunes. The prince has simply caught her with hook and line; firstly, because he never thought of fishing for her, and secondly, because he is an idiot in the eyes of most people. It’s quite enough for her that by accepting him she puts her family out and annoys them all round--that’s what she likes. You don’t understand these things.”

“Never mind!” she laughed, “but why didn’t you come earlier? Perhaps you were expected!”

“I too had that idea, and I slept in peace. But now I see that their opinion is more correct. I do not believe in the theory of madness! The woman has no common sense; but she is not only not insane, she is artful to a degree. Her outburst of this evening about Evgenie’s uncle proves that conclusively. It was _villainous_, simply jesuitical, and it was all for some special purpose.”

“Yesterday morning the prince came to see me. Among other things he asked me to come down to his villa. I knew he would come and persuade me to this step, and that he would adduce the argument that it would be easier for me to die ‘among people and green trees,’--as he expressed it. But today he did not say ‘die,’ he said ‘live.’ It is pretty much the same to me, in my position, which he says. When I asked him why he made such a point of his ‘green trees,’ he told me, to my astonishment, that he had heard that last time I was in Pavlofsk I had said that I had come ‘to have a last look at the trees.’

Indeed, Gania did not look in the least like himself. His bewilderment and his alarmed perplexity passed off, however, and his lips now twitched with rage as he continued to stare evilly at his laughing guest, while his countenance became absolutely livid.

The lady of the house appeared to be a woman of about fifty years of age, thin-faced, and with black lines under the eyes. She looked ill and rather sad; but her face was a pleasant one for all that; and from the first word that fell from her lips, any stranger would at once conclude that she was of a serious and particularly sincere nature. In spite of her sorrowful expression, she gave the idea of possessing considerable firmness and decision.

Exclamations arose on all sides.

“Dear me! This is very unpleasant!”

“Oh, she’ll understand, she’ll understand!” cried the prince, clasping his hands. “She would understand that all this is not the point--not a bit the real point--it is quite foreign to the real question.”

“Excuse me, Nastasia Philipovna,” interrupted the general, with chivalric generosity. “To whom are you speaking? I have remained until now simply because of my devotion to you, and as for danger, I am only afraid that the carpets may be ruined, and the furniture smashed!... You should shut the door on the lot, in my opinion. But I confess that I am extremely curious to see how it ends.”

Even Barashkoff, inured to the storms of evil fortune as he was, could not stand this last stroke. He went mad and died shortly after in the town hospital. His estate was sold for the creditors; and the little girls--two of them, of seven and eight years of age respectively,--were adopted by Totski, who undertook their maintenance and education in the kindness of his heart. They were brought up together with the children of his German bailiff. Very soon, however, there was only one of them left--Nastasia Philipovna--for the other little one died of whooping-cough. Totski, who was living abroad at this time, very soon forgot all about the child; but five years after, returning to Russia, it struck him that he would like to look over his estate and see how matters were going there, and, arrived at his bailiff’s house, he was not long in discovering that among the children of the latter there now dwelt a most lovely little girl of twelve, sweet and intelligent, and bright, and promising to develop beauty of most unusual quality--as to which last Totski was an undoubted authority.

But the father of the family was out in the road already. Colia was carrying his bag for him; Nina Alexandrovna stood and cried on the doorstep; she wanted to run after the general, but Ptitsin kept her back.

“It is very painful to me to answer these questions, Lizabetha Prokofievna.”

“What do you mean?” asked the visitor.

If only he could find an opportunity of coming close up to Nastasia Philipovna and saying to her: “Don’t ruin yourself by marrying this man. He does not love you, he only loves your money. He told me so himself, and so did Aglaya Ivanovna, and I have come on purpose to warn you”--but even that did not seem quite a legitimate or practicable thing to do. Then, again, there was another delicate question, to which he could not find an answer; dared not, in fact, think of it; but at the very idea of which he trembled and blushed. However, in spite of all his fears and heart-quakings he went in, and asked for Nastasia Philipovna.

She took her glass, and vowed she would empty it three times that evening. She was hysterical, and laughed aloud every other minute with no apparent reason--the next moment relapsing into gloom and thoughtfulness.

We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”

“I’m not always kind, though.”

“I was much surprised, and looked at him expectantly.

“But what on earth did she mean? I assure you it is a real riddle to me--to me, and to others, too!” Prince S. seemed to be under the influence of sincere astonishment.

“Vera just told me. She tried to persuade me not to come, but I couldn’t help myself, just for one minute. I have been having my turn at the bedside for the last two hours; Kostia Lebedeff is there now. Burdovsky has gone. Now, lie down, prince, make yourself comfortable, and sleep well! I’m awfully impressed, you know.”

“Oh, but it is absolutely necessary for me,” Gania entreated. “Believe me, if it were not so, I would not ask you; how else am I to get it to her? It is most important, dreadfully important!”

“Yes.”

“What are you thinking of? Don’t go, he’ll blow his brains out in a minute!” cried Vera Lebedeff, rushing up to Hippolyte and catching hold of his hands in a torment of alarm. “What are you thinking of? He said he would blow his brains out at sunrise.”

“Come, come; what’s all this?” cried General Ivolgin, suddenly and angrily, coming close up to Rogojin. The unexpectedness of this sally on the part of the hitherto silent old man caused some laughter among the intruders.

“Hide-and-seek? What do you mean?” inquired Mrs. Epanchin.

“Oh, dear me, I assure you there is no need to stand on ceremony with him,” the general explained hastily. “He is quite a child, not to say a pathetic-looking creature. He has fits of some sort, and has just arrived from Switzerland, straight from the station, dressed like a German and without a farthing in his pocket. I gave him twenty-five roubles to go on with, and am going to find him some easy place in one of the government offices. I should like you to ply him well with the victuals, my dears, for I should think he must be very hungry.”

“Do you know, prince,” he said, in quite a different tone, “I do not know you at all, yet, and after all, Elizabetha Prokofievna would very likely be pleased to have a peep at a man of her own name. Wait a little, if you don’t mind, and if you have time to spare?”

“Oh, but think how delightful to hear how one’s friends lie! Besides you needn’t be afraid, Gania; everybody knows what your worst action is without the need of any lying on your part. Only think, gentlemen,”--and Ferdishenko here grew quite enthusiastic, “only think with what eyes we shall observe one another tomorrow, after our tales have been told!”

“So would I,” said another, from behind, “with pleasure. Devil take the thing!” he added, in a tempest of despair, “it will all be burnt up in a minute--It’s burning, it’s burning!”

No one had expected this.

“I see, I see,” said Evgenie, smiling gently. His mirth seemed very near the surface this evening.

“H’m! Well, you may be a good reader of riddles but you are wrong _there_, at all events. I’ll remind you of this, tonight.”

But Prince S. was laughing now, too, so was Evgenie Pavlovitch, so was Colia, and so was the prince himself, who caught the infection as he looked round radiantly upon the others.

“‘I do not wish to deprive your mother of you, and, therefore, I will not ask you to go with me,’ he said, the morning of his departure, ‘but I should like to do something for you.’ He was mounting his horse as he spoke. ‘Write something in my sister’s album for me,’ I said rather timidly, for he was in a state of great dejection at the moment. He turned, called for a pen, took the album. ‘How old is your sister?’ he asked, holding the pen in his hand. ‘Three years old,’ I said. ‘Ah, _petite fille alors!_’ and he wrote in the album:

Nothing was said; there were not even any hints dropped; but still, it seemed better to the parents to say nothing more about going abroad this season, at all events. Aglaya herself perhaps was of a different opinion.

When the prince did give the matter a little attention, he recalled the fact that during these days he had always found Lebedeff to be in radiantly good spirits, when they happened to meet; and further, that the general and Lebedeff were always together. The two friends did not seem ever to be parted for a moment.

“It is the _heart_ which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master,” said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.

She would have insisted on sending to Petersburg at once, for a certain great medical celebrity; but her daughters dissuaded her, though they were not willing to stay behind when she at once prepared to go and visit the invalid. Aglaya, however, suggested that it was a little unceremonious to go _en masse_ to see him.

“Father, your dinner is ready,” said Varvara at this point, putting her head in at the door.

“Lef Nicolaievitch, my friend, come along with me.” It was Rogojin.

“‘I think you dropped this,’ I remarked, as quietly and drily as I could. (I thought it best to treat him so.) For some while he stood before me in downright terror, and seemed unable to understand. He then suddenly grabbed at his side-pocket, opened his mouth in alarm, and beat his forehead with his hand.

“I give you my word that he shall come and see you--but he--he needs rest just now.”

At the door they met Gania coming in.

“And I have heard of _you_,” continued the prince, addressing Ivan Petrovitch, “that when some of your villagers were burned out you gave them wood to build up their houses again, though they were no longer your serfs and had behaved badly towards you.”

Ferdishenko led the general up to Nastasia Philipovna.

Evgenie Pavlovitch was silent, but Hippolyte kept his eyes fixed upon him, waiting impatiently for more.

“Come!”

When Totski had approached the general with his request for friendly counsel as to a marriage with one of his daughters, he had made a full and candid confession. He had said that he intended to stop at no means to obtain his freedom; even if Nastasia were to promise to leave him entirely alone in future, he would not (he said) believe and trust her; words were not enough for him; he must have solid guarantees of some sort. So he and the general determined to try what an attempt to appeal to her heart would effect. Having arrived at Nastasia’s house one day, with Epanchin, Totski immediately began to speak of the intolerable torment of his position. He admitted that he was to blame for all, but candidly confessed that he could not bring himself to feel any remorse for his original guilt towards herself, because he was a man of sensual passions which were inborn and ineradicable, and that he had no power over himself in this respect; but that he wished, seriously, to marry at last, and that the whole fate of the most desirable social union which he contemplated, was in her hands; in a word, he confided his all to her generosity of heart.

The prince sat down on a chair, and watched him in alarm. Half an hour went by.

At this moment in marched Aglaya, as calm and collected as could be. She gave the prince a ceremonious bow and solemnly took up a prominent position near the big round table. She looked at the prince questioningly.

During the next fortnight--that is, through the early part of July--the history of our hero was circulated in the form of strange, diverting, most unlikely-sounding stories, which passed from mouth to mouth, through the streets and villas adjoining those inhabited by Lebedeff, Ptitsin, Nastasia Philipovna and the Epanchins; in fact, pretty well through the whole town and its environs. All society--both the inhabitants of the place and those who came down of an evening for the music--had got hold of one and the same story, in a thousand varieties of detail--as to how a certain young prince had raised a terrible scandal in a most respectable household, had thrown over a daughter of the family, to whom he was engaged, and had been captured by a woman of shady reputation whom he was determined to marry at once--breaking off all old ties for the satisfaction of his insane idea; and, in spite of the public indignation roused by his action, the marriage was to take place in Pavlofsk openly and publicly, and the prince had announced his intention of going through with it with head erect and looking the whole world in the face. The story was so artfully adorned with scandalous details, and persons of so great eminence and importance were apparently mixed up in it, while, at the same time, the evidence was so circumstantial, that it was no wonder the matter gave food for plenty of curiosity and gossip.

“Come, come! the less _you_ say about it the better--to judge from all I have heard about you!” replied Mrs. Epanchin.

“You have not quite understood,” she said. “I did not come to quarrel with you, though I do not like you. I came to speak to you as... as one human being to another. I came with my mind made up as to what I had to say to you, and I shall not change my intention, although you may misunderstand me. So much the worse for you, not for myself! I wished to reply to all you have written to me and to reply personally, because I think that is the more convenient way. Listen to my reply to all your letters. I began to be sorry for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch on the very day I made his acquaintance, and when I heard--afterwards--of all that took place at your house in the evening, I was sorry for him because he was such a simple-minded man, and because he, in the simplicity of his soul, believed that he could be happy with a woman of your character. What I feared actually took place; you could not love him, you tortured him, and threw him over. You could not love him because you are too proud--no, not proud, that is an error; because you are too vain--no, not quite that either; too self-loving; you are self-loving to madness. Your letters to me are a proof of it. You could not love so simple a soul as his, and perhaps in your heart you despised him and laughed at him. All you could love was your shame and the perpetual thought that you were disgraced and insulted. If you were less shameful, or had no cause at all for shame, you would be still more unhappy than you are now.”

“She has promised to tell me tonight at her own house whether she consents or not,” replied Gania.

“I want to go and look after my country estates. You advised me to do that yourself,” was the reply. “And then I wish to go abroad.”

She held out a weekly comic paper, pointing to an article on one of its pages. Just as the visitors were coming in, Lebedeff, wishing to ingratiate himself with the great lady, had pulled this paper from his pocket, and presented it to her, indicating a few columns marked in pencil. Lizabetha Prokofievna had had time to read some of it, and was greatly upset.

“Oh! yes, long ago,” continued Ivan Petrovitch, “while you were living with my cousin at Zlatoverhoff. You don’t remember me? No, I dare say you don’t; you had some malady at the time, I remember. It was so serious that I was surprised--”

It soon became clear to Gania, after scenes of wrath and quarrellings at the domestic hearth, that his family were seriously opposed to the match, and that Nastasia was aware of this fact was equally evident. She said nothing about it, though he daily expected her to do so.

“When you are not with me I hate you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I have loathed you every day of these three months since I last saw you. By heaven I have!” said Rogojin. “I could have poisoned you at any minute. Now, you have been with me but a quarter of an hour, and all my malice seems to have melted away, and you are as dear to me as ever. Stay here a little longer.”

During these last few years all three of the general’s daughters--Alexandra, Adelaida, and Aglaya--had grown up and matured. Of course they were only Epanchins, but their mother’s family was noble; they might expect considerable fortunes; their father had hopes of attaining to very high rank indeed in his country’s service--all of which was satisfactory. All three of the girls were decidedly pretty, even the eldest, Alexandra, who was just twenty-five years old. The middle daughter was now twenty-three, while the youngest, Aglaya, was twenty. This youngest girl was absolutely a beauty, and had begun of late to attract considerable attention in society. But this was not all, for every one of the three was clever, well educated, and accomplished.

“You have indeed!” said Gania.

“Thanks, prince, many thanks, eccentric friend of the family, for the pleasant evening you have provided for us. I am sure you are quite pleased that you have managed to mix us up with your extraordinary affairs. It is quite enough, dear family friend; thank you for giving us an opportunity of getting to know you so well.”

“But after all, what is it? Is it possible that I should have just risked my fate by tossing up?” he went on, shuddering; and looked round him again. His eyes had a curious expression of sincerity. “That is an astonishing psychological fact,” he cried, suddenly addressing the prince, in a tone of the most intense surprise. “It is... it is something quite inconceivable, prince,” he repeated with growing animation, like a man regaining consciousness. “Take note of it, prince, remember it; you collect, I am told, facts concerning capital punishment... They told me so. Ha, ha! My God, how absurd!” He sat down on the sofa, put his elbows on the table, and laid his head on his hands. “It is shameful--though what does it matter to me if it is shameful?

“Come along, then. I don’t wish to meet my new year without you--my new life, I should say, for a new life is beginning for me. Did you know, Parfen, that a new life had begun for me?”

“Very.”

Neither one nor the other seemed to give expression to her full thoughts.

“Do you really forgive me?” he said at last. “And--and Lizabetha Prokofievna too?” The laugh increased, tears came into the prince’s eyes, he could not believe in all this kindness--he was enchanted.

“Never come near my house again!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, pale with rage. “Don’t let me see as much as a _shadow_ of you about the place! Do you hear?”

“Dear me--is it possible?” observed the clerk, while his face assumed an expression of great deference and servility--if not of absolute alarm: “what, a son of that very Semen Rogojin--hereditary honourable citizen--who died a month or so ago and left two million and a half of roubles?”

“Yes, yes, yours, yours! What is there to surprise anyone in that? Come, come, you mustn’t go on like this, crying in the middle of the road; and you a general too, a military man! Come, let’s go back.”

But the prince only looked at the bright side; he did not turn the coat and see the shabby lining.

Rogojin looked intently at him again, as before.

Besides this, it was clear that the Epanchins’ position gained each year, with geometrical accuracy, both as to financial solidity and social weight; and, therefore, the longer the girls waited, the better was their chance of making a brilliant match.

“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.

Arrived at the point where the Gorohovaya crosses the Sadovaya, he was surprised to find how excessively agitated he was. He had no idea that his heart could beat so painfully.

“Or taken it out of my pocket--two alternatives.”

Lebedeff could restrain himself no longer; he made his way through the row of chairs.

“Do you know, Totski, this is all very like what they say goes on among the Japanese?” said Ptitsin. “The offended party there, they say, marches off to his insulter and says to him, ‘You insulted me, so I have come to rip myself open before your eyes;’ and with these words he does actually rip his stomach open before his enemy, and considers, doubtless, that he is having all possible and necessary satisfaction and revenge. There are strange characters in the world, sir!”

“I will tell you all the story. I am his nephew; he did speak the truth there, although he is generally telling lies. I am at the University, and have not yet finished my course. I mean to do so, and I shall, for I have a determined character. I must, however, find something to do for the present, and therefore I have got employment on the railway at twenty-four roubles a month. I admit that my uncle has helped me once or twice before. Well, I had twenty roubles in my pocket, and I gambled them away. Can you believe that I should be so low, so base, as to lose money in that way?”

“But this is intolerable!” cried the visitors, some of them starting to their feet.

“Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. “I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o’clock,” he added, looking at his watch.

“Yes--not a physical one! I don’t suppose anyone--even a woman--would raise a hand against me now. Even Gania would hesitate! I did think at one time yesterday, that he would fly at me, though. I bet anything that I know what you are thinking of now! You are thinking: ‘Of course one can’t strike the little wretch, but one could suffocate him with a pillow, or a wet towel, when he is asleep! One _ought_ to get rid of him somehow.’ I can see in your face that you are thinking that at this very second.”

“Hallo, Gania, you blackguard! You didn’t expect Rogojin, eh?” said the latter, entering the drawing-room, and stopping before Gania.

“But why, _why?_ Devil take it, what did you do in there? Why did they fancy you? Look here, can’t you remember exactly what you said to them, from the very beginning? Can’t you remember?”

“Deceitful and violent?”

The door opened at this point, and in came Gania most unexpectedly.

“Yes, yes, yours, yours! What is there to surprise anyone in that? Come, come, you mustn’t go on like this, crying in the middle of the road; and you a general too, a military man! Come, let’s go back.”