“Marie was very gentle to her mother, and nursed her, and did everything for her; but the old woman accepted all her services without a word and never showed her the slightest kindness. Marie bore all this; and I could see when I got to know her that she thought it quite right and fitting, considering herself the lowest and meanest of creatures.“Oh, my dear fellow,” cried Evgenie, warmly, with real sorrow in his voice, “how could you permit all that to come about as it has? Of course, of course, I know it was all so unexpected. I admit that you, only naturally, lost your head, and--and could not stop the foolish girl; that was not in your power. I quite see so much; but you really should have understood how seriously she cared for you. She could not bear to share you with another; and you could bring yourself to throw away and shatter such a treasure! Oh, prince, prince!”“Some dirty little thousand or so may be touched,” said Lebedeff, immensely relieved, “but there’s very little harm done, after all.”“Parfen Rogojin? dear me--then don’t you belong to those very Rogojins, perhaps--” began the clerk, with a very perceptible increase of civility in his tone.
“If you,” he said, addressing Burdovsky--“if you prefer not to speak here, I offer again to go into another room with you... and as to your waiting to see me, I repeat that I only this instant heard...”What had really happened?
“Listen, Mr. Terentieff,” said Ptitsin, who had bidden the prince good-night, and was now holding out his hand to Hippolyte; “I think you remark in that manuscript of yours, that you bequeath your skeleton to the Academy. Are you referring to your own skeleton--I mean, your very bones?”“I will think about it,” said the prince dreamily, and went off.“If anyone had treated me so,” grumbled the boxer.“Of course--quite so, whom else? But what are the proofs?”
Ungovernable rage and madness took entire possession of Gania, and his fury burst out without the least attempt at restraint.
“However, I bear you no grudge,” said Hippolyte suddenly, and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, he held out his hand with a smile. The gesture took Evgenie Pavlovitch by surprise, but with the utmost gravity he touched the hand that was offered him in token of forgiveness.
“Where are the cards?”
“But as if that is enough!” cried Evgenie, indignantly. “As if it is enough simply to say: ‘I know I am very guilty!’ You are to blame, and yet you persevere in evil-doing. Where was your heart, I should like to know, your _christian heart_, all that time? Did she look as though she were suffering less, at that moment? You saw her face--was she suffering less than the other woman? How could you see her suffering and allow it to continue? How could you?”
The prince seemed surprised that he should have been addressed at all; he reflected a moment, but did not seem to take in what had been said to him; at all events, he did not answer. But observing that she and the others had begun to laugh, he too opened his mouth and laughed with them.“What! did it miss fire?”A minute afterwards, Evgenie Pavlovitch reappeared on the terrace, in great agitation.
The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.
“Gentlemen--” began the prince.
“Oh, indeed! Then it is perhaps as well that I neither _did_ invite you, nor _do_ invite you now. Excuse me, prince, but we had better make this matter clear, once for all. We have just agreed that with regard to our relationship there is not much to be said, though, of course, it would have been very delightful to us to feel that such relationship did actually exist; therefore, perhaps--”
They were in no hurry to marry. They liked good society, but were not too keen about it. All this was the more remarkable, because everyone was well aware of the hopes and aims of their parents.“That you are rushing madly into the undertaking, and that you would do well to think it over again. It is more than possible that Varvara Ardalionovna is right.”
The prince said nothing.
“H’m! why must you needs go up and change your coat like that?” asked the prince, banging the table with his fist, in annoyance.
“Come then. You know, I suppose, that you must escort me there? You are well enough to go out, aren’t you?”
“Are you trying to frighten me? I am not Tania, you know, and I don’t intend to run away. Look, you are waking Lubotchka, and she will have convulsions again. Why do you shout like that?”
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.“I am speaking allegorically, of course; but he will be the murderer of a Zemarin family in the future. He is getting ready. ...”
“Make their acquaintance?” asked the man, in amazement, and with redoubled suspicion. “Then why did you say you had business with the general?”“Very simply indeed! I found it under the chair upon which my coat had hung; so that it is clear the purse simply fell out of the pocket and on to the floor!”