“He declares that your humbug of a landlord revised this gentleman’s article--the article that was read aloud just now--in which you got such a charming dressing-down.”
“Friends as many as you please, but allow me,” interrupted the harsh voice of Lebedeff’s nephew--“allow me to tell you that you might have treated us rather more politely, and not have kept us waiting at least two hours...
In point of fact, Varia had rather exaggerated the certainty of her news as to the prince’s betrothal to Aglaya. Very likely, with the perspicacity of her sex, she gave out as an accomplished fact what she felt was pretty sure to become a fact in a few days. Perhaps she could not resist the satisfaction of pouring one last drop of bitterness into her brother Gania’s cup, in spite of her love for him. At all events, she had been unable to obtain any definite news from the Epanchin girls--the most she could get out of them being hints and surmises, and so on. Perhaps Aglaya’s sisters had merely been pumping Varia for news while pretending to impart information; or perhaps, again, they had been unable to resist the feminine gratification of teasing a friend--for, after all this time, they could scarcely have helped divining the aim of her frequent visits.
“I know, prince, of course I know, but I’m afraid I shall not carry it out; for to do so one needs a heart like your own. He is so very irritable just now, and so proud. At one moment he will embrace me, and the next he flies out at me and sneers at me, and then I stick the lining forward on purpose. Well, _au revoir_, prince, I see I am keeping you, and boring you, too, interfering with your most interesting private reflections.”
“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”“Yes, I do--this kind.”
“Oh, _curse_ Schneider and his dirty opinions! Go on.”
On the morning following the bacchanalian songs and quarrels recorded above, as the prince stepped out of the house at about eleven o’clock, the general suddenly appeared before him, much agitated.
“Marie lay in a state of uncomfortable delirium the whole while; she coughed dreadfully. The old women would not let the children stay in the room; but they all collected outside the window each morning, if only for a moment, and shouted ‘_Bon jour, notre bonne Marie!_’ and Marie no sooner caught sight of, or heard them, and she became quite animated at once, and, in spite of the old women, would try to sit up and nod her head and smile at them, and thank them. The little ones used to bring her nice things and sweets to eat, but she could hardly touch anything. Thanks to them, I assure you, the girl died almost perfectly happy. She almost forgot her misery, and seemed to accept their love as a sort of symbol of pardon for her offence, though she never ceased to consider herself a dreadful sinner. They used to flutter at her window just like little birds, calling out: ‘_Nous t’aimons, Marie!_’
“But how do you, how can you--” began the prince, gazing with dread and horror at Rogojin.“Oh, don’t be so worried on my account, prince! I assure you I am not worth it! At least, not I alone. But I see you are suffering on behalf of the criminal too, for wretched Ferdishenko, in fact!”
“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.”
“Well--it’s all most strange to me. That is--my dear fellow, it is such a surprise--such a blow--that... You see, it is not your financial position (though I should not object if you were a bit richer)--I am thinking of my daughter’s happiness, of course, and the thing is--are you able to give her the happiness she deserves? And then--is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? I don’t mean on your side, but on hers.”
“Prince!” said he. “Excellency! You won’t let me tell you the whole truth; I have tried to explain; more than once I have begun, but you have not allowed me to go on...”
“Good heavens! And I very nearly struck him!”“You should go into the country,” said Lebedeff timidly.“There is not one of them all who is worthy of these words of yours,” continued Aglaya. “Not one of them is worth your little finger, not one of them has heart or head to compare with yours! You are more honest than all, and better, nobler, kinder, wiser than all. There are some here who are unworthy to bend and pick up the handkerchief you have just dropped. Why do you humiliate yourself like this, and place yourself lower than these people? Why do you debase yourself before them? Why have you no pride?”