Before them stood Lizabetha Prokofievna.“You seem to be a little feverish tonight,” said the actress.
The deathlike pallor, and a sort of slight convulsion about the lips, had not left Rogojin’s face. Though he welcomed his guest, he was still obviously much disturbed. As he invited the prince to sit down near the table, the latter happened to turn towards him, and was startled by the strange expression on his face. A painful recollection flashed into his mind. He stood for a time, looking straight at Rogojin, whose eyes seemed to blaze like fire. At last Rogojin smiled, though he still looked agitated and shaken.“In our dear country, as indeed in the whole of Europe, a famine visits humanity about four times a century, as far as I can remember; once in every twenty-five years. I won’t swear to this being the exact figure, but anyhow they have become comparatively rare.”
The prince was touched; he took Gania’s hands, and embraced him heartily, while each kissed the other.
He panted, and could hardly speak for agitation. He advanced into the room mechanically; but perceiving Nina Alexandrovna and Varia he became more or less embarrassed, in spite of his excitement. His followers entered after him, and all paused a moment at sight of the ladies. Of course their modesty was not fated to be long-lived, but for a moment they were abashed. Once let them begin to shout, however, and nothing on earth should disconcert them.
Lebedeff strained his eyes and ears to take in what the prince was saying. The latter was frowning more and more, and walking excitedly up and down, trying not to look at Lebedeff.Half an hour after this conversation, she went off to town, and thence to the Kammenny Ostrof, [“Stone Island,” a suburb and park of St. Petersburg] to see Princess Bielokonski, who had just arrived from Moscow on a short visit. The princess was Aglaya’s godmother.
“I’ll just get my parcel and we’ll go,” said the prince to Gania, as he re-entered the drawing-room. Gania stamped his foot with impatience. His face looked dark and gloomy with rage.
After this performance, he smiled sweetly and left the room on tiptoe.
The prince had not seen _her_ for more than three months. All these days since his arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but some mysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himself what impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had often tried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, and that was that the meeting would be painful.
“Who? I?--good and honest?”
The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
“‘Gracious Heaven!’ he cried, ‘all our papers are in it! My dear sir, you little know what you have done for us. I should have been lost--lost!’
“This letter should be sent on at once,” said the prince, disturbed. “I’ll hand it over myself.”“At moments I was in a state of dreadful weakness and misery, so that Colia was greatly disturbed when he left me.“I thought you were capable of development,” said Hippolyte, coming out of his fit of abstraction. “Yes, that is what I meant to say,” he added, with the satisfaction of one who suddenly remembers something he had forgotten. “Here is Burdovsky, sincerely anxious to protect his mother; is not that so? And he himself is the cause of her disgrace. The prince is anxious to help Burdovsky and offers him friendship and a large sum of money, in the sincerity of his heart. And here they stand like two sworn enemies--ha, ha, ha! You all hate Burdovsky because his behaviour with regard to his mother is shocking and repugnant to you; do you not? Is not that true? Is it not true? You all have a passion for beauty and distinction in outward forms; that is all you care for, isn’t it? I have suspected for a long time that you cared for nothing else! Well, let me tell you that perhaps there is not one of you who loved your mother as Burdovsky loved his. As to you, prince, I know that you have sent money secretly to Burdovsky’s mother through Gania. Well, I bet now,” he continued with an hysterical laugh, “that Burdovsky will accuse you of indelicacy, and reproach you with a want of respect for his mother! Yes, that is quite certain! Ha, ha, ha!”“Why, then of course, you won’t say anything about it. As if there are not plenty of sins to your score without the need of those!” said Ferdishenko.“I’ll turn him out!” shouted Gania, glad of the opportunity of venting his vexation. “I shall just turn him out--we can’t have this.”
“Exactly, exactly! That is a true thought!” cried the prince. “From ennui, from our ennui but not from satiety! Oh, no, you are wrong there! Say from _thirst_ if you like; the thirst of fever! And please do not suppose that this is so small a matter that we may have a laugh at it and dismiss it; we must be able to foresee our disasters and arm against them. We Russians no sooner arrive at the brink of the water, and realize that we are really at the brink, than we are so delighted with the outlook that in we plunge and swim to the farthest point we can see. Why is this? You say you are surprised at Pavlicheff’s action; you ascribe it to madness, to kindness of heart, and what not, but it is not so.
“H’m! and you take no notice of it?”“Run away from home?” cried the prince.“Why, prince, you’ve only gone a few steps along this road, I perceive. You are evidently a mere beginner. Wait a bit! Before long, you’ll have your own detectives, you’ll watch day and night, and you’ll know every little thing that goes on there--that is, if--”VI.Yet Aglaya had brought out these letters N. P. B. not only without the slightest appearance of irony, or even any particular accentuation, but with so even and unbroken an appearance of seriousness that assuredly anyone might have supposed that these initials were the original ones written in the ballad. The thing made an uncomfortable impression upon the prince. Of course Mrs. Epanchin saw nothing either in the change of initials or in the insinuation embodied therein. General Epanchin only knew that there was a recitation of verses going on, and took no further interest in the matter. Of the rest of the audience, many had understood the allusion and wondered both at the daring of the lady and at the motive underlying it, but tried to show no sign of their feelings. But Evgenie Pavlovitch (as the prince was ready to wager) both comprehended and tried his best to show that he comprehended; his smile was too mocking to leave any doubt on that point.“Those are the two hundred and fifty roubles you dared to send him as a charity, by the hands of Tchebaroff,” explained Doktorenko.“Keller is my name, sir; ex-lieutenant,” he said, very loud. “If you will accept me as champion of the fair sex, I am at your disposal. English boxing has no secrets from me. I sympathize with you for the insult you have received, but I can’t permit you to raise your hand against a woman in public. If you prefer to meet me--as would be more fitting to your rank--in some other manner, of course you understand me, captain.”
“Are you about to take a wife? I ask,--if you prefer that expression.”
Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the house together.
When the prince heard that the old man had gone to Nina Alexandrovna, though, he felt almost easy on his account.
“Yes--yes--yes--” The prince jumped up in extraordinary agitation. “I know, I know, I’ve read of that sort of thing--it’s internal haemorrhage, you know. Sometimes there isn’t a drop--if the blow goes straight to the heart--”“Poor Peter Volhofskoi was desperately in love with Anfisa Alexeyevna. I don’t know whether there was anything--I mean I don’t know whether he could possibly have indulged in any hope. The poor fellow was beside himself to get her a bouquet of camellias. Countess Sotski and Sophia Bespalova, as everyone knew, were coming with white camellia bouquets. Anfisa wished for red ones, for effect. Well, her husband Platon was driven desperate to find some. And the day before the ball, Anfisa’s rival snapped up the only red camellias to be had in the place, from under Platon’s nose, and Platon--wretched man--was done for. Now if Peter had only been able to step in at this moment with a red bouquet, his little hopes might have made gigantic strides. A woman’s gratitude under such circumstances would have been boundless--but it was practically an impossibility.
He was rushing hurriedly from the terrace, when Lebedeff’s nephew seized his arms, and said something to him in a low voice. Burdovsky turned quickly, and drawing an addressed but unsealed envelope from his pocket, he threw it down on a little table beside the prince.
“Did you see how she spat in Gania’s face! Varia is afraid of no one. But you did not follow her example, and yet I am sure it was not through cowardice. Here she comes! Speak of a wolf and you see his tail! I felt sure that she would come. She is very generous, though of course she has her faults.”