The prince observed that he was trembling all over.“In half an hour or so the loss was discovered, and the servants were being put under examination. Daria, the housemaid was suspected. I exhibited the greatest interest and sympathy, and I remember that poor Daria quite lost her head, and that I began assuring her, before everyone, that I would guarantee her forgiveness on the part of her mistress, if she would confess her guilt. They all stared at the girl, and I remember a wonderful attraction in the reflection that here was I sermonizing away, with the money in my own pocket all the while. I went and spent the three roubles that very evening at a restaurant. I went in and asked for a bottle of Lafite, and drank it up; I wanted to be rid of the money.
“Tomorrow ‘there will be no more time!’” laughed Hippolyte, hysterically. “You needn’t be afraid; I shall get through the whole thing in forty minutes, at most an hour! Look how interested everybody is! Everybody has drawn near. Look! look at them all staring at my sealed packet! If I hadn’t sealed it up it wouldn’t have been half so effective! Ha, ha! that’s mystery, that is! Now then, gentlemen, shall I break the seal or not? Say the word; it’s a mystery, I tell you--a secret! Prince, you know who said there would be ‘no more time’? It was the great and powerful angel in the Apocalypse.”
“Yes, I see and understand.”
Mrs. Epanchin, long accustomed to her husband’s infidelities, had heard of the pearls, and the rumour excited her liveliest curiosity and interest. The general remarked her suspicions, and felt that a grand explanation must shortly take place--which fact alarmed him much.
He crossed the salon and the entrance-hall, so as to pass down the corridor into his own room. As he came near the front door he heard someone outside vainly endeavouring to ring the bell, which was evidently broken, and only shook a little, without emitting any sound.
“Oh, you get those ideas out of novels, you know. Times are changed now, dear prince; the world sees things as they really are. That’s all nonsense. Besides, how can you marry? You need a nurse, not a wife.”The old man tried to put a good face on the affair.The prince said all this with manifest effort--in broken sentences, and with many drawings of breath. He was evidently much agitated. Nastasia Philipovna looked at him inquisitively, but did not laugh.“Lizabetha Prokofievna! Lizabetha Prokofievna! Lizabetha Prokofievna!”
“I see, I see,” said Evgenie, smiling gently. His mirth seemed very near the surface this evening.
“Yes, it was,” said the prince.
“Good-morning! My head whirls so; I didn’t sleep all night. I should like to have a nap now.”
“That has been seen already,” continued Lebedeff, not deigning to notice the interruption. “Malthus was a friend of humanity, but, with ill-founded moral principles, the friend of humanity is the devourer of humanity, without mentioning his pride; for, touch the vanity of one of these numberless philanthropists, and to avenge his self-esteem, he will be ready at once to set fire to the whole globe; and to tell the truth, we are all more or less like that. I, perhaps, might be the first to set a light to the fuel, and then run away. But, again, I must repeat, that is not the question.”
“Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way,” said she to the man who answered.Her eyes were aglow with inspiration, and a slight tremor of rapture passed over her lovely features once or twice. She continued to recite: