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Title: Uncle's dream; And The Permanent Husband
Author: Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Uncle's dream; And The Permanent Husband" ***

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                      _VIZETELLY’S RUSSIAN NOVELS._



                             Uncle’s Dream;

                                   AND

                         The Permanent Husband.



                        CELEBRATED RUSSIAN NOVELS



                         By FEDOR DOSTOIEFFSKY.

        _Translated from the original Russian by Fred. Whishaw._



    “There are three Russian novelists who, though, with one
    exception, little known out of their own country, stand head and
    shoulders above most of their contemporaries. In the opinion of
    some not indifferent critics, they are superior to all other
    novelists of this generation. Two of them, Dostoieffsky and
    Turgenieff, died not long ago; the third, Lyof Tolstoi, still
    lives. The one with the most marked individuality of character,
    probably the most highly gifted, was unquestionably
    Dostoieffsky.”—_Spectator._



         _In crown 8vo. containing nearly 500 pages, price 6s._

                               THE IDIOT.



    “Is unquestionably a work of great power and originality. M.
    Dostoieffsky crowds his canvas with living organisms, depicted
    with extreme vividness.”—_Scotsman._



                        _In crown 8vo, price 5s._

               THE FRIEND OF THE FAMILY; AND THE GAMBLER.



    “Dostoieffsky is one of the keenest observers of humanity amongst
    modern novelists. Both stories are very valuable as pictures of a
    society and a people with whom we are imperfectly acquainted, but
    who deserve the closest scrutiny.”—_Public Opinion._



   _Third edition. In crown 8vo, with Portrait and Memoir, price 5s._

                           INJURY AND INSULT.



    “That ‘Injury and Insult’ is a powerful novel few will deny. Vania
    is a marvellous character. Once read, the book can never be
    forgotten.”—_St. Stephen’s Review._

    “A masterpiece of fiction. The author has treated with consummate
    tact the difficult character of Natasha, ‘the incarnation of the
    slave of passion.’ She lives and breathes in these vivid pages,
    and the reader is drawn into the vortex of her anguish, and
    rejoices when she breaks free from her chain.”—_Morning Post._



           _Third edition. In crown 8vo, 450 pages, price 6s._

                          CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.



    “Dostoieffsky is one of the most remarkable of modern writers, and
    his book, ‘CRIME AND PUNISHMENT’ is one of the most moving of
    modern novels. It is the story of a murder and of the punishment
    which dogs the murderer; and its effect is unique in fiction. It
    is realism, but such realism as M. Zola and his followers do not
    dream of. The reader knows the personages—strange grotesque,
    terrible personages they are—more intimately than if he had been
    years with them in the flesh. He is constrained to live their
    lives, to suffer their tortures, to scheme and resist with them,
    exult with them, weep and laugh and despair with them; he breathes
    the very breath of their nostrils, and with the madness that comes
    upon them he is afflicted even as they. This sounds extravagant
    praise, no doubt; but only to those who have not read the volume.
    To those who have, we are sure that it will appear rather under
    the mark than otherwise.”—_The Athenæum._



                      _VIZETELLY’S RUSSIAN NOVELS._



                             Uncle’s Dream;

                                   AND

                         The Permanent Husband.

                         By FEDOR DOSTOIEFFSKY,


 AUTHOR OF “CRIME AND PUNISHMENT,” “INJURY AND INSULT,” “THE IDIOT,” “THE
                 FRIEND OF THE FAMILY; AND THE GAMBLER.”

            TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN BY FREDERICK WHISHAW.

                              [Illustration]
LONDON:

_VIZETELLY & CO., 16, HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN._

1888.



CONTENTS


UNCLE’S DREAM.


CHAPTER I.
CHAPTER II.
CHAPTER III.
CHAPTER IV.
CHAPTER V.
CHAPTER VI.
CHAPTER VII.
CHAPTER VIII.
CHAPTER IX.
CHAPTER X.
CHAPTER XI.
CHAPTER XII.
CHAPTER XIII.
CHAPTER XIV.
CHAPTER XV.
Footnotes



THE PERMANENT HUSBAND


CHAPTER I.
CHAPTER II.
CHAPTER III.
CHAPTER IV.
CHAPTER V.
CHAPTER VI.
CHAPTER VII.
CHAPTER VIII.
CHAPTER IX.
CHAPTER X.
CHAPTER XI.
CHAPTER XII.
CHAPTER XIII.
CHAPTER XIV.
CHAPTER XV.
CHAPTER XVI.
CHAPTER XVII.



UNCLE’S DREAM.



CHAPTER I.


Maria Alexandrovna Moskaleva was the principal lady of Mordasoff—there was
no doubt whatever on that point! She always bore herself as though _she_
did not care a fig for anyone, but as though no one else could do without
_her_. True, there were uncommonly few who loved her—in fact I may say
that very many detested her; still, everyone was afraid of her, and that
was what she liked!

Now, why did Maria Alexandrovna, who dearly loves scandal, and cannot
sleep at night unless she has heard something new and piquant the day
before,—why, or how did she know how to bear herself so that it would
never strike anyone, looking at her, to suppose that the dignified lady
was the most inveterate scandal-monger in the world—or at all events in
Mordasoff? On the contrary, anyone would have said at once, that scandals
and such-like pettiness must vanish in her presence; and that
scandal-mongers, caught red-handed by Maria Alexandrovna, would blush and
tremble, like schoolboys at the entrance of the master; and that the talk
would immediately be diverted into channels of the loftiest and most
sublime subjects so soon as she entered the room. Maria Alexandrovna knew
many deadly and scandalous secrets of certain other Mordasoff inhabitants,
which, if she liked to reveal them at any convenient opportunity, would
produce results little less terrible than the earthquake of Lisbon. Still,
she was very quiet about the secrets she knew, and never let them out
except in cases of absolute need, and then only to her nearest and dearest
friends. She liked to hint that she knew certain things, and frighten
people out of their wits; preferring to keep them in a state of perpetual
terror, rather than crush them altogether.

This was real talent—the talent of tactics.

We all considered Maria Alexandrovna as our type and model of
irreproachable _comme-il-faut_! She had no rival in this respect in
Mordasoff! She could kill and annihilate and pulverize any rival with a
single word. We have seen her do it; and all the while she would look as
though she had not even observed that she had let the fatal word fall.

Everyone knows that this trait is a speciality of the highest circles.

Her circle of friends was large. Many visitors to Mordasoff left the town
again in an ecstasy over her reception of them, and carried on a
correspondence with her afterwards! Somebody even addressed some poetry to
her, which she showed about the place with great pride. The novelist who
came to the town used to read his novel to her of an evening, and ended by
dedicating it to her; which produced a very agreeable effect. A certain
German professor, who came from Carlsbad to inquire into the question of a
little worm with horns which abounds in our part of the world, and who
wrote and published four large quarto volumes about this same little
insect, was so delighted and ravished with her amiability and kindness
that to this very day he carries on a most improving correspondence upon
moral subjects from far Carlsbad!

Some people have compared Maria Alexandrovna, in certain respects, with
Napoleon. Of course it may have been her enemies who did so, in order to
bring Maria Alexandrovna to scorn; but all I can say is, How is it that
Napoleon, when he rose to his highest, that _too_ high estate of his,
became giddy and fell? Historians of the old school have ascribed this to
the fact that he was not only not of royal blood, but was not even a
gentleman! and therefore when he rose too high, he thought of his proper
place, the ground, became giddy and fell! But why did not Maria
Alexandrovna’s head whirl? And how was it that she could always keep her
place as the first lady of Mordasoff?

People have often said this sort of thing of Maria Alexandrovna; for
instance: “Oh—yes, but how would she act under such and such difficult
circumstances?” Yet, when the circumstances arose, Maria Alexandrovna
invariably rose also to the emergency! For instance, when her
husband—Afanassy Matveyevitch—was obliged to throw up his appointment, out
of pure incapacity and feebleness of intellect, just before the government
inspector came down to look into matters, all Mordasoff danced with
delight to think that she would be down on her knees to this inspector,
begging and beseeching and weeping and praying—in fact, that she would
drop her wings and fall; but, bless you, nothing of the sort happened!
Maria Alexandrovna quite understood that her husband was beyond praying
for: he must retire. So she only rearranged her affairs a little, in such
a manner that she lost not a scrap of her influence in the place, and her
house still remained the acknowledged head of all Mordasoff Society!

The procurer’s wife, Anna Nicolaevna Antipova, the sworn foe of Maria
Alexandrovna, though a friend so far as could be judged outside, had
already blown the trumpet of victory over her rival! But when Society
found that Maria Alexandrovna was extremely difficult to put down, they
were obliged to conclude that the latter had struck her roots far deeper
than they had thought for.

As I have mentioned Afanassy Matveyevitch, Maria Alexandrovna’s husband, I
may as well add a few words about him in this place.

Firstly, then, he was a most presentable man, so far as exterior goes, and
a very high-principled person besides; but in critical moments he used to
lose his head and stand looking like a sheep which has come across a new
gate. He looked very majestic and dignified in his dress-coat and white
tie at dinner parties, and so on; but his dignity only lasted until he
opened his mouth to speak; for then—well, you’d better have shut your
ears, ladies and gentlemen, when he began to talk—that’s all! Everyone
agreed that he was quite unworthy to be Maria Alexandrovna’s husband. He
only sat in his place by virtue of his wife’s genius. In my humble opinion
he ought long ago to have been derogated to the office of frightening
sparrows in the kitchen garden. There, and only there, would he have been
in his proper sphere, and doing some good to his fellow countrymen.

Therefore, I think Maria Alexandrovna did a very wise thing when she sent
him away to her village, about a couple of miles from town, where she
possessed a property of some hundred and twenty souls—which, to tell the
truth, was all she had to keep up the respectability and grandeur of her
noble house upon!

Everybody knew that Afanassy was only kept because he had earned a salary
and perquisites; so that when he ceased to earn the said salary and
perquisites, it surprised no-one to learn that he was sent away—“returned
empty” to the village, as useless and fit for nothing! In fact, everyone
praised his wife for her soundness of judgment and decision of character!

Afanassy lived in clover at the village. I called on him there once and
spent a very pleasant hour. He tied on his white ties, cleaned his boots
himself (not because he had no-one to do it for him, but for the sake of
art, for he loved to have them _shine_), went to the bath as often as he
could, had tea four times a day, and was as contented as possible.

Do you remember, a year and a half ago, the dreadful stories that were
afoot about Zenaida, Maria Alexandrovna’s and Afanassy’s daughter? Zenaida
was undoubtedly a fine, handsome, well-educated girl; but she was now
twenty-three years old, and not married yet. Among the reasons put forth
for Zenaida being still a maid, one of the strongest was those dark
rumours about a strange attachment, a year and a half ago, with the
schoolmaster of the place—rumours not hushed up even to this day. Yes, to
this very day they tell of a love-letter, written by Zina, as she was
called, and handed all about Mordasoff. But kindly tell me, who ever saw
this letter? If it went from hand to hand what became of it? Everyone
seems to have heard of it, but no one ever saw it! At all events, _I_ have
never met anyone who actually saw the letter with his own eyes. If you
drop a hint to Maria Alexandrovna about it, she simply does not understand
you.

Well, supposing that there _was_ something, and that Zina did write such a
letter; what dexterity and skill of Maria Alexandrovna, to have so ably
nipped the bud of the scandal! I feel sure that Zina _did_ write the
letter; but Maria Alexandrovna has managed so well that there is not a
trace, not a shred of evidence of the existence of it. Goodness knows how
she must have worked and planned to save the reputation of this only
daughter of hers; but she managed it somehow.

As for Zina not having married, there’s nothing surprising in that. Why,
what sort of a husband could be found for her in Mordasoff? Zina ought to
marry a reigning prince, if anyone! Did you ever see such a beauty among
beauties as Zina? I think not. Of course, she was very proud—too proud.

There was Mosgliakoff—some people said she was likely to end by marrying
_him_; but I never thought so. Why, what was there in Mosgliakoff? True,
he was young and good looking, and possessed an estate of a hundred and
fifty souls, and was a Petersburg swell; but, in the first place, I don’t
think there was much inside his head. He was such a funny, new-idea sort
of man. Besides, what is an estate of a hundred and fifty souls, according
to present notions? Oh, no; that’s a marriage that never could come off.

                  ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐

There, kind reader, all you have just read was written by me some five
months ago, for my own amusement. I admit, I am rather partial to Maria
Alexandrovna; and I wished to write some sort of laudatory account of that
charming woman, and to mould it into the form of one of those playful
“letters to a friend,” purporting to have been written in the old golden
days (which will never return—thank Heaven!) to one of the periodicals of
the time, “The Northern Bee,” or some such paper. But since I have no
“friend,” and since I am, besides, naturally of a timid disposition, and
especially so as to my literary efforts, the essay remained on my
writing-table, as a memorial of my early literary attempts and in memory
of the peaceful occupation of a moment or two of leisure.

Well, five months have gone by, and lo! great things have happened at
Mordasoff!

Prince K—— drove into the town at an early hour one fine morning, and put
up at Maria Alexandrovna’s house! The prince only stayed three days, but
his visit proved pregnant with the most fatal consequences. I will say
more—the prince brought about what was, in a certain sense, a revolution
in the town, an account of which revolution will, of course, comprise some
of the most important events that have ever happened in Mordasoff; and I
have determined at last, after many heart-sinkings and flutterings, and
much doubt, to arrange the story into the orthodox literary form of a
novel, and present it to the indulgent Public! My tale will include a
narrative of the Rise and Greatness and Triumphant Fall of Maria
Alexandrovna, and of all her House in Mordasoff, a theme both worthy of,
and attractive to any writer!

Of course I must first explain why there should have been anything
extraordinary in the fact that Prince K—— came to Mordasoff, and put up at
Maria Alexandrovna’s mansion. And in order to do this, I must first be
allowed to say a few words about this same Prince K——. This I shall now
do. A short biography of the nobleman is absolutely necessary to the
further working out of my story. So, reader, you must excuse me.



CHAPTER II.


I will begin, then, by stating that Prince K—— was not so very, very old,
although, to look at him, you would think he _must_ fall to pieces every
moment, so decayed, or rather, worn-out was he. At Mordasoff all sorts of
strange things were told of him. Some declared that the old prince’s wits
had forsaken him. All agreed that it was passing strange that the owner of
a magnificent property of four thousand souls, a man of rank, and one who
could have, if he liked, a great influence, and play a great part in his
country’s affairs; that such a man should live all alone upon his estate,
and make an absolute hermit of himself, as did Prince K——. Many who had
known him a few years before insisted upon it that he was very far from
loving solitude then, and was as unlike a hermit as anyone could possibly
be.

However, here is all I have been able to learn authentically as to his
antecedents, etc.:—

Some time or other, in his younger days—which must have been a mighty long
while ago,—the prince made a most brilliant entry into life. He knocked
about and enjoyed himself, and sang romantic songs, and wrote epigrams,
and led a fast life generally, very often abroad, and was full of gifts
and intellectual capacity.

Of course he very soon ran through his means, and when old age approached,
he suddenly found himself almost penniless. Somebody recommended him to
betake himself to his country seat, which was about to be sold by public
auction. So off he went with that intention; but called in at Mordasoff,
and stopped there six months. He liked this provincial life, and while in
our town he spent every farthing he had left in the world, continuing his
reckless life as of old, galivanting about, and forming intimacies with
half the ladies of Mordasoff.

He was a kind-hearted, good sort of a man, but, of course, not without
certain princely failings, which, however, were accounted here to be
nothing but evidences of the highest breeding, and for this reason caused
a good effect instead of aversion. The ladies, especially, were in a state
of perpetual ecstasy over their dear guest. They cherished the fondest and
tenderest recollections of him. There were also strange traditions and
rumours about the prince. It was said that he spent more than half the day
at his toilet table; and that he was, in fact, made up of all sorts of
little bits. No one could say when or how he had managed to fall to pieces
so completely.

He wore a wig, whiskers, moustache, and even an “espagnole,” all false to
a hair, and of a lovely raven black; besides which he painted and rouged
every day. It was even said that he managed to do away with his wrinkles
by means of _hidden springs_—hidden somehow in his wig. It was said,
further, that he wore stays, in consequence of the want of a rib which he
had lost in Italy, through being caused to fly, involuntarily, out of a
window during a certain love affair. He limped with his left foot, and it
was whispered that the said foot was a cork one—a very scientific member,
made for him in place of the real one which came to grief during another
love affair, in Paris this time. But what will not people say? At all
events, I know for a fact that his right eye was a glass one; beautifully
made, I confess, but still—glass. His teeth were false too.

For whole days at a time he used to wash himself in all sorts of patent
waters and scents and pomades.

However, no one could deny that even then he was beginning to indulge in
senile drivel and chatter. It appeared his career was about over; he had
seen his best days, everyone knew that he had not a copeck left in the
world!

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, an old relative of his—who had always
lived in Paris, but from whom he never had had the slightest hope of
inheritance—died, after having buried her legal heir exactly a month
before! The prince, to his utter astonishment, turned out to be the next
heir, and a beautiful property of four thousand serfs, just forty miles
from Mordasoff, became his—absolutely and unquestionably!

He immediately started off to Petersburg, to see to his affairs. Before he
departed, however, the ladies of our town gave him a magnificent
subscription banquet. They tell how bewitching and delightful the prince
was at this last dinner; how he punned and joked and told the most
_unusual_ stories; and how he promised to come to Donchanovo (his new
property) very soon, and gave his word that on his arrival he would give
endless balls and garden parties and picnics and fireworks and
entertainments of all kinds, for his friends here.

For a whole year after his departure, the ladies of the place talked of
nothing but these promised festivities; and awaited the arrival of the
“dear old man” with the utmost impatience. At last the prince arrived; but
to the disappointment and astonishment of everyone, he did not even call
in at Mordasoff on the way; and on his arrival at Donchanovo he shut
himself up there, as I have expressed it before, like a very hermit.

All sorts of fantastic rumours were bruited about, and from this time the
prince’s life and history became most secret, mysterious, and
incomprehensible.

In the first place, it was declared that the prince had not been very
successful in St. Petersburg; that many of his relations—future heirs and
heirs presumptive, and so on, had wished to put the Prince under some kind
of restraint, on the plea of “feebleness of intellect;” probably fearing
that he would run through this property as he had done with the last! And
more, some of them went so far as to suggest that he should be popped into
a lunatic asylum; and he was only saved by the interference of one of the
nearest of kin, who pointed out that the poor old prince was more than
half dead already, and that the rest of him must inevitably soon die too;
and that then the property would come down to them safely enough without
the need of the lunatic asylum. I repeat, what will not people say?
Especially at our place, Mordasoff! All this, it was said, had frightened
the prince dreadfully; so that his nature seemed to change entirely, and
he came down to live a hermit life at Donchanovo.

Some of our Mordasoff folk went over to welcome him on his arrival; but
they were either not received at all or received in the strangest fashion.
The prince did not recognise his old friends: many people explained that
he did not _wish_ to recognise them. Among other visitors to Donchanovo
was the Governor.

On the return of the latter from his visit, he declared that the prince
was undoubtedly a little “off his head.” The Governor always made a face
if anyone reminded him of this visit of his to Donchanovo. The ladies were
dreadfully offended.

At last an important fact was revealed: namely, that there was with the
prince, and apparently in authority over him, some unknown person of the
name of Stepanida Matveyevna, who had come down with him from St.
Petersburg; an elderly fat woman in a calico dress, who went about with
the house-keys in her hand; and that the prince obeyed this woman like a
little child, and did not dare take a step without her leave; that she
washed him and dressed him and soothed and petted him just like a nurse
with a baby; and lastly, that she kept all visitors away from him, even
relations—who, little by little, had begun to pervade the place rather too
frequently, for the purpose of seeing that all was right.

It was said that this person managed not only the prince, but his estate
too: she turned off bailiffs and clerks, she encashed the rents, she
looked after things in general—and did it well, too; so that the peasants
blessed their fate under her rule.

As for the prince, it was rumoured that he spent his days now almost
entirely at his toilet-table, trying on wigs and dress-coats, and that the
rest of his time was spent playing cards and games with Stepanida
Matveyevna, and riding on a quiet old English mare. On such occasions his
nurse always accompanied him in a covered droshky, because the prince
liked to ride out of bravado, but was most unsafe in his saddle.

He had been seen on foot too, in a long great coat and a straw hat with a
wide brim; a pink silk lady’s tie round his neck, and a basket on his arm
for mushrooms and flowers and berries, and so on, which he collected. The
nurse accompanied him, and a few yards behind walked a manservant, while a
carriage was in attendance on the high road at the side. When any peasant
happened to meet him, and with low bow, and hat in hand, said, “Good
morning, your highness—our beloved Sun, and Father of us all,” or some
such Russian greeting, he would stick his eye-glass in his eye, nod his
head and say, with great urbanity, and in French, “Bon jour, mon ami, bon
jour!”

Lots of other rumours there were—in fact, our folks could not forget that
the prince lived so near them.

What, then, must have been the general amazement when one fine day it was
trumpeted abroad that the prince—their curious old hermit-prince, had
arrived at Mordasoff, and put up at Maria Alexandrovna’s house!

Agitation and bewilderment were the order of the day; everybody waited for
explanations, and asked one another what could be the meaning of this
mystery? Some proposed to go and see for themselves; all agreed that it
was _most_ extraordinary. The ladies wrote notes to each other, came and
whispered to one another, and sent their maids and husbands to find out
more.

What was particularly strange was, why had the prince put up at Maria
Alexandrovna’s, and not somewhere else? This fact annoyed everyone; but,
most of all, Mrs. Antipova, who happened to be a distant relative of the
prince.

However, in order to clear up all these mysteries and find an answer to
all these questions, we must ourselves go and see Maria Alexandrovna. Will
you follow me in, kind reader? It is only ten in the morning, certainly,
as you point out; but I daresay she will receive such intimate friends,
all the same. Oh, yes; she’ll see us all right.



CHAPTER III.


It is ten o’clock in the morning, and we are at Maria Alexandrovna’s, and
in that room which the mistress calls her “salon” on great occasions; she
has a boudoir besides.

In this salon the walls are prettily papered, and the floor is nicely
painted; the furniture is mostly red; there is a fireplace, and on the
mantelpiece a bronze clock with some figure—a Cupid—upon it, in dreadfully
bad taste. There are large looking-glasses between the windows. Against
the back wall there stands a magnificent grand piano—Zina’s—for Zina is a
musician. On a table in the middle of the room hisses a silver tea-urn,
with a very pretty tea-set alongside of it.

There is a lady pouring out tea, a distant relative of the family, and
living with Maria Alexandrovna in that capacity, one Nastasia Petrovna
Ziablova. She is a widow of over thirty, a brunette with a fresh-looking
face and lively black eyes, not at all bad looking.

She is of a very animated disposition, laughs a great deal, is fond of
scandal, of course; and can manage her own little affairs very nicely. She
has two children somewhere, being educated. She would much like to marry
again. Her last husband was a military man.

Maria Alexandrovna herself is sitting at the fire in a very benign frame
of mind; she is dressed in a pale-green dress, which becomes her very
well; she is unspeakably delighted at the arrival of the Prince, who, at
this moment, is sitting upstairs, at his toilet table. She is so happy,
that she does not even attempt to conceal her joy. A young man is standing
before her and relating something in an animated way; one can see in his
eyes that he wishes to curry favour with his listener.

This young fellow is about twenty-five years old, and his manners are
decidedly good, though he has a silly way of going into raptures, and has,
besides, a good deal too much of the “funny man” about him. He is well
dressed and his hair is light; he is not a bad-looking fellow. But we have
already heard of this gentleman: he is Mr. Mosgliakoff. Maria Alexandrovna
considers him rather a stupid sort of a man, but receives him very well.
He is an aspirant for the hand of her daughter Zina, whom, according to
his own account, he loves to distraction. In his conversation, he refers
to Zina every other minute, and does his best to bring a smile to her lips
by his witty remarks; but the girl is evidently very cool and indifferent
with him. At this moment she is standing away at the side near the piano,
turning over the leaves of some book.

This girl is one of those women who create a sensation amounting almost to
amazement when they appear in society. She is lovely to an almost
impossible extent, a brunette with splendid black eyes, a grand figure and
divine bust. Her shoulders and arms are like an antique statue; her gait
that of an empress. She is a little pale to-day; but her lips, with the
gleam of her pearly teeth between them, are things to dream of, if you
once get a sight of them. Her expression is severe and serious.

Mr. Mosgliakoff is evidently afraid of her intent gaze; at all events, he
seems to cower before her when she looks at him. She is very simply
dressed, in a white muslin frock—the white suits her admirably. But then,
_everything_ suits her! On her finger is a hair ring: it does not look as
though the hair was her mother’s, from the colour. Mosgliakoff has never
dared to ask her whose hair it is. This morning she seems to be in a
peculiarly depressed humour; she appears to be very much preoccupied and
silent: but her mother is quite ready to talk enough for both; albeit she
glances continually at Zina, as though anxious for her, but timidly, too,
as if afraid of her.

“I am _so_ pleased, Pavel Alexandrovitch,” she chirps to Mosgliakoff;
“_so_ happy, that I feel inclined to cry the news out of the window to
every passer-by. Not to speak of the delightful surprise—to both Zina and
myself—of seeing you a whole fortnight sooner than we expected you—that,
of course, ‘goes without saying’; but I am so, _so_ pleased that you
should have brought this dear prince with you. You don’t know how I love
that fascinating old man. No, no! You would never believe it. You young
people don’t understand this sort of rapture; you never would believe me,
assure you as much as ever I pleased.

“Don’t you remember, Zina, how much he was to me at that time—six years
ago? Why, I was his guide, his sister, his mother! There was something
delightfully ingenuous and ennobling in our intimacy—one might say
_pastoral_; I don’t know what to call it—it was delightful. That is why
the poor dear prince thinks of _my_ house, and only mine, with gratitude,
now. Do you know, Pavel Alexandrovitch, perhaps you have _saved_ him by
thus bringing him to me? I have thought of him with quaking of heart all
these six years—you’d hardly believe it,—and _dreamed_ of him, too. They
say that wretch of a woman has bewitched and ruined him; but you’ve got
him out of the net at last. We must make the best of our opportunity now,
and save him outright. Do tell me again, how did you manage it? Describe
your meeting and all in detail; I only heard the chief point of the story
just now, and I do so like details. So, he’s still at his toilet table
now, is he?—”

“Yes. It was all just as I told you, Maria Alexandrovna!” begins
Mosgliakoff readily—delighted to repeat his story ten times over, if
required—“I had driven all night, and not slept a wink. You can imagine
what a hurry I was in to arrive here,” he adds, turning to Zina; “in a
word, I swore at the driver, yelled for fresh horses, kicked up a row at
every post station: my adventures would fill a volume. Well, exactly at
six o’clock in the morning I arrived at the last station, Igishova.
‘Horses, horses!’ I shouted, ‘let’s have fresh horses quick; I’m not going
to get out.’ I frightened the post-station man’s wife out of her wits; she
had a small baby in her arms, and I have an idea that its mother’s fright
will affect said baby’s supply of the needful. Well, the sunrise was
splendid—fine frosty morning—lovely! but I hadn’t time to look at
anything. I got my horses—I had to deprive some other traveller of his
pair; he was a professor, and we nearly fought a duel about it.

“They told me some prince had driven off a quarter of an hour ago. He had
slept here, and was driving his own horses; but I didn’t attend to
anything. Well, just seven miles from town, at a turn of the road, I saw
that some surprising event had happened. A huge travelling carriage was
lying on its side; the coachman and two flunkeys stood outside it,
apparently dazed, while from inside the carriage came heart-rending
lamentations and cries. I thought I’d pass by and let them all be—; it was
no affair of mine: but humanity insisted, and would not take a denial. (I
think it is Heine says that humanity shoves its nose in everywhere!) So I
stopped; and my driver and myself, with the other fellows, lifted the
carriage on to its legs again, or perhaps I should say wheels, as it had
no legs.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is that very prince they mentioned!’ So, I
looked in. Good Heavens! it was our prince! Here was a meeting, if you
like! I yelled at him, ‘Prince—uncle!’ Of course he hardly knew me at the
first glance, but he very soon recognised me. At least, I don’t believe he
knows who I am really, even _now_; I think he takes me for someone else,
not a relation. I saw him last seven years ago, as a boy; I remember
_him_, because he struck me so; but how was he to remember _me_? At all
events, I told him my name, and he embraced me ecstatically; and all the
while he himself was crying and trembling with fright. He really was
_crying_, I’ll take my oath he was! I saw it with my own eyes.

“Well, we talked a bit, and at last I persuaded him to get into my trap
with me, and call in at Mordasoff, if only for one day, to rest and
compose his feelings. He told me that Stepanida Matveyevna had had a
letter from Moscow, saying that her father, or daughter, or both, with all
her family, were dying; and that she had wavered for a long time, and at
last determined to go away for ten days. The prince sat out one day, and
then another, and then a third, measuring wigs, and powdering and pomading
himself; then he grew sick of it, and determined to go and see an old
friend, a priest called Misael, who lived at the Svetozersk Hermitage.
Some of the household, being afraid of the great Stepanida’s wrath,
opposed the prince’s proposed journey; but the latter insisted, and
started last night after dinner. He slept at Igishova, and went off this
morning again, at sunrise. Just at the turn going down to the Reverend Mr.
Misael’s, the carriage went over, and the prince was very nearly shot down
the ravine.”

“Then I step in and save the prince, and persuade him to come and pay a
visit to our mutual friend, Maria Alexandrovna (of whom the prince told me
that she is the most delightful and charming woman he has ever known). And
so here we are, and the prince is now upstairs attending to his wigs and
so on, with the help of his valet, whom he took along with him, and whom
he always would and will take with him wherever he goes; because he would
sooner die than appear before ladies without certain little secret touches
which require the valet’s hand. There you are, that’s the whole story.”

“Why, what a humourist he is, isn’t he, Zina?” said the lady of the house.
"How beautifully you told the story! Now, listen, Paul: one question;
explain to me clearly how you are related to the prince; you call him
uncle!"

“I really don’t know, Maria Alexandrovna; seventh, cousin I think, or
something of that sort. My aunt knows all about it; it was she who made me
go down to see him at Donchanova, when I got kicked out by Stepanida! I
simply call him ‘uncle,’ and he answers me; that’s about all our
relationship.”

“Well, I repeat, it was Providence that made you bring him straight to my
house as you did. I tremble to think of what might have happened to the
poor dear prince if somebody else, and not I, had got hold of him! Why,
they’d have torn him to pieces among them, and picked his bones! They’d
have pounced on him as on a new-found mine; they might easily have robbed
him; they are capable of it. You have no idea, Paul, of the depth of
meanness and greediness to which the people of this place have fallen!”

“But, my dear good Maria Alexandrovna—as if he would ever _think_ of
bringing him anywhere but to yourself,” said the widow, pouring out a cup
of tea; “you don’t suppose he would have taken the prince to Mrs.
Antipova’s, surely, do you?”

“Dear me, how very long he is coming out,” said Maria Alexandrovna,
impatiently rising from her chair; “it really is quite strange!”

“Strange! what, of uncle? Oh dear, no! he’ll probably be another five
hours or so putting himself together; besides, since he has no memory
whatever, he has very likely quite forgotten that he has come to your
house! Why, he’s a most extraordinary man, Maria Alexandrovna.”

“Oh don’t, don’t! Don’t talk like that!”

“Why not, Maria Alexandrovna? He is a lump of composition, not a man at
all! Remember, you haven’t seen him for six years, and I saw him half an
hour ago. He is half a corpse; he’s only the memory of a man; they’ve
forgotten to bury him! Why, his eye is made of glass, and his leg of cork,
and he goes on wires; he even talks on wires!”

Maria Alexandrovna’s face took a serious expression. “What nonsense you
talk,” she said; “and aren’t you ashamed of yourself, you, a young man and
a relation too—to talk like that of a most honourable old nobleman! not to
mention his incomparable personal goodness and kindness” (her voice here
trembled with emotion). “He is a relic, a chip, so to speak, of our old
aristocracy. I know, my dear young friend, that all this flightiness on
your part, proceeds from those ’new ideas’ of which you are so fond of
talking; but, goodness me, I’ve seen a good deal more of life than you
have: I’m a mother; and though I see the greatness and nobleness, if you
like, of these ‘new ideas,’ yet I can understand the practical side of
things too! Now, this gentleman is an old man, and that is quite enough to
render him ridiculous in your eyes. You, who talk of emancipating your
serfs, and ‘doing something for posterity,’ indeed! I tell you what it is,
it’s your Shakespeare! You stuff yourself full of Shakespeare, who has
long ago outlived his time, my dear Paul; and who, if he lived now, with
all his wisdom, would never make head or tail of our way of life!”

“If there be any chivalry left in our modern society, it is only in the
highest circles of the aristocracy. A prince is a prince either in a hovel
or in a palace! _You_ are more or less a representative of the highest
circles; your extraction is aristocratic. I, too, am not altogether a
stranger to the upper ten, and it’s a bad fledgling that fouls its own
nest! However, my dear Paul, you’ll forget your Shakespeare yet, and
you’ll understand all this much better than I can explain it. I foresee
it! Besides, I’m sure you are only joking; you did not mean what you said.
Stay here, dear Paul, will you? I’m just going upstairs to make inquiries
after the prince, he may want something.” And Maria Alexandrovna left the
room hurriedly.

“Maria Alexandrovna seems highly delighted that Mrs. Antipova, who thinks
so much of herself, did not get hold of the prince!” remarked the widow;
“Mrs. Antipova must be gnashing her teeth with annoyance just now! She’s a
relation, too, as I’ve been pointing out to Maria Alexandrovna.”

Observing that no one answered her, and casting her eyes on Zina and
Mosgliakoff, the widow suddenly recollected herself, and discreetly left
the room, as though to fetch something. However, she rewarded herself for
her discretion, by putting her ear to the keyhole, as soon as she had
closed the door after her.

Pavel Alexandrovitch immediately turned to Zina. He was in a state of
great agitation; his voice shook.

“Zenaida Afanassievna, are you angry with me?” he began, in a timid,
beseechful tone.

“With you? Why?” asked Zina, blushing a little, and raising her
magnificent eyes to his face.

“For coming earlier. I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t wait another
fortnight; I dreamed of you every night; so I flew off to learn my fate.
But you are frowning, you are angry;—oh; am I really not to hear anything
definite, even now?”

Zina distinctly and decidedly frowned.

“I supposed you would speak of this,” she said, with her eyes drooped
again, but with a firm and severe voice, in which some annoyance was
perceptible; “and as the expectation of it was very tedious, the sooner
you had your say, the better! You insist upon an answer again, do you?
Very well, I say _wait_, just as I said it before. I now repeat, as I did
then, that I have not as yet decided, and cannot therefore promise to be
your wife. You cannot force a girl to such a decision, Pavel
Alexandrovitch! However, to relieve your mind, I will add, that I do not
as yet refuse you absolutely; and pray observe that I give you thus much
hope of a favourable reply, merely out of forced deference to your
impatience and agitation; and that if I think fit afterwards to reject you
altogether, you are not to blame me for having given you false hopes. So
now you know.”

“Oh, but—but—what’s the use of that? What hope am I to get out of that,
Zina?” cried Mosgliakoff in piteous tones.

“Recollect what I have said, and draw whatever you please from the words;
that’s your business. I shall add nothing. I do not refuse you; I merely
say—wait! And I repeat, I reserve the free right of rejecting you
afterwards if I choose so to do. Just one more word: if you come here
before the fixed time relying on outside protection, or even on my
mother’s influence to help you gain your end, let me tell you, you make a
great mistake; if you worry me now, I shall refuse you outright. I hope we
understand each other now, and that I shall hear no more of this, until
the period I named to you for my decision.” All this was said quietly and
drily, and without a pause, as if learnt by rote. Paul felt foolish; but
just at this moment Maria Alexandrovna entered the room, and the widow
after her.

“I think he’s just coming, Zina! Nastasia Petrovna, make some new tea
quick, please!” The good lady was considerably agitated.

“Mrs. Antipova has sent her maid over to inquire about the prince already.
How angry she must be feeling just now,” remarked the widow, as she
commenced to pass over the tea-urn.

“And what’s that to me!” replied Maria Alexandrovna, over her shoulder.
“Just as though _I_ care what she thinks! _I_ shall not send a maid to her
kitchen to inquire, I assure you! And I am surprised, downright
_surprised_, that, not only you, but all the town, too, should suppose
that that wretched woman is my enemy! I appeal to you, Paul—you know us
both. Why should I be her enemy, now? Is it a question of precedence?
Pooh! I don’t care about precedence! She may be first, if she likes, and I
shall be readiest of all to go and congratulate her on the fact. Besides,
it’s all nonsense! Why, I take her part; I _must_ take her part. People
malign her; _why_ do you all fall upon her so? Because she’s young, and
likes to be smart; is that it? Dear me, I think finery is a good bit
better than some other failings—like Natalia Dimitrievna’s, for instance,
who has a taste for things that cannot be mentioned in polite society. Or
is it that Mrs. Antipova goes out too much, and never stays at home? My
goodness! why, the woman has never had any education; naturally she
doesn’t care to sit down to read, or anything of that sort. True, she
coquets and makes eyes at everybody who looks at her. But why do people
tell her that she’s pretty? especially as she only has a pale face, and
nothing else to boast of.

“She is amusing at a dance, I admit; but why do people tell her that she
dances the polka so well? She wears hideous hats and things; but it’s not
her fault that nature gave her no gift of good taste. She talks scandal;
but that’s the custom of the place—who doesn’t here? That fellow,
Sushikoff, with his whiskers, goes to see her pretty often while her
husband plays cards, but that _may_ be merely a trumped-up tale; at all
events I always say so, and take her part in every way! But, good heavens!
here’s the prince at last! ’Tis he, ’tis he! I recognise him! I should
know him out of a thousand! At last I see you! At last, my Prince!” cried
Maria Alexandrovna,—and she rushed to greet the prince as he entered the
room.



CHAPTER IV.


At first sight you would not take this prince for an old man at all, and
it is only when you come near and take a good look at him, that you see he
is merely a dead man working on wires. All the resources of science are
brought to bear upon this mummy, in order to give it the appearance of
life and youth. A marvellous wig, glorious whiskers, moustache and
napoleon—all of the most raven black—cover half his face. He is painted
and powdered with very great skill, so much so that one can hardly detect
any wrinkles. What has become of them, goodness only knows.

He is dressed in the pink of fashion, just as though he had walked
straight out of a tailor’s fashion-page. His coat, his gloves, tie, his
waistcoat, his linen, are all in perfect taste, and in the very last mode.
The prince limps slightly, but so slightly that one would suppose he did
it on purpose because _that_ was in fashion too. In his eye he wears a
glass—in the eye which is itself glass already.

He was soaked with scent. His speech and manner of pronouncing certain
syllables was full of affectation; and this was, perhaps, all that he
retained of the mannerisms and tricks of his younger days. For if the
prince had not quite lost his wits as yet, he had certainly parted with
nearly every vestige of his memory, which—alas!—is a thing which no amount
of perfumeries and wigs and rouge and tight-lacing will renovate. He
continually forgets words in the midst of conversation, and loses his way,
which makes it a matter of some difficulty to carry on a conversation with
him. However, Maria Alexandrovna has confidence in her inborn dexterity,
and at sight of the prince she flies into a condition of unspeakable
rapture.

“Oh! but you’ve not changed, you’ve not changed a _bit_!” she cries,
seizing her guest by both hands, and popping him into a comfortable
arm-chair. “Sit down, dear Prince, do sit down! Six years, prince, six
whole long years since we saw each other, and not a letter, not a little
tiny scrap of a note all the while. _Oh_, how naughty you have been,
prince! And _how_ angry I have been with you, my dear friend! But, tea!
tea! Good Heavens, Nastasia Petrovna, tea for the prince, quick!”

“Th—thanks, thanks; I’m very s—orry!” stammered the old man (I forgot to
mention that he stammered a little, but he did even this as though it were
the fashion to do it). “Very s—sorry; fancy, I—I wanted to co—come last
year, but they t—told me there was cho—cho—cholera here.”

“There was foot and mouth disease here, uncle,” put in Mosgliakoff, by way
of distinguishing himself. Maria Alexandrovna gave him a severe look.

“Ye—yes, foot and mouth disease, or something of that s—sort,” said the
prince; “so I st—stayed at home. Well, and how’s your h—husband, my dear
Anna Nic—Nicolaevna? Still at his proc—procuror’s work?”

“No, prince!” said Maria Alexandrovna, a little disconcerted. “My husband
is not a procurer.”

“I’ll bet anything that uncle has mixed you up with Anna Nicolaevna
Antipova,” said Mosgliakoff, but stopped suddenly on observing the look on
Maria Alexandrovna’s face.

“Ye—yes, of course, Anna Nicolaevna. A—An. What the deuce! I’m always
f—forgetting; Antipova, Antipova, of course,” continued the prince.

“No, prince, you have made a great mistake,” remarked Maria Alexandrovna,
with a bitter smile. “I am not Anna Nicolaevna at all, and I confess I
should never have believed that you would not recognise me. You have
astonished me, prince. I am your old friend, Maria Alexandrovna Moskaloff.
Don’t you remember Maria Alexandrovna?”

“M—Maria Alexandrovna! think of that; and I thought she was w—what’s her
name. Y—yes, Anna Vasilievna! _C’est délicieux._ W—why I thought you were
going to take me to this A—Anna Matveyevna. Dear me! _C’est ch—charmant!_
It often happens so w—with me. I get taken to the wrong house; but I’m
v—very pleased, v—very pleased! So you’re not Nastasia Va—silievna? How
interesting.”

“I’m Maria Alexandrovna, prince; _Maria Alexandrovna_! Oh! how naughty you
are, Prince, to forget your best, best friend!”

“Ye—es! ye—yes! best friend; best friend, for—forgive me!” stammered the
old man, staring at Zina.

“That’s my daughter Zina. You are not acquainted yet, prince. She wasn’t
here when you were last in the town, in the year —— you know.”

“Oh, th—this is your d—daughter!” muttered the old man, staring hungrily
at Zina through his glasses. “Dear me, dear me. _Ch—charmante,
ch—armante!_ But what a lo—ovely girl,” he added, evidently impressed.

“Tea! prince,” remarked Maria Alexandrovna, directing his attention to the
page standing before him with the tray. The prince took a cup, and
examined the boy, who had a nice fresh face of his own.

“Ah! this is your l—little boy? Wh—what a charming little b—boy! and does
he be—behave nicely?”

“But, prince,” interrupted Maria Alexandrovna, impatiently, “what is this
dreadful occurrence I hear of? I confess I was nearly beside myself with
terror when I heard of it. Were you not hurt at all? _Do_ take care. One
cannot make light of this sort of thing.”

“Upset, upset; the c—coachman upset me!” cried the prince, with unwonted
vivacity. “I thought it was the end of the world, and I was fri—frightened
out of my wits. I didn’t expect it; I didn’t, indeed! and my co—oachman is
to blame for it all. I trust you, my friend, to lo—ok into the matter
well. I feel sure he was making an attempt on my life!”

“All right, all right, uncle,” said Paul; “I’ll see about it. But look
here—forgive him, just this once, uncle; just this once, won’t you?”

“N—not I! Not for anything! I’m sure he wants my life, he and Lavrenty
too. It’s—it’s the ’new ideas;’ it’s Com—Communism, in the fullest sense
of the word. I daren’t meet them anywhere.”

“You are right, you are quite right, prince,” cried Maria Alexandrovna.
“You don’t know how I suffer myself from these wretched people. I’ve just
been obliged to change two of my servants; and you’ve no idea how _stupid_
they are, prince.”

“Ye—yes! quite so!” said the prince, delighted—as all old men are whose
senile chatter is listened to with servility. “But I like a fl—flunky to
look stupid; it gives them presence. There’s my Terenty, now. You remember
Terenty, my friend? Well, the f—first time I ever looked at him I said,
‘You shall be my ha—hall porter.’ He’s stupid, phen—phen—omenally stupid,
he looks like a she—sheep; but his dig—dignity and majesty are wonderful.
When I look at him he seems to be composing some l—learned dis—sertation.
He’s just like the German philosopher, Kant, or like some fa—fat old
turkey, and that’s just what one wants in a serving-man.”

Maria Alexandrovna laughed, and clapped her hands in the highest state of
ecstasy; Paul supported her with all his might; Nastasia Petrovna laughed
too; and even Zina smiled.

“But, prince, how clever, how witty, how _humorous_ you are!” cried Maria
Alexandrovna. “What a wonderful gilt of remarking the smallest refinements
of character. And for a man like you to eschew all society, and shut
yourself up for five years! With such talents! Why, prince, you could
_write_, you could be an author. You could emulate Von Vezin, Gribojedoff,
Gogol!”

“Ye—yes! ye—yes!” said the delighted prince. “I can reproduce things I
see, very well. And, do you know, I used to be a very wi—witty fellow
indeed, some time ago. I even wrote a play once. There were some very
smart couplets, I remember; but it was never acted.”

“Oh! how nice it would be to read it over, especially just _now_, eh,
Zina? for we are thinking of getting up a play, you must know, prince, for
the benefit of the ‘martyrs of the Fatherland,’ the wounded soldiers.
There, now, how handy your play would come in!”

“Certainly, certainly. I—I would even write you another. I think I’ve
quite forgotten the old one. I remember there were two or three such
epigrams that (here the prince kissed his own hand to convey an idea of
the exquisite wit of his lines) I recollect when I was abroad I made a
real furore. I remember Lord Byron well; we were great friends; you should
have seen him dance the mazurka one day during the Vienna Congress.”

“Lord Byron, uncle?—Surely not!”

“Ye—yes, Lord Byron. Perhaps it was not Lord Byron, though, perhaps it was
someone else; no, it wasn’t Lord Byron, it was some Pole; I remember now.
A won—der-ful fellow that Pole was! He said he was a C—Count, and he
turned out to be a c—cook—shop man! But he danced the mazurka
won—der—fully, and broke his leg at last. I recollect I wrote some lines
at the time:—

“Our little Pole
Danced like blazes.”

—How did it go on, now? Wait a minute! No, I can’t remember.”

“I’ll tell you, uncle. It must have been like this,” said Paul, becoming
more and more inspired:—

“But he tripped in a hole,
Which stopped his crazes.”

“Ye—yes, that was it, I think, or something very like it. I don’t know,
though—perhaps it wasn’t. Anyhow, the lines were very sm—art. I forget a
good deal of what I have seen and done. I’m so b—busy now!”

“But do let me hear how you have employed your time in your solitude, dear
prince,” said Maria Alexandrovna. “I must confess that I have thought of
you so often, and often, that I am burning with impatience to hear more
about you and your doings.”

“Employed my time? Oh, very busy; very busy, ge—generally. One rests, you
see, part of the day; and then I imagine a good many things.”

“I should think you have a very strong imagination, haven’t you, uncle?”
remarked Paul.

“Exceptionally so, my dear fellow. I sometimes imagine things which amaze
even myself! When I was at Kadueff,—by-the-by, you were vice-governor of
Kadueff, weren’t you?”

“I, uncle! Why, what are you thinking of?”

“No? Just fancy, my dear fellow! and I’ve been thinking all this time how
f—funny that the vice-governor of Kadueff should be here with quite a
different face: he had a fine intelligent, dig—dignified face, you know. A
wo—wonderful fellow! Always writing verses, too; he was rather like the
Ki—King of Diamonds from the side view, but—”

“No, prince,” interrupted Maria Alexandrovna. “I assure you, you’ll ruin
yourself with the life you are leading! To make a hermit of oneself for
five years, and see no one, and hear no one: you’re a lost man, dear
prince! Ask any one of those who love you, they’ll all tell you the same;
you’re a lost man!”

“No,” cried the prince, “really?”

“Yes, I assure you of it! I am speaking to you as a sister—as a friend! I
am telling you this because you are very dear to me, and because the
memory of the past is sacred to me. No, no! You must change your way of
living; otherwise you will fall ill, and break up, and die!”

“Gracious heavens! Surely I shan’t d—die so soon?” cried the old man.
“You—you are right about being ill; I am ill now and then. I’ll tell you
all the sy—symptoms! I’ll de—detail them to you. Firstly I—”

“Uncle, don’t you think you had better tell us all about it another day?”
Paul interrupted hurriedly. “I think we had better be starting just now,
don’t you?”

“Yes—yes, perhaps, perhaps. But remind me to tell you another time; it’s a
most interesting case, I assure you!”

“But listen, my dear prince!” Maria Alexandrovna resumed, “why don’t you
try being doctored abroad?”

“Ab—road? Yes, yes—I shall certainly go abroad. I remember when I was
abroad, about ’20; it was delightfully g—gay and jolly. I very nearly
married a vi—viscountess, a French woman. I was fearfully in love, but
som—somebody else married her, not I. It was a very s—strange thing. I had
only gone away for a coup—couple of hours, and this Ger—German baron
fellow came and carried her off! He went into a ma—madhouse afterwards!”

“Yes, dear prince, you must look after your health. There are such good
doctors abroad; and—besides, the mere change of life, what will not that
alone do for you! You _must_ desert your dear Donchanovo, if only for a
time!”

“C—certainly, certainly! I’ve long meant to do it. I’m going to try
hy—hydropathy!”

“Hydropathy?”

“Yes. I’ve tried it once before: I was abroad, you know, and they
persuaded me to try drinking the wa—waters. There wasn’t anything the
matter with me, but I agreed, just out of deli—delicacy for their
feelings; and I did seem to feel easier, somehow. So I drank, and drank,
and dra—ank up a whole waterfall; and I assure you if I hadn’t fallen ill
just then I should have been quite well, th—thanks to the water! But, I
confess, you’ve frightened me so about these ma—maladies and things, I
feel quite put out. I’ll come back d—directly!”

“Why, prince, where are you off to?” asked Maria Alexandrovna in surprise.

“Directly, directly. I’m just going to note down an i—idea!”

“What sort of idea?” cried Paul, bursting with laughter.

Maria Alexandrovna lost all patience.

“I cannot understand what you find to laugh at!” she cried, as the old man
disappeared; “to laugh at an honourable old man, and turn every word of
his into ridicule—presuming on his angelic good nature. I assure you I
_blushed_ for you, Paul Alexandrovitch! Why, what do you see in him to
laugh at? I never saw anything funny about him!”

“Well, I laugh because he does not recognise people, and talks such
nonsense!”

“That’s simply the result of his sad life, of his dreadful five years’
captivity, under the guardianship of that she-devil! You should _pity_,
not laugh at him! He did not even know _me_; you saw it yourself. I tell
you it’s a crying shame; he must be saved, at all costs! I recommend him
to go abroad so that he may get out of the clutches of that—beast of a
woman!”

“Do you know what—we must find him a wife!” cried Paul.

“Oh, Mr. Mosgliakoff, you are too bad; you really are too bad!”

“No, no, Maria Alexandrovna; I assure you, this time I’m speaking in all
seriousness. Why _not_ marry him off? Isn’t it rather a brilliant idea?
What harm can marriage do him? On the contrary, he is in that position
that such a step alone can save him! In the first place, he will get rid
of that fox of a woman; and, secondly, he may find some girl, or better
still some widow—kind, good, wise and gentle, and poor, who will look
after him as his own daughter would, and who will be sensible of the
honour he does her in making her his wife! And what could be better for
the old fellow than to have such a person about him, rather than the—woman
he has now? Of course she must be nice-looking, for uncle appreciates good
looks; didn’t you observe how he stared at Miss Zina?”

“But how will you find him such a bride?” asked Nastasia Petrovna, who had
listened intently to Paul’s suggestion.

“What a question! Why, you yourself, if you pleased! and why not, pray? In
the first place, you are good-looking, you are a widow, you are generous,
you are poor (at least I don’t think you are very rich). Then you are a
very reasonable woman: you’ll learn to love him, and take good care of
him; you’ll send that other woman to the deuce, and take your husband
abroad, where you will feed him on pudding and lollipops till the moment
of his quitting this wicked world, which will be in about a year, or in a
couple of months perhaps. After that, you emerge a princess, a rich widow,
and, as a prize for your goodness to the old gentleman, you’ll marry a
fine young marquis, or a governor-general, or somebody of the sort!
There—that’s a pretty enough prospect, isn’t it?”

“Tfu! Goodness me! I should fall in love with him at once, out of pure
gratitude, if he only proposed to me!” said the widow, with her black eyes
all ablaze; “but, of course, it’s all nonsense!”

“Nonsense, is it? Shall I make it sound sense, then, for you? Ask me
prettily, and if I don’t make you his betrothed by this evening, you may
cut my little finger off! Why, there’s nothing in the world easier than to
talk uncle into anything you please! He’ll only say, ‘Ye—yes, ye—yes,’
just as you heard him now! We’ll marry him so that he doesn’t know
anything about it, if you like? We’ll deceive him and marry him, if you
please! Any way you like, it can be done! Why, it’s for his own good; it’s
out of pity for himself! Don’t you think, seriously, Nastasia Petrovna,
that you had better put on some smart clothes in any case?”

Paul’s enthusiasm amounted by now to something like madness, while the
widow’s mouth watered at his idea, in spite of her better judgment.

“I know, I know I look horridly untidy!” she said. “I go about anyhow,
nowadays! There’s nothing to dress for. Do I really look like a regular
cook?”

All this time Maria Alexandrovna sat still, with a strange expression on
her face. I shall not be far wrong if I say that she listened to Paul’s
wild suggestion with a look of terror, almost: she was confused and
startled; at last she recollected herself, and spoke.

“All this is very nice, of course; but at the same time it is utter
nonsense, and perfectly out of the question!” she observed cuttingly.

“Why, why, my good Maria Alexandrovna? Why is it such nonsense, or why out
of the question?”

“For many reasons; and, principally because you are, as the prince is
also, a guest in my house; and I cannot permit anyone to forget their
respect towards my establishment! I shall consider your words as a joke,
Paul Alexandrovitch, and nothing more! Here comes the prince—thank
goodness!”

“Here I am!” cried the old man as he entered. “It’s a wo—wonderful thing
how many good ideas of all s—sorts I’m having to-day! and another day I
may spend the whole of it without a single one! As—tonishing? not one all
day!”

“Probably the result of your accident, to-day, uncle! Your nerves got
shaken up, you see, and ——”

“Ye—yes, I think so, I think so too; and I look on the accident as
pro—fitable, on the whole; and therefore I’m going to excuse the coachman.
I don’t think it was an at—tempt on my life, after all, do you? Besides,
he was punished a little while a—go, when his beard was sh—shaved off!”

“Beard shaved off? Why, uncle, his beard is as big as a German state!”

“Ye—yes, a German state, you are very happy in your ex—pressions, my boy!
but it’s a fa—false one. Fancy what happened: I sent for a price-current
for false hair and beards, and found advertisements for splendid
ser—vants’ and coachmen’s beards, very cheap—extraordinarily so! I sent
for one, and it certainly was a be—auty. But when we wanted to clap it on
the coachman, we found he had one of his own t—twice as big; so I thought,
shall I cut off his, or let him wear it, and send this one b—back? and I
decided to shave his off, and let him wear the f—false one!”

“On the theory that art is higher than nature, I suppose uncle?”

“Yes, yes! Just so—and I assure you, when we cut off his beard he suffered
as much as though we were depriving him of all he held most dear! But we
must be go—going, my boy!”

“But I hope, dear prince, that you will only call upon the governor!”
cried Maria Alexandrovna, in great agitation. “You are _mine_ now, Prince;
you belong to _my_ family for the whole of this day! Of course I will say
nothing about the society of this place. Perhaps you are thinking of
paying Anna Nicolaevna a visit? I will not say a word to dissuade you; but
at the same time I am quite convinced that—time will show! Remember one
thing, dear Prince, that I am your sister, your nurse, your guardian for
to-day at least, and oh!—I tremble for you. You don’t know these people,
Prince, as I do! You don’t know them fully: but time will teach you all
you do not know.”

“Trust me, Maria Alexandrovna!” said Paul, “it shall all be exactly as I
have promised you!”

“Oh—but you’re such a weathercock! I can never trust _you_! I shall wait
for you at dinner time, Prince; we dine early. How sorry I am that my
husband happens to be in the country on such an occasion! How happy he
would have been to see you! He esteems you so highly, Prince; he is so
sincerely attached to you!”

“Your husband? dear me! So you have a h—husband, too!” observed the old
man.

“Oh, prince, prince! how forgetful you are! Why, you have _quite_, quite
forgotten the past! My husband, Afanassy Matveyevitch, surely you must
remember him? He is in the country: but you have seen him thousands of
times before! Don’t you remember—Afanassy Matveyevitch!”

“Afanassy Matveyevitch. Dear me!—and in the co—country! how very charming!
So you have a husband! dear me, I remember a vaudeville very like that,
something about—

                           “The husband’s here,
                         And his wife at Tvere.”

Charming, charming—such a good rhyme too; and it’s a most ri—diculous
story! Charming, charming; the wife’s away, you know, at Jaroslaf or Tv——
or somewhere, and the husband is——is——Dear me! I’m afraid I’ve forgotten
what we were talking about! Yes, yes—we must be going, my boy! _Au revoir,
madame; adieu, ma charmante demoiselle_” he added, turning to Zina, and
putting the ends of her fingers to his lips.

“Come back to dinner,—to dinner, prince! don’t forget to come back here
quick!” cried Maria Alexandrovna after them as they went out; “be back to
dinner!”



CHAPTER V.


“Nastasia Petrovna, I think you had better go and see what is doing in the
kitchen!” observed Maria Alexandrovna, as she returned from seeing the
prince off. “I’m sure that rascal Nikitka will spoil the dinner! Probably
he’s drunk already!” The widow obeyed.

As the latter left the room, she glanced suspiciously at Maria
Alexandrovna, and observed that the latter was in a high state of
agitation. Therefore, instead of going to look after Nikitka, she went
through the “Salon,” along the passage to her own room, and through that
to a dark box-room, where the old clothes of the establishment and such
things were stored. There she approached the locked door on tiptoe; and
stifling her breath, she bent to the keyhole, through which she peeped,
and settled herself to listen intently. This door, which was always kept
shut, was one of the three doors communicating with the room where Maria
Alexandrovna and Zina were now left alone. Maria Alexandrovna always
considered Nastasia an untrustworthy sort of woman, although extremely
silly into the bargain. Of course she had suspected the widow—more than
once—of eavesdropping; but it so happened that at the moment Madame
Moskaleva was too agitated and excited to think of the usual precautions.

She was sitting in her arm-chair and gazing at Zina. Zina felt that her
mother was looking at her, and was conscious of an unpleasant sensation at
her heart.

“Zina!”

Zina slowly turned her head towards the speaker, and lifted her splendid
dark eyes to hers.

“Zina, I wish to speak to you on a most important matter!”

Zina adopted an attentive air, and sat still with folded hands, waiting
for light. In her face there was an expression of annoyance as well as
irony, which she did her best to hide.

“I wish to ask you first, Zina, what you thought of _that_ Mosgliakoff,
to-day?”

“You have known my opinion of him for a long time!” replied Zina, surlily.

“Yes, yes, of course! but I think he is getting just a little _too_
troublesome, with his continual bothering you—”

“Oh, but he says he is in love with me, in which case his importunity is
pardonable!”

“Strange! You used not to be so ready to find his offences pardonable; you
used to fly out at him if ever I mentioned his name!”

“Strange, too, that you always defended him, and were so very anxious that
I should marry him!—and now you are the first to attack him!”

“Yes; I don’t deny, Zina, that I did wish, then, to see you married to
Mosgliakoff! It was painful to me to witness your continual grief, your
sufferings, which I can well realize—whatever you may think to the
contrary!—and which deprived me of my rest at night! I determined at last
that there was but one great change of life that would ever save you from
the sorrows of the past, and that change was matrimony! We are not rich;
we cannot afford to go abroad. All the asses in the place prick their long
ears, and wonder that you should be unmarried at twenty-three years old;
and they must needs invent all sorts of stories to account for the fact!
As if I would marry you to one of our wretched little town councillors, or
to Ivan Ivanovitch, the family lawyer! There are no husbands for _you_ in
this place, Zina! Of course Paul Mosgliakoff is a silly sort of a fellow,
but he is better than these people here: he is fairly born, at least, and
he has 150 serfs and landed property, all of which is better than living
by bribes and corruption, and goodness knows what jobbery besides, as
these do! and that is why I allowed my eyes to rest on him. But I give you
my solemn word, I never had any real sympathy for him! and if Providence
has sent you someone better now, oh, my dear girl, how fortunate that you
have not given your word to Mosgliakoff! You didn’t tell him anything for
certain to-day, did you, Zina?”

“What is the use of beating about the bush, when the whole thing lies in a
couple of words?” said Zina, with some show of annoyance.

“Beating about the bush, Zina? Is that the way to speak to your mother?
But what am I? You have long ceased to trust to your poor mother! You have
long looked upon me as your enemy, and not as your mother at all!”

“Oh, come mother! you and I are beyond quarrelling about an expression!
Surely we understand one another by now? It is about time we did, anyhow!”

“But you offend me, my child! you will not believe that I am ready to
devote _all, all_ I can give, in order to establish your destiny on a safe
and happy footing!”

Zina looked angrily and sarcastically at her mother.

“Would not you like to marry me to this old prince, now, in order to
establish my destiny on a safe and happy footing?”

“I have not said a word about it; but, as you mention the fact, I will say
that if you _were_ to marry the prince it would be a very happy thing for
you, and—”

“Oh! Well, I consider the idea utter nonsense!” cried the girl
passionately. “Nonsense, humbug! and what’s more, I think you have a good
deal too much poetical inspiration, mamma; you are a woman poet in the
fullest sense of the term, and they call you by that name here! You are
always full of projects; and the impracticability and absurdity of your
ideas does not in the least discourage you. I felt, when the prince was
sitting here, that you had that notion in your head. When Mosgliakoff was
talking nonsense there about marrying the old man to somebody I read all
your thoughts in your face. I am ready to bet any money that you are
thinking of it now, and that you have come to me now about this very
question! However, as your perpetual projects on my behalf are beginning
to weary me to death, I must beg you not to say one word about it, not
_one word_, mamma; do you hear me? _not one word_; and I beg you will
remember what I say!” She was panting with rage.

“You are a child, Zina; a poor sorrow-worn, sick child!” said Maria
Alexandrovna in tearful accents. “You speak to your poor mother
disrespectfully; you wound me deeply, my dear; there is not another mother
in the world who would have borne what I have to bear from you every day!
But you are suffering, you are sick, you are sorrowful, and I am your
mother, and, first of all, I am a Christian woman! I must bear it all, and
forgive it. But one word, Zina: if I had really thought of the union you
suggest, why would you consider it so impracticable and absurd? In my
opinion, Mosgliakoff has never said a wiser thing than he did to-day, when
he declared that marriage was what alone could save the prince,—not, of
course, marriage with that slovenly slut, Nastasia; there he certainly
_did_ make a fool of himself!”

“Now look here, mamma; do you ask me this out of pure curiosity, or with
design? Tell me the truth.”

“All I ask is, why does it appear to you to be so absurd?”

“Good heavens, mother, you’ll drive me wild! What a fate!” cried Zina,
stamping her foot with impatience. “I’ll tell you why, if you can’t see
for yourself. Not to mention all the other evident absurdities of the
plan, to take advantage of the weakened wits of a poor old man, and
deceive him and marry him—an old cripple, in order to get hold of his
money,—and then every day and every hour to wish for his death, is, in my
opinion, not only nonsense, but so mean, _so_ mean, mamma, that I—I can’t
congratulate you on your brilliant idea; that’s all I can say!”

There was silence for one minute.

“Zina, do you remember all that happened two years ago?” asked Maria
Alexandrovna of a sudden.

Zina trembled.

“Mamma!” she said, severely, “you promised me solemnly never to mention
that again.”

“And I ask you now, as solemnly, my dear child, to allow me to break that
promise, just once! I have never broken it before. Zina! the time has come
for a full and clear understanding between us! These two years of silence
have been terrible. We cannot go on like this. I am ready to pray you, on
my knees, to let me speak. Listen, Zina, your own mother who bore you
beseeches you, on her knees! And I promise you faithfully, Zina, and
solemnly, on the word of an unhappy but adoring mother, that never, under
any circumstances, not even to save my life, will I ever mention the
subject again. This shall be the last time, but it is absolutely
necessary!”

Maria Alexandrovna counted upon the effect of her words, and with reason:

“Speak, then!” said Zina, growing whiter every moment.

“Thank you, Zina!——Two years ago there came to the house, to teach your
little brother Mitya, since dead, a tutor——”

“Why do you begin so solemnly, mamma? Why all this eloquence, all these
quite unnecessary details, which are painful to me, and only too well
known to both of us?” cried Zina with a sort of irritated disgust.

“Because, my dear child, I, your mother, felt in some degree bound to
justify myself before you; and also because I wish to present this whole
question to you from an entirely new point of view, and not from that
mistaken position which you are accustomed to take up with regard to it;
and because, lastly, I think you will thus better understand the
conclusion at which I shall arrive upon the whole question. Do not think,
dear child, that I wish to trifle with your heart! No, Zina, you will find
in me a real mother; and perhaps, with tears streaming from your eyes, you
will ask and beseech at my feet—at the feet of the ’_mean woman_,’ as you
have just called me,—yes, and pray for that reconciliation which you have
rejected so long! That’s why I wish to recall all, Zina, _all_ that has
happened, from the very beginning; and without this I shall not speak at
all!”

“Speak, then!” repeated Zina, cursing the necessity for her mother’s
eloquence from the very bottom of her heart.

“I continue then, Zina!——This tutor, a master of the parish school, almost
a boy, makes upon you what is, to me, a totally inexplicable impression. I
built too much upon my confidence in your good sense, or your noble pride,
and principally upon the fact of his insignificance—(I must speak out!)—to
allow myself to harbour the slightest suspicion of you! And then you
suddenly come to me, one fine day, and state that you intend to marry the
man! Zina, it was putting a knife to my heart! I gave a shriek and lost
consciousness.

“But of course you remember all this. Of course I thought it my duty to
use all my power over you, which power you called tyranny. Think for
yourself—a boy, the son of a deacon, receiving a salary of twelve roubles
a month—a writer of weak verses which are printed, out of pity, in the
’library of short readings.’ A man, a boy, who could talk of nothing but
that accursed Shakespeare,—this boy to be the husband of Zenaida
Moskaloff! Forgive me, Zina, but the very thought of it all makes me
_wild_!

“I rejected him, of course. But no power would stop _you_; your father
only blinked his eyes, as usual, and could not even understand what I was
telling him about. You continue your relations with this boy, even giving
him rendezvous, and, worst of all, you allow yourself to correspond with
him!

“Rumours now begin to flit about town: I am assailed with hints; they blow
their trumpets of joy and triumph; and suddenly all my fears and
anticipations are verified! You and he quarrel over something or other; he
shows himself to be a boy (I can’t call him a man!), who is utterly
unworthy of you, and threatens to show your letters all over the town! On
hearing this threat, you, beside yourself with irritation, boxed his ears.
Yes, Zina, I am aware of even that fact! I know all, all! But to
continue—the wretched boy shows one of your letters the very same day to
that ne’er-do-well Zanshin, and within an hour Natalie Dimitrievna holds
it in her hands—my deadly enemy! The same evening the miserable fellow
attempts to put an end to himself, in remorse. In a word, there is a
fearful scandal stirred up. That slut, Nastasia, comes panting to me with
the dreadful news; she tells me that Natalie Dimitrievna has had your
letter for a whole hour. In a couple of hours the whole town will learn of
your foolishness! I bore it all. I did not fall down in a swoon; but oh,
the blows, the blows you dealt to my heart, Zina! That shameless scum of
the earth, Nastasia, says she will get the letter back for two hundred
roubles! I myself run over, in thin shoes, too, through the snow to the
Jew Baumstein, and pledge my diamond clasps—a keepsake of my dear
mother’s! In a couple of hours the letter is in my hands! Nastasia had
stolen it; she had broken open a desk, and your honour was safe!

“But what a dreadful day you had sentenced me to live! I noticed some grey
hairs among my raven locks for the first time, next morning! Zina, you
have judged this boy’s action yourself now! You can admit now, and perhaps
smile a bitter smile over the admission, that it was beyond the limits of
good sense to wish to entrust your fate to this youth.

“But since that fatal time you are wretched, my child, you are miserable!
You cannot forget him, or rather not him—for he was never worthy of
you,—but you cannot forget the phantom of your past joy! This wretched
young fellow is now on the point of death—consumption, they say; and you,
angel of goodness that you are! you do not wish to marry while he is
alive, because you fear to harass him in his last days; because to this
day he is miserable with jealousy, though I am convinced that he never
loved you in the best and highest sense of the word! I know well that,
hearing of Mosgliakoff’s proposal to you, he has been in a flutter of
jealousy, and has spied upon you and your actions ever since; and you—you
have been merciful to him, my child. And oh! God knows how I have watered
my pillow with tears for you!”

“Oh, mother, do drop all this sort of thing!” cried Zina, with
inexpressible agony in her tone. “Surely we needn’t hear all about your
pillow!” she added, sharply. “Can’t we get on without all this declamation
and pirouetting?”

“You do not believe me, Zina! Oh! do not look so unfriendly at me, my
child! My eyes have not been dry these two years. I have hidden my tears
from you; but I am changed, Zina mine, much changed and in many ways! I
have long known of your feelings, Zina, but I admit I have only lately
realized the depth of your mental anguish. Can you blame me, my child, if
I looked upon this attachment of yours as romanticism—called into being by
that accursed Shakespeare, who shoves his nose in everywhere where he
isn’t wanted?

“What mother would blame me for my fears of that kind, for my measures,
for the severity of my judgment? But now, understanding as I do, and
realizing your two years’ sufferings, I can estimate the depth of your
real feelings. Believe me, I understand you far better than you understand
yourself! I am convinced that you love not him—not this unnatural boy,—but
your lost happiness, your broken hopes, your cracked idol!

“I have loved too—perhaps more deeply than yourself; I, too, have
suffered, I, too, have lost my exalted ideals and seen them levelled with
the earth; and therefore who can blame me now—and, above all, can _you_
blame me now,—if I consider a marriage with the prince to be the one
saving, the one _essential_ move left to you in your present position”?

Zina listened to this long declamation with surprise. She knew well that
her mother never adopted this tone without good reason. However this last
and unexpected conclusion fairly amazed her.

“You don’t mean to say you seriously entertain the idea of marrying me to
this prince?” she cried bewildered, and gazing at her mother almost with
alarm; “that this is no mere idea, no project, no flighty inspiration, but
your deliberate intention? I _have_ guessed right, then? And pray, _how_
is this marriage going to save me? and _why_ is it essential to me in my
present position? And—and what has all this to do with what you have been
talking about?——I cannot understand you, mother,—not a bit!”

“And _I_ can’t understand, angel mine, how you _cannot_ see the connection
of it all!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, in her turn. “In the first place,
you would pass into new society, into a new world. You would leave for
ever this loathsome little town, so full of sad memories for you; where
you meet neither friends nor kindness; where they have bullied and
maligned you; where all these—these _magpies_ hate you because you are
good looking! You could go abroad this very spring, to Italy, Switzerland,
Spain!—to Spain, Zina, where the Alhambra is, and where the Guadalquiver
flows—no wretched little stream like this of ours!”

“But, one moment, mother; you talk as though I were married already, or at
least as if the prince had made me an offer!”

“Oh, no—oh dear, no! don’t bother yourself about that, my angel! I know
what I’m talking about! Let me proceed. I’ve said my ‘firstly;’ now, then,
for my ‘secondly!’ I understand, dear child, with what loathing you would
give your hand to that Mosgliakoff!——”

“I know, without your telling me so, that I shall never be _his_ wife!”
cried Zina, angrily, and with flashing eyes.

“If only you knew, my angel, how I understand and enter into your loathing
for him! It is dreadful to vow before the altar that you will love a man
whom you _cannot_ love—how dreadful to belong to one whom you cannot
esteem! And he insists on your _love_—he only marries you for love. I can
see it by the way he looks at you! Why deceive ourselves? I have suffered
from the same thing for twenty-five years; your father ruined me—he, so to
speak, sucked up my youth! You have seen my tears many a time!——”

“Father’s away in the country, don’t touch _him_, please!” said Zina.

“I know you always take his part! Oh, Zina, my very heart trembled within
me when I thought to arrange your marriage with Mosgliakoff for financial
reasons! I trembled for the consequences. But with the prince it is
different, you need not deceive him; you cannot be expected to give him
your _love_, not your _love_—oh, no! and he is not in a state to ask it of
you!”

“Good heavens, what nonsense! I do assure you you are in error from the
very first step—from the first and most important step! Understand, that I
do not care to make a martyr of myself for some unknown reason! Know,
also, that I shall not marry anyone at all; I shall remain a maid. You
have bitten my head off for the last two years because I would not marry.
Well, you must accept the fact, and make the best of it; that’s all I can
say, and so it shall be!”

“But Zina, darling—my Zina, don’t be so cross before you have heard me
out! What a hot-headed little person you are, to be sure! Let me show you
the matter from my point of view, and you’ll agree with me—you really
will! The prince will live a year—two at most; and surely it is better to
be a young widow than a decayed old maid! Not to mention the fact that you
will be a princess—free, rich, independent! I dare say you look with
contempt upon all these calculations—founded upon his death; but I am a
mother, and what mother will blame me for my foresight?

“And if you, my angel of kindness, are unwilling to marry, even now, out
of tenderness for that wretched boy’s feelings, oh, think, think how, by
marrying this prince, you will rejoice his heart and soothe and comfort
his soul! For if he has a single particle of commonsense, he must
understand that jealousy of this old man were _too_ absurd—_too_
ridiculous! He will understand that you marry him—for money, for
convenience; that stern necessity compels you to it!

“And lastly, he will understand that—that,—well I simply wish to say,
that, upon the prince’s death, you will be at liberty to marry whomsoever
you please.”

“That’s a truly simple arrangement! All I have to do is to marry this
prince, rob him of his money, and then count upon his death in order to
marry my lover! You are a clever arithmetician, mamma; you do your sums
and get your totals nicely. You wish to seduce me by offering me this! Oh,
I understand you, mamma—I understand you well! You cannot resist the
expression of your noble sentiments and exalted ideas, even in the
manufacture of a nasty business. Why can’t you say simply and
straightforwardly, ‘Zina, this is a dirty affair, but it will pay us, so
please agree with me?’ at all events, that would be candid and frank on
your part.”

“But, my dear child, why, _why_ look at it from this point of view? Why
look at it under the light of suspicion as _deceit_, and low cunning, and
covetousness? You consider my calculations as meanness, as deceit; but, by
all that is good and true, where is the meanness? Show me the deceit. Look
at yourself in the glass: you are so beautiful, that a kingdom would be a
fair price for you! And suddenly you, you, the possessor of this divine
beauty, sacrifice yourself, in order to soothe the last years of an old
man’s life! You would be like a beautiful star, shedding your light over
the evening of his days. You would be like the fresh green ivy, twining in
and about his old age; not the stinging nettle that this wretched woman at
his place is, fastening herself upon him, and thirstily sucking his blood!
Surely his money, his rank are not worthy of being put in the scales
beside _you_? Where is the meanness of it; where is the deceit of all
this? You don’t know what you are saying, Zina.”

“I suppose they _are_ worthy of being weighed against me, if I am to marry
a cripple for them! No, mother, however you look at it, it is deceit, and
you can’t get out of _that_!”

“On the contrary, my dear child, I can look at it from a high, almost from
an exalted—nay, Christian—point of view. You, yourself, told me once, in a
fit of temporary insanity of some sort, that you wished to be a sister of
charity. You had suffered; you said your heart could love no more. If,
then, you cannot love, turn your thoughts to the higher aspect of the
case. This poor old man has also suffered—he is unhappy. I have known him,
and felt the deepest sympathy towards him—akin to love,—for many a year.
Be his friend, his daughter, be his plaything, even, if you like; but warm
his old heart, and you are doing a good work—a virtuous, kind, noble work
of love.

“He may be funny to look at; don’t think of that. He’s but half a man—pity
him! You are a Christian girl—do whatever is right by him; and this will
be medicine for your own heart-wounds; employment, action, all this will
heal you too, and where is the deceit here? But you do not believe me.
Perhaps you think that I am deceiving myself when I thus talk of duty and
of action. You think that I, a woman of the world, have no right to good
feeling and the promptings of duty and virtue. Very well, do not trust me,
if you like: insult me, do what you please to your poor mother; but you
will have to admit that her words carry the stamp of good sense,—they are
saving words! Imagine that someone else is talking to you, not I. Shut
your eyes, and fancy that some invisible being is speaking. What is
worrying you is the idea that all this is for money—a sort of sale or
purchase. Very well, then _refuse_ the money, if it is so loathsome to
your eyes. Leave just as much as is absolutely necessary for yourself, and
give the rest to the poor. Help _him_, if you like, the poor fellow who
lies there a-dying!”

“He would never accept my help!” muttered Zina, as though to herself.

“He would not, but his mother would!” said Maria Alexandrovna. “She would
take it, and keep her secret. You sold your ear-rings, a present from your
aunt, half a year or so ago, and helped her; _I_ know all about it! I
know, too, that the woman washes linen in order to support her unfortunate
son!”

“He will soon be where he requires no more help!”

“I know, I understand your hints.” Maria Alexandrovna sighed a real sigh.
“They say he is in a consumption, and must die.

“But _who_ says so?

“I asked the doctor the other day, because, having a tender heart, Zina, I
felt interested in the poor fellow. The doctor said that he was convinced
the malady was _not_ consumption; that it was dangerous, no doubt, but
still _not_ consumption, only some severe affection of the lungs. Ask him
yourself! He certainly told me that under different conditions—change of
climate and of his style of living,—the sick man might well recover. He
said—and I have read it too, somewhere, that off Spain there is a
wonderful island, called Malaga—I think it was Malaga; anyhow, the name
was like some wine, where, not only ordinary sufferers from chest
maladies, but even consumptive patients, recover entirely, solely by
virtue of the climate, and that sick people go there on purpose to be
cured.

“Oh, but Spain—the Alhambra alone—and the lemons, and the riding on mules.
All this is enough in itself to impress a poetical nature. You think he
would not accept your help, your money—for such a journey? Very
well—deceit is permissible where it may save a man’s life.

“Give him hope, too! Promise him your love; promise to marry him when you
are a widow! Anything in the world can be said with care and tact! Your
own mother would not counsel you to an ignoble deed, Zina. You will do as
I say, to save this boy’s life; and with this object, everything is
permissible! You will revive his hope; he will himself begin to think of
his health, and listen to what the doctor says to him. He will do his best
to resuscitate his dead happiness; and if he gets well again, even if you
never marry him, you will have saved him—raised him from the dead!

“I can look at him with some sympathy. I admit I can, now! Perhaps sorrow
has changed him for the better; and I say frankly, if he should be worthy
of you when you become a widow, marry him, by all means! You will be rich
then, and independent. You can not only cure him, but, having done so, you
can give him position in the world—a career! Your marriage to him will
then be possible and pardonable, not, as now, an absolute impossibility!

“For what would become of both of you were you to be capable of such
madness _now_? Universal contempt, beggary; smacking little boys, which is
part of his duty; the reading of Shakespeare; perpetual, hopeless life in
Mordasoff; and lastly his certain death, which will undoubtedly take place
before long unless he is taken away from here!

“While, if you resuscitate him—if you raise him from the dead, as it were,
you raise him to a good, useful, and virtuous life! He may then enter
public life—make himself rank, and a name! At the least, even if he must
die, he will die happy, at peace with himself, in your arms—for he will be
by then assured of your love and forgiveness of the past, and lying
beneath the scent of myrtles and lemons, beneath the tropical sky of the
South. Oh, Zina, all this is within your grasp, and all—all is _gain_.
Yes, and all to be had by merely marrying this prince.”

Maria Alexandrovna broke off, and for several minutes there was silence;
not a word was said on either side: Zina was in a state of indescribable
agitation. I say indescribable because I will not attempt to describe
Zina’s feelings: I cannot guess at them; but I _think_ that Maria
Alexandrovna had found the road to her heart.

Not knowing how her words had sped with her daughter, Maria Alexandrovna
now began to work her busy brain to imagine and prepare herself for every
possible humour that Zina might prove to be in; but at last she concluded
that she had happened upon the right track after all. Her rude hand had
touched the sorest place in Zina’s heart, but her crude and absurd
sentimental twaddle had not blinded her daughter. “However, that doesn’t
matter”—thought the mother. “All I care to do is to make her _think_; I
wish my ideas to stick!” So she reflected, and she gained her end; the
effect was made—the arrow reached the mark. Zina had listened hungrily as
her mother spoke; her cheeks were burning, her breast heaved.

“Listen, mother,” she said at last, with decision; though the sudden
pallor of her face showed clearly what the decision had cost her. “Listen
mother——” But at this moment a sudden noise in the entrance hall, and a
shrill female voice, asking for Maria Alexandrovna, interrupted Zina,
while her mother jumped up from her chair.

“Oh! the devil fly away with this magpie of a woman!” cried the latter
furiously. “Why, I nearly drove her out by force only a fortnight ago!”
she added, almost in despair. “I can’t, I can’t receive her now. Zina,
this question is too important to be put off: she must have news for me or
she never would have dared to come. I won’t receive the old —— Oh! _how_
glad I am to see you, dear Sophia Petrovna. What lucky chance brought
_you_ to see me? What a _charming_ surprise!” said Maria Alexandrovna,
advancing to receive her guest.

Zina escaped out of the room.



CHAPTER VI.


Mrs. Colonel Tarpuchin, or Sophia Petrovna, was only morally like a
magpie; she was more akin to the sparrow tribe, viewed physically. She was
a little bit of a woman of fifty summers or so, with lively eyes, and
yellow patches all over her face. On her little wizened body and spare
limbs she wore a black silk dress, which was perpetually on the rustle:
for this little woman could never sit still for an instant.

This was the most inveterate and bitterest scandal-monger in the town. She
took her stand on the fact that she was a Colonel’s wife, though she often
fought with her husband, the Colonel, and scratched his face handsomely on
such occasions.

Add to this, that it was her custom to drink four glasses of “vodki” at
lunch, or earlier, and four more in the evening; and that she hated Mrs.
Antipova to madness.

“I’ve just come in for a minute, _mon ange_,” she panted; “it’s no use
sitting down—no time! I wanted to let you know what’s going on, simply
that the whole town has gone mad over this prince. Our ‘beauties,’ you
know what I mean! are all after him, fishing for him, pulling him about,
giving him champagne—you would not believe it! _would_ you now? How on
earth you could ever have let him out of the house, I can’t understand!
Are you aware that he’s at Natalia Dimitrievna’s at this moment?”

“At _Natalia Dimitrievna’s_?” cried Maria Alexandrovna jumping up. “Why,
he was only going to see the Governor, and then call in for one moment at
the Antipova’s!”

“Oh, yes, just for one moment—of course! Well, catch him if you can,
there! That’s all I can say. He found the Governor ‘out,’ and went on to
Mrs. Antipova’s, where he has promised to dine. There Natalia caught
him—she is never away from Mrs. Antipova nowadays,—and persuaded him to
come away with her to lunch. So there’s your prince! catch him if you
can!”

“But how—Mosgliakoff’s with him—he promised—”

“Mosgliakoff, indeed,—why, he’s gone too! and they’ll be playing at cards
and clearing him out before he knows where he is! And the things Natalia
is saying, too—out loud if you please! She’s telling the prince to his
face that you, _you_ have got hold of him with certain views—_vous
comprenez_?”

“She calmly tells him this to his face! Of course he doesn’t understand a
word of it, and simply sits there like a soaked cat, and says ‘Ye—yes!’
And would you believe it, she has trotted out her Sonia—a girl of fifteen,
in a dress down to her knees—my word on it? Then she has sent for that
little orphan—Masha; she’s in a short dress too,—why, I swear it doesn’t
reach her knees. I looked at it carefully through my pince-nez! She’s
stuck red caps with some sort of feathers in them on their heads, and set
them to dance some silly dance to the piano accompaniment for the prince’s
benefit! You know his little weakness as to our sex,—well, you can imagine
him staring at them through his glass and saying, ‘_Charmant!_—What
figures!’ Tfu! They’ve turned the place into a music hall! Call that a
dance! I was at school at Madame Jarne’s, I know, and there were plenty of
princesses and countesses there with me, too; and I know I danced before
senators and councillors, and earned their applause, too: but as for this
dance—it’s a low can-can, and nothing more! I simply _burned_ with
shame,—I couldn’t stand it, and came out.”

“How! have you been at Natalia Dimitrievna’s? Why, you——!”

“What!—she offended me last week? is that what you you mean? Oh, but, my
dear, I _had_ to go and have a peep at the prince—else, when should I have
seen him? As if I would have gone _near_ her but for this wretched old
prince. Imagine—chocolate handed round and _me left out_. I’ll let her
have it for that, some day! Well, good-bye, _mon ange_: I must hurry off
to Akulina, and let her know all about it. You may say good-bye to the
prince; he won’t come near you again now! He has no memory left, you know,
and Mrs. Antipova will simply carry him off bodily to her house. He’ll
think it’s all right——They’re all afraid of you, you know; they think that
you want to get hold of him—you understand! Zina, you know!”

“_Quelle horreur!_”

“Oh, yes, I know! I tell you—the whole town is talking about it! Mrs.
Antipova is going to make him stay to dinner—and then she’ll just keep
him! She’s doing it to spite _you_, my angel. I had a look in at her back
premises. _Such_ arrangements, my dear. Knives clattering, people running
about for champagne. I tell you what you must do—go and grab him as he
comes out from Natalia Dimitrievna’s to Antipova’s to dinner. He promised
_you_ first, he’s _your_ guest. Tfu! don’t you be laughed at by this brace
of chattering magpies—good for nothing baggage, both of them. ‘Procuror’s
lady,’ indeed! Why, I’m a Colonel’s wife. Tfu!—_Mais adieu, mon ange_. I
have my own sledge at the door, or I’d go with you.”

Having got rid of this walking newspaper, Maria Alexandrovna waited a
moment, to free herself of a little of her super-abundant agitation. Mrs.
Colonel’s advice was good and practical. There was no use losing
time,—none to lose, in fact. But the greatest difficulty of all was as yet
unsettled.

Maria Alexandrovna flew to Zina’s room.

Zina was walking up and down, pale, with hands folded and head bent on her
bosom: there were tears in her eyes, but Resolve was there too, and
sparkled in the glance which she threw on her mother as the latter entered
the room. She hastily dried her tears, and a sarcastic smile played on her
lips once more.

“Mamma,” she began, anticipating her mother’s speech “you have already
wasted much of your eloquence over me—too much! But you have not blinded
me; I am not a child. To do the work of a sister of mercy, without the
slightest call thereto,—to justify one’s meanness—meanness proceeding in
reality from the purest egotism, by attributing to it noble ends,—all this
is a sort of Jesuitism which cannot deceive _me_. Listen! I repeat, all
_this could not deceive me_, and I wish you to understand that!”

“But, dearest child!” began her mother, in some alarm.

“Be quiet, mamma; have patience, and hear me out. In spite of the full
consciousness that all this is pure Jesuitism, and in spite of my full
knowledge of the absolutely ignoble character of such an act, I accept
your proposition in full,—you hear me—_in full_; and inform you hereby,
that I am ready to marry the prince. More! I am ready to help you to the
best of my power in your endeavours to lure the prince into making me an
offer. Why do I do this? You need not know that; enough that I have
consented. I have consented to the whole thing—to bringing him his boots,
to serving him; I will dance for him, that my meanness may be in some sort
atoned. I shall do all I possibly can so that he shall never regret that
he married me! But in return for my consent I insist upon knowing _how_
you intend to bring the matter about? Since you have spoken so warmly on
the subject—I know you!—I am convinced you must have some definite plan of
operation in your head. Be frank for once in your life; your candour is
the essential condition upon which alone I give my consent. I shall not
decide until you have told me what I require!”

Maria Alexandrovna was so surprised by the unexpected conclusion at which
Zina arrived, that she stood before the latter some little while, dumb
with amazement, and staring at her with all her eyes. Prepared to have to
combat the stubborn romanticism of her daughter—whose obstinate nobility
of character she always feared,—she had suddenly heard this same daughter
consent to all that her mother had required of her.

Consequently, the matter had taken a very different complexion. Her eyes
sparkled with delight:

“Zina, Zina!” she cried; “you are my life, my——”

She could say no more, but fell to embracing and kissing her daughter.

“Oh, mother, I don’t _want_ all this kissing!” cried Zina, with impatience
and disgust. “I don’t need all this rapture on your part; all I want is a
plain answer to my question!”

“But, Zina, I love you; I adore you, darling, and you repel me like this!
I am working for your happiness, child!”

Tears sparkled in her eyes. Maria Alexandrovna really loved her daughter,
in her own way, and just now she actually felt deeply, for once in her
life—thanks to her agitation, and the success of her eloquence.

Zina, in spite of her present distorted view of things in general, knew
that her mother loved her; but this love only annoyed her; she would much
rather—it would have been easier for her—if it had been hate!

“Well, well; don’t be angry, mamma—I’m so excited just now!” she said, to
soothe her mother’s feelings.

“I’m not angry, I’m not angry, darling! I know you are much agitated!”
cried Maria Alexandrovna. “You say, my child, that you wish me to be
candid: very well, I will; I will be _quite_ frank, I assure you. But you
might have trusted me! Firstly, then, I must tell you that I have no
actually organized plan yet—no _detailed_ plan, that is. You must
understand, with that clever little head of yours, you must see, Zina,
that I _cannot_ have such a plan, all cut out. I even anticipate some
difficulties. Why, that magpie of a woman has just been telling me all
sorts of things. We ought to be quick, by the bye; you see, I am quite
open with you! But I swear to you that the end shall be attained!” she
added, ecstatically. “My convictions are not the result of a poetical
nature, as you told me just now; they are founded on facts. I rely on the
weakness of the prince’s intellect—which is a canvas upon which one can
stitch any pattern one pleases!

“The only fear is, we may be interfered with! But a fool of a woman like
that is not going to get the better of _me_!” she added, stamping her
foot, and with flashing eyes. “That’s my part of the business, though; and
to manage it thoroughly I must begin as soon as possible—in fact, the
whole thing, or the most important part of it, must be arranged this very
day!”

“Very well, mamma; but now listen to one more piece of candour. Do you
know why I am so interested in your plan of operations, and do not trust
it? because I am not sure of myself! I have told you already that I
consent to this——meanness; but I must warn you that if I find the details
of your plan of operations _too_ dirty, too mean and repulsive, I shall
not be able to stand it, and shall assuredly throw you over. I know that
this is a new pettiness, to consent to a wicked thing and then fear the
dirt in which it floats! But what’s to be done? So it will be, and I warn
you!”

“But Zina, dear child, where is the wickedness in this?” asked Maria
Alexandrovna timidly. “It is simply a matter of a marriage for profit;
everybody does it! Look at it in this light, and you will see there is
nothing particular in it; it is good ‘form’ enough!”

“Oh, mamma, don’t try to play the fox over me! Don’t you see that I have
consented to everything—to _everything_? What else do you require of me?
Don’t be alarmed if I call things by their proper names! For all you know
it may be my only comfort!” And a bitter smile played over her lips.

“Very well, very well, dear! we may disagree as to ideas and yet be very
fond of one another. But if you are afraid of the working of my plan, and
dread that you will see any baseness or meanness about it, leave it all to
me, dear, and I guarantee you that not a particle of dirt shall soil you!
Your hands shall be clean! As if I would be the one to compromise you!
Trust me entirely, and all shall go grandly and with dignity; all shall be
done worthily; there shall be no scandal—even if there be a whisper
afterwards, we shall all be out of the way, far off! We shall not stay
here, of course! Let them _howl_ if they like, _we_ won’t care. Besides,
they are not worth bothering about, and I wonder at your being so
frightened of these people, Zina. Don’t be angry with me! how can you be
so frightened, with your proud nature?”

“I’m not frightened; you don’t understand me a bit!” said Zina, in a tone
of annoyance.

“Very well, darling; don’t be angry. I only talk like this because these
people about here are always stirring up mud, if they can; while you—this
is the first time in your life you have done a mean action.—_Mean_ action!
What an old fool I am! On the contrary, this is a most generous, _noble_
act! I’ll prove this to you once more, Zina. Firstly, then, it all depends
upon the point of view you take up——”

“Oh! bother your proofs, mother. I’ve surely had enough of them by now,”
cried Zina angrily, and stamped her foot on the floor.

“Well, darling, I won’t; it was stupid of me—I won’t!”

There was another moment’s silence. Maria Alexandrovna looked into her
daughter’s eyes as a little dog looks into the eyes of its mistress.

“I don’t understand how you are going to set about it,” said Zina at last,
in a tone of disgust. “I feel sure you will only plunge yourself into a
pool of shame! I’m not thinking of these people about here. I despise
their opinions; but it would be very ignominious for _you_.”

“Oh! if that’s all, my dear child, don’t bother your head about it:
please, _please_ don’t! Let us be agreed about it, and then you need not
fear for me. Dear me! if you but knew, though, what things I have done,
and kept my skin whole! I tell you this is _nothing_ in comparison with
_real_ difficulties which I have arranged successfully. Only let me try.
But, first of all we must get the prince _alone_, and that as soon as
possible. That’s the first move: all the rest will depend upon the way we
manage this. However, I can foresee the result. They’ll all rise against
us; but I’ll manage _them_ all right! I’m a little nervous about
Mosgliakoff. He——”

“Mosgliakoff!” said Zina, contemptuously.

“Yes, but don’t you be afraid, Zina! I’ll give you my word I’ll work him
so that he shall help us himself. You don’t know me yet, my Zina. My
child, when I heard about this old prince having arrived this morning, the
idea, as it were, shone out all at once in my brain! Who would have
thought of his really coming to us like this! It is a chance such as you
might wait for a thousand years in vain. Zina, my angel! there’s no shame
in what you are doing. What _is_ wrong is to marry a man whom you loathe.
Your marriage with the prince will be no _real_ marriage; it is simply a
domestic contract. It is he, the old fool, who gains by it. It is _he_ who
is made unspeakably, immeasurably happy. Oh! Zina, how lovely you look
to-day. If I were a man I would give you half a kingdom if you but raised
your finger for it! _Asses_ they all are! Who wouldn’t kiss a hand like
this?” and Maria Alexandrovna kissed her daughter’s hand warmly. “Why,
this is my own flesh and blood, Zina. What’s to be done afterwards? You
won’t part with me, will you? You won’t drive your old mother away when
you are happy yourself? No, darling, for though we have quarrelled often
enough, you have not such another friend as I am, Zina! You——”

“Mamma, if you’ve made up your mind to it all, perhaps it is time you set
about making some move in the matter. We are losing time,” said Zina,
impatiently.

“Yes, it is, it is indeed time; and here am I gabbling on while they are
all doing their best to seduce the prince away from us. I must be off at
once. I shall find them, and bring the prince back by force, if need be.
Good-bye, Zina, darling child. Don’t be afraid, and don’t look sad, dear;
please don’t! It will be all well, nay, _gloriously_ well! Good-bye,
good-bye!”

Maria Alexandrovna made the sign of the Cross over Zina, and dashed out of
the room. She stopped one moment at her looking-glass to see that all was
right, and then, in another minute, was seated in her carriage and
careering through the Mordasoff streets. Maria Alexandrovna lived in good
style, and her carriage was always in waiting at that hour in case of
need.

“No, no, my dears! it’s not for _you_ to outwit me,” she thought, as she
drove along. “Zina agrees; so half the work is done. Oh, Zina, Zina! so
your imagination is susceptible to pretty little visions, is it? and I
_did_ treat her to a pretty little picture. She was really touched at
last; and how lovely the child looked to-day! If I had her beauty I should
turn half Europe topsy-turvy. But wait a bit, it’s all right. Shakespeare
will fly away to another world when you’re a princess, my dear, and know a
few people. What does she know? Mordasoff and the tutor! And what a
princess she will make. I _love_ to see her pride and pluck. She looks at
you like any queen. And not to know her own good! However, she soon will.
Wait a bit; let this old fool die, and then the boy, and I’ll marry her to
a reigning prince yet! The only thing I’m afraid of is—haven’t I trusted
her too much? Didn’t I allow my feelings to run away with me too far? I am
anxious about her. I am anxious, anxious!”

Thus Maria Alexandrovna reflected as she drove along. She was a busy
woman, was Maria Alexandrovna.

Zina, left alone, continued her solitary walk up and down the room with
folded hands and thoughtful brow. She had a good deal to think of! Over
and over again she repeated, “It’s time—it’s time—oh, it’s time!” What did
this ejaculation mean? Once or twice tears glistened on her long silken
eyelashes, and she did not attempt to wipe them away.

Her mother worried herself in vain, as far as Zina was concerned; for her
daughter had quite made up her mind:—she was ready, come what might!

“Wait a bit!” said the widow to herself, as she picked her way out of her
hiding-place, after having observed and listened to the interview between
Zina and her mother. “And I was thinking of a wedding dress for myself; I
positively thought the prince would really come my way! So much for _my_
wedding dress—what a fool I was! Oho! Maria Alexandrovna—I’m a baggage, am
I—and a beggar;—and I took a bribe of two hundred roubles from you, did I?
And I didn’t spend it on expenses connected with your precious daughter’s
letter, did I? and break open a desk for your sake with my own hands! Yes,
madam; I’ll teach you what sort of a baggage Nastasia Petrovna is; both of
you shall know her a little better yet! Wait a bit!”



CHAPTER VII.


Maria Alexandrovna’s genius had conceived a great and daring project.

To marry her daughter to a rich man, a prince, and a cripple; to marry her
secretly, to take advantage of the senile feebleness of her guest, to
marry her daughter to this old man _burglariously_, as her enemies would
call it,—was not only a daring, it was a downright audacious, project.

Of course, in case of success, it would be a profitable undertaking
enough; but in the event of _non_-success, what an ignominious position
for the authors of such a failure.

Maria Alexandrovna knew all this, but she did not despair. She had been
through deeper mire than this, as she had rightly informed Zina.

Undoubtedly all this looked rather too like a robbery on the high road to
be altogether pleasant; but Maria Alexandrovna did not dwell much on this
thought. She had one very simple but very pointed notion on the subject:
namely, this—“_once married they can’t be unmarried again_.”

It was a simple, but very pleasant reflection, and the very thought of it
gave Maria Alexandrovna a tingling sensation in all her limbs. She was in
a great state of agitation, and sat in her carriage as if on pins and
needles. She was anxious to begin the fray: her grand plan of operations
was drawn up; but there were thousands of small details to be settled, and
these must depend upon circumstances. She was not agitated by fear of
failure—oh dear, no! all she minded was delay! she feared the delay and
obstructions that might be put in her way by the Mordasoff ladies, whose
pretty ways she knew so well! She was well aware that probably at this
moment the whole town knew all about her present intentions, though she
had not revealed them to a living soul. She had found out by painful
experience that nothing, not the most secret event, could happen in her
house in the morning but it was known at the farthest end of the town by
the evening.

Of course, no anticipation, no presentiment, deterred or deceived Maria
Alexandrovna: she might feel such sensations at times, but she despised
them. Now, this is what had happened in the town this morning, and of
which our heroine was as yet only partly informed. About mid-day, that is,
just three hours after the prince’s arrival at Mordasoff, extraordinary
rumours began to circulate about the town.

Whence came they? Who spread them? None could say; but they spread like
wild-fire. Everyone suddenly began to assure his neighbour that Maria
Alexandrovna had engaged her daughter to the prince; that Mosgliakoff had
notice to quit, and that all was settled and signed, and the penniless,
twenty-three-year-old Zina was to be the princess.

Whence came this rumour? Could it be that Maria Alexandrovna was so
thoroughly known that her friends could anticipate her thoughts and
actions under any given circumstances?

The fact is, every inhabitant of a provincial town lives under a glass
case; there is no possibility of his keeping anything whatever secret from
his honourable co-dwellers in the place. They know _everything_; they know
it, too, better than he does himself. Every provincial person should be a
psychologist by nature; and that is why I have been surprised, often and
often, to observe when I am among provincials that there is not a great
number of psychologists—as one would expect,—but an infinite number of
dreadful asses. However, this a digression.

The rumour thus spread, then, was a thunder-like and startling shock to
the Mordasoff system. Such a marriage—a marriage with this prince—appeared
to all to be a thing so very desirable, so brilliant, that the strange
side of the affair had not seemed to strike anyone as yet!

One more circumstance must be noticed. Zina was even more detested in the
place than her mother; why, I don’t know. Perhaps her beauty was the prime
cause. Perhaps, too, it was that Maria Alexandrovna was, as it were, one
of themselves, a fruit of their own soil: if she was to go away she might
even be missed; she kept the place alive more or less—it might be dull
without her! But with Zina it was quite a different matter: she lived more
in the clouds than in the town of Mordasoff. She was no company for these
good people; she could not pair with them. Perhaps she bore herself
towards them, unconsciously though, too haughtily.

And now this same Zina, this haughty girl, about whom there were certain
scandalous stories afloat, this same Zina was to become a millionaire, a
princess, and a woman of rank and eminence!

In a couple of years she might marry again, some duke, perhaps, or a
general, maybe a Governor; their own Governor was a widower, and very fond
of the ladies! Then she would be the first lady of their province! Why,
the very thought of such a thing would be intolerable: in fact, this
rumour of Zina’s marriage with the prince aroused more irritation in
Mordasoff than any other piece of gossip within the memory of man!

People told each other that it was a sin and a shame, that the prince was
crazy, that the old man was being deceived, caught, robbed—anything you
like; that the prince must be saved from the bloodthirsty talons he had
floundered into; that the thing was simply robbery, immorality. And why
were any others worse than Zina? Why should not somebody else marry the
prince?

Maria Alexandrovna only guessed at all this at present—but that was quite
enough. She knew that the whole town would rise up and use all and every
means to defeat her ends. Why, they had tried to “confiscate” the prince
already; she would have to retrieve him by force, and if she should
succeed in luring or forcing him back now, she could not keep him tied to
her apron-strings for ever. Again, what was to prevent this whole troop of
Mordasoff gossips from coming _en masse_ to her salon, under such a
plausible plea, too, that she would not be able to turn them out. She knew
well that if kicked out of the door these good people would get in at the
window—a thing which had actually happened before now at Mordasoff.

In a word, there was not an hour, not a moment to be lost; and meanwhile
things were not even begun. A brilliant idea now struck Maria
Alexandrovna. We shall hear what this idea was in its proper place,
meanwhile I will only state that my heroine dashed through the streets of
Mordasoff, looking like a threatening storm-cloud as she swept along full
of the stern and implacable resolve that the prince should come back if
she had to drag him, and fight for him; and that all Mordasoff might fall
in ruins but she should have her way!

Her first move was successful—it could not have been more so.

She chanced to meet the prince in the street, and carried him off to
dinner with her.

If my reader wishes to know _how_ this feat was accomplished with such a
circle of enemies about and around her, and how she managed to make such a
fool of Mrs. Antipova, then I must be allowed to point out that such a
question is an insult to Maria Alexandrovna. As if _she_ were not capable
of outwitting any Antipova that ever breathed!

She simply “arrested” the prince at her rival’s very door, as he alighted
there with Mosgliakoff, in spite of the latter’s terror of a scandal, and
in spite of everything else; and she popped the old man into the carriage
beside her. Of course the prince made very little resistance, and as
usual, forgot all about the episode in a couple of minutes, and was as
happy as possible.

At dinner he was hilarious to a degree; he made jokes and fun, and told
stories which had no ends, or which he tacked on to ends belonging to
other stories, without remarking the fact.

He had had three glasses of champagne at lunch at Natalie Dimitrievna’s.
He now took more wine, and his old head whirled with it. Maria
Alexandrovna plied him well. The dinner was very good: the mistress of the
house kept the company alive with most bewitching airs and manners,—at
least so it should have been, but all excepting herself and the prince
were terribly dull on this occasion. Zina sat silent and grave.
Mosgliakoff was clearly off his feed: he was very thoughtful; and as this
was unusual Maria Alexandrovna was considerably anxious about him. The
widow looked cross and cunning; she continually made mysterious signs to
Mosgliakoff on the sly; but the latter took no notice of them.

If the mistress herself had not been so amiable and bewitching, the dinner
party might have been mistaken for a lunch at a funeral!

Meanwhile Maria Alexandrovna’s condition of mind was in reality excited
and agitated to a terrible degree. Zina alone terrified her by her tragic
look and tearful eyes. And there was another difficulty—for that accursed
Mosgliakoff would probably sit about and get in the way of business! One
could not well set about it with him in the room!

So, Maria Alexandrovna rose from the table in some agitation.

But what was her amazement, her joyful surprise, when Mosgliakoff came up
to her after dinner, of his own accord, and suddenly and most unexpectedly
informed her that he must—to his infinite regret—leave the house on
important business for a short while.

“Why, where are you going to?” she asked, with great show of regret.

“Well, you see,” began Mosgliakoff, rather disconcerted and uncomfortable,
“I have to—_may_ I come to you for advice?”

“What is it—what is it?”

“Why, you see, my godfather Borodueff—you know the man; I met him in the
street to-day, and he is dreadfully angry with me, says I am grown so
_proud_, that though I have been in Mordasoff three times I have never
shown my nose inside his doors. He asked me to come in for a cup of tea at
five—it’s four now. He has no children, you know,—and he is worth a
million of roubles—_more_, they say; and if I marry Zina—you see,—and he’s
seventy years old now!”

“Why, my good boy, of course, of course!—what are you thinking of? You
must not neglect that sort of thing—go at once, of course! I _thought_ you
looked preoccupied at dinner. You ought to have gone this morning and
shewn him that you cared for him, and so on. Oh, you boys, you boys!”
cried Maria Alexandrovna with difficulty concealing her joy.

“Thanks, thanks, Maria Alexandrovna! you’ve made a man of me again! I
declare I quite feared telling you—for I know you didn’t think much of the
connection.—He is a common sort of old fellow, I know! So good-bye—my
respects to Zina, and apologies—I must be off, of course I shall be back
soon!”

“Good-bye—take my blessing with you; say something polite to the old man
for me; I have long changed my opinion of him; I have grown to like the
real old Russian style of the man. _Au revoir, mon ami, au revoir!_”

“Well, it _is_ a mercy that the devil has carried him off, out of the
way!” she reflected, flushing with joy as Paul took his departure out of
the room. But Paul had only just reached the hall and was putting on his
fur coat when to him appeared—goodness knows whence—the widow, Nastasia
Petrovna. She had been waiting for him.

“Where are you going to?” she asked, holding him by the arm.

“To my godfather Borodueff’s—a rich old fellow; I want him to leave me
money. Excuse me—I’m in rather a hurry!”

Mosgliakoff was in a capital humour!

“Oh! then say good-bye to your betrothed!” remarked the widow, cuttingly.

“And why ‘good-bye’?”

“Why; you think she’s yours already, do you? and they are going to marry
her to the prince! I heard them say so myself!”

“To the prince? Oh, come now, Nastasia Petrovna!”

“Oh, it’s not a case of ’come now’ at all! Would you like to see and hear
it for yourself? Put down your coat, and come along here,—this way!”

“Excuse me, Nastasia Petrovna, but I don’t understand what you are driving
at!”

“Oh! you’ll understand fast enough if you just bend down here and listen!
The comedy is probably just beginning!”

“What comedy?”

“Hush! don’t talk so loud! The comedy of humbugging _you_. This morning,
when you went away with the prince, Maria Alexandrovna spent a whole hour
talking Zina over into marrying the old man! She told her that nothing was
easier than to lure the prince into marrying her; and all sorts of other
things that were enough to make one sick! Zina agreed. You should have
heard the pretty way in which _you_ were spoken of! They think you simply
a fool! Zina said plump out that she would never marry you! Listen now,
listen!”

“Why—why—it would be most godless cunning,” Paul stammered, looking
sheepishly into Nastasia’s eyes.

“Well, just you listen—you’ll hear that, and more besides!”

“But how am I to listen?”

“Here, bend down here. Do you see that keyhole!”

“Oh! but, Nastasia Petrovna, I can’t eavesdrop, you know!”

“Oh, nonsense, nonsense! Put your pride in your pocket! You’ve come, and
you must listen now!”

“Well, at all events——”

“Oh! if you can’t bear to be an eavesdropper, let it alone, and be made a
fool of! One goes out of one’s way solely out of pity for you, and you
must needs make difficulties! What is it to me? I’m not doing this for
myself! _I_ shall leave the house before night, in any case!”

Paul, steeling his heart, bent to the keyhole.

His pulses were raging and throbbing. He did not realise what was going
on, or what he was doing, or where he was.



CHAPTER VIII.


“So you were very gay, prince, at Natalia Dimitrievna’s?” asked Maria
Alexandrovna, surveying the battlefield before her; she was anxious to
begin the conversation as innocently as possible; but her heart beat loud
with hope and agitation.

After dinner the Prince had been carried off to the salon, where he was
first received in the morning. Maria Alexandrovna prided herself on this
room, and always used it on state occasions.

The old man, after his six glasses of champagne, was not very steady on
his legs; but he talked away all the more, for the same reason.

Surveying the field of battle before the fray, Maria Alexandrovna had
observed with satisfaction that the voluptuous old man had already begun
to regard Zina with great tenderness, and her maternal heart beat high
with joy.

“Oh! ch—charming—very gay indeed!” replied the prince, “and, do you know,
Nat—alia Dimitrievna is a wo—wonderful woman, a ch—charming woman!”

Howsoever busy with her own high thoughts and exalted ideas, Maria
Alexandrovna’s heart waxed wrathful to hear such a loud blast of praise on
her rival’s account.

“Oh! Prince,” she began, with flashing eyes, “if Natalia Dimitrievna is a
charming woman in your eyes, then I really don’t know _what_ to think!
After such a statement, dear Prince, you must not claim to know society
here—no, no!”

“Really! You sur—pr—prise me!”

“I assure you—I assure you, _mon cher_ Prince! Listen Zina, I must just
tell the prince that absurd story about what Natalia Dimitrievna did when
she was here last week. Dearest prince, I am not a scandal-monger, but I
must, I really _must_ tell you this, if only to make you laugh, and to
show you a living picture, as it were, of what people are like in this
place! Well, last week this Natalia Dimitrievna came to call upon me.
Coffee was brought in, and I had to leave the room for a moment—I forget
why—at all events, I went out. Now, I happened to have remarked how much
sugar there was in the silver sugar basin; it was quite full. Well, I came
back in a few minutes—looked at the sugar basin, and!——three lumps—three
little wretched lumps at the very bottom of the basin, prince!—and she was
all alone in the room, mind! Now that woman has a large house of her own,
and lots of money! Of course this is merely a funny story—but you can
judge from this what sort of people one has to deal with here!”

“N—no! you don’t mean it!” said the prince, in real astonishment. “What a
gr—eedy woman! Do you mean to say she ate it all up?”

“There, prince, and that’s your ‘charming woman!’ What do you think of
_that_ nice little bit of lady-like conduct? I think I should have died of
shame if I had ever allowed myself to do such a dirty thing as that!”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes! but, do you know, she is a real ‘_belle femme_’ all the
same!”

“What! Natalia Dimitrievna? My dear prince; why, she is a mere tub of a
woman! Oh! prince, prince! what have you said? I expected far better taste
of _you_, prince!”

“Ye—yes, tub—tub, of course! but she’s a n—nice figure, a nice figure! And
the girl who danced—oh! a nice figure too, a very nice figure of a
wo—woman!”

“What, Sonia? Why she’s a mere child, prince? She’s only thirteen years
old.”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes, of course; but her figure de—velops very fast—charming,
charming! And the other da—ancing girl, she’s de—veloping too—nicely:
she’s dirty rather—she might have washed her hands, but very at—tractive,
charming!” and the prince raised his glass again and hungrily inspected
Zina. “_Mais quelle charmante personne!_—what a lovely girl!” he muttered,
melting with satisfaction.

“Zina, play us something, or—better still, sing us a song! How she sings,
prince! she’s an artiste—a real artiste; oh if you only knew, dear
prince,” continued Maria Alexandrovna, in a half whisper, as Zina rose to
go to the piano with her stately but quiet gait and queenly composure,
which evidently told upon the old man; “if you only knew what a daughter
that is to me! how she can love; how tender, how affectionate she is to
me! what taste she has, what a heart!”

“Ye—yes! ye—yes! taste. And do you know, I have only known one woman in
all my life who could compare with her in love—liness. It was the late
C—ountess Nainsky: she died thirty years ago, a w—onderful woman, and her
beauty was quite sur—passing. She married her co—ook at last.”

“Her cook, prince?”

“Ye—yes, her cook, a Frenchman, abroad. She bought him a count’s title
a—broad; he was a good-looking fellow enough, with little moustaches——”

“And how did they get on?”

“Oh, very well indeed; however, they p—arted very soon; they quarrelled
about some sa—sauce. He robbed her—and bo—olted.”

“Mamma, what shall I play?” asked Zina.

“Better sing us something, Zina. _How_ she sings, prince! Do you like
music?”

“Oh, ye—yes! charming, charming. I love music pass—sionately. I knew
Beethoven, abroad.”

“Knew Beethoven!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, ecstatically. “Imagine, Zina,
the prince knew Beethoven! Oh, prince, did you really, _really_ know the
great Beethoven?”

“Ye—yes, we were great friends, Beet—hoven and I; he was always taking
snuff—such a funny fellow!”

“What, Beethoven?”

“Yes, Beethoven; or it may have been some other German fellow—I don’t
know; there are a great many Germans there. I forget.”

“Well, what shall I sing, mamma?” asked Zina again.

“Oh Zina darling, do sing us that lovely ballad all about knights, you
know, and the girl who lived in a castle and loved a troubadour. Don’t you
know! Oh, prince, how I do _love_ all those knightly stories and songs,
and the castles! Oh! the castles, and life in the middle ages, and the
troubadours, and heralds and all. Shall I accompany you, Zina? Sit down
near here, prince. Oh! those castles, those castles!”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes, castles; I love ca—astles too!” observed the prince,
staring at Zina all the while with the whole of his one eye, as if he
would like to eat her up at once. “But, good heavens,” he cried, “that
song! I know that s—song. I heard that song years—years ago! Oh! how that
song reminds me of so—omething. Oh, oh.”

I will not attempt to describe the ecstatic state of the prince while Zina
sang.

She warbled an old French ballad which had once been all the fashion. Zina
sang it beautifully; her lovely face, her glorious eyes, her fine sweet
contralto voice, all this went to the prince’s heart at once; and her dark
thick hair, her heaving bosom, her proud, beautiful, stately figure as she
sat at the piano, and played and sang, quite finished him. He never took
his eyes off her, he panted with excitement. His old heart, partially
revivified with champagne, with the music, and with awakening
recollections (and who is there who has no beloved memories of the past?),
his old heart beat faster and faster. It was long since it had last beat
in this way. He was ready to fall on his knees at her feet, when Zina
stopped singing, and he was almost in tears with various emotions.

“Oh, my charming, charming child,” he cried, putting his lips to her
fingers, “you have ra—vished me quite—quite! I remember all now. Oh
charming, charming child!——”

The poor prince could not finish his sentence.

Maria Alexandrovna felt that the moment had arrived for her to make a
move.

“Why, _why_ do you bury yourself alive as you do, prince?” she began,
solemnly. “So much taste, so much vital energy, so many rich gifts of the
mind and soul—and to hide yourself in solitude all your days; to flee from
mankind, from your friends. Oh, it is unpardonable! Prince, bethink
yourself. Look up at life again with open eyes. Call up your dear memories
of the past; think of your golden youth—your golden, careless, happy days
of youth! Wake them, wake them from the dead, Prince! and wake yourself,
too; and recommence life among men and women and society! Go abroad—to
Italy, to Spain, oh, to Spain, Prince! You must have a guide, a heart that
will love and respect, and sympathize with you! You have friends; summon
them about you! Give the word, and they will rally round you in crowds! I
myself will be the first to throw up everything, and answer to your cry! I
remembered our old friendship, my Prince; and I will sacrifice husband,
home, all, and follow you. Yes, and were I but young and lovely, like my
daughter here, I would be your fellow, your friend, your _wife_, if you
said but the word!”

“And I am convinced that you were a most charming creature in your day,
too!” said the prince, blowing his nose violently. His eyes were full of
tears.

“We live again in our children,” said Maria Alexandrovna, with great
feeling. “I, too, have my guardian angel, and that is this child, my
daughter, Prince, the partner of my heart and of all my thoughts! She has
refused seven offers because she is unwilling to leave me! So that she
will go too, when you accompany me abroad.”

“In that case, I shall certainly go abroad,” cried the prince with
animation. “As—suredly I shall go! And if only I could ve—venture to
hope—oh! you be—witching child, charming, be—witching child!” And the
prince recommenced to kiss Zina’s fingers. The poor old man was evidently
meditating going down on his knees before her.

“But, Prince,” began Maria Alexandrovna again, feeling that the
opportunity had arrived for another display of eloquence. “But, Prince,
you say, ‘If only I could flatter myself into indulging any hope!’ Why,
what a strange man you are, Prince. Surely you do not suppose that you are
unworthy the flattering attention of _any_ woman! It is not only youth
that constitutes true beauty. Remember that you are, so to speak, a chip
of the tree of aristocracy. You are a representative of all the most
knightly, most refined taste and culture and manners. Did not Maria fall
in love with the old man Mazeppa? I remember reading that Lauzun, that
fascinating marquis of the court of Louis (I forget which), when he was an
old, bent and bowed man, won the heart of one of the youngest and most
beautiful women about the court.

“And who told you you are an old man? Who taught you that nonsense? Do men
like you ever grow old? You, with your wealth of taste and wit, and
animation and vital energy and brilliant manners! Just you make your
appearance at some watering-place abroad with a young wife on your
arm—some lovely young girl like my Zina, for instance—of course I merely
mention her as an example, nothing more,—and you will see at once what a
colossal effect you will produce: you, a scion of our aristocracy; she a
beauty among beauties! You will lead her triumphantly on your arm; she,
perhaps, will sing in some brilliant assemblage; you will delight the
company with your wit. Why, all the people of the place will crowd to see
you! All Europe will ring with your renown, for every newspaper and
feuilleton at the Waters will be full of you. And yet you say, ‘If I could
but _venture_ to _hope_,’ indeed!”

“The feuilletons! yes—ye—yes, and the newspapers,” said the prince,
growing more and more feeble with love, but not understanding half of
Maria Alexandrovna’s tall talk. “But, my child, if you’re not tired, do
repeat that song which you have just sung so cha—armingly once more.”

“Oh! but, Prince, she has other lovely songs, still prettier ones; don’t
you remember _L’Hirondelle_? You must have heard it, haven’t you?”

“Ye—yes, I remember it; at least I’ve for—gotten it. No, no! the one you
have just sung. I don’t want the Hir—ondelle! I want that other song,”
whined the prince, just like any child.

Zina sang again.

This time the prince could not contain himself; he fell on his knees at
her feet, he cried, he sobbed:

“Oh, my beautiful _chatelaine_!” he cried in his shaky old voice—shaky
with old age and emotion combined. “Oh, my charming, charming
_chatelaine_! oh, my dear child! You have re—minded me of so much that is
long, long passed! I always thought then that things must be fairer in the
future than in the present. I used to sing duets with the vis—countess in
this very ballad! And now, oh! I don’t know what to do, I don’t know
_what_ to do!”

The prince panted and choked as he spoke; his tongue seemed to find it
difficult to move; some of his words were almost unintelligible. It was
clear that he was in the last stage of emotional excitement. Maria
Alexandrovna immediately poured oil on the fire.

“Why, Prince, I do believe you are falling in love with my Zina,” she
cried, feeling that the moment was a solemn one.

The prince’s reply surpassed her fondest expectations.

“I am madly in love with her!” cried the old man, all animated, of a
sudden. He was still on his knees, and he trembled with excitement as he
spoke. “I am ready to give my life for her! And if only I could hope, if
only I might have a little hope—I,—but, lift me up; I feel so weak. I—if
only she would give me the hope that I might offer her my heart, I—she
should sing ballads to me every day; and I could look at her, and look and
gaze and gaze at her.——Oh, my God! my God!”

“Prince, Prince! you are offering her your hand. You want to take her from
me, my Zina! my darling, my _ange_, my own dear child, Zina! No, Zina, no,
I can’t let you go! They must tear you from me, Zina. They must tear you
first from your mother’s arms!”

Maria Alexandrovna sprang to her daughter, and caught her up in a close
embrace, conscious, withal, of serious physical resistance on Zina’s part.
The fond mother was a little overdoing it.

Zina felt this with all her soul, and she looked on at the whole comedy
with inexpressible loathing.

However, she held her tongue, and that was all the fond mother required of
her.

“She has refused nine men because she will not leave me!” said Maria. “But
this time, I fear—my heart tells me that we are doomed to part! I noticed
just now how she looked at you, Prince. You have impressed her with your
aristocratic manner, with your refinement. Oh! Prince, you are going to
separate us—I feel it, I feel it!”

“I ad—ore her!” murmured the poor old man, still trembling like an
autumnal leaf.

“And you’ll consent to leave your mother!” cried Maria Alexandrovna,
throwing herself upon her daughter once more. Zina made haste to bring
this, to her, painful scene to an end. She stretched her pretty hand
silently to the prince, and even forced herself to smile. The prince
reverently took the little hand into his own, and covered it with kisses.

“I am only this mo—ment beginning to live,” he mutterred, in a voice that
seemed choking with rapture and ecstasy.

“Zina,” began Maria Alexandrovna, solemnly, “look well at this man! This
is the most honest and upright and noble man of all the men I know. He is
a knight of the middle ages! But she knows it, Prince, she knows it too
well; to my grief I say it. Oh! why did you come here? I am surrendering
my treasure to you—my angel! Oh! take care of her, Prince. Her mother
entreats you to watch over her. And what mother could blame my grief!”

“Enough, mamma! that’s enough,” said Zina, quietly.

“Protect her from all hurt and insult, Prince! Can I rely upon your sword
to flash in the face of the vile scandal-monger who dares to offend my
Zina?”

“Enough, mother, I tell you! am I——?”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes, it shall flash all right,” said the prince. “But I want
to be married now, at once. I—I’m only just learning what it is to live. I
want to send off to Donchanovo at once. I want to send for some di—iamonds
I have there. I want to lay them at her feet.——I——”

“What noble ardour! what ecstasy of love! what noble, generous feelings
you have, Prince!” cried Maria Alexandrovna. “And you could bury
yourself—_bury_ yourself, far from the world and society! I shall remind
you of this a thousand times! I go mad when I think of that _hellish_
woman.”

“What could I do? I was fri—ghtened!” stammered the prince in a whining
voice: “they wanted to put me in a lu—unatic asylum! I was dreadfully
alarmed!”

“In a lunatic asylum? Ah, the scoundrels! oh, the inhuman wretches! Ah,
the low cunning of them! Yes, Prince; I had heard of it. But the lunacy
was in these people, not in _you_. Why, _why_ was it—what for?”

“I don’t know myself, what it was for,” replied the poor old man, feebly
sinking into his chair; “I was at a ball, don’t you know, and told some
an—ecdote or other and they didn’t like it; and so they got up a scandal
and a ro—ow.”

“Surely that was not all, Prince?”

“No;—the—I was playing cards with Prince Paul De—mentieff, and I was
cleared out: you see, I had two kings and three quee—ns, three kings and
two qu—eens; or I should say—one king—and some queens—I know I had——.”

“And it was for this? Oh, the hellish inhumanity of some people! You are
weeping, Prince; but be of good cheer—it is all over now! Now I shall be
at hand, dearest Prince,—I shall not leave Zina; and we shall see which of
them will dare to say a word to you, _then_! And do you know, my Prince,
your marriage will expose them! it will shame them! They will see that you
are a man—that a lovely girl like our Zina would never have married a
madman! You shall raise your head proudly now, and look them straight in
the face!”

“Ye—yes; I shall look them straight in the f—ace!” murmured the prince,
slowly shutting his eyes.

Maria Alexandrovna saw that her work was done: the prince was tired out
with love and emotion. She was only wasting her eloquence!

“Prince, you are disturbed and tired, I see you are!” she said; “you must
rest, you must take a good rest after so much agitation,” she added,
bending over him maternally.

“Ye—yes, ye—yes; I should like to lie down a little,” said the old man.

“Of course, of course! you must lie down! those agitating scenes——stop, I
will escort you myself, and arrange your couch with my own hands! Why are
you looking so hard at that portrait, Prince? That is my mother’s picture;
she was an angel—not a woman! Oh, why is she not among us at this joyful
moment!”

“Ye—yes; charming—charming! Do you know, I had a mother too,—a princess,
and imagine! a re—markably, a re—markably fat woman she was; but that is
not what I was going to say,——I—I feel a little weak, and——Au revoir, my
charming child—to-morrow—to-day—I will—I—I—Au revoir, au revoir!” Here the
poor old fellow tried to kiss his hand, but slipped, and nearly fell over
the threshold of the door.

“Take care, dear Prince—take care! lean on my arm!” cried Maria
Alexandrovna.

“Charming, ch—arming!” he muttered, as he left the room. “I am only now
le—learning to live!”

Zina was left alone.

A terrible oppression weighed down her heart. She felt a sensation of
loathing which nearly suffocated her. She despised herself—her cheeks
burned. With folded hands, and teeth biting hard into her lips, she stood
in one spot, motionless. The tears of shame streamed from her eyes,——and
at this moment the door opened, and Paul Mosgliakoff entered the room!



CHAPTER IX.


He had heard all—_all_.

He did not actually enter the room, but stood at the door, pale with
excitement and fury. Zina looked at him in amazement.

“So that’s the sort of person you are!” he cried panting. “At last I have
found you out, have I?”

“Found me out?” repeated Zina, looking at him as though he were a madman.
Suddenly her eyes flashed with rage. “How dare you address me like that?”
she cried, advancing towards him.

“I have heard all!” said Mosgliakoff solemnly, but involuntarily taking a
step backwards.

“You heard? I see—you have been eavesdropping!” cried Zina, looking at him
with disdain.

“Yes, I have been eavesdropping! Yes—I consented to do a mean action, and
my reward is that I have found out that you, too, are——I don’t know how to
express to you what I think you!” he replied, looking more and more timid
under Zina’s eyes.

“And supposing that you _have_ heard all: what right have you to blame me?
What right have you to speak to me so insolently, in any case?”

“_I!_—_I?_ what right have _I_? and _you_ can ask me this? You are going
to marry this prince, and I have no right to say a word! Why, you gave me
your promise—is that nothing?”

“When?”

“How, when?”

“Did not I tell you that morning, when you came to me with your
sentimental nonsense—did I not tell you that I could give you no decided
answer?”

“But you did not reject me; you did not send me away. I see—you kept me
hanging in reserve, in case of need! You lured me into your net! I see, I
see it all!”

An expression of pain flitted over Zina’s careworn face, as though someone
had suddenly stabbed her to the heart; but she mastered her feelings.

“If I didn’t turn you out of the house,” she began deliberately and very
clearly, though her voice had a scarcely perceptible tremor in it, “I
refrained from such a course purely out of pity. You begged me yourself to
postpone, to give you time, not to say you ‘No,’ to study you better, and
‘then,’ you said, ‘then, when you know what a fine fellow I am, perhaps
you will not refuse me!’ These were your own words, or very like them, at
the very beginning of your courtship!—you cannot deny them! And now you
dare to tell me that I ‘lured you into my net,’ just as though you did not
notice my expression of loathing when you made your appearance this
morning! You came a fortnight sooner than I expected you, and I did not
hide my disgust; on the contrary, I made it evident—you must have noticed
it—I know you did; because you asked me whether I was angry because you
had come sooner than you promised! Let me tell you that people who do not,
and do not _care_ to, hide their loathing for a man can hardly be accused
of luring that man into their net! You dare to tell me that I was keeping
you in reserve! Very well; my answer to that is, that I judged of you like
this: ‘Though he may not be endowed with much intellect, still he may turn
out to be a good enough fellow; and if so, it might be possible to marry
him.’ However, being persuaded, now, that you are a fool, and a
_mischievous_ fool into the bargain,—having found out this fact, to my
great joy,—it only remains for me now to wish you every happiness and a
pleasant journey. Good-bye!”

With these words Zina turned her back on him, and deliberately made for
the door.

Mosgliakoff, seeing that all was lost, boiled over with fury.

“Oh! so I’m a fool!” he yelled; “I’m a fool, am I? Very well, good-bye!
But before I go, the whole town shall know of this! They shall all hear
how you and your mother made the old man drunk, and then swindled him! I
shall let the whole world know it! You shall see what Mosgliakoff can do!”

Zina trembled and stopped, as though to answer; but on reflection, she
contented herself by shrugging her shoulders; glanced contemptuously at
Mosgliakoff, and left the room, banging the door after her.

At this moment Maria Alexandrovna made her appearance. She heard
Mosgliakoff’s exclamation, and, divining at once what had happened,
trembled with terror. Mosgliakoff still in the house, and near the prince!
Mosgliakoff about to spread the news all over the town! At this moment,
when secrecy, if only for a short time, was essential! But Maria
Alexandrovna was quick at calculations: she thought, with an eagle flight
of the mind, over all the circumstances of the case, and her plan for the
pacification of Mosgliakoff was ready in an instant!

“What is it, _mon ami_?” she said, entering the room, and holding out her
hand to him with friendly warmth.

“How—‘_mon ami_?’ ” cried the enraged Mosgliakoff. “_Mon ami_, indeed! the
moment after you have abused and reviled me like a pickpocket! No, no! Not
quite so green, my good lady! I’m not to be so easily imposed upon again!”

“I am sorry, extremely sorry, to see you in such a _strange_ condition of
mind, Paul Alexandrovitch! What expressions you use! You do not take the
trouble to choose your words before ladies—oh, fie!”

“Before ladies? Ho ho! You—you are—you are anything you like—but not a
lady!” yelled Mosgliakoff.

I don’t quite know what he meant, but it was something very terrible, you
may be sure!

Maria Alexandrovna looked benignly in his face:

“Sit down!” she said, sorrowfully, showing him a chair, the same that the
old prince had reclined in a quarter of an hour before.

“But listen, _will_ you listen, Maria Alexandrovna? You look at me just as
though you were not the least to blame; in fact, as though _I_ were the
guilty party! Really, Maria Alexandrovna, this is a little _too_ much of a
good thing! No human being can stand that sort of thing, Maria
Alexandrovna! You must be aware of that fact!”

“My dear friend,” replied Maria Alexandrovna—“you will allow me to
continue to call you by that name, for you have no better friend than I
am!—my friend, you are suffering—you are amazed and bewildered; your heart
is sore, and therefore the tone of your remarks to me is perhaps not
surprising. But I have made up my mind to open my heart to you, especially
as I am, perhaps, in some degree to blame before you. Sit down; let us
talk it over!”

Maria Alexandrovna’s voice was tender to a sickly extent. Her face showed
the pain she was suffering. The amazed Mosgliakoff sat down beside her in
the arm-chair.

“You hid somewhere, and listened, I suppose?” she began, looking
reproachfully into his face.

“Yes I did, of course I did; and a good thing too! What a fool I should
have looked if I hadn’t! At all events now I know what you have been
plotting against me!” replied the injured man, rudely; encouraging and
supporting himself by his own fury.

“And you—and you—with your principles, and with your bringing up, could
condescend to such an action—Oh, oh!”

Mosgliakoff jumped up.

“Maria Alexandrovna, this is a little too much!” he cried. “Consider what
_you_ condescend to do, with _your_ principles, and _then_ judge of other
people.”

“One more question,” she continued, without replying to his outburst: “who
recommended you to be an eavesdropper; who told you anything; who is the
spy here? That’s what I wish to know!”

“Oh, excuse me; that I shall _not_ tell you!”

“Very well; I know already. I said, Paul, that I was in some degree to
blame before you. But if you look into the matter you will find that if I
am to blame it is solely in consequence of my anxiety to do you a good
turn!”

“_What?_ a good turn—_me_? No, no, madam! I assure you I am not to be
caught again! I’m not quite such a fool!”

He moved so violently in his arm-chair that it shook again.

“Now, do be cool, if you can, my good friend. Listen to me attentively,
and you will find that what I say is only the bare truth. In the first
place I was anxious to inform you of all that has just taken place, in
which case you would have learned everything, down to the smallest detail,
without being obliged to descend to eavesdropping! If I did not tell you
all before, it was simply because the whole matter was in an embryo
condition in my mind. It was then quite possible that what _has_ happened
would never happen. You see, I am quite open with you.

“In the second place, do not blame my daughter. She loves you to
distraction; and it was only by the exercise of my utmost influence that I
persuaded her to drop you, and accept the prince’s offer.”

“I have just had the pleasure of receiving convincing proof of her ‘love
to distraction!’ ” remarked Mosgliakoff, ironically and bitterly.

“Very well. But how did you speak to _her_? As a lover should speak?
Again, ought _any_ man of respectable position and tone to speak like
that? You insulted and wounded her!”

“Never mind about my ‘tone’ now! All I can say is that this morning, when
I went away with the prince, in spite of both of you having been as sweet
as honey to me before, you reviled me behind my back like a pickpocket!
_I_ know all about it, you see!”

“Yes, from the same dirty source, I suppose?” said Maria Alexandrovna,
smiling disdainfully. “Yes, Paul, I _did_ revile you: I pitched into you
considerably, and I admit it frankly. But it was simply that I was _bound_
to blacken you before her. Why? Because, as I have said, I required her to
consent to leave you, and this consent was so difficult to tear from her!
Short-sighted man that you are! If she had not loved you, why should I
have required so to blacken your character? Why should I have been obliged
to take this extreme step? Oh! you don’t know all! I was forced to use my
fullest maternal authority in order to erase you from her heart; and with
all my influence and skill I only succeeded in erasing your dear image
superficially and partially! If you saw and heard all just now, it cannot
have escaped you that Zina did not once, by either word or gesture,
encourage or confirm my words to the prince? Throughout the whole scene
she said not one word. She sang, but like an automaton! Her whole soul was
in anguish, and at last, out of pity for her, I took the prince away. I am
sure, she cried, when I left her alone! When you entered the room you must
have observed tears in her eyes?”

Mosgliakoff certainly did recall the fact that when he rushed into the
room Zina was crying.

“But you—_you_—why were _you_ so against me, Maria Alexandrovna?” he
cried. “Why did you revile me and malign me, as you admit you did?”

“Ah, now that’s quite a different question. Now, if you had only asked me
reasonably at the beginning, you should have had your answer long ago!
Yes, you are right. It was I, and I alone, who did it all. Do not think of
Zina in the matter. Now, _why_ did I do it? I reply, in the first place,
for Zina’s sake. The prince is rich, influential, has great connections,
and in marrying him Zina will make a brilliant match. Very well; then if
the prince dies—as perhaps he will die soon, for we are all mortal,—Zina
is still young, a widow, a princess, and probably very rich. Then she can
marry whom she pleases; she may make another brilliant match if she likes.
But of course she will marry the man she loves, and loved before, the man
whose heart she wounded by accepting the prince. Remorse alone would be
enough to make her marry the man whom she had loved and so deeply
injured!”

“Hem!” said Paul, gazing at his boots thoughtfully.

“In the second place,” continued Maria, “and I will put this shortly,
because, though you read a great deal of your beloved Shakespeare, and
extract his finest thoughts and ideals, yet you are very young, and
cannot, perhaps, apply what you read. You may not understand my feelings
in this matter: listen, however. _I_ am giving my Zina to this prince
partly for the prince’s own sake, because I wish to save him by this
marriage. We are old friends; he is the dearest and best of men, he is a
knightly, chivalrous gentleman, and he lives helpless and miserable in the
claws of that devil of a woman at Donchanovo! Heaven knows that I
persuaded Zina into this marriage by putting it to her that she would be
performing a great and noble action. I represented her as being the stay
and the comfort and the darling and the idol of a poor old man, who
probably would not live another year at the most! I showed her that thus
his last days should be made happy with love and light and friendship,
instead of wretched with fear and the society of a detestable woman. Oh!
do not blame Zina. She is guiltless. I am not—I admit it; for if there
have been calculations it is I who have made them! But I calculated for
her, Paul; for her, not myself! I have outlived my time; I have thought
but for my child, and what mother could blame me for this?” Tears sparkled
in the fond mother’s eyes. Mosgliakoff listened in amazement to all this
eloquence, winking his eyes in bewilderment.

“Yes, yes, of course! You talk well, Maria Alexandrovna, but you
forget—you gave me your word, you encouraged me, you gave me my hopes; and
where am I now? I have to stand aside and look a fool!”

“But, my dear Paul, you don’t surely suppose that I have not thought of
you too! Don’t you see the huge, immeasurable gain to yourself in all
this? A gain so vast that I was bound in your interest to act as I did!”

“Gain for me! How so?” asked Paul, in the most abject state of confusion
and bewilderment.

“Gracious Heavens! do you mean to say you are really so simple and so
short-sighted as to be unable to see _that_?” cried Maria Alexandrovna,
raising her eyes to the ceiling in a pious manner. “Oh! youth, youth!
That’s what comes of steeping one’s soul in Shakespeare! You ask me, my
dear friend Paul, where is the gain to you in all this. Allow me to make a
little digression. Zina loves you—that is an undoubted fact. But I have
observed that at the same time, and in spite of her evident love, she is
not quite sure of your good feeling and devotion to her; and for this
reason she is sometimes cold and self-restrained in your presence. Have
you never observed this yourself, Paul?”

“Certainly; I did this very day; but go on, what do you deduce from that
fact?”

“There, you see! you have observed it yourself; then of course I am right.
She is not quite sure of the _lasting_ quality of your feeling for her! I
am a mother, and I may be permitted to read the heart of my child. Now,
then, supposing that instead of rushing into the room and reproaching,
vilifying, even _swearing_ at and insulting this sweet, pure, beautiful,
proud being, instead of hurling contempt and vituperation at her
head—supposing that instead of all this you had received the bad news with
composure, with tears of grief, maybe; perhaps even with despair—but at
the same time with noble composure of soul——”

“H’m!”

“No, no—don’t interrupt me! I wish to show you the picture as it is. Very
well, supposing, then, that you had come to her and said, ‘Zina, I love
you better than my life, but family considerations must separate us; I
understand these considerations—they are devised for your greater
happiness, and I dare not oppose them. Zina, I forgive you; be happy, if
you can!’—think what effect such noble words would have wrought upon her
heart!”

“Yes—yes, that’s all very true, I quite understand that much! but if I
_had_ said all this, I should have had to go all the same, without
satisfaction!”

“No, no, no! don’t interrupt me! I wish to show you the _whole_ picture in
all its detail, in order to impress you fully and satisfactorily. Very
well, then, imagine now that you meet her in society some time afterwards:
you meet perhaps at a ball—in the brilliant light of a ball-room, under
the soothing strains of music, and in the midst of worldly women and of
all that is gay and beautiful. You alone are sad—thoughtful—pale,—you lean
against some pillar (where you are visible, however!) and watch her. She
is dancing. You hear the strains of Strauss, and the wit and merriment
around you, but you are sad and wretched.

“What, think you, will Zina make of it? With what sort of eyes will she
gaze on you as you stand there? ‘And I could doubt this man!’ she will
think, ‘this man who sacrificed all, all, for my sake—even to the mortal
wounding of his heart!’ Of course the old love will awake in her bosom and
will swell with irresistible power!”

Maria Alexandrovna stopped to take breath. Paul moved violently from side
to side of his chair.

“Zina now goes abroad for the benefit of the prince’s health—to Italy—to
Spain,” she continued, “where the myrtle and the lemon tree grow, where
the sky is so blue, the beautiful Guadalquiver flows! to the land of love,
where none can live without loving; where roses and kisses—so to
speak—breathe in the very air around. You follow her—you sacrifice your
business, friends, everything, and follow her. And so your love grows and
increases with irresistible might. Of course that love is
irreproachable—innocent—you will languish for one another—you will meet
frequently; of course others will malign and vilify you both, and call
your love by baser names—but your love is innocent, as I have purposely
said; I am her mother—it is not for me to teach you evil, but good. At all
events the prince is not in the condition to keep a very sharp look-out
upon you; but if he did, as if there would be the slightest ground for
base suspicion? Well, the prince dies at last, and then, who will marry
Zina, if not yourself? You are so distant a relative of the prince’s that
there could be no obstacle to the match; you marry her—she is young still,
and rich. You are a grandee in an instant! you, too, are rich now! I will
take care that the prince’s will is made as it should be; and lastly,
Zina, now convinced of your loyalty and faithfulness, will look on you
hereafter as her hero, as her paragon of virtue and self-sacrifice! Oh!
you must be blind,—_blind_, not to observe and calculate your own profit
when it lies but a couple of strides from you, grinning at you, as it
were, and saying, ‘Here, I am yours, take me! Oh, Paul, Paul!’ ”

“Maria Alexandrovna!” cried Mosgliakoff, in great agitation and
excitement, “I see it all! I have been rude, and a fool, and a scoundrel
too!” He jumped up from his chair and tore his hair.

“Yes, and unbusinesslike, that’s the chief thing—unbusinesslike, and
blindly so!” added Maria Alexandrovna.

“I’m an ass! Maria Alexandrovna,” he cried in despair. “All is lost now,
and I loved her to madness!”

“Maybe all is not lost yet!” said this successful orator softly, and as
though thinking out some idea.

“Oh! if only it could be so! help me—teach me. Oh! save me, save me!”

Mosgliakoff burst into tears.

“My dear boy,” said Maria Alexandrovna, sympathetically, and holding out
her hand, “you acted impulsively, from the depth and heat of your
passion—in fact, out of your great love for her; you were in despair, you
had forgotten yourself; she must understand all that!”

“Oh! I love her madly! I am ready to sacrifice everything for her!” cried
Mosgliakoff.

“Listen! I will justify you before her.”

“Oh, Maria Alexandrovna!”

“Yes, I will. I take it upon myself! You come with me, and you shall tell
her exactly what I said!”

“Oh, how kind, how good you are! Can’t we go at once, Maria Alexandrovna?”

“Goodness gracious, no! What a very green hand you are, Paul! She’s far
too proud! she would take it as a new rudeness and impertinence! To-morrow
I shall arrange it all comfortably for you: but now, couldn’t you get out
of the way somewhere for a while, to that godfather of yours, for
instance? You could come back in the evening, if you pleased; but my
advice would be to stay away!”

“Yes, yes! I’ll go—of course! Good heavens, you’ve made a man of me
again!—Well, but look here—one more question:—What if the prince does
_not_ die so soon?”

“Oh, my dear boy, how delightfully naïve you are! On the contrary, we must
pray for his good health! We must wish with all our hearts for long life
to this dear, good, and chivalrous old man! I shall be the first to pray
day and night for the happiness of my beloved daughter! But alas! I fear
the prince’s case is hopeless; you see, they must visit the capital now,
to bring Zina out into society.—I dreadfully fear that all this may prove
fatal to him; however, we’ll pray, Paul, we can’t do more, and the rest is
in the hands of a kind Providence. You see what I mean? Very
well—good-bye, my dear boy, bless you! Be a man, and wait patiently—be a
man, that’s the chief thing! I never doubted your generosity of character;
but be brave—good-bye!” She pressed his hand warmly, and Mosgliakoff
walked out of the room on tip-toes.

“There goes _one_ fool, got rid of satisfactorily!” observed Maria
Alexandrovna to herself,—“but there are more behind——!”

At this moment the door opened, and Zina entered the room. She was paler
than usual, and her eyes were all ablaze.

“Mamma!” she said, “be quick about this business, or I shall not be able
to hold out. It is all so dirty and mean that I feel I must run out of the
house if it goes on. Don’t drive me to desperation! I warn you—don’t weary
me out—don’t weary me out!”

“Zina—what is it, my darling? You—you’ve been listening?” cried Maria
Alexandrovna, gazing intently and anxiously at her daughter.

“Yes, I have; but you need not try to make me ashamed of myself as you
succeeded in doing with that fool. Now listen: I solemnly swear that if
you worry and annoy me by making me play various mean and odious parts in
this comedy of yours,—I swear to you that I will throw up the whole
business and put an end to it in a moment. It is quite enough that I have
consented to be a party in the main and essence of the base transactions;
but—but—I did not know myself, I am poisoned and suffocated with the
stench of it!”—So saying, she left the room and banged the door after her.

Maria Alexandrovna looked fixedly after her for a moment, and reflected.

“I must make haste,” she cried, rousing herself; “_she_ is the greatest
danger and difficulty of all! If these detestable people do not let us
alone, instead of acting the town-criers all over the place (as I fear
they are doing already!)—all will be lost! She won’t stand the worry of
it—she’ll drop the business altogether!—At all hazards, I must get the
prince to the country house, and that quickly, too! I shall be off there
at once, first, and bring my fool of a husband up: he shall be made useful
for once in his life! Meanwhile the prince shall have his sleep out, and
when he wakes up I shall be back and ready to cart him away bodily!”

She rang the bell.

“Are the horses ready?” she inquired of the man.

“Yes, madam, long ago!” said the latter.

She had ordered the carriage the moment after she had taken the prince
upstairs.

Maria Alexandrovna dressed hurriedly, and then looked in at Zina’s room
for a moment, before starting, in order to tell her the outlines of her
plan of operations, and at the same time to give Zina a few necessary
instructions. But her daughter could not listen to her. She was lying on
her bed with face hidden in the pillows, crying, and was tearing her
beautiful hair with her long white hands: occasionally she trembled
violently for a moment, as though a blast of cold had passed through all
her veins. Her mother began to speak to her, but Zina did not even raise
her head!

Having stood over her daughter in a state of bewilderment for some little
while, Maria Alexandrovna left the room; and to make up for lost time bade
the coachman drive like fury, as she stepped into the carriage.

“I don’t quite like Zina having listened!” she thought as she rattled
away. “I gave Mosgliakoff very much the same argument as to herself: she
is proud, and may easily have taken offence! H’m! Well, the great thing is
to be in time with all the arrangements,—before people know what I am up
to! Good heavens, fancy, if my fool of a husband were to be out!!”

And at the very thought of such a thing, Maria Alexandrovna’s rage so
overcame her that it was clear her poor husband would fare badly for his
sins if he proved to be not at home! She twisted and turned in her place
with impatience,—the horses almost galloped with the carriage at their
heels.



CHAPTER X.


On they flew.

I have said already that this very day, on her first drive after the
prince, Maria Alexandrovna had been inspired with a great idea! and I
promised to reveal this idea in its proper place. But I am sure the reader
has guessed it already!—It was, to “confiscate” the prince in her turn,
and carry him off to the village where, at this moment, her husband
Afanassy Matveyevitch vegetated alone.

I must admit that our heroine was growing more and more anxious as the day
went on; but this is often the case with heroes of all kinds, just before
they attain their great ends! Some such instinct whispered to her that it
was not safe to remain in Mordasoff another hour, if it could be
avoided;—but once in the country house, the whole town might go mad and
stand on its head, for all she cared!

Of course she must not lose time, even there! All sorts of things might
happen—even the police might interfere. (Reader, I shall never believe,
for my part, that my heroine really had the slightest fear of the vulgar
police force; but as it has been rumoured in Mordasoff that at this moment
such a thought _did_ pass through her brain, why, I must record the fact.)

In a word she saw clearly that Zina’s marriage with the prince must be
brought about at once, without delay! It was easily done: the priest at
the village should perform the ceremony; why not the day after to-morrow?
or indeed, in case of need, to-morrow? Marriages had often been brought
about in less time than this—in two hours, she had heard! It would be easy
enough to persuade the prince that haste and simplicity would be in far
better taste than all the usual pomps and vanities of common everyday
weddings. In fact, she relied upon her skill in putting the matter to the
old man as a fitting dramatic issue to a romantic story of love, and thus
to touch the most sensitive string of his chivalrous heart.

In case of absolute need there was always the possibility of making him
drunk, or rather of _keeping_ him perpetually drunk. And then, come what
might, Zina would be a princess! And if this marriage were fated to
produce scandal among the prince’s relations and friends in St. Petersburg
and Moscow, Maria Alexandrovna comforted herself with the reflection that
marriages in high life nearly always _were_ productive of scandal; and
that such a result might fairly be looked upon as “good form,” and as
peculiar to aristocratic circles.

Besides, she felt sure that Zina need only show herself in society, with
her mamma to support her, and every one of all those countesses and
princes should very soon either acknowledge her of their own accord, or
yield to the head-washing that Maria Alexandrovna felt herself so
competent to give to any or all of them, individually or collectively.

It was in consequence of these reflections that Maria Alexandrovna was now
hastening with all speed towards her village, in order to bring back
Afanassy Matveyevitch, whose presence she considered absolutely necessary
at this crisis. It was desirable that her husband should appear and invite
the prince down to the country: she relied upon the appearance of the
father of the family, in dress-coat and white tie, hastening up to town on
the first rumours of the prince’s arrival there, to produce a very
favourable impression upon the old man’s self-respect: it would flatter
him; and after such a courteous action, followed by a polite and
warmly-couched invitation to the country, the prince would hardly refuse
to go.

At last the carriage stopped at the door of a long low wooden house,
surrounded by old lime trees. This was the country house, Maria
Alexandrovna’s village residence.

Lights were burning inside.

“Where’s my old fool?” cried Maria Alexandrovna bursting like a hurricane
into the sitting-room.

“Whats this towel lying here for?—Oh!—he’s been wiping his head, has he.
What, the baths again! and tea—of course tea!—always tea! Well, what are
you winking your eyes at me for, you old fool?—Here, why is his hair not
cropped? Grisha, Grisha!—here; why didn’t you cut your master’s hair, as I
told you?”

Maria Alexandrovna, on entering the room, had intended to greet her
husband more kindly than this; but seeing that he had just been to the
baths and that he was drinking tea with great satisfaction, as usual, she
could not restrain her irritable feelings.

She felt the contrast between her own activity and intellectual energy,
and the stolid indifference and sheep-like contentedness of her husband,
and it went to her heart!

Meanwhile the “old fool,” or to put it more politely, he who had been
addressed by that title, sat at the tea-urn, and stared with open mouth,
in abject alarm, opening and shutting his lips as he gazed at the wife of
his bosom, who had almost petrified him by her sudden appearance.

At the door stood the sleepy, fat Grisha, looking on at the scene, and
blinking both eyes at periodical intervals.

“I couldn’t cut his hair as you wished, because he wouldn’t let me!” he
growled at last. “ ‘You’d better let me do it!’—I said, ‘or the
mistress’ll be down one of these days, and then we shall both catch it!’ ”

“No,” he says, “I want it like this now, and you shall cut it on Sunday. I
like it long!”

“What!—So you wish to curl it without my leave, do you! What an idea—as if
you could wear curls with your sheep-face underneath! Good gracious, what
a mess you’ve made of the place; and what’s the smell—what have you been
doing, idiot, eh!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, waxing more and more angry,
and turning furiously upon the wretched and perfectly innocent Afanassy!

“Mam—mammy!” muttered the poor frightened master of the house, gazing with
frightened eyes at the mistress, and blinking with all his might—“mammy!”

“How many times have I dinned into your stupid head that I am _not_ your
‘mammy.’ How can I be your mammy, you idiotic pigmy? How dare you call a
noble lady by such a name; a lady whose proper place is in the highest
circles, not beside an ass like yourself!”

“Yes—yes,—but—but, you _are_ my legal wife, you know, after all;—so I—it
was husbandly affection you know——” murmured poor Afanassy, raising both
hands to his head as he spoke, to defend his hair from the tugs he
evidently expected.

“Oh, idiot that you are! did anyone ever hear such a ridiculous answer as
that—legal wife, indeed! Who ever heard the expression ‘_legal_ wife,’ in
good society—nasty low expression! And how dare you remind me that I am
your wife, when I use all my power and do all I possibly can at every
moment to forget the fact, eh? What are you covering your head with your
hands for? Look at his hair—now: wet, as wet as reeds! it will take three
hours to dry that head! How on earth am I to take him like this? How can
he show his face among respectable people? What am I to do?”

And Maria Alexandrovna bit her finger-nails with rage as she walked
furiously up and down the room.

It was no very great matter, of course; and one that was easily set right;
but Maria Alexandrovna required a vent for her feelings and felt the need
of emptying out her accumulated wrath upon the head of the wretched
Afanassy Matveyevitch; for tyranny is a habit recallable at need.

Besides, everyone knows how great a contrast there is between the
sweetness and refinement shown by many ladies of a certain class on the
stage, as it were, of society life, and the revelations of character
behind the scenes at home; and I was anxious to bring out this contrast
for my reader’s benefit.

Afanassy watched the movements of his terrible spouse in fear and
trembling; perspiration formed upon his brow as he gazed.

“Grisha!” she cried at last, “dress your master this instant! Dress-coat,
black trousers, white waistcoat and tie, quick! Where’s his
hairbrush—quick, quick!”

“Mam—my! Why, I’ve just been to the bath. I shall catch cold if I go up to
town just now!”

“You won’t catch cold!”

“But—mammy, my hair’s quite wet!”

“We’ll dry it in a minute. Here, Grisha, take this brush and brush away
till he’s dry,—harder—harder—much harder! There, that’s better!”

Grisha worked like a man. For the greater convenience of his herculean
task he seized his master’s shoulder with one hand as he rubbed violently
with the other. Poor Afanassy grunted and groaned and almost wept.

“Now, then, lift him up a bit. Where’s the pomatum? Bend your head,
duffer!—bend lower, you abject dummy!” And Maria Alexandrovna herself
undertook to pomade her husband’s hair, ploughing her hands through it
without the slightest pity. Afanassy heartily wished that his shock growth
had been cut. He winced, and groaned and moaned, but did not cry out under
the painful operation.

“You suck my life-blood out of me—bend lower, you idiot!” remarked the
fond wife—“bend lower still, I tell you!”

“How have I sucked your life blood?” asked the victim, bending his head as
low as circumstances permitted.

“Fool!—allegorically, of course—can’t you understand? Now, then, comb it
yourself. Here, Grisha, dress him, quick!”

Our heroine threw herself into an arm-chair, and critically watched the
ceremony of adorning her husband. Meanwhile the latter had a little
opportunity to get his breath once more and compose his feelings
generally; so that when matters arrived at the point where the tie is
tied, he had even developed so much audacity as to express opinions of his
own as to how the bow should be manufactured.

At last, having put his dress-coat on, the lord of the manor was his brave
self again, and gazed at his highly ornate person in the glass with great
satisfaction and complacency.

“Where are you going to take me to?” he now asked, smiling at his
reflected self.

Maria Alexandrovna could not believe her ears.

“What—_what_? How _dare_ you ask me where I am taking you to, sir!”

“But—mammy—I must know, you know——”

“Hold your tongue! You let me hear you call me mammy again, especially
where we are going to now! you sha’n’t have any tea for a month!”

The frightened consort held his peace.

“Look at that, now! You haven’t got a single ’order’ to put on—sloven!”
she continued, looking at his black coat with contempt.

“The Government awards orders, mammy; and I am not a sloven, but a town
councillor!” said Afanassy, with a sudden excess of noble wrath.

“What, what—_what_! So you’ve learned to argue now, have you—you mongrel,
you? However, I haven’t time to waste over you now, or I’d——but I sha’n’t
forget it. Here, Grisha, give him his fur coat and his hat—quick; and look
here, Grisha, when I’m gone, get these three rooms ready, and the green
room, and the corner bedroom. Quick—find your broom; take the coverings
off the looking-glasses and clocks, and see that all is ready and tidy
within an hour. Put on a dress coat, and see that the other men have
gloves: don’t lose time. Quick, now!”

She entered the carriage, followed by Afanassy. The latter sat bewildered
and lost.

Meanwhile Maria Alexandrovna reflected as to how best she could drum into
her husband’s thick skull certain essential instructions with regard to
the present situation of affairs. But Afanassy anticipated her.

“I had a very original dream to-day, Maria Alexandrovna,” he observed
quite unexpectedly, in the middle of a long silence.

“Tfu! idiot. I thought you were going to say something of terrific
interest, from the look of you. Dream, indeed! How dare you mention your
miserable dreams to me! Original, too! Listen here: if you dare so much as
remind me of the word ‘dream,’ or say anything else, either, where we are
going to-day, I—I don’t know _what_ I won’t do to you! Now, look here:
Prince K. has arrived at my house. Do you remember Prince K.?”

“Oh, yes, mammy, I remember; and why has he done us this honour?”

“Be quiet; that’s not your business. Now, you are to invite him, with all
the amiability you can, to come down to our house in the country, at once!
That is what I am taking you up for. And if you dare so much as breathe
another word of any kind, either to-day or to-morrow, or next day, without
leave from me, you shall herd geese for a whole year. You’re not to say a
single word, mind! and that’s all you have to think of. Do you understand,
now?”

“Well, but if I’m asked anything?”

“Hold your tongue all the same!”

“Oh, but I can’t do that—I can’t do——”

“Very well, then; you can say ‘H’m,’ or something of that sort, to give
them the idea that you are very wise indeed, and like to think well before
answering.”

“H’m.”

“Understand me, now. I am taking you up because you are to make it appear
that you have just heard of the prince’s visit, and have hastened up to
town in a transport of joy to express your unbounded respect and gratitude
to him, and to invite him at once to your country house! Do you understand
me?”

“H’m.”

“I don’t want you to say ‘H’m’ _now_, you fool! You must answer _me_ when
I speak!”

“All right—all right, mammy. All shall be as you wish; but why am I to ask
the prince down?”

“What—what! arguing again. What business is it of yours _why_ you are to
invite him? How dare you ask questions!”

“Why it’s all the same thing, mammy. How am I to invite him if I must not
say a word?”

“Oh, I shall do all the talking. All you have to do is to bow. Do you
hear? _Bow_; and hold your hat in your hand and look polite. Do you
understand, or not?”

“I understand, mam—Maria-Alexandrovna.”

“The prince is very witty, indeed; so mind, if he says anything either to
yourself or anyone else, you are to laugh cordially and merrily. Do you
hear me?”

“H’m.”

“Don’t say ‘H’m’ to _me_, I tell you. You are to answer me plainly and
simply. Do you hear me, or not?”

“Yes, yes; I hear you, of course. That’s all right. I only say ‘H’m,’ for
practice; I want to get into the way of saying it. But look here, mammy,
it’s all very well; you say I’m not to speak, and if he speaks to me I’m
to look at him and laugh—but what if he asks me a question?”

“Oh—you dense log of a man! I tell you again, you are to be quiet. _I’ll_
answer for you. You have simply got to look polite, and smile!”

“But he’ll think I am dumb!” said Afanassy.

“Well, and what if he does. Let him! You’ll conceal the fact that you are
a fool, anyhow!”

“H’m, and if _other_ people ask me questions?”

“No one will; there’ll be no one to ask you. But if there _should_ be
anyone else in the room, and they ask you questions, all you have to do is
to smile sarcastically. Do you know what a sarcastic smile is?”

“What, a witty sort of smile, is it, mammy?”

“I’ll let you know about it! _Witty_, indeed! Why, who would think of
expecting anything witty from a fool like you. No, sir, a jesting
smile—_jesting_ and _contemptuous_!”

“H’m.”

“Good heavens. I’m afraid for this idiot,” thought Maria Alexandrovna to
herself. “I really think it would have been almost better to leave him
behind, after all.” So thinking, nervous and anxious, Maria Alexandrovna
drove on. She looked out of the window, and she fidgeted, and she bustled
the coachman up. The horses were almost flying through the air; but to her
they appeared to be crawling. Afanassy sat silent and thoughtful in the
corner of the carriage, practising his lessons. At last the carriage
arrived at the town house.

Hardly, however, had Maria Alexandrovna mounted the outer steps when she
became aware of a fine pair of horses trotting up—drawing a smart sledge
with a hood to it. In fact, the very “turn-out” in which Anna Nicolaevna
Antipova was generally to be seen.

Two ladies sat in the sledge. One of these was, of course, Mrs. Antipova
herself; the other was Natalia Dimitrievna, of late the great friend and
ally of the former lady.

Maria Alexandrovna’s heart sank.

But she had no time to say a word, before another smart vehicle drove up,
in which there reclined yet another guest. Exclamations of joy and delight
were now heard.

“Maria Alexandrovna! and Afanassy Matveyevitch! Just arrived, too! Where
from? How extremely delightful! And here we are, you see, just driven up
at the right moment. We are going to spend the evening with you. What a
delightful surprise.”

The guests alighted and fluttered up the steps like so many swallows.

Maria Alexandrovna could neither believe her eyes nor her ears.

“Curse you all!” she said to herself. “This looks like a plot—it must be
seen to; but it takes more than a flight of magpies like _you_ to get to
windward of _me_. Wait a little!!”



CHAPTER XI.


Mosgliakoff went out from Maria Alexandrovna’s house to all appearances
quite pacified. She had fired his ardour completely. His imagination was
kindled.

He did not go to his godfather’s, for he felt the need of solitude. A
terrific rush of heroic and romantic thoughts surged over him, and gave
him no rest.

He pictured to himself the solemn explanation he should have with Zina,
then the generous throbs of his all-forgiving heart; his pallor and
despair at the future ball in St. Petersburg; then Spain, the
Guadalquiver, and love, and the old dying prince joining their hands with
his last blessing. Then came thoughts of his beautiful wife, devoted to
himself, and never ceasing to wonder at and admire her husband’s heroism
and exalted refinement of taste and conduct. Then, among other things, the
attention which he should attract among the ladies of the highest circles,
into which he would of course enter, thanks to his marriage with
Zina—widow of the Prince K.: then the inevitable appointments, first as a
vice-governor, with the delightful accompaniment of salary: in a word,
all, _all_ that Maria Alexandrovna’s eloquence had pictured to his
imagination, now marched in triumphant procession through his brain,
soothing and attracting and flattering his self-love.

And yet—(I really cannot explain this phenomenon, however!)—and yet, no
sooner did the first flush of this delightful sunrise of future delights
pass off and fade away, than the annoying thought struck him: this is all
very well, but it is in the future: and now, to-day, I shall look a
dreadful fool. As he reflected thus, he looked up and found that he had
wandered a long way, to some of the dirty back slums of the town. A wet
snow was falling; now and again he met another belated pedestrian like
himself. The outer circumstances began to anger Mosgliakoff, which was a
bad sign; for when things are going well with us we are always inclined to
see everything in a rose-coloured light.

Paul could not help remembering that up to now he had been in the habit of
cutting a dash at Mordasoff. He had enjoyed being treated at all the
houses he went to in the town, as Zina’s accepted lover, and to be
congratulated, as he often was, upon the honour of that distinction. He
was proud of being her future husband; and here he was now with notice to
quit. He would be laughed at. He couldn’t tell everybody about the future
scene in the ball-room at St. Petersburg, and the Guadalquiver, and all
that! And then a thought came out into prominence, which had been
uncomfortably fidgeting about in his brain for some time: “Was it all
true? _Would_ it really come about as Maria Alexandrovna had predicted?”

Here it struck him that Maria Alexandrovna was an amazingly cunning woman;
that, however worthy she might be of universal esteem, still she was a
known scandal-monger, and lied from morning to night! that, again, she
probably had some good reason for wishing him out of the place to-night.
He next bethought him of Zina, and of her parting look at him, which was
very far from being expressive of passionate love; he remembered also,
that, less than an hour ago she had called him a fool.

As he thought of the last fact Paul stopped in his tracks, as though shot;
blushed, and almost cried for very shame! At this very moment he was
unfortunate enough to lose his footing on the slippery pavement, and to go
head-first into a snow-heap. As he stood shaking himself dry, a whole
troop of dogs, which had long trotted barking at his heels, flew at him.
One of them, a wretched little half-starved beast, went so far as to fix
her teeth into his fur coat and hang therefrom. Swearing and striking out,
Paul cleared his way out of the yelping pack at last, in a fury, and with
rent clothes; and making his way as fast as he could to the corner of the
street, discovered that he hadn’t the slightest idea where he was. He
walked up lanes, and down streets, and round corners, and lost himself
more and more hopelessly; also his temper. “The devil take all these
confounded exalted ideas!” he growled, half aloud; “and the archfiend take
every one of you, you and your Guadalquivers and humbug!”

Mosgliakoff was not in a pretty humour at this moment.

At last, tired and horribly angry, after two hours of walking, he reached
the door of Maria Alexandrovna’s house.

Observing a host of carriages standing outside, he paused to consider.

“Surely she has not a party to-night!” he thought, “and if she has, _why_
has she a party?”

He inquired of the servants, and found out that Maria Alexandrovna had
been out of town, and had fetched up Afanassy Matveyevitch, gorgeous in
his dress-suit and white tie. He learned, further, that the prince was
awake, but had not as yet made his appearance in the “salon.”

On receiving this information, Paul Mosgliakoff said not a word, but
quietly made his way upstairs to his uncle’s room.

He was in that frame of mind in which a man determines to commit some
desperate act, out of revenge, aware at the time, and wide awake to the
fact that he is about to do the deed, but forgetting entirely that he may
very likely regret it all his life afterwards!

Entering the prince’s room, he found that worthy seated before the glass,
with a perfectly bare head, but with whiskers and napoleon stuck on. His
wig was in the hands of his old and grey valet, his favourite Ivan
Pochomitch, and the latter was gravely and thoughtfully combing it out.

As for the prince, he was indeed a pitiable object! He was not half awake
yet, for one thing; he sat as though he were still dazed with sleep; he
kept opening and shutting his mouth, and stared at Mosgliakoff as though
he did not know him!

“Well, how are you, uncle?” asked Mosgliakoff.

“What, it’s you, is it!” said the prince. “Ye—yes; I’ve been as—leep a
little while! Oh, heavens!” he cried suddenly, with great animation, “why,
I’ve got no wi—ig on!”

“Oh, never mind that, uncle; I’ll help you on with it, if you like!”

“Dear me; now you’ve found out my se—ecret! I told him to shut the door.
Now, my friend, you must give me your word in—stantly, that you’ll never
breathe a hint of this to anyone—I mean about my hair being ar—tificial!”

“Oh, uncle! As if I could be guilty of such meanness?” cried Paul, who was
anxious to please the prince, for reasons of his own.

“Ye—yes, ye—yes. Well, as I see you are a good fe—ellow, I—I’ll just
as—tonish you a little: I’ll tell you all my secrets! How do you like my
mous—tache, my dear boy?”

“Wonderful, uncle, wonderful! It astonishes me that you should have been
able to keep it so long!”

“Sp—are your wonder, my friend, it’s ar—tificial!”

“No!! That’s difficult to believe! Well, and your whiskers, uncle!
admit—you black them, now _don’t_ you?”

“Black them? Not—only I don’t black them, but they, too, are ar—tificial!”
said the Prince, regarding Mosgliakoff with a look of triumph.

“_What!_ Artificial? No, no, uncle! I can’t believe _that_! You’re
laughing at me!”

“_Parole d’honneur, mon ami!_” cried the delighted old man; “and fancy,
all—everybody is taken in by them just as you were! Even Stepanida
Matveyevna cannot believe they are not real, sometimes, although she often
sticks them on herself! But, I am sure, my dear friend, you will keep my
se—cret. Give me your word!”

“I do give you my word, uncle! But surely you do not suppose I would be so
mean as to divulge it?”

“Oh, my boy! I had such a fall to-day, without you. The coachman upset me
out of the carriage again!”

“How? When?”

“Why, we were driving to the mo—nastery, when?——”

“I know, uncle: that was early this morning!”

“No, no! A couple of hours ago, not more! I was driving along with him,
and he suddenly took and up—set me!”

“Why, my dear uncle, you were asleep,” began Paul, in amazement!

“Ye—yes, ye—yes. I did have a sleep; and then I drove away, at least I—at
least I—dear me, how strange it all seems!”

“I assure you, uncle, you have been dreaming! You saw all this in a dream!
You have been sleeping quietly here since just after dinner!”

“No!” And the prince reflected. “Ye—yes. Perhaps I did see it all in a
dream! However, I can remember all I saw quite well. First, I saw a large
bull with horns; and then I saw a pro—curor, and I think he had huge horns
too. Then there was Napoleon Buonaparte. Did you ever hear, my boy, that
people say I am so like Napoleon Buonaparte? But my profile is very like
some old pope. What do you think about it, my bo—oy?”

“I think you are much more like Napoleon Buonaparte, uncle!”

“Why, ye—yes, of course—full face; so I am, my boy, so I am! I dreamt of
him on his is—land, and do you know he was such a merry, talk—ative
fellow, he quite am—used me!”

“Who, uncle—Napoleon?” asked Mosgliakoff, looking thoughtfully at the old
man. A strange idea was beginning to occupy his brain—an idea which he
could not quite put into shape as yet.

“Ye—yes, ye—yes, Nap—oleon. We talked about philosophical subjects. And do
you know, my boy, I became quite sorry that the English had been so hard
upon him. Of course, though, if one didn’t chain him up, he would be
flying at people’s throats again! Still I’m sorry for him. Now I should
have managed him quite differently. I should have put him on an
uninhabited island.”

“Why uninhabited, uncle?” asked Mosgliakoff, absently.

“Well, well, an inhabited one, then; but the in—habitants must be good
sort of people. And I should arrange all sorts of amusements for him, at
the State’s charge: theatres, balle’s, and so on. And, of course, he
should walk about, under proper su—pervision. Then he should have tarts
(he liked tarts, you know), as many tarts as ever he pleased. I should
treat him like a fa—ather; and he would end by being sorry for his sins,
see if he wouldn’t!”

Mosgliakoff listened absently to all this senile gabble, and bit his nails
with impatience. He was anxious to turn the conversation on to the subject
of marriage. He did not know quite clearly why he wished to do so, but his
heart was boiling over with anger.

Suddenly the old man made an exclamation of surprise.

“Why, my dear boy, I declare I’ve forgotten to tell you about it. Fancy, I
made an offer of marriage to-day!”

“An offer of marriage, uncle?” cried Paul, brightening up.

“Why, ye—yes! an offer. Pachomief, are you going? All right! Away with
you! Ye—yes, _c’est une charmante personne_. But I confess, I took the
step rather rash—ly. I only begin to see that now. Dear me! dear, dear
me!”

“Excuse me, uncle; but _when_ did you make this offer?”

“Well, I admit I don’t know exactly _when_ I made it! Perhaps I
dre—dreamed it; I don’t know. Dear me, how very strange it all seems!”

Mosgliakoff trembled with joy: his new idea blazed forth in full developed
glory.

“And _whom_ did you propose to?” he asked impatiently.

“The daughter of the house, my boy; that beau—tiful girl. I—I forget what
they call her. Bu—but, my dear boy, you see I—I can’t possibly marry. What
am I to do?”

“Oh! of course, you are done for if you marry, that’s clear. But let me
ask you one more question, uncle. Are you perfectly certain that you
actually made her an offer of marriage?”

“Ye—yes, I’m sure of it; I—I——.”

“And what if you dreamed the whole thing, just as you did that you were
upset out of the carriage a second time?”

“Dear me! dear me! I—I really think I may have dreamed it; it’s very
awkward. I don’t know how to show myself there, now. H—how could I find
out, dear boy, for certain? Couldn’t I get to know by some outside way
whether I really did make her an offer of ma—arriage or not? Why, just you
think of my dreadful po—sition!”

“Do you know, uncle, I don’t think we need trouble ourselves to find out
at all.”

“Why, wh—what then?”

“I am convinced that you were dreaming.”

“I—I think so myself, too, my dear fellow; es—pecially as I often have
that sort of dream.”

“You see, uncle, you had a drop of wine for lunch, and then another drop
or two for dinner, don’t you know; and so you may easily have——”

“Ye—yes, quite so, quite so; it may easily have been that.”

“Besides, my dear uncle, however excited you may have been, you would
never have taken such a senseless step in your waking moments. So far as I
know you, uncle, you are a man of the highest and most deliberate
judgment, and I am positive that——”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes.”

“Why, only imagine—if your relations were to get to hear of such a thing.
My goodness, uncle! they were cruel enough to you before. What do you
suppose they would do _now_, eh?”

“Goodness gracious!” cried the frightened old prince. “Good—ness gracious!
Wh—why, what would they do, do you think?”

“Do? Why, of course, they would all screech out that you had acted under
the influence of insanity: in fact, that you were mad; that you had been
swindled, and that you must be put under proper restraint. In fact, they’d
pop you into some lunatic asylum.”

Mosgliakoff was well aware of the best method of frightening the poor old
man out of his wits.

“Gracious heavens!” cried the latter, trembling like a leaflet with
horror. “Gra—cious heavens! would they really do that?”

“Undoubtedly; and, knowing this, uncle, think for yourself. Could you
possibly have done such a thing with your eyes open? As if you don’t
understand what’s good for you just as well as your neighbours. I solemnly
affirm that you saw all this in a dream!”

“Of course, of course; un—doubtedly in a dream, un—doubtedly so! What a
clever fellow you are, my dear boy; you saw it at once. I am deeply
grate—ful to you for putting me right. I was really quite under the
im—pression I had actually done it.”

“And how glad I am that I met you, uncle, before you went in there! Just
fancy, what a mess you might have made of it! You might have gone in
thinking you were engaged to the girl, and behaved in the capacity of
accepted lover. Think how fearfully dangerous——.”

“Ye—yes, of course; most dangerous!”

“Why, remember, this girl is twenty-three years old. Nobody will marry
her, and suddenly _you_, a rich and eminent man of rank and title, appear
on the scene as her accepted swain. They would lay hold of the idea at
once, and act up to it, and swear that you really were her future husband,
and would marry you off, too. I daresay they would even count upon your
speedy death, and make their calculations accordingly.”

“No!”

“Then again, uncle; a man of your dignity——”

“Ye—yes, quite so, dig—nity!”

“And wisdom,—and amiability——”

“Quite so; wis—dom—wisdom!”

“And then—a prince into the bargain! Good gracious, uncle, as if a man
like yourself would make such a match as _that_, if you really did mean
marrying! What would your relations say?”

“Why, my dear boy, they’d simply ea—eat me up,—I—I know their cunning and
malice of old! My dear fellow—you won’t believe it—but I assure you I was
afraid they were going to put me into a lun—atic asylum! a common
ma—ad-house! Goodness me, think of that! Whatever should I have done with
myself all day in a ma—ad-house?”

“Of course, of course! Well, I won’t leave your side, then, uncle, when
you go downstairs. There are guests there too!”

“Guests? dear me! I—I——”

“Don’t be afraid, uncle; I shall be by you!”

“I—I’m _so_ much obliged to you, my dear boy; you have simply sa—ved me,
you have indeed! But, do you know what,—I think I’d better go away
altogether!”

“To-morrow, uncle! to-morrow morning at seven! and this evening you must
be sure to say, in the presence of everybody, that you are starting away
at seven next morning: you must say good-bye to-night!”

“Un—doubtedly, undoubtedly—I shall go;—but what if they talk to me as
though I were engaged to the young wo—oman?”

“Don’t you fear, uncle! I shall be there! And mind, whatever they say or
hint to you, you must declare that you dreamed the whole thing—as indeed
you did, of course?”

“Ye—yes, quite so, un—doubtedly so! But, do you know my dear boy, it was a
most be—witching dream, for all that! She is a wond—erfully lovely girl,
my boy,—such a figure—bewitching—be—witching!”

“Well, _au revoir_, uncle! I’m going down, now, and you——”

“How! How! you are not going to leave me alone?” cried the old man,
greatly alarmed.

“No, no—oh no, uncle; but we must enter the room separately. First, I will
go in, and then you come down; that will be better!”

“Very well, very well. Besides, I just want to note down one little
i—dea——”

“Capital, uncle! jot it down, and then come at once; don’t wait any
longer; and to-morrow morning——”

“And to-morrow morning away we go to the Her—mitage, straight to the
Her—mitage! Charming—charm—ing! but, do you know, my boy,—she’s a
fas—cinating girl—she is indeed! be—witching! Such a bust! and, really, if
I were to marry, I—I—really——”

“No, no, uncle! Heaven forbid!”

“Yes—yes—quite so—Heaven for—bid!—well, _au revoir_, my friend—I’ll come
directly; by the bye—I meant to ask you, have you read Kazanoff’s
Memoirs?”

“Yes, uncle. Why?”

“Yes, yes, quite so—I forget what I wanted to say——”

“You’ll remember afterwards, uncle! _au revoir!_”

“_Au revoir_, my boy, _au revoir_—but, I say, it was a bewitching dream, a
most be—witching dream!”



CHAPTER XII.


“Here we all are, all of us, come to spend the evening; Proskovia
Ilinishna is coming too, and Luisa Karlovna and all!” cried Mrs. Antipova
as she entered the salon, and looked hungrily round. She was a neat,
pretty little woman! she was well-dressed, and knew it.

She looked greedily around, as I say, because she had an idea that the
prince and Zina were hidden together somewhere about the room.

“Yes, and Katerina Petrovna, and Felisata Michaelovna are coming as well,”
added Natalia Dimitrievna, a huge woman—whose figure had pleased the
prince so much, and who looked more like a grenadier than anything else.
This monster had been hand and glove with little Mrs. Antipova for the
last three weeks; they were now quite inseparable. Natalia looked as
though she could pick her little friend up and swallow her, bones and all,
without thinking.

“I need not say with what _rapture_ I welcome you both to my house, and
for a whole evening, too!” piped Maria Alexandrovna, a little recovered
from her first shock of amazement; “but do tell me, what miracle is it
that has brought you all to-day, when I had quite despaired of ever seeing
anyone of you in my house again?”

“Oh, oh! my _dear_ Maria Alexandrovna!” said Natalia, very affectedly, but
sweetly. The attributes of sweetness and affectation were a curious
contrast to her personal appearance.

“You see, dearest Maria Alexandrovna,” chirped Mrs. Antipova, “we really
must get on with the private theatricals question! It was only this very
day that Peter Michaelovitch was saying how _bad_ it was of us to have
made no progress towards rehearsing, and so on; and that it was quite time
we brought all our silly squabbles to an end! Well, four of us got
together to-day, and then it struck us ‘Let’s all go to Maria
Alexandrovna’s, and settle the matter once for all!’ So Natalia
Dimitrievna let all the rest know that we were to meet here! We’ll soon
settle it—I don’t think we should allow it to be said that we do nothing
but ‘squabble’ over the preliminaries and get no farther, do _you_, dear
Maria Alexandrovna?” She added, playfully, and kissing our heroine
affectionately, “Goodness me, Zenaida, I declare you grow prettier every
day!” And she betook herself to embracing Zina with equal affection.

“She has nothing else to do, but sit and grow more and more beautiful!”
said Natalia with great sweetness, rubbing her huge hands together.

“Oh, the devil take them all! they know I care nothing about private
theatricals—cursed magpies!” reflected Maria Alexandrovna, beside herself
with rage.

“Especially, dear, as that delightful prince is with you just now. You
know there is a private theatre in his house at Donchanof, and we have
discovered that somewhere or other there, there are a lot of old
theatrical properties and decorations and scenery. The prince was at my
house to-day, but I was so surprised to see him that it all went clean out
of my head and I forgot to ask him. Now we’ll broach the subject before
him. You must support me and we’ll persuade him to send us all the old
rubbish that can be found. We want to get the prince to come and see the
play, too! He is sure to subscribe, isn’t he—as it is for the poor?
Perhaps he would even take a part; he is such a dear, kind, willing old
man. If only he did, it would make the fortune of our play!”

“Of course he will take a part! why, he can be made to play _any_ part!”
remarked Natalia significantly.

Mrs. Antipova had not exaggerated. Guests poured in every moment! Maria
Alexandrovna hardly had time to receive one lot and make the usual
exclamations of surprise and delight exacted by the laws of etiquette
before another arrival would be announced.

I will not undertake to describe all these good people. I will only remark
that every one of them, on arrival, looked about her cunningly; and that
every face wore an expression of expectation and impatience.

Some of them came with the distinct intention of witnessing some scene of
a delightfully scandalous nature, and were prepared to be very angry
indeed if it should turn out that they were obliged to leave the house
without the gratification of their hopes.

All behaved in the most amiable and affectionate manner towards their
hostess; but Maria Alexandrovna firmly braced her nerves for battle.

Many apparently natural and innocent questions were asked about the
prince; but in each one might be detected some hint or insinuation.

Tea came in, and people moved about and changed places: one group
surrounded the piano; Zina was requested to play and sing, but answered
drily that she was not quite well—and the paleness of her face bore out
this assertion. Inquiries were made for Mosgliakoff; and these inquiries
were addressed to Zina.

Maria Alexandrovna proved that she had the eyes and ears of ten ordinary
mortals. She saw and heard all that was going on in every corner of the
room; she heard and answered every question asked, and answered readily
and cleverly. She was dreadfully anxious about Zina, however, and wondered
why she did not leave the room, as she usually did on such occasions.

Poor Afanassy came in for his share of notice, too. It was the custom of
these amiable people of Mordasoff to do their best to set Maria
Alexandrovna and her husband “by the ears;” but to-day there were hopes of
extracting valuable news and secrets out of the candid simplicity of the
latter.

Maria Alexandrovna watched the state of siege into which the wretched
Afanassy was thrown, with great anxiety; he was answering “H’m!” to all
questions put to him, as instructed; but with so wretched an expression
and so extremely artificial a mien that Maria Alexandrovna could barely
restrain her wrath.

“Maria Alexandrovna! your husband won’t have a word to say to me!”
remarked a sharp-faced little lady with a devil-may-care manner, as though
she cared nothing for anybody, and was not to be abashed under any
circumstances. “Do ask him to be a _little_ more courteous towards
ladies!”

“I really don’t know myself what can have happened to him to-day!” said
Maria Alexandrovna, interrupting her conversation with Mrs. Antipova and
Natalia, and laughing merrily; “he is so _dreadfully_ uncommunicative! He
has scarcely said a word even to _me_, all day! Why don’t you answer
Felisata Michaelovna, Afanassy? What did you ask him?”

“But, but—why, mammy, you told me yourself”—began the bewildered and lost
Afanassy. At this moment he was standing at the fireside with one hand
placed inside his waistcoat, in an artistic position which he had chosen
deliberately, on mature reflection,—and he was sipping his tea. The
questions of the ladies had so confused him that he was blushing like a
girl.

When he began the justification of himself recorded above, he suddenly met
so dreadful a look in the eyes of his infuriated spouse that he nearly
lost all consciousness, for terror!

Uncertain what to do, but anxious to recover himself and win back her
favour once more, he said nothing, but took a gulp of tea to restore his
scattered senses.

Unfortunately the tea was too hot; which fact, together with the hugeness
of the gulp he took—quite upset him. He burned his throat, choked, sent
the cup flying, and burst into such a fit of coughing that he was obliged
to leave the room for a time, awakening universal astonishment by his
conduct.

In a word, Maria Alexandrovna saw clearly enough that her guests knew all
about it, and had assembled with malicious intent! The situation was
dangerous! They were quite capable of confusing and overwhelming the
feeble-minded old prince before her very eyes! They might even carry him
off bodily—after stirring up a quarrel between the old man and herself!
_Anything_ might happen.

But fate had prepared her one more surprise. The door opened and in came
Mosgliakoff—who, as she thought, was far enough away at his godfather’s,
and would not come near her to-night! She shuddered as though something
had hurt her.

Mosgliakoff stood a moment at the door, looking around at the company. He
was a little bewildered, and could not conceal his agitation, which showed
itself very clearly in his expression.

“Why, it’s Paul Alexandrovitch! and you told us he had gone to his
godfather’s, Maria Alexandrovna. We were told you had hidden yourself away
from us, Paul Alexandrovitch!” cried Natalia.

“Hidden myself?” said Paul, with a crooked sort of a smile. “What a
strange expression! Excuse me, Natalia Dimitrievna, but I never hide from
anyone; I have no cause to do so, that I know of! Nor do I ever hide
anyone else!” he added, looking significantly at Maria Alexandrovna.

Maria Alexandrovna trembled in her shoes.

“Surely this fool of a man is not up to anything disagreeable!” she
thought. “No, no! that would be worse than anything!” She looked curiously
and anxiously into his eyes.

“Is it true, Paul Alexandrovitch, that you have just been politely
dismissed?—the Government service, I mean, of course!” remarked the daring
Felisata Michaelovna, looking impertinently into his eyes.

“Dismissed! How dismissed? I’m simply changing my department, that’s all!
I am to be placed at Petersburg!” Mosgliakoff answered, drily.

“Oh! well, I congratulate you!” continued the bold young woman. “We were
alarmed to hear that you were trying for a—a place down here at Mordasoff.
The berths here are wretched, Paul Alexandrovitch—no good at all, I assure
you!”

“I don’t know—there’s a place as teacher at the school, vacant, I
believe,” remarked Natalia.

This was such a crude and palpable insinuation that even Mrs. Antipova was
ashamed of her friend, and kicked her, under the table.

“You don’t suppose Paul Alexandrovitch would accept the place vacated by a
wretched little schoolmaster!” said Felisata Michaelovna.

But Paul did not answer. He turned at this moment, and encountered
Afanassy Matveyevitch, just returning into the room. The latter offered
him his hand. Mosgliakoff, like a fool, looked beyond poor Afanassy, and
did not take his outstretched hand: annoyed to the limits of endurance, he
stepped up to Zina, and muttered, gazing angrily into her eyes:

“This is all thanks to you! Wait a bit; you shall see this very day
whether I am a fool or not!”

“Why put off the revelation? It is clear enough already!” said Zina,
aloud, staring contemptuously at her former lover.

Mosgliakoff hurriedly left her. He did not half like the loud tone she
spoke in.

“Have you been to your godfather’s?” asked Maria Alexandrovna at last,
determined to sound matters in this direction.

“No, I’ve just been with uncle.”

“With your uncle! What! have you just come from the prince now?”

“Oh—oh! and we were told the prince was asleep!” added Natalia
Dimitrievna, looking daggers at Maria Alexandrovna.

“Do not be disturbed about the prince, Natalia Dimitrievna,” replied Paul,
“he is awake now, and quite restored to his senses. He was persuaded to
drink a good deal too much wine, first at your house, and then here; so
that he quite lost his head, which never was too strong. However, I have
had a talk with him, and he now seems to have entirely recovered his
judgment, thank God! He is coming down directly to take his leave, Maria
Alexandrovna, and to thank you for all your kind hospitality; and
to-morrow morning early we are off to the Hermitage. Thence I shall myself
see him safe home to Donchanovo, in order that he may be far from the
temptation to further excesses like that of to-day. There I shall give him
over into the hands of Stepanida Matveyevna, who must be back at home by
this time, and who will assuredly never allow him another opportunity of
going on his travels, I’ll answer for that!”

So saying, Mosgliakoff stared angrily at Maria Alexandrovna. The latter
sat still, apparently dumb with amazement. I regret to say—it gives me
great pain to record it—that, perhaps for the first time in her life, my
heroine was decidedly alarmed.

“So the prince is off to-morrow morning! Dear me; why is that?” inquired
Natalia Dimitrievna, very sweetly, of Maria Alexandrovna.

“Yes. How is that?” asked Mrs. Antipova, in astonishment.

“Yes; dear me! how comes that, I wonder!” said two or three voices. “How
can that be? When we were told—dear me! How very strange!”

But the mistress of the house could not find words to reply in.

However, at this moment the general attention was distracted by a most
unwonted and eccentric episode. In the next room was heard a strange
noise—sharp exclamations and hurrying feet, which was followed by the
sudden appearance of Sophia Petrovna, the fidgety guest who had called
upon Maria Alexandrovna in the morning.

Sophia Petrovna was a very eccentric woman indeed—so much so that even the
good people of Mordasoff could not support her, and had lately voted her
out of society. I must observe that every evening, punctually at seven,
this lady was in the habit of having, what she called, “a snack,” and that
after this snack, which she declared was for the benefit of her liver, her
condition was well _emancipated_, to use no stronger term. She was in this
very condition, as described, now, as she appeared flinging herself into
Maria Alexandrovna’s salon.

“Oho! so this is how you treat me, Maria Alexandrovna!” she shouted at the
top of her voice. “Oh! don’t be afraid, I shall not inflict myself upon
you for more than a minute! I won’t sit down. I just came in to see if
what they said was true! Ah! so you go in for balls and receptions and
parties, and Sophia Petrovna is to sit at home alone, and knit stockings,
is she? You ask the whole town in, and leave me out, do you? Yes, and I
was _mon ange_, and ‘dear,’ and all the rest of it when I came in to warn
you of Natalia Dimitrievna having got hold of the prince! And now this
very Natalia Dimitrievna, whom you swore at like a pickpocket, and who was
just about as polite when she spoke of you, is here among your guests? Oh,
don’t mind _me_, Natalia Dimitrievna, _I_ don’t want your _chocolat à la
santé_ at a penny the ounce, six cups to the ounce! thanks, I can do
better at home; t’fu, a good deal better.”

“Evidently!” observed Natalia Dimitrievna.

“But—goodness gracious, Sophia Petrovna!” cried the hostess, flushing with
annoyance; “what is it all about? Do show a little common sense!”

“Oh, don’t bother about me, Maria Alexandrovna, thank you! I know all
about it—oh, dear me, yes!—_I_ know all about it!” cried Sophia Petrovna,
in her shrill squeaky voice, from among the crowd of guests who now
surrounded her, and who seemed to derive immense satisfaction from this
unexpected scene. “Oh, yes, I know all about it, I assure you! Your friend
Nastasia came over and told me all! You got hold of the old prince, made
him drunk and persuaded him to make an offer of marriage to your daughter
Zina—whom nobody else will marry; and I daresay you suppose you are going
to be a very great lady, indeed—a sort of duchess in lace and jewellery.
Tfu! Don’t flatter yourself; you may not be aware that I, too, am a
colonel’s lady! and if you don’t care to ask me to your betrothal parties,
you needn’t: I scorn and despise you and your parties too! I’ve seen
honester women than you, you know! I have dined at Countess
Zalichvatsky’s; a chief commissioner proposed for my hand! A lot _I_ care
for your invitations. Tfu!”

“Look here, Sophia Petrovna,” said Maria Alexandrovna, beside herself with
rage; “I assure you that people do not indulge in this sort of sally at
respectable houses; especially in _the condition you are now in_! And let
me tell you that if you do not immediately relieve me of your presence and
eloquence, I shall be obliged to take the matter into my own hands!”

“Oh, I know—you’ll get your people to turn me out! Don’t trouble
yourself—I know the way out! Good-bye,—marry your daughter to whom you
please, for all I care. And as for _you_, Natalia Dimitrievna, I will
thank you not to laugh at me! I may not have been asked here, but at all
events _I_ did not dance a can-can for the prince’s benefit. What may
_you_ be laughing at, Mrs. Antipova? I suppose you haven’t heard that your
_great friend_ Lushiloff has broken his leg?—he has just been taken home.
Tfu! Good-bye, Maria Alexandrovna—good luck to you! Tfu!”

Sophia Petrovna now disappeared. All the guests laughed; Maria
Alexandrovna was in a state of indescribable fury.

“I think the good lady must have been drinking!” said Natalia Dimitrievna,
sweetly.

“But what audacity!”

“_Quelle abominable femme!_”

“What a raving lunatic!”

“But really, what excessively improper things she says!”

“Yes, but what _could_ she have meant by a ’betrothal party?’ What sort of
a betrothal party is this?” asked Felisata Michaelovna innocently.

“It is too bad—too bad!” Maria Alexandrovna burst out at last. “It is just
such abominable women as this that sow nonsensical rumours about! it is
not the fact that there _are_ such women about, Felisata Michaelovna, that
is so surprising; the astonishing part of the matter is that ladies can be
found who support and encourage them, and believe their abominable tales,
and——”

“The prince, the prince!” cried all the guests at once.

“Oh, oh, here he is—the dear, dear prince!”

“Well, thank goodness, we shall hear all the particulars now!” murmured
Felisata Michaelovna to her neighbour.



CHAPTER XIII.


The prince entered and smiled benignly around.

All the agitation which his conversation with Mosgliakoff, a quarter of an
hour since, had aroused in his chicken-heart vanished at the sight of the
ladies.

Those gentle creatures received him with chirps and exclamations of joy.
Ladies always petted our old friend the prince, and were—as a
rule—wonderfully familiar with him. He had a way of amusing them with his
own individuality which was astonishing! Only this morning Felisata
Michaelovna had announced that she would sit on his knee with the greatest
pleasure, if he liked; “because he was such a dear old pet of an old man!”

Maria Alexandrovna fastened her eyes on him, to read—if she could—if it
were but the slightest indication of his state of mind, and to get a
possible idea for a way out of this horribly critical position. But there
was nothing to be made of _his_ face; it was just as before—just as ever
it was!

“Ah—h! here’s the prince at last!” cried several voices. “Oh, Prince, how
we have waited and waited for you!”

“With impatience, Prince, with impatience!” another chorus took up the
strain.

“Dear me, how very flat—tering!” said the old man, settling himself near
the tea-table.

The ladies immediately surrounded him. There only remained Natalia
Dimitrievna and Mrs. Antipova with the hostess. Afanassy stood and smiled
with great courtesy.

Mosgliakoff also smiled as he gazed defiantly at Zina, who, without taking
the slightest notice of him, took a chair near her father, and sat down at
the fireside.

“Prince, do tell us—is it true that you are about to leave us so soon?”
asked Felisata Michaelovna.

“Yes, yes, _mesdames_; I am going abroad almost im—mediately!”

“Abroad, Prince, abroad? Why, what can have caused you to take such a step
as that?” cried several ladies at once.

“Yes—yes, abroad,” said the prince; “and do you know it is principally for
the sake of the new i—deas——”

“How, new ideas? what new ideas—what does he mean?” the astonished ladies
asked of one another.

“Ye—yes. Quite so—new ideas!” repeated the prince with an air of deep
conviction, “everybody goes abroad now for new ideas, and I’m going too,
to see if I can pick any up.”

Up to this moment Maria Alexandrovna had listened to the conversation
observantly; but it now struck her that the prince had entirely forgotten
her existence—which would not do!

“Allow me, Prince, to introduce my husband, Afanassy Matveyevitch. He
hastened up from our country seat so soon as ever he heard of your arrival
in our house.”

Afanassy, under the impression that he was being praised, smiled amiably
and beamed all over.

“Very happy, very happy—Afanassy Mat—veyevitch!” said the prince. “Wait a
moment: your name reminds me of something, Afanassy Mat—veyevitch; ye—yes,
you are the man down at the village! Charming, charm—ing! Very glad, I’m
sure. Do you remember, my boy,” (to Paul) “the nice little rhyme we fitted
out to him? What was it?”

“Oh, I know, prince,” said Felisata Michaelovna—

“ ‘When the husband’s away
The wife will play!”

“Wasn’t that it? We had it last year at the theatre.”

“Yes, yes, quite so, ye—yes, ‘the wife will play!’ That’s it: charming,
charming. So you are that ve—ry man? Dear me, I’m _very_ glad, I’m sure,”
said the prince, stretching out his hand, but not rising from his chair.
“Dear me, and how is your health, my dear sir?”

“H’m!”

“Oh, he’s quite well, thank you, prince, _quite_ well,” answered Maria
Alexandrovna quickly.

“Ye—yes, I see he is—he looks it! And are you still at the vill—age? Dear
me, very pleased, I’m sure; why, how red he looks, and he’s always
laugh—ing.”

Afanassy smiled and bowed, and even “scraped,” as the prince spoke, but at
the last observation he suddenly, and without warning or apparent reason,
burst into loud fits of laughter.

The ladies were delighted. Zina flushed up, and with flashing eyes darted
a look at her mother, who, in her turn, was boiling over with rage.

It was time to change the conversation.

“Did you have a nice nap, prince?” she inquired in honied accents; but at
the same time giving Afanassy to understand, with very un-honied looks
that he might go—well, anywhere!

“Oh, I slept won—derfully, wonderfully? And do you know, I had such a most
fascinating, be—witching dream!”

“A dream? how delightful! I do so love to hear people tell their dreams,”
cried Felisata.

“Oh, a fas—cinating dream,” stammered the old man again, “quite
be—witching, but all the more a dead secret for that very reas—on.”

“Oh, Prince, you don’t mean to say you can’t tell us?” said Mrs. Antipova.
“I suppose it’s an _extraordinary_ dream, isn’t it?”

“A dead secret!” repeated the prince, purposely whetting the curiosity of
the ladies, and enjoying the fun.

“Then it _must_ be interesting, oh, _dreadfully_ interesting,” cried other
ladies.

“I don’t mind taking a bet that the prince dreamed that he was kneeling at
some lovely woman’s feet and making a declaration of love,” said Felisata
Michaelovna. “Confess, now, prince, that it was so? confess, dear prince,
confess.”

“Yes, Prince, confess!” the chorus took up the cry. The old man listened
solemnly until the last voice was hushed. The ladies’ guesswork flattered
his vanity wonderfully; he was as pleased as he could be. “Though I did
say that my dream was a dead se—cret,” he replied at last, “still I am
obliged to confess, dear lady, that to my great as—tonishment you have
almost exactly guessed it.”

“I’ve guessed it, I’ve guessed it,” cried Felisata, in a rapture of joy.
“Well, prince, say what you like, but it’s your _plain_ duty to tell us
the name of your beauty; come now, _isn’t_ it?”

“Of course, of course, prince.”

“Is she in this town?”

“Dear prince, _do_ tell us.”

“_Darling_ prince, do, _do_ tell us; you positively _must_,” was heard on
all sides.

“_Mesdames, mes—dames_; if you must know, I will go so far as to say that
it is the most charming, and be—witching, and vir—tuous lady I know,” said
the prince, unctuously.

“The most bewitching? and belonging to this place? Who _can_ it be?” cried
the ladies, interchanging looks and signs.

“Why, of course, the young lady who is considered the reigning beauty
here,” remarked Natalia Dimitrievna, rubbing her hands and looking hard at
Zina with those cat’s-eyes of hers. All joined her in staring at Zina.

“But, prince, if you dream those sort of things, why should not you marry
somebody _bona fide_?” asked Felisata, looking around her with a
significant expression.

“We would marry you off beautifully, prince!” said somebody else.

“Oh, dear prince, _do_ marry!” chirped another.

“Marry, marry, _do_ marry!” was now the cry on all sides.

“Ye—yes. Why should I not ma—arry!” said the old man, confused and
bewildered with all the cries and exclamations around him.

“Uncle!” cried Mosgliakoff.

“Ye—yes, my boy, quite so; I un—derstand what you mean. I may as well tell
you, ladies, that I am not in a position to marry again; and having passed
one most delightful evening with our fascinating hostess, I must start
away to-morrow to the Hermitage, and then I shall go straight off abroad,
and study the question of the enlightenment of Europe.”

Zina shuddered, and looked over at her mother with an expression of
unspeakable anguish.

But Maria Alexandrovna had now made up her mind how to act; all this while
she had played a mere waiting game, observing closely and carefully all
that was said or done, although she could see only too clearly that her
plans were undermined, and that her foes had come about her in numbers
which were too great to be altogether pleasant.

At last, however, she comprehended the situation, she thought, completely.
She had gauged how the matter stood in all its branches, and she
determined to slay the hundred-headed hydra at one fell blow!

With great majesty, then, she rose from her seat, and approached the
tea-table, stalking across the room with firm and dignified tread, as she
looked around upon her pigmy foes. The fire of inspiration blazed in her
eyes. She resolved to smite once, and annihilate this vile nest of
poisonous scandal-adders: to destroy the miserable Mosgliakoff, as though
he were a blackbeetle, and with one triumphant blow to reassert all her
influence over this miserable old idiot-prince!

Some audacity was requisite for such a performance, of course; but Maria
Alexandrovna had not even to put her hand in her pocket for a supply of
that particular commodity.

“_Mesdames_,” she began, solemnly, and with much dignity (Maria
Alexandrovna was always a great admirer of solemnity); “_mesdames_, I have
been a listener to your conversation—to your witty remarks and merry
jokes—long enough, and I consider that my turn has come, at last, to put
in a word in contribution.

“You are aware we have all met here accidentally (to my great joy, I must
add—to my very great joy); but, though I should be the first to refuse to
divulge a family secret before the strictest rules of ordinary propriety
rendered such a revelation necessary, yet, as my dear guest here appears
to me to have given us to understand, by covert hints and insinuations,
that he is not averse to the matter becoming common property (he will
forgive me if I have mistaken his intentions!)—I cannot help feeling that
the prince is not only not averse, but actually desires me to make known
our great family secret. Am I right, Prince?”

“Ye—yes, quite so, quite so! Very glad, ve—ry glad, I’m sure!” said the
prince, who had not the remotest idea what the good lady was talking
about!

Maria Alexandrovna, for greater effect, now paused to take breath, and
looked solemnly and proudly around upon the assembled guests, all of whom
were now listening with greedy but slightly disturbed curiosity to what
their hostess was about to reveal to them.

Mosgliakoff shuddered; Zina flushed up, and arose from her seat; Afanassy,
seeing that something important was about to happen, blew his nose
violently, in order to be ready for any emergency.

“Yes, ladies; I am ready—nay, gratified—to entrust my family secret to
your keeping!——This evening, the prince, overcome by the beauty and
virtues of my daughter, has done her the honour of proposing to me for her
hand. Prince,” she concluded, in trembling tearful accents, “dear Prince;
you must not, you cannot blame me for my candour! It is only my
overwhelming joy that could have torn this dear secret prematurely from my
heart: and what mother is there who will blame me in such a case as this?”

Words fail me to describe the effect produced by this most unexpected
sally on the part of Maria Alexandrovna. All present appeared to be struck
dumb with amazement. These perfidious guests, who had thought to frighten
Maria Alexandrovna by showing her that they knew her secret; who thought
to annihilate her by the premature revelation of that secret; who thought
to overwhelm her, for the present, with their hints and insinuations;
these guests were themselves struck down and pulverized by this fearless
candour on her part! Such audacious frankness argued the consciousness of
strength.

“So that the prince actually, and of his own free-will is really going to
marry Zina? So they did not drink and bully and swindle him into it? So he
is not to be married burglariously and forcibly? So Maria Alexandrovna is
not afraid of anybody? Then we can’t knock this marriage on the head—since
the prince is not being married compulsorily!”

Such were the questions and exclamations the visitors now put to
themselves and each other.

But very soon the whispers which the hostess’s words had awakened all over
the room, suddenly changed to chirps and exclamations of joy.

Natalia Dimitrievna was the first to come forward and embrace Maria
Alexandrovna; then came Mrs. Antipova; next Felisata Michaelovna. All
present were shortly on their feet and moving about, changing places. Many
of the ladies were pale with rage. Some began to congratulate Zina, who
was confused enough without; some attached themselves to the wretched
Afanassy Matveyevitch. Maria Alexandrovna stretched her arms theatrically,
and embraced her daughter—almost by force.

The prince alone gazed upon the company with a sort of confused wonder;
but he smiled on as before. He seemed to be pleased with the scene. At
sight of the mother and daughter embracing, he took out his handkerchief,
and wiped his eye, in the corner of which there really was a tear.

Of course the company fell upon him with their congratulations before very
long.

“I congratulate you, Prince! I congratulate you!” came from all sides at
once.

“So you _are_ going to be married, Prince?”

“So you _really are_ going to marry?”

“Dear Prince! You really are to be married, then?”

“Ye—yes, ye—yes; quite so, quite so!” replied the old fellow, delighted
beyond measure with all the rapture and atmosphere of congratulation
around him; “and I confess what I like best of all, is the ve—ery kind
in—terest you all take in me! I shall never forget it, never for—get it!
Charming! charming! You have brought the tears to my eyes!”

“Kiss me, prince!” cried Felisata Michaelovna, in stentorian tones.

“And I con—fess further,” continued the Prince, as well as the constant
physical interruptions from all sides allowed him; “I confess I am beyond
measure as—tonished that Maria Alexandrovna, our revered hostess, should
have had the extraordinary penet—ration to guess my dream! She might have
dreamed it herself, instead of me. Ex—traordinary perspicacity!
Won—derful, wonderful!”

“Oh, prince; your dream again!”

“Oh, come, prince! admit—confess!” cried one and all.

“Yes, prince, it is no use concealing it now; it is time we divulged this
secret of ours!” said Maria Alexandrovna, severely and decidedly. “I quite
entered into your refined, allegorical manner; the delightful delicacy
with which you gave me to understand, by means of subtle insinuations,
that you wished the fact of your engagement to be made known. Yes, ladies,
it is all true! This very evening the prince knelt at my daughter’s feet,
and actually, and by no means in a dream, made a solemn proposal of
marriage to her!”

“Yes—yes, quite so! just exactly like that; and under the very
cir—cumstances she describes: just like re—ality,” said the old man. “My
dear young lady,” he continued, bowing with his greatest courtesy to Zina,
who had by no means recovered from her amazement as yet; “my dear young
lady, I swear to you, I should never have dared thus to bring your name
into pro—minence, if others had not done so before me! It was a most
be—witching dream! a be—witching dream! and I am doubly happy that I have
been per—mitted to describe it. Charming—charming!”

“Dear me! how very curious it is: he insists on sticking to his idea about
a dream!” whispered Mrs. Antipova to the now slightly paling Maria
Alexandrovna. Alas! that great woman had felt her heart beating more
quickly than she liked without this last little reminder!

“What does it mean?” whispered the ladies among themselves.

“Excuse me, prince,” began Maria Alexandrovna, with a miserable attempt at
a smile, “but I confess you astonish me a great deal! What is this strange
idea of yours about a dream? I confess I had thought you were joking up to
this moment; but—if it be a joke on your part, it is exceedingly out of
place! I should like—I am _anxious_ to ascribe your conduct to absence of
mind, but——”

“Yes; it may really be a case of absence of mind!” put in Natalia
Dimitrievna in a whisper.

“Yes—yes—of course, quite so; it may easily be absence of mind!” confirmed
the prince, who clearly did not in the least comprehend what they were
trying to get out of him; “and with regard to this subject, let me tell
you a little an—ecdote. I was asked to a funeral at Petersburg, and I went
and made a little mis—take about it and thought it was a birthday par—ty!
So I brought a lovely bouquet of cam—ellias! When I came in and saw the
master of the house lying in state on a table, I didn’t know where to
lo—ok, or what to do with my ca—mellias, I assure you!”

“Yes; but, Prince, this is not the moment for stories!” observed Maria
Alexandrovna, with great annoyance. “Of course, my daughter has no need to
beat up a husband; but at the same time, I must repeat that you yourself
here, just by the piano, made her an offer of marriage. _I_ did not ask
you to do it! I may say I was amazed to hear it! However, since the
episode of your proposal, I may say that I have thought of nothing else;
and I have only waited for your appearance to talk the matter over with
you. But now—well, I am a mother, and this is my daughter. You speak of a
dream. I supposed, naturally, that you were anxious to make your
engagement known by the medium of an allegory. Well, I am perfectly well
aware that someone may have thought fit to confuse your mind on this
matter; in fact, I may say that I have my suspicions as to the individual
responsible for such a——however, kindly explain yourself, Prince; explain
yourself quickly and satisfactorily. You cannot be permitted to jest in
this fashion in a respectable house.”

“Ye—yes—quite so, quite so; one should not jest in respectable houses,”
remarked the prince, still bewildered, but beginning gradually to grow a
little disconcerted.

“But that is no answer to my question, Prince. I ask you to reply
categorically. I insist upon your confirming—confirming here and at
once—the fact that this very evening you made a proposal of marriage to my
daughter!”

“Quite so—quite so; I am ready to confirm that! But I have told the
com—pany all about it, and Felisata Michaelovna ac—tually guessed my
dream!”

“_Not dream!_ it was _not_ a dream!” shouted Maria Alexandrovna furiously.
“It was not a dream, Prince, but you were wide awake. Do you hear?
Awake—you were _awake_!”

“Awake?” cried the prince, rising from his chair in astonishment. “Well,
there you are, my friend; it has come about just as you said,” he added,
turning to Mosgliakoff. “But I assure you, most es—teemed Maria
Alexandrovna, that you are under a del—usion. I am quite convinced that I
saw the whole scene in a dream!”

“Goodness gracious!” cried Maria Alexandrovna.

“Do not disturb yourself, dear Maria Alexandrovna,” said Natalia
Dimitrievna, “probably the prince has forgotten; he will recollect himself
by and by.”

“I am astonished at you, Natalia Dimitrievna!” said the now furious
hostess. “As if people forget this sort of thing! Excuse me, Prince, but
are you laughing at us, or what are you doing? Are you trying to act one
of Dumas’ heroes, or Lauzun or Ferlacourt, or somebody? But, if you will
excuse me saying so, you are a good deal too old for that sort of thing,
and I assure you, your amiable little play-acting will not do here! My
daughter is not a French viscountess! I tell you, this very evening and in
this very spot here, my daughter sang a ballad to you, and you, amazed at
the beauty of her singing, went down on your knees and made her a proposal
of marriage. I am not talking in my sleep, am I? Surely I am wide awake?
Speak, Prince, am I asleep, or not?”

“Ye—yes, of course, of course—quite so. I don’t know,” said the bewildered
old man. “I mean, I don’t think I am drea—ming now; but, a little while
ago I _was_ asleep, you see; and while asleep I had this dream, that I——”

“Goodness me, Prince, I tell you you were _not_ dreaming. _Not dreaming_,
do you hear? _Not_ dreaming! What on earth do you mean? Are you raving,
Prince, or what?”

“Ye—yes; deuce only knows. I don’t know! It seems to me I’m getting
be—wildered,” said the prince, looking around him in a state of
considerable mental perturbation.

“But, my dear Prince, how can you possibly have _dreamed_ this, when I can
tell you all the minutest details of your proposal and of the
circumstances attending it? You have not told any of us of these details.
How could I possibly have known what you dreamed?”

“But, perhaps the prince _did_ tell someone of his dream, in detail,”
remarked Natalia Dimitrievna.

“Ye—yes, quite so—quite so! Perhaps I did tell someone all about my dream,
in detail,” said the now completely lost and bewildered prince.

“Here’s a nice comedy!” whispered Felisata Michaelovna to her neighbour.

“My goodness me! this is too much for _anybody’s_ patience!” cried Maria
Alexandrovna, beside herself with helpless rage. “Do you hear me, Prince?
She sang you a ballad—_sang you a ballad_! Surely you didn’t dream that
too?”

“Certainly—cer—tainly, quite so. It really did seem to me that she sang me
a ballad,” murmured the prince; and a ray of recollection seemed to flash
across his face. “My friend,” he continued, addressing Mosgliakoff, “I
believe I forgot to tell you, there was a ballad sung—a ballad all about
castles and knights; and some trou—badour or other came in. Of course, of
course, I remember it all quite well. I recoll—ect I did turn over the
ballad. It puzzles me much, for now it seems as though I had really heard
the ballad, and not dreamt it all.”

“I confess, uncle,” said Mosgliakoff, as calmly as he could, though his
voice shook with agitation, “I confess I do not see any difficulty in
bringing your actual experience and your dream into strict conformity; it
is consistent enough. You probably _did_ hear the ballad. Miss Zenaida
sings beautifully; probably you all adjourned into this room and Zenaida
Afanassievna sang you the song. Of course, I was not there myself, but in
all probability this ballad reminded you of old times; very likely it
reminded you of that very vicomtesse with whom you used once to sing, and
of whom you were speaking to-day; well, and then, when you went up for
your nap and lay down, thinking of the delightful impressions made upon
you by the ballad and all, you dreamed that you were in love and made an
offer of marriage to the lady who had inspired you with that feeling.”

Maria Alexandrovna was struck dumb by this display of barefaced audacity.

“Why, ye—yes, my boy, yes, of course; that’s exactly how it really wa—as!”
cried the prince, in an ecstasy of delight. “Of course it was the
de—lightful impressions that caused me to dream it. I certainly re—member
the song; and then I went away and dreamed about my pro—posal, and that I
really wished to marry! The viscountess was there too. How beautifully you
have unravelled the diffi—culty, my dear boy. Well, now I am quite
convinced that it was all a dream. Maria Alex—androvna! I assure you, you
are under a delu—usion: it was a dream. I should not think of trifling
with your feelings otherwise.”

“Oh, indeed! Now I perceive very clearly whom we have to thank for making
this dirty mess of our affairs!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, beside herself
with rage, and turning to Mosgliakoff: “You are the man, sir—the
_dishonest_ person. It is you who stirred up this mud! It is you that
puzzled an unhappy old idiot into this eccentric behaviour, because you
yourself were rejected! But we shall be quits, my friend, for this
offence! You shall pay, you shall pay! Wait a bit, my dishonest friend;
wait a bit!”

“Maria Alexandrovna!” cried Mosgliakoff, blushing in his turn until he
looked as red as a boiled lobster, “your words are so, so——to such an
extent—I really don’t know how to express my opinion of you. No lady would
ever permit herself to—to—. At all events I am but protecting my relative.
You must allow that to _allure_ an old man like this is, is——.”

“Quite so, quite so; _allure_,” began the prince, trying to hide himself
behind Mosgliakoff.

“Afanassy Matveyevitch!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, in unnatural tones; “do
you hear, sir, how these people are shaming and insulting me? Have you
_quite_ exempted yourself from all the responsibilities of a man? Or are
you actually a—a wooden block, instead of the father of a family? What do
you stand blinking there for? eh! Any other husband would have wiped out
such an insult to his family with the blood of the offender long ago.”

“Wife!” began Afanassy, solemnly, delighted, and proud to find that a need
for him had sprung up for once in his life. “Wife, are you quite certain,
now, that _you_ did not dream all this? You might so easily have fallen
asleep and dreamed it, and then muddled it all up with what really
happened, you know, and so——”

But Afanassy Matveyevitch was never destined to complete his ingenious,
but unlucky guess.

Up to this moment the guests had all restrained themselves, and had
managed, cleverly enough, to keep up an appearance of solid and judicial
interest in the proceedings. But at the first sound, almost, of Afanassy’s
voice, a burst of uncontrollable laughter rose like a tempest from all
parts of the room.

Maria Alexandrovna, forgetting all the laws of propriety in her fury,
tried to rush at her unlucky consort; but she was held back by force, or,
doubtless, she would have scratched out that gentleman’s eyes.

Natalia Dimitrievna took advantage of the occasion to add a little, if
only a little, drop more of poison to the bitter cup.

“But, dear Maria Alexandrovna,” she said, in the sweetest honied tones,
“perhaps it may be that it really _was_ so, as your husband suggests, and
that you are actually under a strange delusion?”

“How! What was a delusion?” cried Maria Alexandrovna, not quite catching
the remark.

“Why, my dear Maria, I was saying, _mightn’t_ it have been so, dear, after
all? These sort of things _do_ happen sometimes, you know!”

“_What_ sort of things do happen, eh? What are you trying to do with me?
What am I to make of you?”

“Why, perhaps, dear, you really _did_ dream it all!”

“What? _dream_ it! _I_ dreamed it? And you dare suggest such a thing to
me—straight to my face?”

“Oh, why not? Perhaps it really was the case,” observed Felisata
Michaelovna.

“Ye—yes, quite so, very likely it act—ually _was_ the case,” muttered the
old prince.

“He, too—gracious Heaven!” cried poor Maria Alexandrovna, wringing her
hands.

“Dear me, how you do worry yourself, Maria Alexandrovna. You should
remember that dreams are sent us by a good Providence. If Providence so
wills it, there is no more to be said. Providence gives the word, and we
can neither weep nor be angry at its dictum.”

“Quite so, quite so. We can’t be a—angry about it,” observed the prince.

“Look here; do you take me for a lunatic, or not?” said Maria
Alexandrovna. She spoke with difficulty, so dreadfully was she panting
with fury. It was more than flesh and blood could stand. She hurriedly
grasped a chair, and fell fainting into it. There was a scene of great
excitement.

“She has fainted in obedience to the laws of propriety!” observed Natalia
Dimitrievna to Mrs. Antipova. But at this moment—at this moment when the
general bewilderment and confusion had reached its height, and when the
scene was strained to the last possible point of excitement, another actor
suddenly stepped to the front; one who had been silent hitherto, but who
immediately threw quite a different complexion on the scene.



CHAPTER XIV.


Zenaida, or Zina Afanassievna, was an individual of an extremely romantic
turn of mind.

I don’t know whether it really was that she had read too much of “that
fool Shakespeare,” with her “little tutor fellow,” as Maria Alexandrovna
insisted; but, at all events she was very romantic. However, never, in all
her experience of Mordasoff life, had Zina before made such an
ultra-romantic, or perhaps I might call it _heroic_, display as on the
occasion of the sally which I am now about to describe.

Pale, and with resolution in her eyes, yet almost trembling with
agitation, and wonderfully beautiful in her anger and scorn, she stepped
to the front.

Gazing around at all, defiantly, she approached her mother in the midst of
the sudden silence which had fallen on all present. Her mother roused
herself from her swoon at the first indication of a projected movement on
Zina’s part, and she now opened her eyes.

“Mamma!” cried Zina, “why should we deceive anyone? Why befoul ourselves
with more lies? Everything is so foul already that surely it is not worth
while to bemean ourselves any further by attempting to gloss over the
filth!”

“Zina, Zina! what are you thinking of? _Do_ recollect yourself!” cried
Maria Alexandrovna, frightened out of her wits, and jumping briskly up
from her chair.

“I told you, mamma—I told you before, that I should not be able to last
out the length of this shameful and ignominious business!” continued Zina.
“Surely we need no further bemean and befoul ourselves! I will take it all
on myself, mamma. I am the basest of all, for lending myself, of my own
free will, to this abominable intrigue! You are my mother; you love me, I
know, and you wished to arrange matters for my happiness, as you thought
best, and according to your lights. _Your_ conduct, therefore, is
pardonable; but mine! oh, no! never, never!”

“Zina, Zina! surely you are not going to tell the whole story? Oh! woe,
woe! I felt that the knife would pierce my heart!”

“Yes, mamma, I shall tell all; I am disgraced, you—we all of us are
disgraced——”

“Zina, you are exaggerating! you are beside yourself; and you don’t know
what you are saying. And why say anything about it? The ignominy and
disgrace is not on our side, dear child; I will show in a moment that it
is not on our side!”

“No, mamma, no!” cried Zina, with a quiver of rage in her voice, “I do not
wish to remain silent any longer before these—persons, whose opinion I
despise, and who have come here for the purpose of laughing at us. I do
not wish to stand insult from any one of them; none of them have any right
to throw dirt at me; every single one of them would be ready at any moment
to do things thirty times as bad as anything either I or you have done or
would do! Dare they, _can_ they constitute themselves our judges?”

“Listen to that!”

“There’s a pretty little speech for you!”

“Why, that’s _us_ she’s abusing”!

“A nice sort of creature she is herself!”

These and other such-like exclamations greeted the conclusion of Zina’s
speech.

“Oh, she simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about!” observed Natalia
Dimitrievna.

We will make a digression, and remark that Natalia Dimitrievna was quite
right there!

For if Zina did not consider these women competent to judge herself, why
should she trouble herself to make those exposures and admissions which
she proposed to reveal in their presence? Zina was in much too great a
hurry. (She always was,—so the best heads in Mordasoff had agreed!) All
might have been set right; all might have been satisfactorily arranged!
Maria Alexandrovna was a great deal to blame this night, too! She had been
too much “in a hurry,” like her daughter,—and too arrogant! She should
have simply raised the laugh at the old prince’s expense, and turned him
out of the house! But Zina, in despite of all common sense (as indicated
above), and of the sage opinions of all Mordasoff, addressed herself to
the prince:

“Prince,” she said to the old man, who actually rose from his arm-chair to
show his respect for the speaker, so much was he struck by her at this
moment!—“Prince forgive us; we have deceived you; we entrapped you——”

“_Will_ you be quiet, you wretched girl?” cried Maria Alexandrovna, wild
with rage.

“My dear young lady—my dear child, my darling child!” murmured the
admiring prince.

But the proud haughty character of Zina had led her on to cross the
barrier of all propriety;—she even forgot her own mother who lay fainting
at her feet—a victim to the self-exposure her daughter indulged in.

“Yes, prince, we both cheated you. Mamma was in fault in that she
determined that I must marry you; and I in that I consented thereto. We
filled you with wine; I sang to you and postured and posed for your
admiration. We tricked you, a weak defenceless old man, we _tricked_ you
(as Mr. Mosgliakoff would express it!) for the sake of your wealth, and
your rank. All this was shockingly mean, and I freely admit the fact. But
I swear to you, Prince, that I consented to all this baseness from motives
which were _not_ base. I wished,—but what a wretch I am! it is doubly mean
to justify one’s conduct in such a case as this! But I will tell you,
Prince, that if I had accepted anything from you, I should have made it up
to you for it, by being your plaything, your servant, your—your ballet
dancer, your slave—anything you wished. I had sworn to this, and I should
have kept my oath.”

A severe spasm at the throat stopped her for a moment; while all the
guests sat and listened like so many blocks of wood, their eyes and mouths
wide open.

This unexpected, and to them perfectly unintelligible sally on Zina’s part
had utterly confounded them. The old prince alone was touched to tears,
though he did not understand half that Zina said.

“But I will marry you, my beau—t—iful child, I _will_ marry you, if you
like”—he murmured, “and est—eem it a great honour, too! But I as—sure you
it was all a dream,—what does it mat—ter what I dream? Why should you take
it so to heart? I don’t seem to under—stand it all; please explain, my
dear friend, what it all means!” he added, to Paul.

“As for you, Pavel Alexandrovitch,” Zina recommenced, also turning to
Mosgliakoff, “you whom I had made up my mind, at one time, to look upon as
my future husband; you who have now so cruelly revenged yourself upon me;
must you needs have allied yourself to these people here, whose object at
all times is to humiliate and shame me? And you said that you loved me!
However, it is not for me to preach moralities to you, for I am worse than
all! I wronged you, distinctly, in holding out false hopes and half
promises. I never loved you, and if I had agreed to be your wife, it would
have been solely with the view of getting away from here, out of this
accursed town, and free of all this meanness and baseness. However, I
swear to you that had I married you, I should have been a good and
faithful wife! You have taken a cruel vengeance upon me, and if that
flatters your pride, then——”

“Zina!” cried Mosgliakoff.

“If you still hate me——”

“Zina!!”

“If you ever did love me——”

“Zenaida Afanassievna!”

“Zina, Zina—my child!” cried Maria Alexandrovna.

“I am a blackguard, Zina—a blackguard, and nothing else!” cried
Mosgliakoff; while all the assembled ladies gave way to violent agitation.
Cries of amazement and of wrath broke upon the silence; but Mosgliakoff
himself stood speechless and miserable, without a thought and without a
word to plead for him!

“I am an ass, Zina,” he cried at last, in an outburst of wild despair,—“an
ass! oh far, far worse than an ass. But I will prove to you, Zina, that
even an ass can behave like a generous human being! Uncle, I cheated you!
I, I—it was I who cheated you: you were _not_ asleep,—you were wide awake
when you made this lady an offer of marriage! And I—scoundrel that I
was—out of revenge because I was rejected by her myself, persuaded you
that you had dreamed it all!”

“Dear me, what wonderful and interesting revelations we are being treated
to now!” whispered Natalia to Mrs. Antipova.

“My dear friend,” replied the prince, “com—pose yourself, do! I assure
you—you quite start—led me with that sudden ex—clamation of yours!
Besides, you are labouring under a delusion;—I will marr—y the lady, of
course, if ne—cessary. But you told me, yourself, it was all a dre—eam!”

“Oh, how am I to tell you? Do show me, somebody, how to explain to him!
Uncle, uncle! this is an important matter—a most important family affair!
Think of that, uncle—just try to realise that——”

“Wait a bit, my boy—wait a bit: let me think! First there was my coachman,
Theophile——”

“Oh, never mind Theophile now, for goodness sake!”

“Of course we need not waste time over The—ophile. Well—then came
Na—poleon; and then we seemed to be sitting at tea, and some la—dy came
and ate up all our su—gar!”

“But, uncle!” cried Mosgliakoff, at his wits’ end, “it was Maria
Alexandrovna herself told us that anecdote about Natalia Dimitrievna! I
was here myself and heard it!—I was a blackguard, and listened at the
keyhole!”

“How, Maria Alexandrovna!” cried Natalia, “you’ve told the prince too,
have you, that I stole sugar out of your basin? So I come to you to steal
your sugar, do I, eh! do I?”

“Get away from me!” cried Maria Alexandrovna, with the abandonment of
utter despair.

“Oh, dear no! I shall do nothing of the sort, Maria Alexandrovna! I steal
your sugar, do I? I tell you you shall not talk of me like that, madam—you
dare not! I have long suspected you of spreading this sort of rubbish
abroad about me! Sophia Petrovna came and told me all about it. So I stole
your sugar, did I, eh?”

“But, my dear la—dies!” said the prince, “it was only part of a dream!
What do my dreams matter?——”

“Great tub of a woman!” muttered Maria Alexandrovna through her teeth.

“What! what! I’m a tub, too, am I?” shrieked Natalia Dimitrievna. “And
what are you yourself, pray? Oh, I have long known that you call me a tub,
madam. Never mind!—at all events my husband is a man, madam, and not a
fool, like yours!”

“Ye—yes—quite so! I remember there _was_ something about a tub, too!”
murmured the old man, with a vague recollection of his late conversation
with Maria Alexandrovna.

“What—_you_, too? _you_ join in abusing a respectable woman of noble
extraction, do you? How dare you call me names, prince—you wretched old
one-legged misery! I’m a tub am I, you one-legged old abomination?”

“Wha—at, madam, I one-legged?”

“Yes—one-legged and toothless, sir; that’s what you are!”

“Yes, and one-eyed too!” shouted Maria Alexandrovna.

“And what’s more, you wear stays instead of having your own ribs!” added
Natalia Dimitrievna.

“His face is all on wire springs!”

“He hasn’t a hair of his own to swear by!”

“Even the old fool’s moustache is stuck on!” put in Maria Alexandrovna.

“Well, Ma—arie Alexandrovna, give me the credit of having a nose of my
ve—ry own, at all events!” said the prince, overwhelmed with confusion
under these unexpected disclosures. “My friend, it must have been you
betrayed me! _you_ must have told them that my hair is stuck on?”

“Uncle, what an idea, I——!”

“My dear boy, I can’t stay here any lon—ger, take me away
somewhere—_quelle société_! Where have you brought me to, eh?—Gracious
Hea—eaven, what dreadful soc—iety!”

“Idiot! scoundrel!” shrieked Maria Alexandrovna.

“Goodness!” said the unfortunate old prince. “I can’t quite remember just
now what I came here for at all—I suppose I shall reme—mber directly. Take
me away, quick, my boy, or I shall be torn to pieces here! Besides, I have
an i—dea that I want to make a note of——”

“Come along, uncle—it isn’t very late; I’ll take you over to an hotel at
once, and I’ll move over my own things too.”

“Ye—yes, of course, a ho—tel! Good-bye, my charming child; you alone,
you—are the only vir—tuous one of them all; you are a no—oble child.
Good-bye, my charming girl! Come along, my friend;—oh, good gra—cious,
what people!”

I will not attempt to describe the end of this disagreeable scene, after
the prince’s departure.

The guests separated in a hurricane of scolding and abuse and mutual
vituperation, and Maria Alexandrovna was at last left alone amid the ruins
and relics of her departed glory.

Alas, alas! Power, glory, weight—all had disappeared in this one
unfortunate evening. Maria Alexandrovna quite realised that there was no
chance of her ever again mounting to the height from which she had now
fallen. Her long preeminence and despotism over society in general had
collapsed.

What remained to her? Philosophy? She was wild with the madness of despair
all night! Zina was dishonoured—scandals would circulate, never-ceasing
scandals; and—oh! it was dreadful!

As a faithful historian, I must record that poor Afanassy was the
scapegoat this night; he “caught it” so terribly that he eventually
disappeared; he had hidden himself in the garret, and was there starved to
death almost, with cold, all night.

The morning came at last; but it brought nothing good with it! Misfortunes
never come singly.



CHAPTER XV.


If fate makes up its mind to visit anyone with misfortune, there is no end
to its malice! This fact has often been remarked by thinkers; and, as if
the ignominy of last night were not enough, the same malicious destiny had
prepared for this family more, yea, and worse—evils to come!

By ten o’clock in the morning a strange and almost incredible rumour was
in full swing all over the town: it was received by society, of course,
with full measure of spiteful joy, just as we all love to receive
delightfully scandalous stories of anyone about us.

“To lose one’s sense of shame to such an extent!” people said one to
another.

“To humiliate oneself so, and to neglect the first rules of propriety! To
loose the bands of decency altogether like this, really!” etc., etc.

But here is what had happened.

Early in the morning, something after six o’clock, a poor piteous-looking
old woman came hurriedly to the door of Maria Alexandrovna’s house, and
begged the maid to wake Miss Zina up as quickly, as possible,—_only_ Miss
Zina, and very quietly, so that her mother should not hear of it, if
possible.

Zina, pale and miserable, ran out to the old woman immediately.

The latter fell at Zina’s feet and kissed them and begged her with tears
to come with her at once to see poor Vaísia, her son, who had been so bad,
_so_ bad all night that she did not think he could live another day.

The old woman told Zina that Vaísia had sent to beg her to come and bid
him farewell in this his death hour: he conjured her to come by all the
blessed angels, and by all their past—otherwise he must die in despair.

Zina at once decided to go, in spite of the fact that, by so doing, she
would be justifying all the scandal and slanders disseminated about her in
former days, as to the intercepted letter, her visits to him, and so on.
Without a word to her mother, then, she donned her cloak and started off
with the old woman, passing through the whole length of the town, into one
of the poorest slums of Mordasof—and stopped at a little low wretched
house, with small miserable windows, and snow piled round the basement for
warmth.

In this house, in a tiny room, more than half of which was occupied by an
enormous stove, on a wretched bed, and covered with a miserably thin
quilt, lay a young man, pale and haggard: his eyes were ablaze with the
fire of fever, his hands were dry and thin, and he was breathing with
difficulty and very hoarsely. He looked as though he might have been
handsome once, but disease had put its finger on his features and made
them dreadful to look upon and sad withal, as are so many dying
consumptive patients’ faces.

His old mother who had fed herself for a year past with the conviction
that her son would recover, now saw at last that Vaísia was not to live.
She stood over him, bowed down with her grief—tearless, and looked and
looked, and could not look enough; and felt, but could not realize, that
this dear son of hers must in a few days be buried in the miserable
Mordasof churchyard, far down beneath the snow and frozen earth!

But Vaísia was not looking at her at this moment! His poor suffering face
was at rest now, and happy; for he saw before him the dear image which he
had thought of, dreamed of, and loved through all the long sad nights of
his illness, for the last year and a half! He realised that she forgave
him, and had come, like an angel of God, to tell him of her forgiveness,
here, on his deathbed.

She pressed his hands, wept over him, stood and smiled over him, looked at
him once more with those wonderful eyes of hers, and all the past, the
undying ever-present past rose up before the mind’s eye of the dying man.
The spark of life flashed up again in his soul, as though to show, now
that it was about to die out for ever on this earth, how hard, how hard it
was to see so sweet a light fade away.

“Zina, Zina!” he said, “my Zina, do not weep; don’t grieve, Zina, don’t
remind me that I must die! Let me gaze at you, so—so,—and feel that our
two souls have come together once more—that you have forgiven me! Let me
kiss your dear hands again, as I used, and so let me die without noticing
the approach of death.

“How thin you have grown, Zina! and how sweetly you are looking at me now,
my Zina! Do you remember how you used to laugh, in bygone days? Oh, Zina,
my angel, I shall not ask you to forgive me,—I will not remember anything
about—that, you know what! for if you _do_ forgive me, I can never forgive
myself!

“All the long, long nights, Zina, I have lain here and thought, and
thought; and I have long since decided that I had better die, Zina; for I
am not fit to live!”

Zina wept, and silently pressed his hands, as though she would stop him
talking so.

“Why do you cry so?” continued the sick man. “Is it because I am dying?
but all the past is long since dead and buried, Zina, my angel! You are
wiser than I am, you know I am a bad, wicked man; surely you cannot love
me still? Do you know what it has cost me to realise that I am a bad man?
I, who have always prided myself before the world—and what on? Purity of
heart, generosity of aim! Yes, Zina, so I did, while we read Shakespeare;
and in theory I was pure and generous. Yet, how did I prove these
qualities in practice?”

“Oh, don’t! don’t!” sobbed Zina, “you are not fair to yourself: don’t talk
like this, please don’t!”

“Don’t stop me, Zina! You forgave me, my angel; I know you forgave me long
ago, but you must have judged me, and you know what sort of man I really
am; and that is what tortures me so! I am unworthy of your love, Zina! And
you were good and true, not only in theory, but in practice too! You told
your mother you would marry me, and no one else, and you would have kept
your word! Do you know, Zina, I never realized before what you would
sacrifice in marrying me! I could not even see that you might die of
hunger if you did so! All I thought of was that you would be the bride of
a great poet (in the future), and I could not understand your reasons for
wishing to delay our union! So I reproached you and bullied you, and
despised you and suspected you, and at last I committed the crime of
showing your letter! I was not even a scoundrel at that moment! I was
simply a worm-man. Ah! how you must have despised me! No, it is well that
I am dying; it is well that you did not marry me! I should not have
understood your sacrifice, and I should have worried you, and perhaps, in
time, have learned to hate you, and ... but now it is good, it is best so!
my bitter tears can at least cleanse my heart before I die. Ah! Zina!
Zina! love me, love me as you did before for a little, little while! just
for the last hour of my life. I know I am not worthy of it, but—oh, my
angel, my Zina!”

Throughout this speech Zina, sobbing herself, had several times tried to
stop the speaker; but he would not listen. He felt that he must unburden
his soul by speaking out, and continued to talk—though with difficulty,
panting, and with choking and husky utterance.

“Oh, if only you had never seen me and never loved me,” said Zina, “you
would have lived on now! Ah, _why_ did we ever meet?”

“No, no, darling, don’t blame yourself because I am dying! think of all my
self-love, my romanticism! I am to blame for all, myself! Did they ever
tell you my story in full? Do you remember, three years ago, there was a
criminal here sentenced to death? This man heard that a criminal was never
executed whilst ill! so he got hold of some wine, mixed tobacco in it, and
drank it. The effect was to make him so dreadfully sick, with
blood-spitting, that his lungs became affected; he was taken to a
hospital, and a few weeks after he died of virulent consumption! Well, on
that day, you know, after the letter, it struck me that I would do the
same; and why do you think I chose consumption? Because I was afraid of
any more sudden death? Perhaps. But, oh, Zina! believe me, a romantic
nonsense played a great part in it; at all events, I had an idea that it
would be striking and grand for me to be lying here, dying of consumption,
and you standing and wringing your hands for woe that _love_ should have
brought me to this! You should come, I thought, and beg my pardon on your
knees, and I should forgive you and die in your arms!”

“Oh, don’t! don’t!” said Zina, “don’t talk of it now, dear! you are not
really like that. Think of our happy days together, think of something
else—not that, not that!”

“Oh, but it’s so bitter to me, darling; and that’s why I must speak of it.
I havn’t seen you for a year and a half, you know, and all that time I
have been alone; and I don’t think there was one single minute of all that
time when I have not thought of you, my angel, Zina! And, oh! how I longed
to do something to earn a better opinion from you! Up to these very last
days I have never believed that I should really die; it has not killed me
all at once, you know. I have long walked about with my lungs affected.
For instance, I have longed to become a great poet suddenly, to publish a
poem such as has never appeared before on this earth; I intended to pour
my whole soul and being into it, so that wherever I was, or wherever _you_
were, I should always be with you and remind you of myself in my poems!
And my greatest longing of all was that you should think it all over and
say to yourself at last some day, ’No, he is not such a wretch as I
thought, after all!’ It was stupid of me, Zina, stupid—stupid—wasn’t it,
darling?”

“No, no, Vaísia—no!” cried Zina. She fell on his breast and kissed his
poor hot, dry hands.

“And, oh! how jealous I have been of you all this time, Zina! I think I
should have died if I had heard of your wedding. I kept a watch over you,
you know; I had a spy—there!” (he nodded towards his mother). “She used to
go over and bring me news. You never loved Mosgliakoff—now _did_ you,
Zina? Oh, my darling, my darling, will you remember me when I am dead? Oh,
I know you will; but years go by, Zina, and hearts grow cold, and yours
will cool too, and you’ll forget me, Zina!”

“No, no, never! I shall never marry. You are my first love, and my
only—only—undying love!”

“But all things die, Zina, even our memories, and our good and noble
feelings die also, and in their place comes reason. No, no, Zina, be
happy, and live long. Love another if you can, you cannot love a poor dead
man for ever! But think of me now and then, if only seldom; don’t think of
my faults: forgive them! For oh, Zina, there was good in that sweet love
of ours as well as evil. Oh, golden, golden days never to be recalled!
Listen, darling, I have always loved the sunset hour—remember me at that
time, will you? Oh no, no! why must I die? oh _how_ I should love to live
on now. Think of that time—oh, just think of it! it was all spring then,
the sun shone so bright, the flowers were so sweet, ah me! and look,
now—look!”

And the poor thin finger pointed to the frozen window-pane. Then he seized
Zina’s hand and pressed it tight over his eyes, and sighed
bitterly—bitterly! His sobs nearly burst his poor suffering breast.... And
so he continued suffering and talking all the long day. Zina comforted and
soothed him as she best could, but she too was full of deadly grief and
pain. She told him—she promised him—never to forget; that she would never
love again as she loved him; and he believed her and wept, and smiled
again, and kissed her hands. And so the day passed.

Meanwhile, Maria Alexandrovna had sent some ten times for Zina, begging
her not to ruin her reputation irretrievably. At last, at dusk, she
determined to go herself; she was out of her wits with terror and grief.

Having called Zina out into the next room, she proceeded to beg and pray
her, on her knees, “to spare this last dagger at her heart!”

Zina had come out from the sick-room ill: her head was on fire,—she heard,
but could not comprehend, what her mother said; and Marie Alexandrovna was
obliged to leave the house again in despair, for Zina had determined to
sit up all night with Vaísia.

She never left his bedside, but the poor fellow grew worse and worse.
Another day came, but there was no hope that the sick man would see its
close. His old mother walked about as though she had lost all control of
her actions; grief had turned her head for the time; she gave her son
medicines, but he would none of them! His death agony dragged on and on!
He could not speak now, and only hoarse inarticulate sounds proceeded from
his throat. To the very last instant he stared and stared at Zina, and
never took his eyes off her; and when their light failed them he still
groped with uncertain fingers for her hand, to press and fondle it in his
own!

Meanwhile the short winter day was waning! And when at even the last
sunbeam gilded the frozen window-pane of the little room, the soul of the
sufferer fled in pursuit of it out of the emaciated body that had kept it
prisoner.

The old mother, seeing that there was nothing left her now but the
lifeless body of her beloved Vaísia, wrung her hands, and with a loud cry
flung herself on his dead breast.

“This is your doing, you viper, you cursed snake,” she yelled to Zina, in
her despair; “it was you ruined and killed him, you wicked, wretched
girl.” But Zina heard nothing. She stood over the dead body like one
bereft of her senses.

At last she bent over him, made the sign of the Cross, kissed him, and
mechanically left the room. Her eyes were ablaze, her head whirled. Two
nights without sleep, combined with her turbulent feelings, were almost
too much for her reason; she had a sort of confused consciousness that all
her past had just been torn out of her heart, and that a new life was
beginning for her, dark and threatening.

But she had not gone ten paces when Mosgliakoff suddenly seemed to start
up from the earth at her feet.

He must have been waiting for her here.

“Zenaida Afanassievna,” he began, peering all around him in what looked
like timid haste; it was still pretty light. “Zenaida Afanassievna, of
course I am an ass, or, if you please, perhaps not quite an ass, for I
really think I am acting rather generously this time. Excuse my
blundering, but I am rather confused, from a variety of causes.”

Zina glanced at him almost unconsciously, and silently went on her way.
There was not much room for two on the narrow pavement, and as Zina did
not make way for Paul, the latter was obliged to walk on the road at the
side, which he did, never taking his eyes off her face.

“Zenaida Afanassievna,” he continued, “I have thought it all over, and if
you are agreeable I am willing to renew my proposal of marriage. I am even
ready to forget all that has happened; all the ignominy of the last two
days, and to forgive it—but on one condition: that while we are still here
our engagement is to remain a strict secret. You will depart from this
place as soon as ever you can, and I shall quietly follow you. We will be
married secretly, somewhere, so that nobody shall know anything about it;
and then we’ll be off to St. Petersburg by express post—don’t take more
than a small bag—eh? What say you, Zenaida Afanassievna; tell me quick,
please, I can’t stay here. We might be seen together, you know.”

Zina did not answer a word; she only looked at Mosgliakoff; but it was
such a look that he understood all instantly, bowed, and disappeared down
the next lane.

“Dear me,” he said to himself, “what’s the meaning of this? The day before
yesterday she became so jolly humble, and blamed herself all round. I’ve
come on the wrong day, evidently!”

Meanwhile event followed event in Mordasof.

A very tragical circumstance occurred.

The old prince, who moved over to the hotel with Mosgliakoff, fell very
ill that same night, dangerously ill. All Mordasof knew of it in the
morning; the doctor never left his side. That evening a consultation of
all the local medical talent was held over the old man (the invitations to
which were issued in Latin); but in spite of the Latin and all they could
do for him, the poor prince was quite off his head; he raved and asked his
doctor to sing him some ballad or other; raved about wigs, and
occasionally cried out as though frightened.

The Mordasof doctors decided that the hospitality of the town had given
the prince inflammation of the stomach, which had somehow “gone to the
head.”

There might be some subordinate moral causes to account for the attack;
but at all events he ought to have died long ago; and so he would
certainly die now.

In this last conclusion they were not far wrong; for the poor old prince
breathed his last three days after, at the hotel.

This event impressed the Mordasof folk considerably. No one had expected
such a tragical turn of affairs. They went in troops to the hotel to view
the poor old body, and there they wagged their heads wisely and ended by
passing severe judgment upon “the murderers of the unfortunate
Prince,”—meaning thereby, of course, Maria Alexandrovna and her daughter.
They predicted that this matter would go further. Mosgliakoff was in a
dreadful state of perturbation: he did not know what to do with the body.
Should he take it back to Donchanof! or what? Perhaps he would be held
responsible for the old man’s death, as he had brought him here? He did
not like the look of things. The Mordasof people were less than useless
for advice, they were all far too frightened to hazard a word.

But suddenly the scene changed.

One fine evening a visitor arrived—no less a person than the eminent
Prince Shepetiloff, a young man of thirty-five, with colonel’s epaulettes,
a relative of the dead man. His arrival created a great stir among all
classes at Mordasof.

It appeared that this gentleman had lately left St. Petersburg, and had
called in at Donchanof. Finding no one there, he had followed the prince
to Mordasof, where the news and circumstances of the old man’s death fell
upon him like a thunder-clap!

Even the governor felt a little guilty while detailing the story of the
prince’s death: all Mordasof felt and looked guilty.

This visitor took the matter entirely into his own hands, and Mosgliakoff
made himself scarce before the presence of the prince’s real nephew, and
disappeared, no one knew whither.

The body was taken to the monastery, and all the Mordasof ladies flocked
thither to the funeral. It was rumoured that Maria Alexandrovna was to be
present, and that she was to go on her knees before the coffin, and loudly
pray for pardon; and that all this was in conformity with the laws of the
country.

Of course this was all nonsense, and Maria Alexandrovna never went near
the place!

I forgot to state that the latter had carried off Zina to the country
house, not deeming it possible to continue to live in the town. There she
sat, and trembled over all the second-hand news she could get hold of as
to events occurring at Mordasof.

The funeral procession passed within half a mile of her country house; so
that Maria Alexandrovna could get a good view of the long train of
carriages looking black against the white snow roads; but she could not
bear the sight, and left the window.

Before the week was out, she and her daughter moved to Moscow, taking
Afanassy Matveyevitch with them; and, within a month, the country house
and town house were both for sale.

And so Mordasof lost its most eminent inhabitant for ever!

Afanassy Matveyevitch was said to be for sale with the country house.

A year—two years went by, and Mordasof had quite forgotten Maria
Alexandrovna, or nearly so! Alas! so wags the world! It was said that she
had bought another estate, and had moved over to some other provincial
capital; where, of course, she had everybody under her thumb; that Zina
was not yet married; and that Afanassy Matveyevitch—but why repeat all
this nonsense? None of it was true; it was but rumour!——

                  ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐

It is three years since I wrote the last words of the above chronicles of
Mordasof, and whoever would have believed that I should have to unfold my
MS., and add another piece of news to my narrative?

Well, to business!—

Let’s begin with Paul Mosgliakoff.—After leaving Mordasof, he went
straight to St. Petersburg, where he very soon obtained the clerkship he
had applied for. He then promptly forgot all about Mordasof, and the
events enacted there. He enjoyed life, went into society, fell in love,
made another offer of marriage, and had to swallow another snub; became
disgusted with Petersburg life, and joined an expedition to one of the
remote quarters of our vast empire.

This expedition passed through its perils of land and water, and arrived
in due course at the capital of the remote province which was its
destination.

There the members were well received by the governor, and a ball was
arranged for their entertainment.

Mosgliakoff was delighted. He donned his best Petersburg uniform, and
proceeded to the large ball-room with the full intention of producing a
great and startling effect. His first duty was to make his bow to the
governor-general’s lady, of whom it was rumoured that she was young, and
very lovely.

He advanced then, with some little “swagger,” but was suddenly rooted to
the spot with amazement. Before him stood Zina, beautifully dressed, proud
and haughty, and sparkling with diamonds! She did not recognize him; her
eyes rested a moment on his face, and then passed on to glance at some
other person.

Paul immediately departed to a safe and quiet corner, and there
button-holed a young civilian whom he questioned, and from whom he learned
certain most interesting facts. He learned that the governor-general had
married a very rich and very lovely lady in Moscow, two years since; that
his wife was certainly very beautiful, but, at the same time, excessively
proud and haughty, and danced with none but generals. That the governor’s
lady had a mother, a lady of rank and fashion, who had followed them from
Moscow; that this lady was very clever and wise, but that even she was
quite under the thumb of her daughter; as for the general (the governor),
he doted on his wife.

Mosgliakoff inquired after our old friend Afanassy; but in their “remote
province” nothing was known of that gentleman.

Feeling a little more at home presently, Paul began to walk about the
room, and shortly espied Maria Alexandrovna herself. She was wonderfully
dressed, and was surrounded by a bevy of ladies who evidently dwelt in the
glory of her patronage: she appeared to be exceedingly amiable to
them—wonderfully so!

Paul plucked up courage and introduced himself. Maria Alexandrovna seemed
to give a shudder at first sight of him, but in an instant she was herself
again. She was kind enough to recognise Paul, and to ask him all sorts of
questions as to his Petersburg experiences, and so on. She never said a
word about Mordasof, however. She behaved as though no such place existed.

After a minute or so, and having dropped a question as to some Petersburg
prince whom Paul had never so much as heard of, she turned to speak to
another young gentleman standing by, and in a second or two was entirely
oblivious of Mosgliakoff. With a sarcastic smile our friend passed on into
the large hall. Feeling offended—though he knew not why—he decided not to
dance. So he leant his back against one of the pillars, and for a couple
of hours did nothing but follow Zina about with his eyes. But alas! all
the grace of his figure and attitude, and all the fascinations of his
general appearance were lost upon her, she never looked at him.

At last, with legs stiff from standing, tired, hungry, and feeling
miserable generally, he went home. Here he tossed about half the night
thinking of the past, and next morning, having the chance of joining a
branch party of his expedition, he accepted the opportunity with delight,
and left the town at once.

The bells tinkled, the horses trotted gaily along, kicking up snowballs as
they went. Paul Mosgliakoff fell to thinking, then he fell to snoring, and
so he continued until the third station from the start; there he awoke
fresh and jolly, and with the new scenery came newer, and healthier, and
pleasanter thoughts.



                       THE END OF “UNCLE’S DREAM.”



THE PERMANENT HUSBAND.



CHAPTER I.


Summer had come, and Velchaninoff, contrary to his expectations, was still
in St. Petersburg. His trip to the south of Russia had fallen through, and
there seemed no end to the business which had detained him.

This business—which was a lawsuit as to certain property—had taken a very
disagreeable aspect. Three months ago the thing had appeared to be by no
means complicated—in fact, there had seemed to be scarcely any question as
to the rights and wrongs of the matter, but all seemed to change suddenly.

“Everything else seems to have changed for the worse, too!” said
Velchaninoff to himself, over and over again.

He was employing a clever lawyer—an eminent man, and an expensive one,
too; but in his impatience and suspicion he began to interfere in the
matter himself. He read and wrote papers—all of which the lawyer put into
his waste-paper basket—_holus bolus_; called in continually at the courts
and offices, made inquiries, and confused and worried everybody concerned
in the matter; so at least the lawyer declared, and begged him for mercy’s
sake to go away to the country somewhere.

But he could not make up his mind to do so. He stayed in town and enjoyed
the dust, and the hot nights, and the closeness of the air of St.
Petersburg, things which are enough to destroy anyone’s nerves. His
lodgings were somewhere near the Great Theatre; he had lately taken them,
and did not like them. Nothing went well with him; his hypochondria
increased with each day, and he had long been a victim to that disorder.

Velchaninoff was a man who had seen a great deal of the world; he was not
quite young, thirty-eight years old—perhaps thirty-nine, or so; and all
this “old age,” as he called it, had “fallen upon him quite unawares.”
However, as he himself well understood, he had aged more in the _quality_
than in the number of the years of his life; and if his infirmities were
really creeping upon him, they must have come from within and not from
outside causes. He looked young enough still. He was a tall, stout man,
with light-brown thick hair, without a suspicion of white about it, and a
light beard that reached half way down his chest. At first sight you might
have supposed him to be of a lax, careless disposition or character, but
on studying him more closely you would have found that, on the contrary,
the man was decidedly a stickler for the proprieties of this world, and
withal brought up in the ways and graces of the very best society. His
manners were very good—free but graceful—in spite of this lately-acquired
habit of grumbling and reviling things in general. He was still full of
the most perfect, aristocratic self-confidence: probably he did not
himself suspect to how great an extent this was so, though he was a most
decidedly intelligent, I may say clever, even talented man. His open,
healthy-looking face was distinguished by an almost feminine refinement,
which quality gained him much attention from the fair sex. He had large
blue eyes—eyes which ten years ago had known well how to persuade and
attract; such clear, merry, careless eyes they had been, that they
invariably brought over to his side any person he wished to gain. Now,
when he was nearly forty years old, their ancient, kind, frank expression
had died out of them, and a certain cynicism—a cunning—an irony very
often, and yet another variety of expression, of late—an expression of
melancholy or pain, undefined but keen, had taken the place of the earlier
attractive qualities of his eyes. This expression of melancholy especially
showed itself when he was alone; and it was a strange fact that the gay,
careless, happy fellow of a couple of years ago, the man who could tell a
funny story so inimitably, should now love nothing so well as to be all
alone. He intended to throw up most of his friends—a quite unnecessary
step, in spite of his present financial difficulties. Probably his vanity
was to blame for this intention: he could not bear to see his old friends
in his present position; with his vain suspicious character it would be
most unpalatable to him.

But his vanity began to change its nature in solitude. It did not grow
less, on the contrary; but it seemed to develop into a special type of
vanity which was unlike its old self. This new vanity suffered from
entirely different causes, “_higher_ causes, if I may so express it,” he
said, “and if there really be higher and lower motives in this world.”

He defined these “higher things” as matters which he could not laugh at,
or turn to ridicule when happening in his own individual experience. Of
course it would be quite another thing with the same subjects in society;
by _himself_ he could not ridicule then; but put him among other people,
and he would be the first to tear himself from all of those secret
resolutions of his conscience made in solitude, and laugh them to scorn.

Very often, on rising from his bed in the morning, he would feel ashamed
of the thoughts and feelings which had animated him during the long
sleepless night—and his nights of late had been sleepless. He seemed
suspicious of everything and everybody, great and small, and grew
mistrustful of himself.

One fact stood out clearly, and that was that during those sleepless
nights his thoughts and opinions took huge leaps and bounds, sometimes
changing entirely from the thoughts and opinions of the daytime. This fact
struck him very forcibly; and he took occasion to consult an eminent
medical friend. He spoke in fun, but the doctor informed him that the fact
of feelings and opinions changing during meditations at night, and during
sleeplessness, was one long recognised by science; and that that was
especially the case with persons of strong thinking power, and of acute
feelings. He stated further that very often the beliefs of a whole life
are uprooted under the melancholy influence of night and inability to
sleep, and that often the most fateful resolutions are made under the same
influence; that sometimes this impressionability to the mystic influence
of the dark hours amounted to a malady, in which case measures must be
taken, the radical manner of living should be changed, diet considered, a
journey undertaken if possible, etc., etc.

Velchaninoff listened no further, but he was sure that in his own case
there was decided malady.

Very soon his morning meditations began to partake of the nature of those
of the night, but they were more bitter. Certain events of his life now
began to recur to his memory more and more vividly; they would strike him
suddenly, and without apparent reason: things which had been forgotten for
ten or fifteen years—some so long ago that he thought it miraculous that
he should have been able to recall them at all. But that was not all—for,
after all, what man who has seen any life has not hundreds of such
recollections of the past? The principal point was that all this past came
back to him now with an absolutely new light thrown upon it, and he seemed
to look at it from an entirely new and unexpected point of view. Why did
some of his acts appear to him now to be nothing better than crimes? It
was not merely in the judgment of his intellect that these things appeared
so to him now—had it been only his poor sick mind, he would not have
trusted it; but his whole being seemed to condemn him; he would curse and
even weep over these recollections of the past! If anyone had told him a
couple of years since that he would _weep_ over anything, he would have
laughed the idea to scorn.

At first he recalled the unpleasant experiences of his life: certain
failures in society, humiliations; he remembered how some designing person
had so successfully blackened his character that he was requested to cease
his visits to a certain house; how once, and not so very long ago, he had
been publicly insulted, and had not challenged the offender; how once an
epigram had been fastened to his name by some witty person, in the midst
of a party of pretty women and he had not found a reply; he remembered
several unpaid debts, and how he had most stupidly run through two very
respectable fortunes.

Then he began to recall facts belonging to a “higher” order. He remembered
that he had once insulted a poor old grey-headed clerk, and that the
latter had covered his face with his hands and cried, which Velchaninoff
had thought a great joke at the time, but now looked upon in quite another
light. Then he thought how he had once, merely for fun, set a scandal
going about the beautiful little wife of a certain schoolmaster, and how
the husband had got to hear the rumour. He (Velchaninoff) had left the
town shortly after and did not know how the matter had ended; but now he
fell to wondering and picturing to himself the possible consequences of
his action; and goodness knows where this theme would not have taken him
to if he had not suddenly recalled another picture: that of a poor girl,
whom he had been ashamed of and never thought of loving, but whom he had
betrayed and forsaken, her and her child, when he left St. Petersburg. He
had afterwards searched for this girl and her baby for a whole year, but
never found them.

Of this sort of recollections there were, alas! but too many; and each one
seemed to bring along with it a train of others. His vanity began to
suffer, little by little, under these memories. I have said that his
vanity had developed into a new type of vanity. There were moments (few
albeit) in which he was not even ashamed of having no carriage of his own,
now; or of being seen by one of his former friends in shabby clothes; or
when, if seen and looked at by such a person contemptuously, he was
high-minded enough to suppress even a frown. Of course such moments of
self-oblivion were rare; but, as I said before, his vanity began little by
little to change away from its former quarters and to centre upon one
question which was perpetually ranging itself before his intellect. “There
is some power or other,” he would muse, sarcastically, “somewhere, which
is extremely interested in my morals, and sends me these damnable
recollections and tears of remorse! Let them come, by all means; but they
have not the slightest effect on me! for I haven’t a scrap of independence
about me, in spite of my wretched forty years, I know that for certain.
Why, if it were to happen so that I should gain anything by spreading
another scandal about that schoolmaster’s wife, (for instance, that she
had accepted presents from me, or something of that sort), I should
certainly spread it without a thought.”

But though no other opportunity ever did occur of maligning the
schoolmistress, yet the very thought alone that _if_ such an opportunity
were to occur he would inevitably seize it was almost fatal to him at
times. He was not tortured with memory at every moment of his life; he had
intervals of time to breathe and rest in. But the longer he stayed, the
more unpleasant did he find his life in St. Petersburg. July came in. At
certain moments he felt inclined to throw up his lawsuit and all, and go
down to the Crimea; but after an hour or so he would despise his own idea,
and laugh at himself for entertaining it.

“These thoughts won’t be driven away by a mere journey down south,” he
said to himself, “when they have once begun to annoy me; besides, if I am
easy in my conscience now, I surely need not try to run away from any such
worrying recollections of past days!” “Why should I go after all?” he
resumed, in a strain of melancholy philosophizing; “this place is a very
heaven for a hypochondriac like myself, what with the dust and the heat,
and the discomfort of this house, what with the nonsensical swagger and
pretence of all these wretched little ‘civil servants’ in the departments
I frequent! Everyone is delightfully candid—and candour is undoubtedly
worthy of all respect! I _won’t_ go away—I’ll stay and die here rather
than go!”



CHAPTER II.


It was the third of July. The heat and closeness of the air had become
quite unbearable. The day had been a busy one for Velchaninoff—he had been
walking and driving about without rest, and had still in prospect a visit
in the evening to a certain state councillor who lived somewhere on the
Chornaya Riéchka (black stream), and whom he was anxious to drop in upon
unexpectedly.

At six o’clock our hero issued from his house once more, and trudged off
to dine at a restaurant on the Nefsky, near the police-bridge—a
second-rate sort of place, but French. Here he took his usual corner, and
ordered his usual dinner, and waited.

He always had a rouble(1) dinner, and paid for his wine extra, which
moderation he looked upon as a discreet sacrifice to the temporary
financial embarrassment under which he was suffering.

He regularly went through the ceremony of wondering how he could bring
himself to eat “such nastiness,” and yet as regularly he demolished every
morsel, and with excellent show of appetite too, just as though he had
eaten nothing for three days.

“This appetite can’t be healthy!” he murmured to himself sometimes,
observing his own voracity. However, on this particular occasion, he sat
down to his dinner in a miserably bad humour: he threw his hat angrily
away somewhere, tipped his chair back,—and reflected.

He was in the sort of humour that if his next neighbour—dining at the
little table near him—were to rattle his plate, or if the boy serving him
were to make any little blunder, or, in fact, if any little petty
annoyance were to put him out of a sudden, he was quite capable of
shouting at the offender, and, in fact, of kicking up a serious row on the
smallest pretext.

Soup was served to him. He took up his spoon, and was about to commence
operations, when he suddenly threw it down again, and started from his
seat. An unexpected thought had struck him, and in an instant he had
realized why he had been plunged in gloom and mental perturbation during
the last few days. Goodness knows why he thus suddenly became inspired, as
it were, with the truth; but so it was. He jumped from his chair, and in
an instant it all stood out before him as plain as his five fingers! “It’s
all that hat!” he muttered to himself; “it’s all simply and solely that
damnable round hat, with the crape band round it; that’s the reason and
cause of all my worries these last days!”

He began to think; and the more he thought, the more dejected he became,
and the more astonishing appeared the “remarkable circumstance of the
hat.”

“But, hang it all, there _is_ no circumstance!” he growled to himself.
“What circumstance do I mean? There’s been nothing in the nature of an
event or occurrence!”

The fact of the matter was this: Nearly a fortnight since, he had met for
the first time, somewhere about the corner of the Podiacheskaya, a
gentleman with crape round his hat. There was nothing particular about the
man—he was just like all others; but as he passed Velchaninoff he had
stared at him so fixedly that it was impossible to avoid noticing him, and
more than noticing—observing him attentively.

The man’s face seemed to be familiar to Velchaninoff. He had evidently
seen him somewhere and at some time or other.

“But one sees thousands of people during one’s life,” thought
Velchaninoff; “one can’t remember every face!” So he had gone on his way,
and before he was twenty yards further, to all appearances he had
forgotten all about the meeting, in spite of the strength of the first
impression made upon him.

And yet he had _not_ forgotten; for the impression remained all day, and a
very original impression it was, too,—a kind of objectless feeling of
anger against he knew not what. He remembered his exact feelings at this
moment, a fortnight after the occurrence: how he had been puzzled by the
angry nature of his sentiments at the time, and puzzled to such an extent
that he had never for a moment connected his ill-humour with the meeting
of the morning, though he had felt as cross as possible all day. But the
gentleman with the crape band had not lost much time about reminding
Velchaninoff of his existence, for the very next day he met the latter
again, on the Nefsky Prospect and again he had stared in a peculiarly
fixed way at him.

Velchaninoff flared up and spat on the ground in irritation—Russian like,
but a moment after he was wondering at his own wrath. “There are faces,
undoubtedly,” he reflected, “which fill one with disgust at first sight;
but I certainly _have_ met that fellow somewhere or other.

“Yes, I _have_ met him before!” he muttered again, half an hour later.

And again, as on the last occasion, he was in a vile humour all that
evening, and even went so far as to have a bad dream in the night; and yet
it never entered his head to imagine that the cause of his bad temper on
both occasions had been the accidental meeting with the gentleman in
mourning, although on the second evening he had remembered and thought of
the chance encounter two or three times.

He had even flared up angrily to think that “such a dirty-looking cad”
should presume to linger in his memory so long; he would have felt it
humiliating to himself to imagine for a moment that such a wretched
creature could possibly be in any way connected with the agitated
condition of his feelings.

Two days later the pair had met once more at the landing place of one of
the small Neva ferry steamers.

On the third occasion Velchaninoff was ready to swear that the man
recognised him, and had pressed through the crowd towards him; had even
dared to stretch out his hand and call him by name. As to this last fact
he was not quite certain, however. “At all events, who the deuce _is_ he?”
thought Velchaninoff, “and why can’t the idiot come up and speak to me if
he really does recognise me; and if he so much wishes to do so?” With
these thoughts Velchaninoff had taken a droshky and started off for the
Smolney Monastery, where his lawyer lived.

Half an hour later he was engaged in his usual quarrel with that
gentleman.

But that same evening he was in a worse humour than ever, and his night
was spent in fantastic dreams and imaginings, which were anything but
pleasant. “I suppose it’s bile!” he concluded, as he paid his matutinal
visit to the looking-glass.

This was the third meeting.

Then, for five days there was not a sign of the man; and yet, much to his
distaste, Velchaninoff could not, for the life of him, avoid thinking of
the man with the crape band.

He caught himself musing over the fellow. “What have I to do with him?” he
thought. “What can his business in St. Petersburg be?—he looks busy: and
whom is he in mourning for? He clearly recognises me, but I don’t know in
the least who he is! And why do such people as he is put crape on their
hats? it doesn’t seem ’the thing’ for them, somehow! I believe I shall
recognise this fellow if I ever get a good close look at him!”

And there came over him that sensation we all know so well—the same
feeling that one has when one can’t for the life of one think of the
required word; every other word comes up; associations with the right word
come up; occasions when one has used the word come up; one wanders round
and round the immediate vicinity of the word wanted, but the actual word
itself will not appear, though you may break your head to get at it!

“Let’s see, now: it was—yes—some while since. It was—where on earth was
it? There was a—oh! devil take whatever there was or wasn’t there! What
does it matter to me?” he broke off angrily of a sudden. “I’m not going to
lower myself by thinking of a little cad like that!”

He felt very angry; but when, in the evening, he remembered that he had
been so upset, and recollected the cause of his anger, he felt the
disagreeable sensation of having been caught by someone doing something
wrong.

This fact puzzled and annoyed him.

“There must be some reason for my getting so angry at the mere
recollection of that man’s face,” he thought, but he didn’t finish
thinking it out.

But the next evening he was still more indignant; and this time, he really
thought, with good cause. “Such audacity is unparalleled!” he said to
himself.

The fact of the matter is, there had been a fourth meeting with the man of
the crape hat band. The latter had apparently arisen from the earth and
confronted him. But let me explain what had happened.

It so chanced that Velchaninoff had just met, accidentally, that very
state-councillor mentioned a few pages back, whom he had been so anxious
to see, and on whom he had intended to pounce unexpectedly at his country
house. This gentleman evidently avoided Velchaninoff, but at the same time
was most necessary to the latter in his lawsuit. Consequently, when
Velchaninoff met him, the one was delighted, while the other was very much
the reverse. Velchaninoff had immediately button-holed him, and walked
down the street with him, talking; doing his very utmost to keep the sly
old fox to the subject on which it was so necessary that he should be
pumped. And it was just at this most important moment, when Velchaninoff’s
intellect was all on the _qui vive_ to catch up the slightest hints of
what he wished to get at, while the foxy old councillor (aware of the
fact) was doing his best to reveal nothing, that the former, taking his
eyes from his companion’s face for one instant, beheld the gentleman of
the crape hatband walking along the other side of the road, and looking at
him—nay, _watching_ him, evidently—and apparently smiling!

“Devil take him!” said Velchaninoff, bursting out into fury at once, while
the “old fox” instantly disappeared, “and I should have succeeded in
another minute. Curse that dirty little hound! he’s simply spying me.
I’ll—I’ll hire somebody to—I’ll take my oath he laughed at me! D—n him,
I’ll thrash him. I wish I had a stick with me. I’ll—I’ll buy one! I won’t
leave this matter so. Who the deuce is he? I _will_ know! Who is he?”

At last, three days after this fourth encounter, we find Velchaninoff
sitting down to dinner at his restaurant, as recorded a page or two back,
in a state of mind bordering upon the furious. He could not conceal the
state of his feelings from himself, in spite of all his pride. He was
obliged to confess at last, that all his anxiety, his irritation, his
state of agitation generally, must undoubtedly be connected with, and
absolutely attributed to, the appearance of the wretched-looking creature
with the crape hatband, in spite of his insignificance.

“I may be a hypochondriac,” he reflected, “and I may be inclined to make
an elephant out of a gnat; but how does it help me? What use is it to me
if I persuade myself to believe that _perhaps_ all this is fancy? Why, if
every dirty little wretch like that is to have the power of upsetting a
man like myself, why—it’s—it’s simply unbearable!”

Undoubtedly, at this last (fifth) encounter of to-day, the elephant had
proved himself a very small gnat indeed. The “crape man” had appeared
suddenly, as usual, and had passed by Velchaninoff, but without looking up
at him this time; indeed, he had gone by with downcast eyes, and had even
seemed anxious to pass unobserved. Velchaninoff had turned rapidly round
and shouted as loud as ever he could at him.

“Hey!” he cried. “You! Crape hatband! You want to escape notice this time,
do you? Who are you?”

Both the question and the whole idea of calling after the man were
absurdly foolish, and Velchaninoff knew it the moment he had said the
words. The man had turned round, stopped for an instant, lost his head,
smiled—half made up his mind to say something,—had waited half a minute in
painful indecision, then twisted suddenly round again, and “bolted”
without a word. Velchaninoff gazed after him in amazement. “What if it be
_I_ that haunt _him_, and not he me, after all?” he thought. However,
Velchaninoff ate up his dinner, and then drove off to pounce upon the town
councillor at the latter’s house, if he could.

The councillor was not in; and he was informed that he would scarcely be
at home before three or four in the morning, because he had gone to a
“name’s-day party.”

Velchaninoff felt that this was too bad! In his rage he determined to
follow and hunt the fellow up at the party: he actually took a droshky,
and started off with that wild idea; but luckily he thought better of it
on the way, got out of the vehicle and walked away towards the “Great
Theatre,” near which he lived. He felt that he must have motion; also he
_must_ absolutely sleep well this coming night: in order to sleep he must
be tired; so he walked all the way home—a fairly long walk, and arrived
there about half-past ten, as tired as he could wish.

His lodging, which he had taken last March, and had abused ever since,
apologising to himself for living “in such a hole,” and at the same time
excusing himself for the fact by the reflection that it was only for a
while, and that he had dropped quite accidentally into St.
Petersburg—thanks to that cursed lawsuit!—his lodging, I say, was by no
means so bad as he made it out to be!

The entrance certainly was a little dark, and dirty-looking, being just
under the arch of the gateway. But he had two fine large light rooms on
the second floor, separated by the entrance hall: one of these rooms
overlooked the yard and the other the street. Leading out of the former of
these was a smaller room, meant to be used as a bedroom; but Velchaninoff
had filled it with a disordered array of books and papers, and preferred
to sleep in one of the large rooms, the one overlooking the street, to
wit.

His bed was made for him, every day, upon the large divan. The rooms were
full of good furniture, and some valuable ornaments and pictures were
scattered about, but the whole place was in dreadful disorder; the fact
being that at this time Velchaninoff was without a regular servant. His
one domestic had gone away to stay with her friends in the country; he
thought of taking a man, but decided that it was not worth while for a
short time; besides he hated flunkeys, and ended by making arrangements
with his dvornik’s sister Martha, who was to come up every morning and “do
out” his rooms, he leaving the key with her as he went out each day.
Martha did absolutely nothing towards tidying the place and robbed him
besides, but he didn’t care, he liked to be alone in the house. But
solitude is all very well within certain limits, and Velchaninoff found
that his nerves could not stand all this sort of thing at certain bilious
moments; and it so fell out that he began to loathe his room more and more
every time he entered it.

However, on this particular evening he hardly gave himself time to
undress; he threw himself on his bed, and determined that nothing should
make him think of _anything_, and that he would fall asleep at once.

And, strangely enough, his head had hardly touched the pillow before he
actually was asleep; and this was the first time for a month past that
such a thing had occurred.

He awoke at about two, considerably agitated; he had dreamed certain very
strange dreams, reminding him of the incoherent wanderings of fever.

The subject seemed to be some crime which he had committed and concealed,
but of which he was accused by a continuous flow of people who swarmed
into his rooms for the purpose. The crowd which had already collected
within was enormous, and yet they continued to pour in in such numbers
that the door was never shut for an instant.

But his whole interest seemed to centre in one strange looking
individual,—a man who seemed to have once been very closely and intimately
connected with him, but who had died long ago and now reappeared for some
reason or other.

The most tormenting part of the matter was that Velchaninoff could not
recollect who this man was,—he could not remember his name,—though he
recollected the fact that he had once dearly loved him. All the rest of
the people swarming into the room seemed to be waiting for the final word
of this man,—either the condemnation or the justification of Velchaninoff
was to be pronounced by him,—and everyone was impatiently waiting to hear
him speak.

But he sat motionless at the table, and would not open his lips to say a
word of any sort.

The uproar continued, the general annoyance increased, and, suddenly,
Velchaninoff himself strode up to the man in a fury, and smote him because
he would not speak. Velchaninoff felt the strangest satisfaction in having
thus smitten him; his heart seemed to freeze in horror for what he had
done, and in acute suffering for the crime involved in his action,—but in
that very sensation of freezing at the heart lay the sense of satisfaction
which he felt.

Exasperated more and more, he struck the man a second and a third time;
and then—in a sort of intoxication of fury and terror, which amounted to
actual insanity, and yet bore within it a germ of delightful satisfaction,
he ceased to count his blows, and rained them in without ceasing.

He felt he must destroy, annihilate, demolish all this.

Suddenly something strange happened; everyone present had given a dreadful
cry and turned expectantly towards the door, while at the same moment
there came three terrific peals of the hall-bell, so violent that it
appeared someone was anxious to pull the bell-handle out.

Velchaninoff awoke, started up in a second, and made for the door; he was
persuaded that the ring at the bell had been no dream or illusion, but
that someone had actually rung, and was at that moment standing at the
front door.

“It would be _too_ unnatural if such a clear and unmistakable ring should
turn out to be nothing but an item of a dream!” he thought. But, to his
surprise, it proved that such was nevertheless the actual state of the
case! He opened the door and went out on to the landing; he looked
downstairs and about him, but there was not a soul to be seen. The bell
hung motionless. Surprised, but pleased, he returned into his room. He lit
a candle, and suddenly remembered that he had left the door closed, but
not locked and chained. He had often returned home before this evening and
forgotten to lock the door behind him, without attaching any special
significance to the fact; his maid had often respectfully protested
against such neglect while with him. He now returned to the entrance hall
to make the door fast; before doing so he opened it, however, and had one
more look about the stairs. He then shut the door and fastened the chain
and hook, but did not take the trouble to turn the key in the lock.

Some clock struck half-past two at this moment, so that he had had three
hours’ sleep—more or less.

His dream had agitated him to such an extent that he felt unwilling to lie
down again at once; he decided to walk up and down the room two or three
times first, just long enough to smoke a cigar. Having half-dressed
himself, he went to the window, drew the heavy curtains aside and pulled
up one of the blinds, it was almost full daylight. These light summer
nights of St. Petersburg always had a bad effect upon his nerves, and of
late they had added to the causes of his sleeplessness, so that a few
weeks since he had invested in these thick curtains, which completely shut
out the light when drawn close.

Having thus let in the sunshine, quite oblivious of the lighted candle on
the table, he commenced to walk up and down the room. Still feeling the
burden of his dream upon him, its impression was even now at work upon his
mind, he still felt a painfully guilty sensation about him, caused by the
fact that he had allowed himself to raise his hand against “that man” and
strike him. “But, my dear sir!” he argued with himself, “it was not a man
at all! the whole thing was a dream! what’s the use of worrying yourself
for nothing?”

Velchaninoff now became obstinately convinced that he was a sick man, and
that to his sickly state of body was to be attributed all his perturbation
of mind. He was an invalid.

It had always been a weak point with Velchaninoff that he hated to think
of himself as growing old or infirm; and yet in his moments of anger he
loved to exaggerate one or the other in order to worry himself.

“It’s old age,” he now muttered to himself, as he paced up and down the
room. “I’m becoming an old fogey—that’s the fact of the matter! I’m losing
my memory—see ghosts, and have dreams, and hear bells ring—curse it all! I
know these dreams of old, they always herald fever with me. I dare swear
that the whole business of this man with the crape hatband has been a
dream too! I was perfectly right yesterday, he isn’t haunting me the least
bit in the world; it is I that am haunting _him_! I’ve invented a pretty
little ghost-story about him and then climb under the table in terror at
my own creation! Why do I call him a little cad, too? he may be a most
respectable individual for all I know! His face is a disagreeable one,
certainly, though there is nothing hideous about it! He dresses just like
anyone else. I don’t know—there’s something about his look—There I go
again! What the devil have I got to do with his look? what a fool I
am—just as though I could not live without the dirty little wretch—curse
him!”

Among other thoughts connected with this haunting crape-man was one which
puzzled Velchaninoff immensely; he felt convinced that at some time or
other he had known the man, and known him very intimately; and that now
the latter, when meeting him, always laughed at him because he was aware
of some great secret of his former life, or because he was amused to see
Velchaninoff’s present humiliating condition of poverty.

Mechanically our hero approached the window in order to get a breath of
fresh air—when he was suddenly seized with a violent fit of shuddering;—a
feeling came over him that something unusual and unheard-of was happening
before his very eyes.

He had not had time to open the window when something he saw caused him to
slip behind the corner of the curtain, and hide himself.

The man in the crape hatband was standing on the opposite side of the
street.

He was standing with his face turned directly towards Velchaninoff’s
window, but evidently unaware of the latter’s presence there, and was
carefully examining the house, and apparently considering some question
connected with it.

He seemed to come to a decision after a moment’s thought, and raised his
finger to his forehead; then he looked quietly about him, and ran swiftly
across the road on tiptoe. He reached the gate, and entered it; this gate
was often left open on summer nights until two or three in the morning.

“He’s coming to me,” muttered Velchaninoff, and with equal caution he left
the window, and ran to the front door; arrived in the hall, he stood in
breathless expectation before the door, and placed his trembling hand
carefully upon the hook which he had fastened a few minutes since, and
stood listening for the tread of the expected footfall on the stairs. His
heart was beating so loud that he was afraid he might miss the sound of
the cautious steps approaching.

He could understand nothing of what was happening, but it seemed clear
that his dream was about to be realised.

Velchaninoff was naturally brave. He loved risk for its own sake, and very
often ran into useless dangers, with no one by to see, to please himself.
But this was different, somehow; he was not himself, and yet he was as
brave as ever, but with something added. He made out every movement of the
stranger from behind his own door.

“Ah!—there he comes!—he’s on the steps now!—here he comes!—he’s up
now!—now he’s looking down stairs and all about, and crouching down! Aha!
there’s his hand on the door-handle—he’s trying it!—he thought he would
find it unlocked!—then he must know that I _do_ leave it unlocked
sometimes!—He’s trying it again!—I suppose he thinks the hook may slip!—he
doesn’t care to go away without doing anything!”

So ran Velchaninoff’s thoughts, and so indeed followed the man’s actions.
There was no doubt about it, someone was certainly standing outside and
trying the door-handle, carefully and cautiously pulling at the door
itself, and, in fact, endeavouring to effect an entrance; equally sure was
it that the person so doing must have his own object in trying to sneak
into another man’s house at dead of night. But Velchaninoff’s plan of
action was laid, and he awaited the proper moment; he was anxious to seize
a good opportunity—slip the hook and chain—open the door wide, suddenly,
and stand face to face with this bugbear, and then ask him what the deuce
he wanted there.

No sooner devised than executed.

Awaiting the proper moment, Velchaninoff suddenly slipped the hook, pushed
the door wide, and almost tumbled over the man with the crape hatband!



CHAPTER III.


The crape-man stood rooted to the spot dumb with astonishment.

Both men stood opposite one another on the landing, and both stared in
each other’s eyes, silent and motionless.

So passed a few moments, and suddenly, like a flash of lightning,
Velchaninoff became aware of the identity of his guest.

At the same moment the latter seemed to guess that Velchaninoff had
recognised him. Velchaninoff could see it in his eyes. In one instant the
visitor’s whole face was all ablaze with its very sweetest of smiles.

“Surely I have the pleasure of speaking to Aleksey Ivanovitch?” he asked,
in the most dulcet of voices, comically inappropriate to the circumstances
of the case.

“Surely you are Pavel Pavlovitch Trusotsky?” asked Velchaninoff, in
return, after a pause, and with an expression of much perplexity.

“I had the pleasure of your acquaintance ten years ago at T——, and, if I
may remind you of the fact, we were almost intimate friends.”

“Quite so—oh yes! but it is now three o’clock in the morning, and you have
been trying my lock for the last ten minutes.”

“Three o’clock!” cried the visitor, looking at his watch with an air of
melancholy surprise.

“Why, so it is! dear me—three o’clock! forgive me, Aleksey Ivanovitch! I
ought to have found it out before thinking of paying you a visit. I will
do myself the honour of calling to explain another day, and now I—.”

“Oh no;—no, no! If you are to explain at all let’s have it at once; this
moment!” interrupted Velchaninoff warmly. “Kindly step in here, into the
room! You must have meant to come in, you know; you didn’t come here at
night, like this, simply for the pleasure of trying my lock?”

He felt excited, and at the same time was conscious of a sort of timidity;
he could not collect his thoughts. He was ashamed of himself for it. There
was no danger, no mystery about the business, nothing but the silly figure
of Pavel Pavlovitch.

And yet he could not feel satisfied that there was nothing particular in
it; he felt afraid of something to come, he knew not what or when.

However, he made the man enter, seated him in a chair, and himself sat
down on the side of his bed, a yard or so off, and rested his elbows on
his knees while he quietly waited for the other to begin. He felt
irritated; he stared at his visitor and let his thoughts run. Strangely
enough, the other never opened his mouth; he seemed to be entirely
oblivious of the fact that it was his duty to speak. Nay, he was even
looking enquiringly at Velchaninoff as though quite expecting that the
latter would speak to _him_!

Perhaps he felt a little uncomfortable at first, somewhat as a mouse must
feel when he finds himself unexpectedly in the trap.

Velchaninoff very soon lost his patience.

“Well?” he cried, “you are not a fantasy or a dream or anything of that
kind, are you? You aren’t a corpse, are you? Come, my friend, this is not
a game or play. I want your explanation, please!”

The visitor fidgeted about a little, smiled, and began to speak
cautiously.

“So far as I can see,” he said, “the time of night of my visit is what
surprises you, and that I should have come as I did; in fact, when I
remember the past, and our intimacy, and all that, I am astonished myself;
but the fact is, I did not mean to come in at all, and if I did so it was
purely an accident.”

“An accident! Why, I saw you creeping across the road on tip-toes!”

“You saw me? Indeed! Come, then you know as much or more about the matter
than I do; but I see I am annoying you. This is how it was: I’ve been in
town three weeks or so on business. I am Pavel Pavlovitch Trusotsky, you
recognized me yourself, my business in town is to effect an exchange of
departments. I am trying for a situation in another place—one with a large
increase of salary; but all this is beside the point; the fact of the
matter is, I believe I have been delaying my business on purpose. I
believe if everything were settled at this moment I should still be
dawdling in this St. Petersburg of yours in my present condition of mind.
I go wandering about as though I had lost all interest in things, and were
rather glad of the fact, in my present condition of mind.”

“What condition of mind?” asked Velchaninoff, frowning.

The visitor raised his eyes to Velchaninoff’s, lifted his hat from the
ground beside him, and with great dignity pointed out the black crape
band.

“There, sir, in _that_ condition of mind!” he observed.

Velchaninoff stared stupidly at the crape, and thence at the man’s face.
Suddenly his face flushed up in a hot blush for a moment, and he was
violently agitated.

“Not Natalia Vasilievna, surely?”

“Yes, Natalia Vasilievna! Last March! Consumption, sir, and almost
suddenly—all over in two or three months—and here am I left as you see
me!”

So saying, Pavel Pavlovitch, with much show of feeling, bent his bald head
down and kept it bent for some ten seconds, while he held out his two
hands, in one of which was the hat with the band, in explanatory emotion.

This gesture, and the man’s whole air, seemed to brighten Velchaninoff up;
he smiled sarcastically for one instant, not more at present, for the news
of this lady’s death (he had known her so long ago, and had forgotten her
many a year since) had made a quite unexpected impression upon his mind.

“Is it possible!” he muttered, using the first words that came to his
lips, “and pray why did you not come here and tell me at once?”

“Thanks for your kind interest, I see and value it, in spite of——”

“In spite of what?”

“In spite of so many years of separation you at once sympathised with my
sorrow—and in fact with myself, and so fully too—that I feel naturally
grateful. That’s all I had to tell you, sir! Don’t suppose I doubt my
friends, you know; why, even here, in this place, I could put my finger on
several very sincere friends indeed (for instance, Stepan Michailovitch
Bagantoff); but remember, my dear Aleksey Ivanovitch—nine years have
passed since we were acquaintances—or friends, if you’ll allow me to say
so—and meanwhile you have never been to see us, never written.”

The guest sang all this out as though he were reading it from music, but
kept his eyes fixed on the ground the while, although, of course, he saw
what was going on above his eyelashes exceedingly well all the same.

Velchaninoff had found his head by this time.

With a strange sort of fascinated attention, which strengthened itself
every moment, he continued to gaze at and listen to Pavel Pavlovitch, and
of a sudden, when the latter stopped speaking, a flood of curious ideas
swept unexpectedly through his brain.

“But look here,” he cried, “how is it that I never recognized you all this
while?—we’ve met five times, at least, in the streets!”

“Quite so—I am perfectly aware of the circumstance. You chanced to meet me
two or three times, and——”

“No, no! _you_ met _me_, you know—not I you!” Velchaninoff suddenly burst
into a roar of laughter, and rose from his seat. Pavel Pavlovitch paused a
moment, looked keenly at Velchaninoff, and then continued:

“As to your not recognizing me, in the first place you might easily have
forgotten me by now; and besides, I have had small-pox since last we met,
and I daresay my face is a good deal marked.”

“Smallpox? why, how did you manage that?—he has had it, though, by Jove!”
cried Velchaninoff. “What a funny fellow you are—however, go on, don’t
stop.”

Velchaninoff’s spirits were rising higher and higher; he was beginning to
feel wonderfully light-hearted. That feeling of agitation which had lately
so disturbed him had given place to quite a different sentiment. He now
began to stride up and down the room, very quickly.

“I was going to say,” resumed Pavel Pavlovitch, “that though I have met
you several times, and though I quite intended to come and look you up,
when I was arranging my visit to Petersburg, still, I was in that
condition of mind, you know, and my wits have so suffered since last
March, that——”

“Wits since last March,—yes, go on: wait a minute—do you smoke?”

“Oh—you know, Natalia Vasilievna, never—”

“Quite so; but since March—eh?”

“Well—I might, a cigarette or so.”

“Here you are, then! Light up and go on,—go on! you interest me
wonderfully.”

Velchaninoff lit a cigar and sat down on his bed again. Pavel Pavlovitch
paused a moment.

“But what a state of agitation you seem to be in yourself!” said he, “are
you quite well?”

“Oh, curse my health!” cried Velchaninoff,—“you go on!”

The visitor observed his host’s agitation with satisfaction; he went on
with his share of the talking with more confidence.

“What am I to go on about?” he asked. “Imagine me, Alexey Ivanovitch—a
broken man,—not simply broken, but gone at the root, as it were; a man
forced to change his whole manner of living, after twenty years of married
life, wandering about the dusty roads without an object,—mind lost—almost
oblivious of his own self,—and yet, as it were, taking some sort of
intoxicated delight in his loneliness! Isn’t it natural that if I should,
at such a moment of self-forgetfulness come across a friend—even a _dear_
friend, I might prefer to avoid him for that moment? and isn’t it equally
natural that at another moment I should long to see and speak with some
one who has been an eye-witness of, or a partaker, so to speak, in my
never-to-be-recalled past? and to rush—not only in the day, but at night,
if it so happens,—to rush to the embrace of such a man?—yes, even if one
has to wake him up at three in the morning to do it! I was wrong in my
time, not in my estimate of my friend, though, for at this moment I feel
the full rapture of success; my rash action has been successful: I have
found sympathy! As for the time of night, I confess I thought it was not
twelve yet! You see, one sups of grief, and it intoxicates one,—at least,
not grief, exactly, it’s more the condition of mind—the new state of
things that affects me.”

“Dear me, how oddly you express yourself!” said Velchaninoff, rising from
his seat once more, and becoming quite serious again.

“Oddly, do I? Perhaps.”

“Look here: are you joking?”

“Joking!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, in shocked surprise; “_joking_—at the
very moment when I am telling you of——”

“Oh—be quiet about that! for goodness sake.”

Velchaninoff started off on his journey up and down the room again.

So matters stood for five minutes or so: the visitor seemed inclined to
rise from his chair, but Velchaninoff bade him sit still, and Pavel
Pavlovitch obediently flopped into his seat again.

“How changed you are!” said the host at last, stopping in front of the
other chair, as though suddenly struck with the idea; “fearfully changed!”

“Wonderful! you’re quite another man!”

“That’s hardly surprising! _nine_ years, sir!”

“No, no, no! years have nothing to do with it! it’s not in appearance you
are so changed: it’s something else!”

“Well, sir, the nine years might account for anything.”

“Perhaps it’s only since March, eh?”

“Ha-ha! you are playful, sir,” said Pavel Pavlovitch, laughing slyly.
“But, if I may ask it, wherein am I so changed?”

“Oh—why, you used to be such a staid, sober, correct Pavel Pavlovitch;
such a wise Pavel Pavlovitch; and now you’re a good-for-nothing sort of
Pavel Pavlovitch.”

Velchaninoff was in that state of irritation when the steadiest, gravest
people will sometimes say rather more than they mean.

“Good-for-nothing, am I? and _wise_ no longer, I suppose, eh?” chuckled
Pavel Pavlovitch, with disagreeable satisfaction.

“Wise, indeed! My dear sir, I’m afraid you are not sober,” replied
Velchaninoff; and added to himself, “I am pretty fairly insolent myself,
but I can’t compare with this little cad! And what on earth is the fellow
driving at?”

“Oh, my dear, good, my best of Alexey Ivanovitches,” said the visitor
suddenly, most excitedly, and twisting about on his chair, “and why
_should_ I be sober? We are not moving in the brilliant walks of
society—you and I—just now. We are but two dear old friends come together
in the full sincerity of perfect love, to recall and talk over that sweet
mutual tie of which the dear departed formed so treasured a link in our
friendship.”

So saying, the sensitive gentleman became so carried away by his feelings
that he bent his head down once more, to hide his emotion, and buried his
face in his hat.

Velchaninoff looked on with an uncomfortable feeling of disgust.

“I can’t help thinking the man is simply silly,” he thought; “and yet—no,
no—his face is so red he must be drunk. But drunk or not drunk, what does
the little wretch want with me? That’s the puzzle.”

“Do you remember—oh, _don’t_ you remember—our delightful little
evenings—dancing sometimes, or sometimes literary—at Simeon
Simeonovitch’s?” continued the visitor, gradually removing his hat from
before his face, and apparently growing more and more enthusiastic over
the memories of the past, “and our little readings—you and she and
myself—and our first meeting, when you came in to ask for information
about something connected with your business in the town, and commenced
shouting angrily at me; don’t you remember—when suddenly in came Natalia
Vasilievna, and within ten minutes you were our dear friend, and so
remained for exactly a year? Just like Turgenieff’s story ‘The
Provincialka!’ ”

Velchaninoff had continued his walk up and down the room during this
_tirade_, with his eyes on the ground, listening impatiently and with
disgust—but listening _hard_, all the same.

“It never struck me to think of ’The Provincialka’ in connection with the
matter,” he interrupted. “And look here, why do you talk in that sneaking,
whining sort of voice? You never used to do that. Your whole manner is
unlike yourself.”

“Quite so, quite so. I used to be more silent, I know. I used to love to
listen while others talked. You remember how well the dear departed
talked—the wit and grace of her conversation. As to The Provincialka, I
remember she and I used often to compare your friendship for us to certain
episodes in that piece, and especially to the doings of one Stupendief. It
really was remarkably like that character and his doings.”

“What Stupendief do you mean, confound it all?” cried Velchaninoff,
stamping his foot with rage. The name seemed to have evoked certain most
irritating thoughts in his mind.

“Why, Stupendief, don’t you know, the ‘husband’ in ‘Provincialka,’ ”
whined Pavel Pavlovitch, in the very sweetest of tones; “but that belongs
to another set of fond memories—after you departed, in fact, when Mr.
Bagantoff had honoured us with his friendship, just as you had done before
him, only that his lasted five whole years.”

“Bagantoff? What Bagantoff? Do you mean that same Bagantoff who was
serving down in your town? Why, he also——”

“Yes, yes! quite so. He also, he also!” cried the enthusiastic Pavel
Pavlovitch, seizing upon Velchaninoff’s accidental slip. “Of course! So
that there you are—there’s the whole company. Bagantoff played the
‘count,’ the dear departed was the ‘Provincialka,’ and I was the
‘husband,’ only that the part was taken away from me, for incapacity, I
suppose!”

“Yes; fancy _you_ a Stupendief. You’re a—you’re first a Pavel Pavlovitch
Trusotsky!” said Velchaninoff, contemptuously, and very unceremoniously.
“But look here! Bagantoff is in town; I know he is, for I have seen him.
Why don’t you go to see _him_ as well as myself?”

“My dear sir, I’ve been there every day for the last three weeks. He won’t
receive me; he’s ill, and can’t receive! And, do you know, I have found
out that he really is very ill! Fancy my feelings—a five-year’s friend!
Oh, my dear Alexey Ivanovitch! you don’t know what my feelings are in my
present condition of mind. I assure you, at one moment I long for the
earth to open and swallow me up, and the next I feel that I _must_ find
one of those old friends, eyewitnesses of the past, as it were, if only to
weep on his bosom, only to weep, sir—give you my word.”

“Well, that’s about enough for to-night; don’t you think so?” said
Velchaninoff, cuttingly.

“Oh, too—too much!” cried the other, rising. “It must be four o’clock; and
here am I agitating your feelings in the most selfish way.”

“Now, look here; I shall call upon you myself, and I hope that you will
then——but, tell me honestly, are you drunk to-night?”

“Drunk! not the least in the world!”

“Did you drink nothing before you came here, or earlier?”

“Do you know, my dear Alexey Ivanovitch, you are quite in a high fever!”

“Good-night. I shall call to-morrow.”

“And I have noticed it all the evening, really quite delirious!” continued
Pavel Pavlovitch, licking his lips, as it were, with satisfaction as he
pursued this theme. “I am really quite ashamed that I should have allowed
myself to be so awkward as to agitate you. Well, well; I’m going! Now you
must lie down at once and go to sleep.”

“You haven’t told me where you live,” shouted Velchaninoff after him as he
left the room.

“Oh, didn’t I? Pokrofsky Hotel.”

Pavel Pavlovitch was out on the stairs now.

“Stop!” cried Velchaninoff, once more. “You are not ‘running away,’ are
you?”

“How do you mean, ‘running away?’ ” asked Pavel Pavlovitch, turning round
at the third step, and grinning back at him, with his eyes staring very
wide open.

Instead of replying, Velchaninoff banged the door fiercely, locked and
bolted it, and went fuming back into his room. Arrived there, he spat on
the ground, as though to get rid of the taste of something loathsome.

He then stood motionless for at least five minutes, in the centre of the
room; after which he threw himself upon his bed, and fell asleep in an
instant.

The forgotten candle burned itself out in its socket.



CHAPTER IV.


Velchaninoff slept soundly until half-past nine, at which hour he started
up, sat down on the side of his bed, and began to think.

His thoughts quickly fixed themselves upon the death of “that woman.”

The agitating impression wrought upon his mind by yesterday’s news as to
her death had left a painful feeling of mental perturbation.

This morning the whole of the events of nine years back stood out before
his mind’s eye with extraordinary distinctness.

He had loved this woman, Natalia Vasilievna—Trusotsky’s wife,—he had loved
her, and had acted the part of her lover during the time which he had
spent in their provincial town (while engaged in business connected with a
legacy); he had lived there a whole year, though his business did not
require by any means so long a visit; in fact, the tie above mentioned had
detained him in the place.

He had been so completely under the influence of this passion, that
Natalia Vasilievna had held him in a species of slavery. He would have
obeyed the slightest whim or the wildest caprice of the woman, at that
time. He had never, before or since, experienced anything approaching to
the infatuation she had caused.

When the time came for departing, Velchaninoff had been in a state of such
absolute despair, though the parting was to have been but a short one,
that he had begged Natalia Vasilievna to leave all and fly across the
frontier with him; and it was only by laughing him out of the idea (though
she had at first encouraged it herself, probably for a joke), and by
unmercifully chaffing him, that the lady eventually persuaded Velchaninoff
to depart alone.

However, he had not been a couple of months in St. Petersburg before he
found himself asking himself that question which he had never to this day
been able to answer satisfactorily, namely, “_Did_ he love this woman at
all, or was it nothing but the infatuation of the moment?” He did not ask
this question because he was conscious of any new passion taking root in
his heart; on the contrary, during those first two months in town he had
been in that condition of mind that he had not so much as looked at a
woman, though he had met hundreds, and had returned to his old society
ways at once. And yet he knew perfectly well that if he were to return to
T—— he would instantly fall into the meshes of his passion for Natalia
Vasilievna once more, in spite of the question which he could not answer
as to the reality of his love for her.

Five years later he was as convinced of this fact as ever, although the
very thought of it was detestable to him, and although he did not remember
the name of Natalia Vasilievna but with loathing.

He was ashamed of that episode at T——. He could not understand how he
(Velchaninoff) could ever have allowed himself to become the victim of
such a stupid passion. He blushed whenever he thought of the shameful
business—blushed, and even wept for shame.

He managed to forget his remorse after a few more years—he felt sure that
he had “lived it down;” and yet now, after nine years, here was the whole
thing resuscitated by the news of Natalia’s death.

At all events, however, now, as he sat on his bed with agitating thoughts
swarming through his brain, he could not but feel that the fact of her
being dead was a consolation, amidst all the painful reflections which the
mention of her name had called up.

“Surely I am a little sorry for her?” he asked himself.

Well, he certainly did not feel that sensation of hatred for her now; he
could think of her and judge her now without passion of any kind, and
therefore more justly.

He had long since been of opinion that in all probability there had been
nothing more in Natalia Vasilievna than is to be found in every lady of
good provincial society, and that he himself had created the whole
“fantasy” of his worship and her worshipfulness; but though he had formed
this opinion, he always doubted its correctness, and he still felt that
doubt now. Facts existed to contradict the theory. For instance, this
Bagantoff had lived for several years at T——, and had been no less a
victim to passion for this woman, and had been as helpless as Velchaninoff
himself under her witchery. Bagantoff, though a young idiot (as
Velchaninoff expressed it), was nevertheless a scion of the very highest
society in St. Petersburg. His career was in St. Petersburg, and it was
significant that such a man should have wasted five important years of his
life at T—— simply out of love for this woman. It was said that he had
only returned to Petersburg even then because the lady had had enough of
him; so that, all things considered, there must have been something which
rendered Natalia Vasilievna preeminently attractive among women.

Yet the woman was not rich; she was not even pretty (if not absolutely
_plain_!) Velchaninoff had known her when she was twenty-eight years old.
Her face was capable of taking a pleasing expression, but her eyes were
not good—they were too hard. She was a thin, bony woman to look at. Her
mind was intelligent, but narrow and one-sided. She had tact and taste,
especially as to dress. Her character was firm and overbearing. She was
never wrong (in her own opinion) or unjust. The unfaithfulness towards her
husband never caused her the slightest remorse; she hated corruption, and
yet she was herself corrupt; and she believed in herself absolutely.
Nothing could ever have persuaded her that she herself was actually
depraved; Velchaninoff believed that she really did not know that her own
corruption was corrupt. He considered her to be “one of those women who
only exist to be unfaithful wives.” Such women never remain unmarried,—it
is the law of their nature to marry,—their husband is their first lover,
and he is always to blame for anything that may happen afterwards; the
unfaithful wife herself being invariably _absolutely_ in the right, and of
course perfectly innocent.

So thought Velchaninoff; and he was convinced that such a type of woman
actually existed; but he was no less convinced that there also existed a
corresponding type of men, born to be the husbands of such women. In his
opinion the mission of such men was to be, so to speak, “permanent
husbands,”—that is, to be husbands all their lives, and nothing else.

Velchaninoff had not the smallest doubt as to the existence of these two
types, and Pavel Pavlovitch Trusotsky was, in his opinion, an excellent
representative of the male type. Of course, the Pavel Pavlovitch of last
night was by no means the same Pavel Pavlovitch as he had known at T——. He
had found an extraordinary change in the man; and yet, on reflection, he
was bound to admit that the change was but natural, for that he could only
have remained what he was so long as his wife lived; and that now he was
but a part of a whole, allowed to wander at will—that is, an imperfect
being, a surprising, an incomprehensible sort of a _thing_, without proper
balance.

As for the Pavel Pavlovitch of T——, this is what Velchaninoff remembered
of him:

Pavel Pavlovitch had been a husband, of course,—a formality,—and that was
all. If, for instance, he was a clerk of department besides, he was so
merely in his capacity of, and as a part of his responsibility as—a
husband. He worked for his wife, and for her social position. He had been
thirty-five years old at that time, and was possessed of some considerable
property. He had not shown any special talent, nor, on the other hand, any
marked incapacity in his professional employment; his position had been
decidedly a good one.

Natalia Vasilievna had been respected and looked up to by all; not that
she valued their respect in the least,—she considered it merely as her
due. She was a good hostess, and had schooled Pavel Pavlovitch into polite
manners, so that he was able to receive and entertain the very best
society passably well.

He might be a clever man, for all Velchaninoff knew, but as Natalia
Vasilievna did not like her husband to talk much, there was little
opportunity of judging. He may have had many good qualities, as well as
bad; but the good ones were, so to speak, kept put away in their cases,
and the bad ones were stifled and not allowed to appear. Velchaninoff
remembered, for instance, that Pavel Pavlovitch had once or twice shown a
disposition to laugh at those about him, but this unworthy proclivity had
been very promptly subdued. He had been fond of telling stories, but this
was not allowed either; or, if permitted at all, the anecdote was to be of
the shortest and most uninteresting description.

Pavel Pavlovitch had a circle of private friends outside the house, with
whom he was fain, at times, to taste the flowing bowl; but this vicious
tendency was radically stamped out as soon as possible.

And yet, with all this, Natalia Vasilievna appeared, to the uninitiated,
to be the most obedient of wives, and doubtless considered herself so.
Pavel Pavlovitch may have been desperately in love with her,—no one could
say as to this.

Velchaninoff had frequently asked himself during his life at T——, whether
Pavel Pavlovitch ever suspected his wife of having formed the tie with
himself, of which mention has been made. Velchaninoff had several times
questioned Natalia Vasilievna on this point, seriously enough; but had
invariably been told, with some show of annoyance, that her husband
neither did know, nor ever could know; and that “all there might be to
know was not his business!”

Another trait in her character was that she never laughed at Pavel
Pavlovitch, and never found him funny in any sense; and that she would
have been down on any person who dared to be rude to him, at once!

Pavel Pavlovitch’s reference to the pleasant little readings enjoyed by
the trio nine years ago was accurate; they used to read Dickens’ novels
together. Velchaninoff or Trusotsky reading aloud, while Natalia
Vasilievna worked. The life at T—— had ended suddenly, and so far as
Velchaninoff was concerned, in a way which drove him almost to the verge
of madness. The fact is, he was simply turned out—although it was all
managed in such a way that he never observed that he was being thrown over
like an old worn-out shoe.

A young artillery officer had appeared in the town a month or so before
Velchaninoff’s departure and had made acquaintance with the Trusotsky’s.
The trio became a quartet. Before long Velchaninoff was informed that for
many reasons a separation was absolutely necessary; Natalia Vasilievna
adduced a hundred excellent reasons why this had become unavoidable—and
especially one which quite settled the matter. After his stormy attempt to
persuade Natalia Vasilievna to fly with him to Paris—or
anywhere,—Velchaninoff had ended by going to St. Petersburg alone—for two
or three months at the _very most_, as he said,—otherwise he would refuse
to go at all, in spite of every reason and argument Natalia might adduce.

Exactly two months later Velchaninoff had received a letter from Natalia
Vasilievna, begging him to come no more to T——, because that she already
loved another. As to the principal reason which she had brought forward in
favour of his immediate departure, she now informed him that she had made
a mistake. Velchaninoff remembered the young artilleryman, and
understood,—and so the matter had ended, once and for all. A year or two
after this Bagantoff appeared at T——, and an intimacy between Natalia
Vasilievna and the former had sprung up which lasted for five years. This
long period of constancy, Velchaninoff attributed to advancing age on the
part of Natalia. He sat on the side of his bed for nearly an hour and
thought. At last he roused himself, rang for Mavra and his coffee, drank
it off quickly—dressed—and punctually at eleven was on his way to the
Pokrofsky Hotel: he felt rather ashamed of his behaviour to Pavel
Pavlovitch last night. Velchaninoff put down all that phantasmagoria of
the trying of the lock and so on to Pavel Pavlovitch’s drunken condition
and to other reasons,—but he did not know why he was now on his way to
make fresh relations with the husband of that woman, since their
acquaintanceship and intercourse had come to so natural and simple a
termination; yet something seemed to draw him thither—some strong current
of impulse,—and he went.



CHAPTER V.


Pavel Pavlovitch was not thinking of “running away,” and goodness knows
why Velchaninoff should have asked him such a question last night—he did
not know himself why he had said it!

He was directed to the Petrofsky Hotel, and found the building at once. At
the hotel he was told that Pavel Pavlovitch had now engaged a furnished
lodging in the back part of the same house.

Mounting the dirty and narrow stairs indicated, as far as the third
storey, he suddenly became aware of someone crying. It sounded like the
weeping of a child of some seven or eight years of age; it was a bitter,
but a more or less suppressed sort of crying, and with it came the sound
of a grown man’s voice, apparently trying to quiet the child—anxious that
its sobbing and crying should not be heard,—and yet only succeeding in
making it cry the louder.

The man’s voice did not seem in any way sympathetic with the child’s
grief; and the latter appeared to be begging for forgiveness.

Making his way into a narrow dark passage with two doors on each side of
it, Velchaninoff met a stout-looking, elderly woman, in very careless
morning attire, and inquired for Pavel Pavlovitch.

She tapped the door with her fingers in response to his inquiry—the same
door, apparently, whence issued the noises just mentioned. Her fat face
seemed to flush with indignation as she did so.

“He appears to be amusing himself in there!” she said, and proceeded
downstairs.

Velchaninoff was about to knock, but thought better of it and opened the
door without ceremony.

In the very middle of a room furnished with plain, but abundant furniture,
stood Pavel Pavlovitch in his shirt-sleeves, very red in the face, trying
to persuade a little girl to do something or other, and using cries and
gestures, and what looked to Velchaninoff very like kicks, in order to
effect his purpose. The child appeared to be some seven or eight years of
age, and was poorly dressed in a short black stuff frock. She seemed to be
in a most hysterical condition, crying and stretching out her arms to
Pavel Pavlovitch, as though begging and entreating him to allow her to do
whatever it might be she desired.

On Velchaninoff’s appearance the scene changed in an instant. No sooner
did her eyes fall on the visitor than the child made for the door of the
next room, with a cry of alarm; while Pavel Pavlovitch—thrown out for one
little instant—immediately relaxed into smiles of great sweetness—exactly
as he had done last night, when Velchaninoff suddenly opened his front
door and caught him standing outside.

“Alexey Ivanovitch!” he cried in real surprise; “who ever would have
thought it! Sit down—sit down—take the sofa—or this chair,—sit down, my
dear sir! I’ll just put on——” and he rushed for his coat and threw it on,
leaving his waistcoat behind.

“Don’t stand on ceremony with me,” said Velchaninoff sitting down; “stay
as you are!”

“No, sir, no! excuse me—I insist upon standing on ceremony. There, now!
I’m a little more respectable! Dear me, now, who ever would have thought
of seeing _you_ here!—not I, for one!”

Pavel Pavlovitch sat down on the edge of a chair, which he turned so as to
face Velchaninoff.

“And pray _why_ shouldn’t you have expected me? I told you last night that
I was coming this morning!”

“I thought you wouldn’t come, sir—I did indeed; in fact, when I thought
over yesterday’s visit, I despaired of ever seeing you again: I did
indeed, sir!”

Velchaninoff glanced round the room meanwhile. The place was very untidy;
the bed was unmade; the clothes thrown about the floor; on the table were
two coffee tumblers with the dregs of coffee still in them, and a bottle
of champagne half finished, and with a tumbler standing alongside it. He
glanced at the next room, but all was quiet there; the little girl had
hidden herself, and was as still as a mouse.

“You don’t mean to say you drink that stuff at this time of day?” he
asked, indicating the champagne bottle.

“It’s only a remnant,” explained Pavel Pavlovitch, a little confused.

“My word! You _are_ a changed man!”

“Bad habits, sir; and all of a sudden. All dating from that time, sir.
Give you my word, I couldn’t resist it. But I’m all right now—I’m not
drunk—I shan’t talk twaddle as I did last night; don’t be afraid sir, it’s
all right! From that very day, sir; give you my word it is! And if anyone
had told me half a year ago that I should become like this,—if they had
shown me my face in a glass then as I should be _now_, I should have given
them the lie, sir; I should indeed!”

“Hem! Then you _were_ drunk last night?”

“Yes—I was!” admitted Pavel Pavlovitch, a little guiltily—“not exactly
_drunk_, a little _beyond_ drunk!—I tell you this by way of explanation,
because I’m always worse _after_ being drunk! If I’m only a little drunk,
still the violence and unreasonableness of intoxication come out
afterwards, and stay out too; and then I feel my grief the more keenly. I
daresay my grief is responsible for my drinking. I am capable of making an
awful fool of myself and offending people when I’m drunk. I daresay I
seemed strange enough to you last night?”

“Don’t you remember what you said and did?”

“Assuredly I do—I remember everything!”

“Listen to me, Pavel Pavlovitch: I have thought it over and have come to
very much the same conclusion as you did yourself,” began Velchaninoff
gently; “besides—I believe I was a little too irritable towards you last
night—too impatient,—I admit it gladly; the fact is—I am not very well
sometimes, and your sudden arrival, you know, in the middle of the
night——”

“In the middle of the night: you are quite right—it was!” said Pavel
Pavlovitch, wagging his head assentingly; “how in the world could I have
brought myself to do such a thing? I shouldn’t have come in, though, if
you hadn’t opened the door. I should have gone as I came. I called on you
about a week ago, and did not find you at home, and I daresay I should
never have called again; for I am rather proud—Alexey Ivanovitch—in spite
of my present state. Whenever I have met you in the streets I have always
said to myself, ‘What if he doesn’t know me and rejects me—nine years is
no joke!’ and I did not dare try you for fear of being snubbed. Yesterday,
thanks to that sort of thing, you know,” (he pointed to the bottle), “I
didn’t know what time it was, and—it’s lucky you are the kind of man you
are, Alexey Ivanovitch, or I should despair of preserving your
acquaintance, after yesterday! You remember old times, Alexey Ivanovitch!”

Velchaninoff listened keenly to all this. The man seemed to be talking
seriously enough, and even with some dignity; and yet he had not believed
a single word that Pavel Pavlovitch had uttered from the very first moment
that he entered the room.

“Tell me, Pavel Pavlovitch,” said Velchaninoff at last, “—I see you are
not quite alone here,—whose little girl is that I saw when I came in?”

Pavel Pavlovitch looked surprised and raised his eyebrow; but he gazed
back at Velchaninoff with candour and apparent amiability:

“Whose little girl? Why that’s our Liza!” he said, smiling affably.

“What Liza?” asked Velchaninoff,—and something seemed to cause him to
shudder inwardly.

The sensation was dreadfully sudden. Just now, on entering the room and
seeing Liza, he had felt surprised more or less,—but had not been
conscious of the slightest feeling of presentiment,—indeed he had had no
special thought about the matter, at the moment.

“Why—_our_ Liza!—our daughter Liza!” repeated Pavel Pavlovitch, smiling.

“Your daughter? Do you mean to say that you and Natalia Vasilievna had
children?” asked Velchaninoff timidly, and in a very low tone of voice
indeed!

“Of course—but—what a fool I am—how in the world should _you_ know!
Providence sent us the gift after you had gone!”

Pavel Pavlovitch jumped off his chair in apparently pleasurable
excitement.

“I heard nothing of it!” said Velchaninoff, looking very pale.

“How should you? how should you?” repeated Pavel Pavlovitch with ineffable
sweetness. “We had quite lost hope of any children—as you may
remember,—when suddenly Heaven sent us this little one. And, oh! my
feelings—Heaven alone knows what I felt! Just a year after you went, I
think—no, wait a bit—not a year by a long way!—Let’s see, you left us in
October, or November, didn’t you?”

“I left T—— on the twelfth of September, I remember well.”

“Hum! September was it? Dear me! Well, then, let’s see—September, October,
November, December, January, February, March, April—to the 8th of May—that
was Liza’s birthday—eight months all but a bit; and if you could only have
seen the dear departed, how rejoiced——”

“Show her to me—call her in!” the words seemed to tear themselves from
Velchaninoff, whether he liked it or no.

“Certainly—this moment!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, forgetting that he had
not finished his previous sentence, or ignoring the fact; and he hastily
left the room, and entered the small chamber adjoining.

Three or four minutes passed by, while Velchaninoff heard the rapid
interchange of whispers going on, and an occasional rather louder sound of
Liza’s voice, apparently entreating her father to leave her alone—so
Velchaninoff concluded.

At last the two came out.

“There you are—she’s dreadfully shy and proud,” said Pavel Pavlovitch;
“just like her mother.”

Liza entered the room without tears, but with eyes downcast, her father
leading her by the hand. She was a tall, slight, and very pretty little
girl. She raised her large blue eyes to the visitor’s face with curiosity;
but only glanced surlily at him, and dropped them again. There was that in
her expression that one always sees in children when they look on some new
guest for the first time—retiring to a corner, and looking out at him
thence seriously and mistrustingly; only that there was a something in her
manner beyond the usual childish mistrust—so, at least thought
Velchaninoff.

Her father brought her straight up to the visitor.

“There—this gentleman knew mother very well. He was our friend; you
mustn’t be shy,—give him your hand!”

The child bowed slightly, and timidly stretched out her hand.

“Natalia Vasilievna never would teach her to curtsey; she liked her to
bow, English fashion, and give her hand,” explained Pavel Pavlovitch,
gazing intently at Velchaninoff.

Velchaninoff knew perfectly well that the other was keenly examining him
at this moment, but he made no attempt to conceal his agitation: he sat
motionless on his chair and held the child’s hand in his, gazing into her
face the while.

But Liza was apparently much preoccupied, and did not take her eyes off
her father’s face; she listened timidly to every word he said.

Velchaninoff recognised her large blue eyes at once; but what specially
struck him was the refined pallor of her face, and the colour of her hair;
these traits were altogether too significant, in his eyes! Her features,
on the other hand, and the set of her lips, reminded him keenly of Natalia
Vasilievna. Meanwhile Pavel Pavlovitch was in the middle of some
apparently most interesting tale—one of great sentiment seemingly,—but
Velchaninoff did not hear a word of it until the last few words struck
upon his ear:

“... So that you can’t imagine what our joy was when Providence sent us
this gift, Alexey Ivanovitch! She was everything to me, for I felt that if
it should be the will of Heaven to deprive me of my other joy, I should
still have Liza left to me; that’s what I felt, sir, I did indeed!”

“And Natalia Vasilievna?” asked Velchaninoff.

“Oh, Natalia Vasilievna—” began Pavel Pavlovitch, smiling with one side of
his mouth; “she never used to like to say much—as you know yourself; but
she told me on her deathbed—deathbed! you know, sir—to the very day of her
death she used to get so angry and say that they were trying to cure her
with a lot of nasty medicines when she had nothing the matter but a simple
little feverish attack; and that when Koch arrived (you remember our old
doctor Koch?) he would make her all right in a fortnight. Why, five hours
before she died she was talking of fixing that day three weeks for a visit
to her Aunt, Liza’s godmother, at her country place!” Velchaninoff here
started from his seat, but still held the child’s hand. He could not help
thinking that there was something reproachful in the girl’s persistent
stare in her father’s face.

“Is she ill?” he asked hurriedly, and his voice had a strange tone in it.

“No! I don’t think so” said Pavel Pavlovitch; “but, you see our way of
living here, and all that: she’s a strange child and very nervous,
besides! After her mother’s death she was quite ill and hysterical for a
fortnight. Just before you came in she was crying like anything; and do
you know what about, sir? Do you hear me, Liza?—You listen!—Simply because
I was going out, and wished to leave her behind, and because she said I
didn’t love her so well as I used to in her mother’s time. That’s what she
pitches into me for! Fancy a child like this getting hold of such an
idea!—a child who ought to be playing at dolls, instead of developing
ideas of that sort! The thing is, she has no one to play with here.”

“Then—then—are you two quite alone here?”

“Quite! a servant comes in once a day, that’s all!”

“And when you go out, do you leave her quite alone?”

“Of course! What else am I to do? Yesterday I locked her in that room, and
that’s what all the tears were about this morning. What could I do? the
day before yesterday she went down into the yard all by herself, and a boy
took a shot at her head with a stone! Not only that, but she must needs go
and cling on to everybody she met, and ask where I had gone to! That’s not
so very pleasant, you see! But I oughtn’t to complain when I say I am
going out for an hour and then stay out till four in the morning, as I did
last night! The landlady came and let her out: she had the door broken
open! Nice for my feelings, eh! It’s all the result of the eclipse that
came over my life; nothing but that, sir!”

“Papa!” said the child, timidly and anxiously.

“Now, then! none of that again! What did I tell you yesterday?”

“I won’t; I won’t!” cried the child hurriedly, clasping her hands before
her entreatingly.

“Come! things can’t be allowed to go on in this way!” said Velchaninoff
impatiently, and with authority. “In the first place, you are a man of
property; how can you possibly live in a hole like this, and in such
disorder?”

“This place! Oh, but we shall probably have left this place within a week;
and I’ve spent a lot of money here, as it is, though I may be ’a man of
property;’ and——”

“Very well, that’ll do,” interrupted Velchaninoff with growing impatience,
“now, I’ll make you a proposition: you have just said that you intend to
stay another week—perhaps two. I have a house here—or rather I know a
family where I am as much at home as at my own fireside, and have been so
for twenty years. The family I mean is the Pogoryeltseffs—Alexander
Pavlovitch Pogoryeltseff is a state councillor (he may be of use to you in
your business!) They are now living in the country—they have a beautiful
country villa; Claudia Petrovna, the lady of the house, is like a
sister—like a mother to me; they have eight children. Let me take Liza
down to them without loss of time! they’ll receive her with joy, and
they’ll treat her like their own little daughter—they will, indeed!”

Velchaninoff was in a great hurry, and much excited, and he did not
conceal his feelings.

“I’m afraid it’s impossible!” said Pavel Pavlovitch with a grimace,
looking straight into his visitor’s eyes, very cunningly, as it seemed to
Velchaninoff.

“Why! why, impossible?”

“Oh, why! to let the child go—so suddenly, you know, of course with such a
sincere well-wisher as yourself—it’s not that!—but a strange house—and
such swells, too!—I don’t know whether they would receive her!”

“But I tell you I’m like a son of the house!” cried Velchaninoff, almost
angrily. “Claudia Petrovna will be delighted to take her, at one word from
me! She’d receive her as though she were my own daughter. Deuce take it,
sir, you know you are only humbugging me,—what’s the use of talking about
it?”

He stamped his foot.

“No—no! I mean to say—don’t it look a little strange? Oughtn’t I to call
once or twice first?—such a smart house as you say theirs is—don’t you
see——”

“I tell you it’s the simplest house in the world; it isn’t ‘smart’ in the
least bit,” cried Velchaninoff; “they have a lot of children: it will make
another girl of her!—I’ll introduce you there myself, to-morrow, if you
like. Of course you’ll have to go and thank them, and all that. You shall
go down every day with me, if you please.”

“Oh, but——”

“Nonsense! You know it’s nonsense! Now look here: you come to me this
evening—I’ll put you up for the night—and we’ll start off early to-morrow
and be down there by twelve.”

“Benefactor!—and I may spend the night at your house?” cried Pavel
Pavlovitch, instantly consenting to the plan with the greatest
cordiality,—“you are really _too_ good! And where’s their country house?”

“At the Liesnoy.”

“But look here, how about her dress? Such a house, you know,—a father’s
heart shrinks——”

“Nonsense!—she’s in mourning—what else could she wear but a black dress
like this? it’s exactly the thing; you couldn’t imagine anything more
so!—you might let her have some clean linen with her, and give her a
cleaner neck-handkerchief.”

“Directly, directly. We’ll get her linen together in a couple of
minutes—it’s just home from the wash!”

“Send for a carriage—can you? Tell them to let us have it at once, so as
not to waste time.”

But now an unexpected obstacle arose: Liza absolutely rejected the plan;
she had listened to it with terror, and if Velchaninoff had, in his
excited argument with Pavel Pavlovitch, had time to glance at the child’s
face, he would have observed her expression of absolute despair at this
moment.

“I won’t go!” she said, quietly but firmly.

“There—look at that! Just like her mamma!”

“I’m _not_ like mamma, I’m _not_ like mamma!” cried Liza, wringing her
little hands in despair. “Oh, papa—papa!” she added, “if you desert me—”
she suddenly threw herself upon the alarmed Velchaninoff—“If you take me
away—” she cried—“I’ll——”

But Liza had no time to finish her sentence, for Pavel Pavlovitch suddenly
seized her by the arm and collar and hustled her into the next room with
unconcealed rage. For several minutes Velchaninoff listened to the
whispering going on there,—whisperings and seemingly subdued crying on the
part of Liza. He was about to follow the pair, when suddenly out came
Pavel Pavlovitch, and stated—with a disagreeable grin—that Liza would come
directly.

Velchaninoff tried not to look at him and kept his eyes fixed on the other
side of the room.

The elderly woman whom Velchaninoff had met on the stairs also made her
appearance, and packed Liza’s things into a neat little carpet bag.

“Is it you that are going to take the little lady away, sir?” she asked;
“if so, you are doing a good deed! She’s a nice quiet child, and you are
saving her from goodness knows what, here!”

“Oh! come—Maria Sisevna,”—began Pavel Pavlovitch.

“Well? What? Isn’t it true! Arn’t you ashamed to let a girl of her
intelligence see the things that you allow to go on here? The carriage has
arrived for you, sir,—_you_ ordered one for the Liesnoy, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, good luck to you!”

Liza came out, looking very pale and with downcast eyes; she took her bag,
but never glanced in Velchaninoff’s direction. She restrained herself and
did not throw herself upon her father, as she had done before—not even to
say good-bye. She evidently did not wish to look at him.

Her father kissed her and patted her head in correct form; her lip curled
during the operation, the chin trembled a little, but she did not raise
her eyes to her father’s.

Pavel Pavlovitch looked pale, and his hands shook; Velchaninoff saw that
plainly enough, although he did his best not to see the man at all. He
(Velchaninoff) had but one thought, and that was how to get away at once!

Downstairs was old Maria Sisevna, waiting to say good-bye; and more
kissing was done. Liza had just climbed into the carriage when suddenly
she caught sight of her father’s face; she gave a loud cry and wrung her
hands,—in another minute she would have been out of the carriage and away,
but luckily the vehicle went on and she was too late!



CHAPTER VI.


“Are you feeling faint?” asked Velchaninoff of his companion, frightened
out of his wits: “I’ll tell him to stop and get you some water, shall I?”

She looked at him angrily and reproachfully.

“Where are you taking me to?” she asked coldly and abruptly.

“To a very beautiful house, Liza. There are plenty of children,—they’ll
all love you there, they are so kind! Don’t be angry with me, Liza; I wish
you well, you know!”

In truth, Velchaninoff would have looked strange at this moment to any
acquaintance, if such had happened to see him!

“How—how—how—oh! _how_ wicked you are!” said Liza, fighting with
suppressed tears, and flashing her fine angry eyes at him.

“But Liza—I——”

“You are bad—bad—and wicked!” cried Liza. She wrung her hands.

Velchaninoff was beside himself.

“Oh, Liza, Liza! if only you knew what despair you are causing me!” he
said.

“Is it true that he is coming down to-morrow?” asked the child
haughtily—“is it true or not?”

“Quite true—I shall bring him down myself,—I shall take him and bring
him!”

“He will deceive you somehow!” cried the child, drooping her eyes.

“Doesn’t he love you, then, Liza?”

“No.”

“Has he ill-treated you,—has he?”

Liza looked gloomily at her questioner, and said nothing. She then turned
away from him and sat still and depressed.

Velchaninoff commenced to talk: he tried to win her,—he spoke
warmly—excitedly—feverishly.

Liza listened incredulously and with a hostile air,—but still she
listened. Her attention delighted him beyond measure;—he went so far as to
explain to her what it meant when a man took to drink. He said that he
loved her and would himself look after her father.

At last Liza raised her eyes and gazed fixedly at him.

Then Velchaninoff began to speak of her mother and of how well he had
known her; and he saw that his tales attracted her. Little by little she
began to reply to his questions, but very cautiously and in an obstinately
monosyllabic way.

She would answer nothing to his chief inquiries; as to her former
relations with her father, for instance, she maintained an obstinate
silence.

While speaking to her, Velchaninoff held the child’s hand in his own, as
before; and she did not try to take it away.

Liza said enough to make it apparent that she had loved her father more
than her mother at first, because that her father had loved the child
better than her mother did; but that when her mother had died and was
lying dead, Liza wept over her and kissed her, and ever since then she had
loved her mother more than all—all there was in the whole world—and that
every night she thought of her and loved her.

But Liza was very proud, and suddenly recollecting herself and finding
that she was saying a great deal more than she had meant to reveal, she
paused, and relapsed into obstinate silence once more, and gazed at
Velchaninoff with something like hatred in her eyes, considering that he
had beguiled her into the revelations just made.

By the end of the journey, however, her hysterical condition was nearly
over, but she was very silent and sat looking morosely about her,
obstinately silent and gloomy, like a little wild animal.

The fact that she was being taken to a strange house where she had never
been before did not seem so far to weigh upon her; Velchaninoff saw
clearly enough that other things distressed her, and principally that she
was ashamed—ashamed that her father should have let her go so
easily—thrown her away, as it were—into Velchaninoff’s arms.

“She’s ill,” thought the latter, “and perhaps very ill; she has been
bullied and ill-treated. Oh! that drunken, blackguardly wretch of a
fellow!” He hurried on the coachman. Velchaninoff trusted greatly to the
fresh air, to the garden, to the children, to the new life, now; as to the
future, he was in no sort of doubt at all, his hopes were clear and
defined. One thing he was quite sure of, and that was that he had never
before felt what now swelled within his soul, and that the sensation would
last for ever and ever.

“I have an object at last! this is Life!” he said to himself
enthusiastically.

Many thoughts welled into his brain just now, but he would have none of
them; he did not care to think of details at this moment, for without
details the future was all so clear and so beautiful, and so safe and
indestructible!

The basis of his plan was simple enough; it was simply this, in the
language of his own thoughts:

“I shall so work upon that drunken little blackguard that he will leave
Liza with the Pogoryeltseffs, and go away alone—at first, ‘for a time,’ of
course!—and so Liza shall remain behind for me! what more do I want? The
plan will suit him, too!—else why does he bully her like this?”

The carriage arrived at last.

It was certainly a very beautiful place. They were met first of all by a
troop of noisy children, who overflowed on to the front-door steps.
Velchaninoff had not been down for some time, and the delight of the
little ones to see him was excessive—they were very fond of him.

The elder ones shouted, before he had left the carriage, by way of chaff:

“How’s the lawsuit getting on, eh?” and the smaller gang took up the joke,
and all clamoured the same question: it was a pet joke in this
establishment to chaff Velchaninoff about his lawsuit. But when Liza
climbed down the carriage steps, she was instantly surrounded and stared
at with true juvenile curiosity. Then Claudia Petrovna and her husband
came out, and both of them good-humouredly bantered Velchaninoff about his
lawsuit.

Claudia Petrovna was a lady of some thirty-seven summers, stout and
well-favoured, and with a sweet fresh-looking face. Her husband was a man
of fifty-five, a clever and long-headed man of the world, but above all, a
good and kind-hearted friend to anyone requiring kindness.

The Pogoryeltseffs’ house was in the full sense of the word a “home” to
Velchaninoff, as the latter had stated. There was rather more here,
however; for, twenty years since Claudia had very nearly married young
Velchaninoff almost a boy at that time, and a student at the university.

This had been his first experience of love—and very hot and fiery and
funny—and sweet it was! The end of it was, however, that Claudia married
Mr Pogoryeltseff. Five years later she and Velchaninoff had met again, and
a quiet candid friendship had sprung up between them. Since then there had
always been a warmth, a speciality about their friendship, a radiance
which overspread it and glorified their relations one to the other. There
was nothing here that Velchaninoff could remember with shame—all was pure
and sweet; and this was perhaps the reason why the friendship was
specially dear to Velchaninoff; he had not experienced many such platonic
intimacies.

In this house Velchaninoff was simple and happy, confessed his sins,
played with the children and lectured them, and never bothered his head
about outside matters; he had promised the Pogoryeltseffs that he would
live a few more years alone in the world, and then move over to their
household for good and all; and he looked forward to that good time coming
with all seriousness.

Velchaninoff now gave all the information about Liza which he thought fit,
though his simple request would have been amply sufficient here.

Claudia Petrovna kissed the little “orphan,” and promised to do all she
possibly could for her; and the children carried Liza off to play in the
garden. Half an hour passed in conversation, and then Velchaninoff rose to
depart: he was in such a hurry, that his friends could not help remarking
upon the fact. He had not been near them for three weeks, they said, and
now he only stayed half an hour! Velchaninoff laughed and promised to come
down to-morrow. Someone observed that Velchaninoff’s state of agitation
was remarkable, even for _him_! Whereupon the latter jumped up, seized
Claudia Petrovna’s hand, and, under pretence of having forgotten to tell
her something most important about Liza, he led her into another room.

“Do you remember,” he began, “what I told you, and only you,—even your
husband does not know of it—about my year of life down at T——?”

“Oh yes! only too well! You have often spoken of it.”

“No—I did not ‘speak about it,’ I _confessed_, and only to yourself; but I
never told you the lady’s name. It was Trusotsky, the wife of this
Trusotsky; it is she who has died, and this little Liza is her child—_my_
child!”

“Is this certain? Are you quite sure there is no mistake?” asked Claudia
Petrovna, with some agitation.

“Quite, quite certain!” said Velchaninoff enthusiastically. He then gave a
short, hasty, and excited narrative of all that had occurred. Claudia had
heard it all before, excepting the lady’s name.

The fact is, Velchaninoff had always been so afraid that one of his
friends might some fine day meet Madame Trusotsky at T——, and wonder how
in the world he could have loved such a woman as that, that he had never
revealed her name to a single soul; not even to Claudia Petrovna, his
great friend.

“And does the ‘father’ know nothing of it?” asked Claudia, having heard
the tale out.

“N—no; he knows—you see, that’s just what is bothering me now. I haven’t
sifted the matter as yet,” resumed Velchaninoff hotly. “He must know—he
_does_ know. I remarked that fact both yesterday and to-day. But I wish to
discover _how much_ he knows. That’s why I am hurrying back now; he is
coming to-night. He knows all about Bagantoff; but how about myself? You
know how such wives can deceive their husbands! If an angel from Heaven
were to come down and convict a woman, her husband will still trust her,
and give the angel the lie.

“Oh! don’t nod your head at me, don’t judge me! I have long since judged
and convicted myself. You see, this morning I felt so sure that he knew
all, that I compromised myself before him. Fancy, I was really ashamed of
having been rude to him last night. He only called in to see me out of the
pure unconquerably malicious desire to show me that he knew all the
offence, and knew who was the offender! I behaved like a fool; I gave
myself into his hands too easily; I was too heated; he came at such a
feverish moment for me. I tell you, he has been bullying Liza, simply to
‘let off bile,’—you understand. He needs a safety-valve for his offended
feelings, and vents them upon _anyone_, even a little child!

“It is exasperation, and quite natural. We must treat him in a Christian
spirit, my friend; and do you know, I wish to change my way of treating
him, entirely; I wish to be particularly kind to him. That will be a good
action on my part, for I am to blame before him, I know I am; there’s no
disguising the fact! Besides, once at T——, it so happened that I required
four thousand roubles at a moment’s notice. Well, the fellow gave me the
money, without a receipt, at once, and with every manifestation of delight
to be able to serve me! And I took the money from his hands,—I did,
indeed! I took it as though he were a friend. Think of that!”

“Very well; only be careful!” said Claudia Petrovna. “You are so
enthusiastic that I am really alarmed for you! Of course Liza shall now be
no less than my own daughter to me; but there is so much to know and to
settle yet! Above all, be very careful and observant! You are not nearly
careful enough when you are happy! You are much too exalted an individual
to be cautious, when you are happy!” she added with a smile.

The whole family went out to see Velchaninoff off. The children brought
Liza along with them; they had been playing in the garden. They seemed to
look at her now with even more perplexity then at first! The girl became
dreadfully shy when Velchaninoff kissed her before all, and promised to
come down next day and bring her father with him. To the last moment she
did not say a single word, and never looked at him at all; but just before
he was about to start she seized his hand and drew him away to one side,
looking imploringly in his face: she evidently had something to say to
him. Velchaninoff immediately took her into an adjoining room.

“What is it, Liza?” he asked, kindly and encouragingly; but she drew him
farther away,—into the very farthest corner of the room, anxious to get
well out of sight and hearing of the rest.

“What is it, Liza? What is it?”

But she was still silent, and could not make up her mind to speak; she
stared with her motionless, large blue eyes, into his face, and in every
lineament of her little face was betrayed the wildest terror and anxiety.

“He’ll—hang himself!” she whispered at last, as though she were talking in
her sleep.

“Who will hang himself?” asked Velchaninoff, in alarm.

“He will—_he_! He tried to hang himself to a hook last night!” said the
child, panting with haste and excitement; “I saw it myself! To-day he
tried it again,—he wishes to hang himself; he told me so!—he told me so!
He wanted to, long ago; he has always wanted to do it! I saw it myself—in
the night!”

“Impossible!” muttered Velchaninoff, incredulously.

Liza suddenly threw herself into his arms, kissed his hands, and cried.
She could hardly breathe for sobbing; she was begging and imploring
Velchaninoff, but he could not understand what she was trying to say.

Velchaninoff never afterwards forgot the terrible look of this distressed
child; he thought of it waking and thought of it sleeping—how she had come
to him in her despair as to her last hope, and hysterically begged and
prayed him to help her! “And to think of her being so deeply attached to
him!” he reflected jealously, as he drove, impatient and feverish, towards
town. “She said herself that she loved her mother better;—perhaps she
hates him, and doesn’t love him at all! And what’s all that nonsense about
‘hanging himself!’ What did she mean by that? As if he would hang himself,
the fool! I must sift the matter—the whole matter. I must settle this
business once and for ever—and quickly!”



CHAPTER VII.


He was in a great hurry to “know all.” In order to lose no time about
finding out what he felt he must know at once, he told the coachman to
drive him straight to Trusotsky’s rooms. On the way he changed his mind;
“let him come to me, himself,” he thought, “and meanwhile I can attend to
my cursed law business.”

But to-day he really felt that he was too absent to attend to anything at
all; and at five o’clock he set out with the intention of dining. And at
this moment, for the first time, an amusing idea struck him. What if he
really only hindered his law business by meddling as he did, and hunting
his wretched lawyer about the place, when the latter plainly avoided
meeting him? Velchaninoff laughed merrily over this idea. “And yet,” he
thought; “if this notion had struck me in the evening instead of now, how
angry I should have been!” He laughed again, more merrily than before. But
in spite of his merriness he grew more and more thoughtful and impatient,
and could settle to nothing, nor could he think out what he most wanted to
reflect upon.

“I _must_ have that fellow here!” he said at length; “I must read the
mystery of _him_ first of all, and then I can settle what to do next.
There’s a duel in this business!”

Returning home at seven o’clock he did not find Pavel Pavlovitch there,
which fact first surprised him, then angered him, then depressed him, and
at last, frightened him.

“God knows, God knows how it will all end!” he cried; first trying to
settle himself on a sofa, and then marching up and down the room, and all
the while looking at his watch every other minute.

At length—at about nine o’clock—Pavel Pavlovitch appeared.

“If this man was cunning enough to mean it he could not have managed
better in order to put me into a state of nervousness!” thought
Velchaninoff, though his heart bounded for joy to see his guest arrive.

To Velchaninoff’s cordial inquiry as to why he was so late, Pavel
Pavlovitch smiled disagreeably—took a seat with easy familiarity,
carelessly threw his crapebound hat on a chair,—and made himself perfectly
at home. Velchaninoff observed and took stock of the careless manner
adopted by his visitor; it was not like yesterday. Velchaninoff then
quietly, and in a few words, gave Pavel Pavlovitch an account of what he
had done with Liza, of how kindly she had been received, of how good it
would be for the child down there; then he led the conversation to the
topic of the Pogoryeltseffs, leaving Liza out of the talking altogether,
and spoke of how kind the whole family were, of how long he had known
them, and so on.

Pavel Pavlovitch listened absently, occasionally looking ironically at his
host from under his eyelashes.

“What an enthusiast you are!” he muttered at last, smiling very
unpleasantly.

“Hum, you seem in a bad humour to-day!” remarked Velchaninoff with
annoyance.

“And why shouldn’t I be as wicked as my neighbours?” cried Pavel
Pavlovitch suddenly! He said this so abruptly that he gave one the idea
that he had pounced out of a corner where he had been lurking, on purpose
to make a dash at the first opportunity.

“Oh dear me! do as you like, pray!” laughed Velchaninoff; “I only thought
something had put you out, perhaps!”

“So it has,” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, as though proud of the fact.

“Well, what was it?”

Pavel Pavlovitch waited a moment or two before he replied.

“Why it’s that Stepan Michailovitch Bagantoff of ours—up to his tricks
again; he’s a shining light among the highest circles of society—he is!”

“Wouldn’t he receive you again—or what?”

“N—no! not quite that, this time; on the contrary I was allowed to go in
for the first time on record, and I had the honour of musing over his
features, too!—but he happened to be a corpse, that’s all!”

“What! Bagantoff dead?” cried Velchaninoff, in the greatest astonishment;
though there was no particular reason why he _should_ be surprised.

“Yes—my unalterable—six-years-standing friend is dead!—died yesterday at
about mid-day, and I knew nothing of it! Perhaps he died just when I
called there—who knows? To-morrow is the funeral! he’s in his coffin at
this moment! Died of nervous fever; and they let me in to see him—they did
indeed!—to contemplate his features! I told them I was a great friend—and
therefore they allowed me in! A pretty trick he has played me—this dear
friend of six years’ standing! why—perhaps I came to St. Petersburg
_specially for him_!”

“Well—it’s hardly worth your while to be angry with him about it, is it—he
didn’t die on purpose!” said Velchaninoff laughing.

“Oh, but I’m speaking out of pure sympathy—he was a _dear_ friend to me!
oh a _very_ dear friend!”

Pavel Pavlovitch gave a smile of detestable irony and cunning.

“Do you know what, Alexey Ivanovitch,” he resumed, “I think you ought to
treat me to something,—I have often treated you; I used to be your host
every blessed day, sir, at T——, for a whole year! Send for a bottle of
wine, do—my throat is so dry!”

“With pleasure—why didn’t you say so before! what would you like?”

“Don’t say ‘you!’ say ‘we’! we’ll drink together of course!” said Pavel
Pavlovitch defiantly, but at the same time looking into Velchaninoff’s
eyes with some concern.

“Shall it be champagne?”

“Of course! it isn’t time for vodki yet!”

Velchaninoff rose slowly—rang the bell and gave Mavra the necessary
orders.

“We’ll drink to this happy meeting of friends after nine years’ parting!”
said Pavel Pavlovitch, with a very inappropriate and unnecessary giggle.
“Why, you are the only real, true friend left to me now! Bagantoff is no
more! it quite reminds one of the great poet:

“Great Patroclus is no more,
Mean Thersites liveth yet!”

—and so on,—don’t you know!”

At the name “Thersites” Pavel Pavlovitch touched his own breast.

“I wish you would speak plainly, you pig of a fellow!” said Velchaninoff
to himself, “I hate hints!” His own anger was on the rise, and he had long
been struggling with his self-restraint.

“Look here,—tell me this, since you consider Bagantoff to have been guilty
before you (as I see you do) surely you must be glad that your betrayer is
dead? What are you so angry about?”

“Glad! Why should I be glad?”

“I judge by what I should imagine your feelings to be.”

“Ha-ha! well, this time you are a little bit in error as to my feelings,
for once! A certain sage has said ’my good enemy is dead, but I have a
still better one alive! ha-ha!”

“Well but you saw him alive for five years at a stretch,—I should have
thought that was enough to contemplate his features in!” said Velchaninoff
angrily and contemptuously.

“Yes, but how was I to know then, sir?” snapped Pavel Pavlovitch—jumping
out of an ambush once more, as it were,—delighted to be asked a question
which he had long awaited; “why, what do you take me for, Alexey
Ivanovitch?” at this moment there was in the speaker’s face a new
expression altogether, transfiguring entirely the hitherto merely
disagreeably malicious look upon it.

“Do you mean to say you knew nothing of it?” said Velchaninoff in
astonishment.

“How! Didn’t know? As if I could have known it and——Oh, you race of
Jupiters! you reckon a man to be no better than a dog, and judge of him by
your own sentiments. Look here, sir,—there, look at that.” So saying, he
brought his fist madly down upon the table with a resounding bang, and
immediately afterwards looked frightened at his own act.

Velchaninoff’s face beamed.

“Listen, Pavel Pavlovitch,” he said; “it is entirely the same thing to me
whether you knew or did not know all about it. If you did not know, so
much the more honourable is it for you; but—I can’t understand why you
should have selected me for your confidant.”

“I wasn’t talking of you; don’t be angry, it wasn’t about you,” muttered
Pavel Pavlovitch, with his eyes fixed on the ground.

At this moment, Mavra entered with the champagne.

“Here it is!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, immensely delighted at the
appearance of the wine. “Now then, tumblers my good girl, tumblers quick!
Capital! Thank you, we don’t require you any more, my good Mavra. What!
you’ve drawn the cork? Excellent creature. Well, ta-ta! off with you.”

Mavra’s advent with the bottle so encouraged him that he again looked at
Velchaninoff with some defiance.

“Now confess,” he giggled suddenly, “confess that you are very curious
indeed to hear about all this, and that it is by no means ‘entirely the
same to you,’ as you declared! Confess that you would be miserable if I
were to get up and go away this very minute without telling you anything
more.”

“Not the least in the world, I assure you!”

Pavel Pavlovitch smiled; and his smile said, as plainly as words could,
“That’s a lie!”

“Well, let’s to business,” he said, and poured out two glasses of
champagne.

“Here’s a toast,” he continued, raising his goblet, “to the health in
Paradise of our dear departed friend Bagantoff.”

He raised his glass and drank.

“I won’t drink such a toast as that!” said Velchaninoff; and put his glass
down on the table.

“Why not? It’s a very pretty toast.”

“Look here, were you drunk when you came here?”

“A little; why?”

“Oh—nothing particular. Only it appeared to me that yesterday, and
especially this morning, you were sincerely sorry for the loss of Natalia
Vasilievna.”

“And who says I am not sorry now?” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, as if somebody
had pulled a string and made him snap the words out, like a doll.

“No, I don’t mean that; but you must admit you may be in error about
Bagantoff; and that’s a serious matter!”

Pavel Pavlovitch grinned and gave a wink.

“Hey! Wouldn’t you just like to know how I found out about Bagantoff, eh?”

Velchaninoff blushed.

“I repeat, it’s all the same to me,” he said; and added to himself,
“Hadn’t I better pitch him and the bottle out of the window together.” He
was blushing more and more now.

Pavel Pavlovitch poured himself out another glass.

“I’ll tell you directly how I found out all about Mr. Bagantoff, and your
burning wish shall be satisfied. For you are a fiery sort of man, you
know, Alexey Ivanovitch, oh, dreadfully so! Ha-ha-ha. Just give me a
cigarette first, will you, for ever since March——”

“Here’s a cigarette for you.”

“Ever since March I have been a depraved man, sir, and this is how it all
came about. Listen. Consumption, as you know, my dear friend” (Pavel
Pavlovitch was growing more and more familiar!), “is an interesting
malady. One sees a man dying of consumption without a suspicion that
to-morrow is to be his last day. Well, I told you how Natalia Vasilievna,
up to five hours before her death, talked about going to visit her aunt,
who lived thirty miles or so away, and starting in a fortnight. You know
how some ladies—and gentlemen, too, I daresay—have the bad habit of
keeping a lot of old rubbish by them, in the way of love-letters and so
on. It would be much safer to stick them all into the fire, wouldn’t it?
But no, they must keep every little scrap of paper in drawers and desks,
and endorse it and classify it, and tie it up in bundles, for each year
and month and class! I don’t know whether they find this consoling to
their feelings afterwards, or what. Well, since she was arranging a visit
to her aunt just five hours before her death, Natalia Vasilievna naturally
did not expect to die so soon; in fact, she was expecting old Doctor Koch
down till the last; and so, when Natalia Vasilievna _did_ die, she left
behind her a beautiful little black desk all inlaid with mother-of-pearl,
and bound with silver, in her bureau; oh, a lovely little box, an heirloom
left her by her grandmother, with a lock and key all complete. Well, sir,
in this box everything—I mean _everything_, you know, for every day and
hour for the last twenty years—was disclosed; and since Mr. Bagantoff had
a decided taste for literature (indeed, he had published a passionate
novel once, I am told, in a newspaper!)—consequently there were about a
hundred examples of his genius in the desk, ranging over a period of five
years. Some of these talented effusions were covered with pencilled
remarks by Natalia Vasilievna herself! Pleasant, that, for a fond
husband’s feelings, sir, eh?”

Velchaninoff quickly cast his thoughts back over the past, and remembered
that he had never written a single letter or a single note to Natalia
Vasilievna.

He had written a couple of letters from St. Petersburg, but, according to
a previous arrangement, he had addressed them to both Mr. and Mrs.
Trusotsky together. He had not answered Natalia Vasilievna’s last
letter—which had contained his dismissal—at all.

Having ended his speech, Pavel Pavlovitch relapsed into silence, and sat
smiling repulsively for a whole minute or so.

“Why don’t you answer my question, my friend?” he asked, at length,
evidently disturbed by Velchaninoff’s silence.

“What question?”

“As to the pleasure I must have felt as a fond husband, upon opening the
desk.”

“Your feelings are no business of mine!” said the other bitterly, rising
and commencing to stride up and down the room.

“I wouldn’t mind betting that you are thinking at this very moment: ‘What
a pig of a fellow he is to parade his shame like this!’ Ha-ha! dear me,
what a squeamish gentleman you are to be sure!”

“Not at all. I was thinking nothing of the sort; on the contrary, I
consider that you are—besides being more or less intoxicated—so put out by
the death of the man who has injured you that you are not yourself.
There’s nothing surprising in it at all! I quite understand why you wish
Bagantoff were still alive, and am ready to respect your annoyance, but——”

“And pray _why_ do you suppose that I wish Bagantoff were alive?”

“Oh, that’s your affair!”

“I’ll take my oath you are thinking of a duel!”

“Devil take it, sir!” cried Velchaninoff, obliged to hold himself tighter
than ever. “I was thinking that you, like every respectable person in
similar circumstances, would act openly and candidly and
straightforwardly, and not humiliate yourself with comical antics and
silly grimaces, and ridiculous complaints and detestable innuendoes, which
only heap greater shame upon you. I say I was thinking you would act like
a respectable person.”

“Ha-ha-ha!—but perhaps I am _not_ a respectable person!”

“Oh, well, that’s your own affair again and yet, if so, what in the
devil’s name could you want with Bagantoff alive?”

“Oh, my dear sir, I should have liked just to have a nice peep at a dear
old friend, that’s all. We should have got hold of a bottle of wine, and
drunk it together!”

“He wouldn’t have drunk with _you_!”

“Why not? _Noblesse oblige?_ Why, _you_ are drinking with me. Wherein is
he better than you?”

“I have not drunk with you.”

“Wherefore this sudden pride, sir?”

Velchaninoff suddenly burst into a fit of nervous, irritable laughter.

“Why, deuce take it all!” he cried, “you are quite a different type to
what I believed. I thought you were nothing but a ‘permanent husband,’ but
I find you are a sort of bird of prey.”

“What! ‘permanent husband?’ What is a ‘permanent husband?’ ” asked Pavel
Pavlovitch, pricking up his ears.

“Oh—just one type of husbands—that’s all, it’s too long to explain. Come,
you’d better get out now; it’s quite time you went. I’m sick of you!”

“And bird of prey, sir; what did that mean?”

“I said you were a bird of prey for a joke.”

“Yes; but—bird of prey—tell me what you mean, Alexey Ivanovitch, for
goodness sake!”

“Come, come, that’s quite enough!” shouted Velchaninoff, suddenly flaring
up and speaking at the top of his voice. “It’s time you went; get out of
this, will you?”

“No, sir, it’s _not_ enough!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, jumping up, too.
“Even if you _are_ sick of me, sir, it’s not enough; for you must first
drink and clink glasses with me. I won’t go before you do! No, no; oh dear
no! drink first; it’s _not_ enough yet.”

“Pavel Pavlovitch, will you go to the devil or will you not?”

“With pleasure, sir. I’ll go to the devil with pleasure; but first we must
drink. You say you don’t wish to drink _with me_; but _I wish you_ to
drink with me—actually _with me_.”

Pavel Pavlovitch was grimacing and giggling no longer. He seemed to be
suddenly transfigured again, and was as different from the Pavel
Pavlovitch of but a few moments since as he could possibly be, both in
appearance and in the tone of his voice; so much so that Velchaninoff was
absolutely confounded.

“Come, Alexey Ivanovitch, let’s drink!—don’t refuse me!” continued Pavel
Pavlovitch, seizing the other tightly by the hand and gazing into his face
with an extraordinary expression.

It was clear there was more in this matter than the mere question of
drinking a glass of wine.

“Well,” muttered Velchaninoff, “but that’s nothing but dregs!”

“No, there’s just a couple of glasses left—it’s quite clear. Now then,
clink glasses and drink. There, I’ll take your glass and you take mine.”
They touched glasses and drank.

“Oh, Alexey Ivanovitch! now that we’ve drunk together—oh!” Pavel
Pavlovitch suddenly raised his hand to his forehead and sat still for a
few moments.

Velchaninoff trembled with excitement. He thought Pavel Pavlovitch was
about to disclose _all_; but Pavel Pavlovitch said nothing whatever. He
only looked at him, and quietly smiled his detestable cunning smile in the
other’s face.

“What do you want with me, you drunken wretch?” cried Velchaninoff,
furious, and stamping his foot upon the floor; “you are making a fool of
me!”

“Don’t shout so—don’t shout! Why make such a noise?” cried Pavel
Pavlovitch. “I’m not making a fool of you! Do you know what you are to me
now?” and he suddenly seized Velchaninoff’s hand, and kissed it before
Velchaninoff could recollect himself.

“There, that’s what you are to me _now_; and now I’ll go to the devil.”

“Wait a bit—stop!” cried Velchaninoff, recollecting himself; “there’s
something I wished to say to you.”

Pavel Pavlovitch turned back from the door.

“You see,” began Velchaninoff, blushing and keeping his eye well away from
the other, “you ought to go with me to the Pogoryeltseffs to-morrow—just
to thank them, you know, and make their acquaintance.”

“Of course, of course; quite so!” said Pavel Pavlovitch readily, and
making a gesture of the hand to imply that he knew his duty, and there was
no need to remind him of it.

“Besides Liza expects you anxiously—I promised her.”

“Liza?” Pavel Pavlovitch turned quickly once more upon him. “Liza? Do you
know, sir, what this Liza has been to me—has been and is?” he cried
passionately and almost beside himself; “but—no!—afterwards—that shall be
afterwards! Meanwhile it’s not enough for me, Alexey Ivanovitch, that we
have drunk together; there’s another satisfaction I must have, sir!” He
placed his hat on a chair, and, panting with excitement, gazed at his
companion with much the same expression as before.

“Kiss me, Alexey Ivanovitch!”

“Are you drunk?” cried the other, drawing back.

“Yes, I am—but kiss me all the same, Alexey Ivanovitch—oh, do! I kissed
your hand just now, you know.”

Alexey Ivanovitch was silent for a few moments, as though stunned by the
blow of a cudgel. Then he quickly bent down to Pavel Pavlovitch (who was
about the height of his shoulder), and kissed his lips, from which
proceeded a disagreeably powerful odour of wine. He performed the action
as though not quite certain of what he was doing.

“Well! _now, now!_” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, with drunken enthusiasm, and
with his eyes flashing fiercely; “_now_—look here—I’ll tell you what! I
thought at that time: ‘Surely not _he_, too! If _this_ man,’ I thought,
‘if _this_ man is guilty too—then whom am I ever to trust again!’ ”

Pavel Pavlovitch suddenly burst into tears.

“So now you must understand _how_ dear a friend you are to me henceforth.”
With these words he took his hat and rushed out of the room.

Velchaninoff stood for several minutes in one spot, just as he had done
after Pavel Pavlovitch’s first visit.

“It’s merely a drunken sally—nothing more!” he muttered. “Absolutely
nothing further!” he repeated, when he was undressed and settled down in
his bed.



CHAPTER VIII.


Next morning, while waiting for Pavel Pavlovitch, who had promised to be
in good time in order to drive down to the Pogoryeltseffs with him,
Velchaninoff walked up and down the room, sipped his coffee, and every
other minute reflected upon one and the same idea; namely, that he felt
like a man who had awaked from sleep with the deep impression of having
received a box on the ear the last thing at night.

“Hm!” he thought, anxiously, “he understands the state of the case only
too well; he’ll take it out of me by means of Liza!” The dear image of the
poor little girl danced before his eyes. His heart beat quicker when he
reflected that to-day—in a couple of hours—he would see _his own_ Liza
once more. “Yes—there’s no question about it,” he said to himself; “my
whole end and aim in life is _there_ now! What do I care about all these
‘memories’ and boxes on the ear; and what have I lived for up to now?—for
sorrow and discomfort—that’s all! but _now_, now—it’s all different!”

But in spite of his ecstatic feelings he grew more and more thoughtful.

“He is worrying me for Liza, that’s plain; and he bullies Liza—he is going
to take it out of me that way—for _all_! Hm! at all events I cannot
possibly allow such sallies as his of last night,” and Velchaninoff
blushed hotly “and here’s half-past eleven and he hasn’t come yet.” He
waited long—till half-past twelve, and his anguish of impatience grew more
and more keen. Pavel Pavlovitch did not appear. At length the idea began
to take shape that Pavel Pavlovitch naturally would not come again for the
sole purpose of another scene like that of last night. The thought filled
Velchaninoff with despair. “The brute knows I am depending upon him—and
what on earth am I to do now about Liza? How can I make my appearance
without him?”

At last he could bear it no longer and set off to the Pokrofsky at one
o’clock to look for Pavel Pavlovitch.

At the lodging, Velchaninoff was informed that Pavel Pavlovitch had not
been at home all night, and had only called in at nine o’clock, stayed a
quarter of an hour, and had gone out again.

Velchaninoff stood at the door listening to the servants’ report,
mechanically tried the handle, recollected himself, and asked to see Maria
Sisevna.

The latter obeyed his summons at once.

She was a kind-hearted old creature, of generous feelings, as Velchaninoff
described her afterwards to Claudia Petrovna. Having first enquired as to
his journey yesterday with Liza, Maria launched into anecdotes of Pavel
Pavlovitch. She declared that she would long ago have turned her lodger
out neck and crop, but for the child. Pavel Pavlovitch had been turned out
of the hotel for generally disreputable behaviour. “Oh, he does dreadful
things!” she continued. “Fancy his telling the poor child, in anger, that
she wasn’t his daughter, but——”

“Oh no, no! impossible!” cried Velchaninoff in alarm.

“I heard it myself! She’s only a small child, of course, but that sort of
thing doesn’t do before an intelligent child like her! She cried
dreadfully—she was quite upset. We had a catastrophe in the house a short
while since. Some commissionnaire or somebody took a room in the evening,
and hung himself before morning. He had bolted with money, they say. Well,
crowds of people came in to stare at him. Pavel Pavlovitch wasn’t at home,
but the child had escaped and was wandering about; and she must needs go
with the rest to see the sight. I saw her looking at the suicide with an
extraordinary expression, and carried her off at once, of course; and
fancy, I hardly managed to get home with her—trembling all over she
was—when off she goes in a dead faint, and it was all I could do to bring
her round at all. I don’t know whether she’s epileptic or what—and ever
since that she has been ill. When her father heard, he came and pinched
her all over—he doesn’t beat her; he always pinches her like that,—then he
went out and got drunk somewhere, and came back and frightened her. ‘I’m
going to hang myself too,’ he says, ‘because of you. I shall hang myself
on that blind string there,’ he says, and he makes a loop in the string
before her very eyes. The poor little thing went quite out of her mind
with terror, and cried and clasped him round with her little arms. ‘I’ll
be good—I’ll be good!’ she shrieks. It was a pitiful sight—it was,
indeed!”

Velchaninoff, though prepared for strange revelations concerning Pavel
Pavlovitch and his ways, was quite dumbfounded by these tales; he could
scarcely believe his ears.

Maria Sisevna told him many more such little anecdotes. Among others,
there was one occasion, when, if she (Maria) had not been by, Liza would
have thrown herself out of the window.

Pavel Pavlovitch had come staggering out of the room muttering, “I shall
smash her head in with a stick! I shall murder her like a dog!” and he had
gone away, repeating this over and over again to himself.

Velchaninoff hired a carriage and set off towards the Pogoryeltseffs.
Before he had left the town behind him, the carriage was delayed by a
block at a cross road, just by a small bridge, over which was passing, at
the moment, a long funeral procession. There were carriages waiting to
move on on both sides of the bridge, and a considerable crowd of foot
passengers besides.

The funeral was evidently of some person of considerable importance, for
the train of private and hired vehicles was a very long one; and at the
window of one of these carriages in the procession Velchaninoff suddenly
beheld the face of Pavel Pavlovitch.

Velchaninoff would not have believed his eyes, but that Pavel Pavlovitch
nodded his head and smiled to him. He seemed to be delighted to have
recognised Velchaninoff; he even began to kiss his hand out of the window.

Velchaninoff jumped out of his own vehicle, and in spite of policemen,
crowd, and everything else, elbowed his way to Pavel Pavlovitch’s carriage
window. He found the latter sitting alone.

“What are you doing?” he cried. “Why didn’t you come to my house? Why are
you here?”

“I’m paying a debt; don’t shout so! I’m repaying a debt,” said Pavel
Pavlovitch, giggling and winking. “I’m escorting the mortal remains of my
dear friend Stepan Michailovitch Bagantoff!”

“What absurdity, you drunken, insane creature,” cried Velchaninoff louder
than ever, and beside himself with outraged feeling. “Get out and come
with me. Quick! get out instantly!”

“I can’t. It’s a debt——”

“I’ll pull you out, then!” shouted Velchaninoff.

“Then I’ll scream, sir, I’ll scream!” giggled Pavel Pavlovitch, as merrily
as ever, just as though the whole thing was a joke. However, he retreated
into the further corner of the carriage, all the same.

“Look out, sir, look out! You’ll be knocked down!” cried a policeman.

Sure enough, an outside carriage was making its way on to the bridge from
the side, stopping the procession, and causing a commotion. Velchaninoff
was obliged to spring aside, and the press of carriages and people
immediately separated him from Pavel Pavlovitch. He shrugged his shoulders
and returned to his own vehicle.

“It’s all the same. I couldn’t take such a fellow with me, anyhow,” he
reflected, still all of a tremble with excitement and the rage of disgust.
When he repeated Maria Sisevna’s story, and his meeting at the funeral, to
Claudia Petrovna afterwards, the latter became buried in deep thought.

“I am anxious for you,” she said at last. “You must break off all
relations with that man, and as soon as possible.”

“Oh, he’s nothing but a drunken fool!” cried Velchaninoff passionately;
“as if I am to be afraid of _him_! And how can I break off relations with
him? Remember Liza!”

Meanwhile Liza was lying ill; fever had set in last night, and an eminent
doctor was momentarily expected from town! He had been sent for early this
morning.

These news quite upset Velchaninoff. Claudia Petrovna took him in to see
the patient.

“I observed her very carefully yesterday,” she said, stopping at the door
of Liza’s room before entering it. “She is a proud and morose child. She
is ashamed of being with us, and of having been thrown over by her father.
In my opinion that is the whole secret of her illness.”

“How ‘thrown over’? Why do you suppose that he has thrown her over?”

“The simple fact that he allowed her to come here to a strange house, and
with a man who was also a stranger, or nearly so; or, at all events, with
whom his relations were such that——”

“Oh, but I took her myself, almost by force.”

Liza was not surprised to see Velchaninoff alone. She only smiled
bitterly, and turned her hot face to the wall. She made no reply to his
passionate promises to bring her father down to-morrow without fail, or to
his timid attempts at consolation.

As soon as Velchaninoff left the sick child’s presence, he burst into
tears.

The doctor did not arrive until evening. On seeing the patient he
frightened everybody by his very first remark, observing that it was a
pity he had not been sent for before.

When informed that the child had only been taken ill last night, he could
not believe it at first.

“Well, it all depends upon how this night is passed,” he decided at last.

Having made all necessary arrangements, he took his departure, promising
to come as early as possible next morning.

Velchaninoff was anxious to stay the night, but Claudia Petrovna begged
him to try once more “to bring down that brute of a man.”

“Try once more!” cried Velchaninoff, passionately; “why, I’ll tie him hand
and foot and bring him along myself!”

The idea that he would tie Pavel Pavlovitch up and carry him down in his
arms overpowered Velchaninoff, and filled him with impatience to execute
his frantic desire.

“I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty before him any more,” he said to
Claudia Petrovna, at parting, “and I withdraw all my servile, abject words
of yesterday—all I said to you,” he added, wrathfully.

Liza lay with closed eyes, apparently asleep; she seemed to be better.
When Velchaninoff bent cautiously over her in order to kiss—if it were but
the edge of her bed linen—she suddenly opened her eyes, just as though she
had been waiting for him, and whispered, “Take me away!”

It was but a quiet, sad petition—without a trace of yesterday’s
irritation; but at the same time there was that in her voice which
betrayed that she made the request in the full knowledge that it could not
be assented to.

No sooner did Velchaninoff, in despair, begin to assure her as tenderly as
he could that what she desired was impossible, than she silently closed
her eyes and said not another word, just as though she neither saw nor
heard him.

Arrived in town Velchaninoff told his man to drive him to the Pokrofsky.
It was ten o’clock at night.

Pavel Pavlovitch was not at his lodgings. Velchaninoff waited for him half
an hour, walking up and down the passage in a state of feverish
impatience. Maria Sisevna assured him at last that Pavel Pavlovitch would
not come in until the small hours.

“Well, then, I’ll return here before daylight,” he said, beside himself
with desperation, and he went home to his own rooms.

What was his amazement, when, on arriving at the gate of his house, he
learned from Mavra that “yesterday’s visitor” had been waiting for him
ever since before ten o’clock.

“He’s had some tea,” she added, “and sent me for wine again—the same wine
as yesterday. He gave me the money to buy it with.”



CHAPTER IX.


Pavel Pavlovitch had made himself very comfortable. He was sitting in the
same chair as he had occupied yesterday, smoking a cigar, and had just
poured the fourth and last tumbler of champagne out of the bottle.

The teapot and a half-emptied tumbler of tea stood on the table beside
him; his red face beamed with benevolence. He had taken off his coat, and
sat in his shirt sleeves.

“Forgive me, dearest of friends,” he cried, catching sight of
Velchaninoff, and hastening to put on his coat, “I took it off to make
myself thoroughly comfortable.”

Velchaninoff approached him menacingly.

“You are not quite tipsy yet, are you? Can you understand what is said to
you?”

Paul Pavlovitch became a little confused.

“No, not quite. I’ve been thinking of the dear deceased a bit, but I’m not
quite drunk yet.”

“Can you understand what I say?”

“My dear sir, I came here on purpose to understand you.”

“Very well, then I shall begin at once by telling you that you are an ass,
sir!” cried Velchaninoff, at the top of his voice.

“Why, if you begin that way where will you end, I wonder!” said Pavel
Pavlovitch, clearly alarmed more than a little.

Velchaninoff did not listen, but roared again,

“Your daughter is dying—she is very ill! Have you thrown her over
altogether, or not?”

“Oh, surely she isn’t dying yet?”

“I tell you she’s ill; very, very ill—dangerously ill.”

“What, fits? or——”

“Don’t talk nonsense. I tell you she is very dangerously ill. You ought to
go down, if only for that reason.”

“What, to thank your friends, eh? to return thanks for their hospitality?
Of course, quite so; I well understand, Alexey Ivanovitch—dearest of
friends!” He suddenly seized Velchaninoff by both hands, and added with
intoxicated sentiment, almost melted to tears, “Alexey Ivanovitch, don’t
shout at me—don’t shout at me, please! If you do, I may throw myself into
the Neva—I don’t know!—and we have such important things to talk over.
There’s lots of time to go to the Pogoryeltseffs another day.”

Velchaninoff did his best to restrain his wrath. “You are drunk, and
therefore I don’t understand what you are driving at,” he said sternly.
“I’m ready to come to an explanation with you at any moment you
like—delighted!—the the sooner the better. But first let me tell you that
I am going to take my own measures to secure you. You will sleep here
to-night, and to-morrow I shall take you with me to see Liza. I shall not
let you go again. I shall bind you, if necessary, and carry you down
myself. How do you like this sofa to sleep on?” he added, panting, and
indicating a wide, soft divan opposite his own sofa, against the other
wall.

“Oh—anything will do for me!”

“Very well, you shall have this sofa. Here, take these things—here are
sheets, blankets, pillow” (Velchaninoff pulled all these things out of a
cupboard, and tossed them impatiently to Pavel Pavlovitch, who humbly
stood and received them); “now then, make your bed,—come, bustle up!”

Pavel Pavlovitch laden with bed clothes had been standing in the middle of
the room with a stupid drunken leer on his face, irresolute; but at
Velchaninoff’s second bidding he hurriedly began the task of making his
bed, moving the table away from in front of it, and smoothing a sheet over
the seat of the divan. Velchaninoff approached to help him. He was more or
less gratified with his guest’s alarm and submission.

“Now, drink up that wine and lie down!” was his next command. He felt that
he _must_ order this man about, he could not help himself. “I suppose you
took upon yourself to order this wine, did you?”

“I did—I did, sir! I sent for the wine, Alexey Ivanovitch, because I knew
_you_ would not send out again!”

“Well, it’s a good thing that you knew that; but I desire that you should
know still more. I give you notice that I have taken my own measures for
the future, I’m not going to put up with any more of your antics.”

“Oh, I quite understand, Alexey Ivanovitch, that that sort of thing could
only happen once!” said Pavel Pavlovitch, giggling feebly.

At this reply Velchaninoff, who had been marching up and down the room
stopped solemnly before Pavel Pavlovitch.

“Pavel Pavlovitch,” he said, “speak plainly! You are a clever fellow—I
admit the fact freely,—but I assure you you are going on a false track
now. Speak plainly, and act like an honest man, and I give you my word of
honour that I will answer all you wish to know.”

Pavel Pavlovitch grinned his disagreeable grin (which always drove
Velchaninoff wild) once more.

“Wait!” cried the latter. “No humbug now, please; I see through you. I
repeat that I give you my word of honour to reply candidly to anything you
may like to ask, and to give you every sort of satisfaction—reasonable or
even unreasonable—that you please. _Oh!_ how I wish I could make you
understand me!”

“Since you are so very kind,” began Pavel Pavlovitch, cautiously bending
towards him, “I may tell you that I am very much interested as to what you
said yesterday about ‘bird of prey’?”

Velchaninoff spat on the ground in utter despair and disgust, and
recommenced his walk up and down the room, quicker than ever.

“No, no, Alexey Ivanovitch, don’t spurn my question; you don’t know how
interested I am in it. I assure you I came here on purpose to ask you
about it. I know I’m speaking indistinctly, but you’ll forgive me that.
I’ve read the expression before. Tell me now, was Bagantoff a ‘bird of
prey,’ or—the other thing? How is one to distinguish one from the other?”

Velchaninoff went on walking up and down, and answered nothing for some
minutes.

“The bird of prey, sir,” he began suddenly, stopping in front of Pavel
Pavlovitch, and speaking vehemently, “is the man who would poison
Bagantoff while drinking champagne with him under the cloak of
goodfellowship, as you did with me yesterday, instead of escorting his
wretched body to the burial ground as you did—the deuce only knows why,
and with what dirty, mean, underhand, petty motives, which only recoil
upon yourself and make you viler than you already are. Yes, sir, recoil
upon yourself!”

“Quite so, quite so, I oughtn’t to have gone,” assented Pavel Pavlovitch,
“but aren’t you a little——”

“The bird of prey is not a man who goes and learns his grievance off by
heart, like a lesson, and whines it about the place, grimacing and posing,
and hanging it round other people’s necks, and who spends all his time in
such pettifogging. Is it true you wanted to hang yourself? Come, is it
true, or not?”

“I—I don’t know—I may have when I was drunk—I don’t remember. You see,
Alexey Ivanovitch, it wouldn’t be quite nice for me to go poisoning
people. I’m too high up in the service, and I have money, too, you
know—and I may wish to marry again, who knows.”

“Yes; you’d be sent to Siberia, which would be awkward.”

“Quite so; though they say the penal servitude is not so bad as it was.
But you remind me of an anecdote, Alexey Ivanovitch. I thought of it in
the carriage, and meant to tell you afterwards. Well! you may remember
Liftsoff at T——. He came while you were there. His younger brother—who is
rather a swell, too—was serving at L—— under the governor, and one fine
day he happened to quarrel with Colonel Golubenko in the presence of
ladies, and of one lady especially. Liftsoff considered himself insulted,
but concealed his grievance; and, meanwhile, Golubenko proposed to a
certain lady and was accepted. Would you believe it, Liftsoff made great
friends with Golubenko, and even volunteered to be best man at his
wedding. But when the ceremony was all over, and Liftsoff approached the
bridegroom to wish him joy and kiss him, as usual, he took the opportunity
of sticking a knife into Golubenko. Fancy! his own best man stuck him!
Well, what does the assassin do but run about the room crying. ‘Oh! what
have I done? Oh! what have I done?’ says he, and throws himself on
everyone’s neck by turns, ladies and all! Ha-ha-ha! He starved to death in
Siberia, sir! One is a little sorry for Golubenko; but he recovered, after
all.”

“I don’t understand why you told me that story,” said Velchaninoff,
frowning heavily.

“Why, because he stuck the other fellow with a knife,” giggled Pavel
Pavlovitch, “which proves that he was no type, but an ass of a fellow, who
could so forget the ordinary manners of society as to hang around ladies’
necks, and in the presence of the governor, too—and yet he stuck the other
fellow. Ha-ha-ha! He did what he intended to do, that’s all, sir!”

“Go to the devil, will you—you and your miserable humbug—you miserable
humbug yourself,” yelled Velchaninoff, wild with rage and fury, and
panting so that he could hardly get his words out. “You think you are
going to alarm _me_, do you, you frightener of children—you mean beast—you
low scoundrel you?—scoundrel—scoundrel—scoundrel!” He had quite forgotten
himself in his rage.

Pavel Pavlovitch shuddered all over; his drunkenness seemed to vanish in
an instant; his lips trembled and shook.

“Are you calling _me_ a scoundrel, Alexey Ivanovitch—_you_—_me_?”

But Velchaninoff was himself again now.

“I’ll apologise if you like,” he said, and relapsed into gloomy silence.
After a moment he added, “But only on condition that you yourself agree to
speak out fully, and at once.”

“In your place I should apologise unconditionally, Alexey Ivanovitch.”

“Very well; so be it then.” Velchaninoff was silent again for a while. “I
apologise,” he resumed; “but admit yourself, Pavel Pavlovitch, that I need
not feel myself in any way bound to you after this. I mean with regard to
_anything_—not only this particular matter.”

“All right! Why, what is there to settle between us?” laughed Pavel
Pavlovitch, without looking up.

“In that case, so much the better—so much the better. Come, drink up your
wine and get into bed, for I shall not let you go now, anyhow.”

“Oh, my wine—never mind my wine!” muttered Pavel Pavlovitch; but he went
to the table all the same, and took up his tumbler of champagne which had
long been poured out. Either he had been drinking copiously before, or
there was some other unknown cause at work, but his hand shook so as he
drank the wine that a quantity of it was spilled over his waistcoat and
the floor. However, he drank it all, to the last drop, as though he could
not leave the tumbler without emptying it. He then placed the empty glass
on the table, approached his bed, sat down on it, and began to undress.

“I think perhaps I had better _not_ sleep here,” he said suddenly, with
one boot off, and half undressed.

“Well, I _don’t_ think so,” said Velchaninoff, who was walking up and
down, without looking at him.

Pavel Pavlovitch finished undressing and lay down. A quarter of an hour
later Velchaninoff also got into bed, and put the candle out.

He soon began to doze uncomfortably. Some new trouble seemed to have
suddenly come over him and worried him, and at the same time he felt a
sensation of shame that he could allow himself to be worried by the new
trouble. Velchaninoff was just falling definitely asleep, however, when a
rustling sound awoke him. He immediately glanced at Pavel Pavlovitch’s
bed. The room was quite dark, the blinds being down and curtains drawn;
but it seemed to him that Pavel Pavlovitch was not lying in his bed; he
seemed to be sitting on the side of it.

“What’s the matter?” cried Velchaninoff.

“A ghost, sir,” said Pavel Pavlovitch, in a low tone, after a few moments
of silence.

“What? What sort of a ghost?”

“Th—there—in that room—just at the door, I seemed to see a ghost!”

“Whose ghost?” asked Velchaninoff, pausing a minute before putting the
question.

“Natalia Vasilievna’s!”

Velchaninoff jumped out of bed and walked to the door, whence he could see
into the room opposite, across the passage. There were no curtains in that
room, so that it was much lighter than his own.

“There’s nothing there at all. You are drunk; lie down again!” he said,
and himself set the example, rolling his blanket around him.

Pavel Pavlovitch said nothing, but lay down as he was told.

“Did you ever see any ghosts before?” asked Velchaninoff suddenly, ten
minutes later.

“I think I saw one once,” said Pavel Pavlovitch in the same low voice;
after which there was silence once more. Velchaninoff was not sure whether
he had been asleep or not, but an hour or so had passed, when suddenly he
was wide awake again. Was it a rustle that awoke him? He could not tell;
but one thing was evident—in the midst of the profound darkness of the
room something white stood before him; not quite close to him, but about
the middle of the room. He sat up in bed, and stared for a full minute.

“Is that you, Pavel Pavlovitch?” he asked. His voice sounded very weak.

There was no reply; but there was not the slightest doubt of the fact that
someone was standing there.

“Is that you, Pavel Pavlovitch?” cried Velchaninoff again, louder this
time; in fact, so loud that if the former had been asleep in bed he must
have started up and answered.

But there was no reply again. It seemed to Velchaninoff that the white
figure had approached nearer to him.

Then something strange happened; something seemed to “let go” within
Velchaninoff’s system, and he commenced to shout at the top of his voice,
just as he had done once before this evening, in the wildest and maddest
way possible, panting so that he could hardly articulate his words: “If
you—drunken ass that you are—dare to think that you could frighten _me_,
I’ll turn my face to the wall, and not look round once the whole night, to
show you how little I am afraid of you—a fool like you—if you stand there
from now till morning! I despise you!” So saying, Velchaninoff twisted
round with his face to the wall, rolled his blanket round him, and lay
motionless, as though turned to stone. A deathlike stillness supervened.

Did the ghost stand where it was, or had it moved? He could not tell; but
his heart beat, and beat, and beat—At least five minutes went by, and
then, not a couple of paces from his bed, there came the feeble voice of
Pavel Pavlovitch:

“I got up, Alexey Ivanovitch, to look for a little water. I couldn’t find
any, and was just going to look about nearer your bed——”

“Then why didn’t you answer when I called?” cried Velchaninoff angrily,
after a minute’s pause.

“I was frightened; you shouted so, you alarmed me!”

“You’ll find a caraffe and glass over there, on the little table. Light a
candle.”

“Oh, I’ll find it without. You’ll forgive me, Alexey Ivanovitch, for
frightening you so; I felt thirsty so suddenly.”

But Velchaninoff said nothing. He continued to lie with his face to the
wall, and so he lay all night, without turning round once. Was he anxious
to keep his word and show his contempt for Pavel Pavlovitch? He did not
know himself why he did it; his nervous agitation and perturbation were
such that he could not sleep for a long while, he felt quite delirious. At
last he fell asleep, and awoke at past nine o’clock next morning. He
started up just as though someone had struck him, and sat down on the side
of his bed. But Pavel Pavlovitch was not to be seen. His empty, rumpled
bed was there, but its occupant had flown before daybreak.

“I thought so!” cried Velchaninoff, bringing the palm of his right hand
smartly to his forehead.



CHAPTER X.


The doctor’s anxiety was justified; Liza grew worse, so much so that it
was clear she was far more seriously ill than Velchaninoff and Claudia
Petrovna had thought the day before.

When the former arrived in the morning, Liza was still conscious, though
burning with fever. He assured his friend Claudia, afterwards, that the
child had smiled at him and held out her little hot hand. Whether she
actually did so, or whether he so much longed for her to do so that he
imagined it done, is uncertain.

By the evening, however, Liza was quite unconscious, and so she remained
during the whole of her illness. Ten days after her removal to the country
she died.

This was a sad period for Velchaninoff; the Pogoryeltseffs were quite
anxious on his account. He was with them for the greater part of the time,
and during the last few days of the little one’s illness, he used to sit
all alone for hours together in some corner, apparently thinking of
nothing. Claudia Petrovna would attempt to distract him but he hardly
answered her, and conversation was clearly painful to him. Claudia was
quite surprised that “all this” should affect him so deeply.

The children were the best consolation and distraction for him; with them
he could even laugh and play at intervals. Every hour, at least, he would
rise from his chair and creep on tip-toes to the sick-room to look at the
little invalid. Sometimes he imagined that she knew him; he had no hope
for her recovery—none of the family had any hope; but he never left the
precincts of the child’s chamber, sitting principally in the next room.

Twice, however, he had evinced great activity of a sudden; he had jumped
up and started off for town, where he had called upon all the most eminent
doctors of the place, and arranged consultations between them. The last
consultation was on the day before Liza’s death.

Claudia Petrovna had spoken seriously to him a day or two since, as to the
absolute necessity of hunting up Pavel Pavlovitch Trusotsky, because in
case of anything happening to Liza, she could not be buried without
certain documents from him.

Velchaninoff promised to write to him, and did write a couple of lines,
which he took to the Pokrofsky. Pavel Pavlovitch was not at home, as
usual, but he left the letter to the care of Maria Sisevna.

At last Liza died—on a lovely summer evening, just as the sun was setting;
and only then did Velchaninoff rouse himself.

When the little one was laid out, all covered with flowers, and dressed in
a fair white frock belonging to one of Claudia Petrovna’s children,
Velchaninoff came up to the lady of the house, and told her with flashing
eyes that he would now go and fetch the murderer. Regardless of all advice
to put off his search until to-morrow he started for town immediately.

He knew where to find Pavel Pavlovitch. He had not been in town
exclusively to find the doctors those two days. Occasionally, while
watching the dying child, he had been struck with the idea that if he
could only find and bring down Pavel Pavlovitch she might hear his voice
and be called back, as it were, from the darkness of delirium; at such
moments he had been seized with desperation, and twice he had started up
and driven wildly off to town in order to find Pavel Pavlovitch.

The latter’s room was the same as before, but it was useless to look for
him there, for, according to Maria Sisevna’s report, he was now two or
three days absent from home at a stretch, and was generally to be found
with some friends in the Voznecensky.

Arrived in town about ten o’clock, Velchaninoff went straight to these
latter people, and securing the services of a member of the family to
assist in finding Pavel Pavlovitch, set out on his quest. He did not know
what he should do with Pavel Pavlovitch when found, whether he should kill
him then and there, or simply inform him of the death of the child, and of
the necessity for his assistance in arranging for her funeral. After a
long and fruitless search Velchaninoff found Pavel Pavlovitch quite
accidentally; he was quarrelling with some person in the street—tipsy as
usual, and seemed to be getting the worst of the controversy, which
appeared to be about a money claim.

On catching sight of Velchaninoff, Pavel Pavlovitch stretched out his arms
to him and begged for help; while his opponent—observing Velchaninoff’s
athletic figure—made off. Pavel Pavlovitch shook his fist after him
triumphantly, and hooted at him with cries of victory; but this amusement
was brought to a sudden conclusion by Velchaninoff, who, impelled by some
mysterious motive—which he could not analyse, took him by the shoulders,
and began to shake him violently, so violently that his teeth chattered.

Pavel Pavlovitch ceased to shout after his opponent, and gazed with a
stupid tipsy expression of alarm at his new antagonist. Velchaninoff,
having shaken him till he was tired, and not knowing what to do next with
him, set him down violently on the pavement, backwards.

“Liza is dead!” he said.

Pavel Pavlovitch sat on the pavement and stared, he was too far gone to
take in the news. At last he seemed to realize.

“Dead!” he whispered, in a strange inexplicable tone. Velchaninoff was not
sure whether his face was simply twitching, or whether he was trying to
grin in his usual disagreeable way; but the next moment the drunkard
raised his shaking hand to cross himself. He then struggled to his feet
and staggered off, appearing totally oblivious of the fact that such a
person as Velchaninoff existed.

However, the latter very soon pursued and caught him, seizing him once
more by the shoulder.

“Do you understand, you drunken sot, that without you the funeral
arrangements cannot be made?” he shouted, panting with rage.

Pavel Pavlovitch turned his head.

“The artillery—lieutenant—don’t you remember him?” he muttered, thickly.

“_What?_” cried Velchaninoff, with a shudder.

“He’s her father—find him! he’ll bury her!”

“You liar! You said that out of pure malice. I thought you’d invent
something of the sort!”

Quite beside himself with passion Velchaninoff brought down his powerful
fist with all his strength on Pavel Pavlovitch’s head; another moment and
he might have followed up the blow and slain the man as he stood. His
victim never winced, but he turned upon Velchaninoff a face of such insane
terrible passion, that his whole visage looked distorted.

“Do you understand Russian?” he asked more firmly, as though his fury had
chased away the effects of drunkenness. “Very well, then, you are a——!”
(here followed a specimen of the very vilest language which the Russian
tongue could furnish); “and now you can go back to her!” So saying he tore
himself from Velchaninoff’s grasp, nearly knocking himself over with the
effort, and staggered away. Velchaninoff did not follow him.

Next day, however, a most respectable-looking middle-aged man arrived at
the Pogoryeltseft’s house, in civil uniform, and handed to Claudia
Petrovna a packet addressed to her “from Pavel Pavlovitch Trusotsky.”

In this packet was a sum of three hundred roubles, together with all
certificates necessary for Liza’s funeral. Pavel Pavlovitch had written a
short note couched in very polite and correct phraseology, and thanking
Claudia Petrovna sincerely “for her great kindness to the orphan—kindness
for which heaven alone could recompense her.” He added rather confusedly
that severe illness prevented his personal presence at the funeral of his
“tenderly loved and unfortunate daughter,” but that he “felt he could
repose all confidence (as to the ceremony being fittingly performed) in
the angelic goodness of Claudia Petrovna.” The three hundred roubles, he
explained, were to go towards the funeral and other expenses. If there
should be any of the money left after defraying all charges, Claudia
Petrovna was requested to spend the same in prayers for the repose of the
soul of the deceased.

Nothing further was to be discovered by questioning the messenger; and it
was soon evident that the latter knew nothing, excepting that he had only
consented to act as bearer of the packet, in response to the urgent appeal
of Pavel Pavlovitch.

Pogoryeltseff was a little offended by the offer of money for expenses,
and would have sent it back, but Claudia Petrovna suggested that a receipt
should be taken from the cemetery authorities for the cost of the funeral
(since one could not well refuse to allow a man to bury his own child),
together with a document undertaking that the rest of the three hundred
roubles should be spent in prayer for the soul of Liza.

Velchaninoff afterwards posted an envelope containing these two papers to
Trusotsky’s lodging.

After the funeral Velchaninoff disappeared from the country altogether. He
wandered about town for a whole fortnight, knocking up against people as
he went blindly through the streets. Now and then he spent a whole day
lying in his bed, oblivious of the most ordinary needs and occupations;
the Pogoryeltseffs often invited him to their house, and he invariably
promised to come, and as invariably forgot all about it. Claudia Petrovna
went as far as to call for him herself, but she did not find him at home.
The same thing happened with his lawyer, who had some good news to tell
him. The difference with his opponent had been settled advantageously for
Velchaninoff, the former having accepted a small bonification and
renounced his claim to the property in dispute. All that was wanting was
the formal acquiescence of Velchaninoff himself.

Finding him at home at last, after many endeavours, the lawyer was
excessively surprised to discover that Velchaninoff was as callous and
cool as to the result of his (the lawyer’s) labours, as he had before been
ardent and excitable.

The hottest days of July had now arrived, but Velchaninoff was oblivious
of everything. His grief swelled and ached at his heart like some internal
boil; his greatest sorrow was that Liza had not had time to know him, and
died without ever guessing how fondly he loved her. The sweet new beacon
of his life, which had glimmered for a short while within his heart, was
extinguished once more, and lost in eternal gloom.

The whole object of his existence, as he now told himself at every moment,
should have been that Liza might feel his love about her and around her,
each day, each hour, each moment of her life.

“There can be no higher aim or object than this in life,” he thought, in
gloomy ecstasy. “If there be other aims in life, none can be holier or
better than this of mine. All my old unworthy life should have been
purified and atoned for by my love for Liza; in place of myself—my sinful,
worn-out, useless life—I should have bequeathed to the world a sweet,
pure, beautiful being, in whose innocence all my guilt should have been
absorbed, and lost, and forgiven, and in her I should have forgiven
myself.”

Such thoughts would flit through Velchaninoff’s head as he mused
sorrowfully over the memory of the dead child. He thought over all he had
seen of her; he recalled her little face all burning with fever, then
lying at rest in her coffin, covered with lovely flowers. He remembered
that once he had noticed that one of her fingers was quite black from some
bruise or pinch—goodness knows what had made it so, but it was the sight
of that little finger which had filled him with longing to go straight
away and _murder_ Pavel Pavlovitch.

“Do you know what Liza is to me?” Pavel had said, he recollected, one day;
and now he understood the exclamation. It was no pretence of love, no
posturing and nonsense—it was real love! How, then, could the wretch have
been so cruel to a child whom he so dearly loved? He could not bear to
think of it, the question was painful, and quite unanswerable.

One day he wandered down—he knew not exactly how—to the cemetery where
Liza was buried, and hunted up her grave. This was the first time he had
been there since the funeral; he had never dared to go there before,
fearing that the visit would be too painful. But strangely enough, when he
found the little mound and had bent down and kissed it, he felt happier
and lighter at heart than before.

It was a lovely evening, the sun was setting, the tall grass waved about
the tombs, and a bee hummed somewhere near him. The flowers and crosses
placed on the tomb by Claudia Petrovna were still there. A ray of hope
blazed up in his heart for the first time for many a long day. “How
light-hearted I feel,” he thought, as he felt the spell of the quiet of
God’s Acre, and the hush of the beautiful still evening. A flow of some
indefinable faith in something poured into his heart.

“This is Liza’s gift,” he thought; “this is Liza herself talking to me!”

It was quite dark when he left the cemetery and turned his steps
homewards.

Not far from the gate of the burial ground there stood a small inn or
public-house, and through the open windows he could see the people inside
sitting at tables. It instantly struck Velchaninoff that one of the
guests, sitting nearest to the window, was Pavel Pavlovitch, and that the
latter had seen him and was observing him curiously.

He went on further, but before very long he heard footsteps pursuing him.
It was, of course, Pavel Pavlovitch. Probably the unusually serene and
peaceful expression of Velchaninoff’s face as he went by had attracted and
encouraged him.

He soon caught Velchaninoff up, and smiled timidly at him, but not with
the old drunken grin. He did not appear to be in the smallest degree
drunk.

“Good evening,” said Pavel Pavlovitch.

“How d’ye do?” replied Velchaninoff.



CHAPTER XI.


By replying thus to Pavel Pavlovitch’s greeting Velchaninoff surprised
himself. It seemed strange indeed to him that he should now meet this man
without any feeling of anger, and that there should be something quite
novel in his feelings towards Pavel Pavlovitch—a sort of call to new
relations with him.

“What a lovely evening!” said Pavel Pavlovitch, looking observantly into
the other’s eyes.

“So you haven’t gone away yet!” murmured Velchaninoff, not in a tone of
inquiry, but as though musing upon the fact as he continued to walk on.

“I’ve been a good deal delayed; but I’ve obtained my petition, my new
post, with rise of salary. I’m off the day after to-morrow for certain.”

“What? You’ve obtained the new situation?”

“And why not?” said Pavel Pavlovitch, with a crooked smile.

“Oh, I meant nothing particular by my remark!” said Velchaninoff frowning,
and glancing sidelong at his companion. To his surprise Pavel Pavlovitch,
both in dress and appearance, even down to the hat with the crape band,
was incomparably neater and tidier-looking than he was wont to be a
fortnight since.

“Why was he sitting in the public-house then?” thought Velchaninoff. This
fact puzzled him much.

“I wished to let you know of my other great joy, Alexey Ivanovitch!”
resumed Pavel.

“Joy?”

“I’m going to marry.”

“What?”

“Yes, sir! after sorrow, joy! It is ever thus in life. Oh! Alexey
Ivanovitch, I should so much like if—but you look as though you were in a
great hurry.”

“Yes, I am in a hurry, and I am ill besides.” He felt as though he would
give anything to get rid of the man; the feeling of readiness to develop
new and better relations with him had vanished in a moment.

“I should so much like——”

Pavel Pavlovitch did not finish his sentence; Velchaninoff kept silence
and waited.

“In that case, perhaps another time—if we should happen to meet.”

“Yes, yes, another time,” said Velchaninoff quickly, continuing to move
along, and never looking at his companion.

Nothing was said for another minute or two. Pavel Pavlovitch continued to
trot alongside.

“In that case, _au revoir_,” he blurted, at last. “_Au revoir!_ I hope——”

Velchaninoff did not think it necessary to hear him complete his sentence;
he left Pavel, and returned home much agitated. The meeting with “that
fellow” had been too much for his present state of mind. As he lay down
upon his bed the thought came over him once more: “Why was that fellow
there, close to the cemetery?” He determined to go down to the
Pogoryeltseffs’ next morning; not that he felt inclined to go—any sympathy
was intolerably painful to him,—but they had been so kind and so anxious
about him, that he must really make up his mind to go. But next day, while
finishing his breakfast, he felt terribly disinclined for the visit; he
felt, as it were, shy of meeting them for the first time after his grief.
“Shall I go or not?” he was saying to himself, as he sat at his table.
When suddenly, to his extreme amazement, in walked Pavel Pavlovitch.

In spite of yesterday’s _rencontre_, Velchaninoff could not have believed
that this man would ever enter his rooms again; and when he now saw him
appear, he gazed at him in such absolute astonishment, that he simply did
not know what to say. But Pavel Pavlovitch took the management of the
matter into his own hands; he said “good morning,” and sat down in the
very same chair which he had occupied on his last visit, three weeks
since.

This circumstance reminded Velchaninoff too painfully of that visit, and
he glared at his visitor with disgust and some agitation.

“You are surprised, I see!” said Pavel Pavlovitch, reading the other’s
expression.

He seemed to be both freer, more at his ease, and yet more timid than
yesterday. His outward appearance was very curious to behold; for Pavel
Pavlovitch was not only _neatly_ dressed, he was “got up” in the pink of
fashion. He had on a neat summer overcoat, with a pair of light trousers
and a white waistcoat; his gloves, his gold eye-glasses (quite a new
acquisition), and his linen were quite above all criticism; he wafted an
odour of sweet scent when he moved. He looked funny, but his appearance
awakened strange thoughts besides.

“Of course I have surprised you, Alexey Ivanovitch,” he said, twisting
himself about; “I see it. But in my opinion there should be a something
exalted, something higher—untouched and unattainable by petty discords, or
the ordinary conditions of life, between man and man. Don’t you agree with
me, sir?”

“Pavel Pavlovitch, say what you have to say as quickly as you can, and
without further ceremony,” said Velchaninoff, frowning angrily.

“In a couple of words, sir,” said Pavel, hurriedly, “I am going to be
married, and I am now off to see my bride—at once. She lives in the
country; and what I desire is, the profound honour of introducing _you_ to
the family, sir; in fact, I have come here to petition you, sir” (Pavel
Pavlovitch bent his head deferentially)—“to beg you to go down with me.”

“Go down with you? Where to?” cried the other, his eyes starting out of
his head.

“To their house in the country, sir. Forgive me, my dear sir, if I am too
agitated, and confuse my words; but I am so dreadfully afraid of hearing
you refuse me.”

He looked at Velchaninoff plaintively.

“You wish me to accompany you to see your bride?” said Velchaninoff,
staring keenly at Pavel Pavlovitch; he could not believe either his eyes
or his ears.

“Yes—yes, sir!” murmured Pavel, who had suddenly become timid to a painful
degree. “Don’t be angry, Alexey Ivanovitch, it is not my audacity that
prompts me to ask you this; I do it with all humility, and conscious of
the unusual nature of my petition. I—I thought perhaps you would not
refuse my humble request.”

“In the first place, the thing is absolutely out of the question,” said
Velchaninoff, turning away in considerable mental perturbation.

“It is only my immeasurable longing that prompts me to ask you. I confess
I have a reason for desiring it, which reason I propose to reveal to you
afterwards; just now I——”

“The thing is quite impossible, however you may look at it. You must admit
yourself that it is so!” cried Velchaninoff. Both men had risen from their
chairs in the excitement of the conversation.

“Not at all—not at all; it is quite possible, sir. In the first place, I
merely propose to introduce you as my friend; and in the second place, you
know the family already, the Zachlebnikoff’s—State Councillor
Zachlebnikoff!”

“What? how so?” cried Velchaninoff. This was the very man whom he had so
often tried to find at home, and whom he never succeeded in hunting
down—the very lawyer who had acted for his adversary in the late legal
proceedings.

“Why, certainly—certainly!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, apparently taking
heart at Velchaninoff’s extreme display of amazement. “The very same man
whom I saw you talking to in the street one day; when I watched you from
the other side of the road, I was waiting my turn to speak to him then. We
served in the same department twelve years since. I had no thought of all
this that day I saw you with him; the whole idea is quite new and
sudden—only a week old.”

“But—excuse me; why, surely this is a most respectable family, isn’t it?”
asked Velchaninoff, naïvely.

“Well, and what if it is respectable?” said Pavel, with a twist.

“Oh, no—of course, I meant nothing; but, so far as I could judge from what
I saw, there——”

“They remember—they remember your coming down,” cried Pavel delightedly.
“I told them all sorts of flattering things about you.”

“But, look here, how are you to marry within three months of your late
wife’s death?”

“Oh! the wedding needn’t be at once. The wedding can come off in nine or
ten months, so that I shall have been in mourning exactly a year. Believe
me, my dear sir, it’s all most charming—first place, Fedosie Petrovitch
has known me since I was a child; he knew my late wife; he knows how much
income I have; he knows all about my little private capital, and all about
my new increase of salary. So that you see the whole thing is a mere
matter of weights and scales.”

“Is she a daughter of his, then?”

“I’ll tell you all about it,” said Pavel, licking his lips with pleasure.
“May I smoke a cigarette? Now, you see, men like Fedosie Petrovitch
Zachlebnikoff are much valued in the State; but, excepting for a few
perquisites allowed them, the pay is wretched; they live well enough, but
they cannot possibly lay by money. Now, imagine, this man has eight
daughters and only one little boy: if he were to die there would be
nothing but a wretched little pension to keep the lot of them. Just
imagine now—_boots_ alone for such a family, eh? Well, out of these eight
girls five are marriageable, the eldest is twenty-four already (a splendid
girl, she is, you shall see her for yourself). The sixth is a girl of
fifteen, still at school. Well, all those five elder girls have to be
trotted about and shown off, and what does all that sort of thing cost the
poor father, sir? They must be married. Then suddenly I appear on the
scene—the first probable bridegroom in the family, and they all know that
I have money. Well, there you are, sir—the thing’s done.”

Pavel Pavlovitch was intoxicated with enthusiasm.

“Are you engaged to the eldest?”

“N—no;—not the eldest. I am wooing the sixth girl, the one at school.”

“What?” cried Velchaninoff, laughing in spite of himself. “Why, you say
yourself she’s only fifteen years old.”

“Fifteen _now_, sir; but she’ll be sixteen in nine months—sixteen and
three months—so why not? It wouldn’t be quite nice to make the engagement
public just yet, though; so there’s to be nothing formal at present, it’s
only a private arrangement between the parents and myself so far. Believe
me, my dear sir, the whole thing is apple-pie, regular and charming.”

“Then it isn’t quite settled yet?”

“Oh, _quite_ settled—quite settled. Believe me, it’s all as right and
tight as——”

“Does _she_ know?”

“Well, you see, just for form’s sake, it is not actually talked about—to
her I mean,—but she _knows_ well enough. Oh! now you _will_ make me happy
this once, Alexey Ivanovitch, won’t you?” he concluded, with extreme
timidity of voice and manner.

“But why should _I_ go with you? However,” added Velchaninoff impatiently,
“as I am not going in any case, I don’t see why I should hear any reasons
you may adduce for my accompanying you.”

“Alexey Ivanovitch!——”

“Oh, come! you don’t suppose I am going to sit down in a carriage with you
alongside, and drive down there! Come, just think for yourself!”

The feeling of disgust and displeasure which Pavel Pavlovitch had awakened
in him before, had now started into life again after the momentary
distraction of the man’s foolery about his bride. He felt that in another
minute or two he might kick the fellow out before he realized what he was
doing. He felt angry with himself for some reason or other.

“Sit down, Alexey Ivanovitch, sit down! You shall not repent it!” said
Pavel Pavlovitch in a wheedling voice. “No, no, no!” he added, deprecating
the impatient gesture which Velchaninoff made at this moment. “Alexey
Ivanovitch, I entreat you to pause before you decide definitely. I see you
have quite misunderstood me. I quite realize that I am not for you, nor
you for me! I am not quite so absurd as to be unaware of that fact. The
service I ask of you now shall not compromise you in any way for the
future. I am going away the day after to-morrow, for certain; let this one
day be an exceptional one for me, sir. I came to you founding my hopes
upon the generosity and nobility of your heart, Alexey Ivanovitch—upon
those special tender feelings which may, perhaps, have been aroused in you
by late events. Am I explaining myself clearly, sir; or do you still
misunderstand me?”

The agitation of Pavel Pavlovitch was increasing with every moment.

Velchaninoff gazed curiously at him.

“You ask a service of me,” he said thoughtfully, “and insist strongly upon
my performance of it. This is very suspicious, in my opinion; I must know
more.”

“The whole service I ask is merely that you will come with me; and I
promise, when we return that I will lay bare my heart to you as though we
were at a confessional. Trust me this once, Alexey Ivanovitch!”

But Velchaninoff still held out, and the more obstinately because he was
conscious of a certain worrying feeling which he had had ever since Pavel
Pavlovitch began to talk about his bride. Whether this feeling was simple
curiosity, or something quite inexplicable, he knew not. Whatever it was
it urged him to agree, and go. And the more the instinct urged him, the
more he resisted it.

He sat and thought for a long time, his head resting on his hand, while
Pavel Pavlovitch buzzed about him and continued to repeat his arguments.

“Very well,” he said at last, “very well, I’ll go.” He was agitated almost
to trembling pitch. Pavel was radiant.

“Then, Alexey Ivanovitch, change your clothes—dress up, will you? Dress up
in your own style—you know so well how to do it.”

Pavel Pavlovitch danced about Velchaninoff as he dressed. His state of
mind was exuberantly blissful.

“What in the world does the fellow mean by it all?” thought Velchaninoff.

“I’m going to ask you one more favour yet, Alexey Ivanovitch,” cried the
other. “You’ve consented to come; you must be my guide, sir, too.”

“For instance, how?”

“Well, for instance, here’s an important question—the crape. Which ought I
to do—tear it off, or leave it on?”

“Just as you like.”

“No, I want your opinion. What should you do yourself, if you were wearing
crape, under the circumstances? My own idea was, that if I left it on, I
should be giving a proof of the fidelity of my affections. A very
flattering recommendation, eh, sir?”

“Oh, take it off, of course.”

“Do you really think it’s a matter of ’of course’?” Pavel Pavlovitch
reflected. “No,” he continued, “do you know, I think I’d rather leave it
on.”

“Well, do as you like! He doesn’t trust me, at all events, which is one
good thing,” thought Velchaninoff.

They left the house at last. Pavel looked over his companion’s smart
costume with intense satisfaction. Velchaninoff was greatly surprised at
Pavel’s conduct, but not less so at his own. At the gate there stood a
very superior open carriage.

“H’m! so you had a carriage in waiting, had you? Then you were quite
convinced that I would consent to come down with you, I suppose?”

“I took the carriage for my own use, but I was nearly sure you would
come,” said Pavel Pavlovitch, who wore the air of a man whose cup of
happiness is full to the brim.

“Don’t you think you are a little too sanguine in trusting so much to my
benevolence?” asked Velchaninoff, as they took their seats and started. He
smiled as he spoke, but his heart was full of annoyance.

“Well, Alexey Ivanovitch, it is not for _you_ to call me a fool for that,”
replied Pavel, firmly and impressively.

“H’m! and Liza?” thought Velchaninoff, but he chased the idea away, he
felt as though it were sacrilege to think of her here; and immediately
another thought came in, namely, how small, how petty a creature he must
be himself to harbour such a thought—such a mean, paltry sentiment in
connection with Liza’s sacred name. So angry was he, that he felt as
though he must stop the carriage and get out, even though it cost him a
struggle with Pavel Pavlovitch to do so.

But at this moment Pavel spoke, and the old feeling of desire to go with
him re-entered his soul. “Alexey Ivanovitch,” Pavel said, “are you a judge
of articles of value?”

“What sort of articles?”

“Diamonds.”

“Yes.”

“I wish to take down a present with me. What do you think? Ought I to give
her one, or not?”

“Quite unnecessary, I should think.”

“But I wish to do it, badly. The only thing is, what shall I give?—a whole
set, brooch, ear-rings, bracelet, and all, or only one article?”

“How much do you wish to spend?”

“Oh, four or five hundred roubles.”

“Bosh!”

“What, too much?”

“Buy one bracelet for about a hundred.”

This advice depressed Pavel Pavlovitch; he grew wondrous melancholy. He
was terribly anxious to spend a lot of money, and buy the whole set. He
insisted upon the necessity of doing so.

A shop was reached and entered, and Pavel bought a bracelet after all, and
that not the one he chose himself, but the one which his companion fixed
upon. Pavel wished to buy both. When the shopman, who originally asked one
hundred and seventy five, let the bracelet go for a hundred and fifty
roubles, Pavel Pavlovitch was anything but pleased. He was most anxious to
spend a lot of money on the young lady, and would have gladly paid two
hundred roubles for the same goods, on the slightest encouragement.

“It doesn’t matter, my being in a hurry to give her presents, does it?” he
began excitedly, when they were back in the carriage, and rolling along
once more. “They are not ‘swells’ at all; they live most simply. Innocence
loves presents,” he continued, smiling cunningly. “You laughed just now,
Alexey Ivanovitch, when I said that the girl was only fifteen; but, you
know, what specially struck me about her was, that she still goes to
school, with a sweet little bag in her hand, containing copy books and
pencils. Ha-ha-ha! It was the little satchel that ‘fetched’ me. I do love
innocence, Alexey Ivanovitch. I don’t care half so much for good looks as
for innocence. Fancy, she and her friend were sitting in the corner there,
the other day, and roared with laughter because the cat jumped from a
cupboard on to the sofa, and fell down all of a heap. Why, it smells of
fresh apples, that does, sir. Shall I take off the crape, eh?”

“Do as you like!”

“Well, I’ll take it off!” He took his hat, tore the crape off, and threw
the latter into the road.

Velchaninoff remarked that as he put his hat on his bald head once more,
he wore an expression of the simplest and frankest hope and delight.

“Is he _really_ that sort of man?” thought Velchaninoff with annoyance.
“He surely _can’t_ be trundling me down here without some underhand
motive—impossible! He _can’t_ be trusting entirely to my generosity?” This
last idea seemed to fill him with indignation. “What _is_ this clown of a
fellow?” he continued to reflect. “Is he a fool, an idiot, or simply a
‘permanent husband’? I can’t make head or tail of it all!”



CHAPTER XII.


The Zachlebnikoffs were certainly, as Velchaninoff had expressed it, a
most respectable family. Zachlebnikoff himself was a most eminently
dignified and “solid” gentleman to look at. What Pavel Pavlovitch had said
as to their resources was, however, quite true; they lived well, but if
paterfamilias were to die, it would be very awkward for the rest.

Old Zachlebnikoff received Velchaninoff most cordially. He was no longer
the legal opponent; he appeared now in a far more agreeable guise.

“I congratulate you,” he said at once, “upon the issue. I did my best to
arrange it so, and your lawyer was a capital fellow to deal with. You have
your sixty thousand without trouble or worry, you see; and if we hadn’t
squared it we might have fought on for two or three years.”

Velchaninoff was introduced to the lady of the house as well—an elderly,
simple-looking, worn woman. Then the girls began to troop in, one by one
and occasionally two together. But, somehow, there seemed to be even more
than Velchaninoff had been led to expect; ten or a dozen were collected
already—he could not count them exactly. It turned out that some were
friends from the neighbouring houses.

The Zachlebnikoffs’ country house was a large wooden structure of no
particular style of architecture, but handsome enough, and was possessed
of a fine large garden. There were, however, two or three other houses
built round the latter, so that the garden was common property for all,
which fact resulted in great intimacy between the Zachlebnikoff girls and
the young ladies of the neighbouring houses.

Velchaninoff discovered, almost from the first moment, that his arrival—in
the capacity of Pavel Pavlovitch’s friend, desiring an introduction to the
family—was expected, and looked forward to as a solemn and important
occasion.

Being an expert in such matters he very soon observed that there was even
more than this in his reception. Judging from the extra politeness of the
parents, and by the exceeding smartness of the young ladies, he could not
help suspecting that Pavel Pavlovitch had been improving the occasion, and
that he had—not, of course, in so many words—given to understand that
Velchaninoff was a single man—dull and disconsolate, and had represented
him as likely enough at any moment to change his manner of living and set
up an establishment, especially as he had just come in for a considerable
inheritance. He thought that Katerina Fedosievna, the eldest
girl—twenty-four years of age, and a splendid girl according to Pavel’s
description—seemed rather “got up to kill,” from the look of her. She was
eminent, even among her well-dressed sisters, for special elegance of
costume, and for a certain originality about the make-up of her abundant
hair.

The rest of the girls all looked as though they were well aware that
Velchaninoff was making acquaintance with the family “for Katie,” and had
come down “to have a look at her.” Their looks and words all strengthened
the impression that they were acting with this supposition in view, as the
day went on.

Katerina Fedosievna was a fine tall girl, rather plump, and with an
extremely pleasing face. She seemed to be of a quiet, if not actually
sleepy, disposition.

“Strange, that such a fine girl should be unmarried,” thought
Velchaninoff, as he watched her with much satisfaction.

All the sisters were nice-looking, and there were several pretty faces
among the friends assembled. Velchaninoff was much diverted by the
presence of all these young ladies.

Nadejda Fedosievna, the school-girl and bride elect of Pavel Pavlovitch,
had not as yet condescended to appear. Velchaninoff awaited her coming
with a degree of impatience which surprised and amused him. At last she
came, and came with effect, too, accompanied by a lively girl, her
friend—Maria Nikitishna—who was considerably older than herself and a very
old friend of the family, having been governess in a neighbouring house
for some years. She was quite one of the family, and boasted of about
twenty-three years of age. She was much esteemed by all the girls, and
evidently acted at present as guide, philosopher, and friend to Nadia
(Nadejda). Velchaninoff saw at the first glance that all the girls were
against Pavel Pavlovitch, friends and all; and when Nadia came in, it did
not take him long to discover that she absolutely _hated_ him. He
observed, further, that Pavel Pavlovitch either did not, or _would not_,
notice this fact.

Nadia was the prettiest of all the girls—a little _brunette_, with an
impudent audacious expression; she might have been a Nihilist from the
independence of her look. The sly little creature had a pair of flashing
eyes and a most charming smile, though as often as not her smile was more
full of mischief and wickedness than of amiability; her lips and teeth
were wonders; she was slender but well put together, and the expression of
her face was thoughtful though at the same time childish.

“Fifteen years old” was imprinted in every feature of her face and every
motion of her body. It appeared afterwards that Pavel Pavlovitch had
actually seen the girl for the first time with a little satchel in her
hand, coming back from school. She had ceased to carry the satchel since
that day.

The present brought down by Pavel Pavlovitch proved a failure, and was the
cause of a very painful impression.

Pavel Pavlovitch no sooner saw his bride elect enter the room than he
approached her with a broad grin on his face. He gave his present with the
preface that he “offered it in recognition of the agreeable sensation
experienced by him at his last visit upon the occasion of Nadejda
Fedosievna singing a certain song to the pianoforte,” and there he stopped
in confusion and stood before her lost and miserable, shoving the
jeweller’s box into her hand. Nadia, however, would not take the present,
and drew her hands away.

She approached her mother imperiously (the latter looked much put out),
and said aloud: “I won’t take it, mother.” Nadia was blushing with shame
and anger.

“Take it and say ‘thank you’ to Pavel Pavlovitch for it,” said her father
quietly but firmly. He was very far from pleased.

“Quite unnecessary, quite unnecessary!” he muttered to Pavel Pavlovitch.

Nadia, seeing there was nothing else to be done, took the case and
curtsied—just as children do, giving a little bob down and then a bob up
again, as if she had been on springs.

One of the sisters came across to look at the present whereupon Nadia
handed it over to her unopened, thereby showing that she did not care so
much as to look at it herself.

The bracelet was taken out and handed around from one to the other of the
company; but all examined it silently, and some even ironically, only the
mother of the family muttered that the bracelet was “very pretty.”

Pavel Pavlovitch would have been delighted to see the earth open and
swallow him up.

Velchaninoff helped the wretched man out of the mess. He suddenly began to
talk loudly and eloquently about the first thing that struck him, and
before five minutes had passed he had won the attention of everyone in the
room. He was a wonderfully clever society talker. He had the knack of
putting on an air of absolute sincerity, and of impressing his hearers
with the belief that he considered them equally sincere; he was able to
act the simple, careless, and happy young fellow to perfection. He was a
master of the art of interlarding his talk with occasional flashes of real
wit, apparently spontaneous but actually pre-arranged, and very likely
_stale_, in so far that he had himself made the joke before.

But to-day he was particularly successful; he felt that he must talk on
and talk well, and he knew that before many moments were past he should
succeed in monopolizing all eyes and all ears—that no joke should be
laughed at but his own, and no voice heard but his.

And sure enough the spell of his presence seemed to produce a wonderful
effect; in a while the talking and laughter became general, with
Velchaninoff as the centre and motor of all. Mrs. Zachlebnikoff’s kind
face lighted up with real pleasure, and Katie’s pretty eyes were alight
with absolute fascination, while her whole visage glowed with delight.

Only Nadia frowned at him, and watched him keenly from beneath her dark
lashes. It was clear that she was prejudiced against him. This last fact
only roused Velchaninoff to greater exertions. The mischievous Maria
Nikitishna, however, as Nadia’s ally, succeeded in playing off a
successful piece of chaff against Velchaninoff; she pretended that Pavel
Pavlovitch had represented Velchaninoff as the friend of his childhood,
thereby making the latter out to be some seven or eight years older than
he really was. Velchaninoff liked the look of Maria, notwithstanding.

Pavel Pavlovitch was the picture of perplexity. He quite understood the
success which his “friend” was achieving, and at first he felt glad and
proud of that success, laughing at the jokes and taking a share of the
conversation; but for some reason or other he gradually relapsed into
thoughtfulness, and thence into melancholy—which fact was sufficiently
plain from the expression of his lugubrious and careworn physiognomy.

“Well, my dear fellow, you are the sort of guest one need not exert
oneself to entertain,” said old Zachlebnikoff at last, rising and making
for his private study, where he had business of importance awaiting his
attention; “and I was led to believe that you were the most morose of
hypochondriacs. Dear me! what mistakes one does make about other people,
to be sure!”

There was a grand piano in the room, and Velchaninoff suddenly turned to
Nadia and remarked:

“You sing, don’t you?”

“Who told you I did?” said Nadia curtly.

“Pavel Pavlovitch.”

“It isn’t true; I only sing for a joke—I have no voice.”

“Oh, but I have no voice either, and yet I sing!”

“Well, you sing to us first, and then I’ll sing,” said Nadia, with
sparkling eyes; “not now though—after dinner. I hate music,” she added,
“I’m so sick of the piano. We have singing and strumming going on all day
here;—and Katie is the only one of us all worth hearing!”

Velchaninoff immediately attacked Katie, and besieged her with petitions
to play. This attention from him to her eldest daughter so pleased mamma
that she flushed up with satisfaction.

Katie went to the piano, blushing like a school-girl, and evidently much
ashamed of herself for blushing; she played some little piece of Haydn’s
correctly enough but without much expression.

When she had finished Velchaninoff praised the music warmly—Haydn’s music
generally, and this little piece in particular. He looked at Katie too,
with admiration, and his expression seemed to say. “By Jove, you’re a fine
girl!” So eloquent was his look that everyone in the room was able to read
it, and especially Katie herself.

“What a pretty garden you have!” said Velchaninoff after a short pause,
looking through the glass doors of the balcony. “Let’s all go out; may
we?”

“Oh, yes! do let’s go out!” cried several voices together. He seemed to
have hit upon the very thing most desired by all.

So they all adjourned into the garden, and walked about there until
dinner-time; and Velchaninoff had the opportunity of making closer
acquaintance with some of the girls of the establishment. Two or three
young fellows “dropped in” from the neighbouring houses—a student, a
school-boy, and another young fellow of about twenty in a pair of huge
spectacles. Each of these young fellows immediately attached himself to
the particular young lady of his choice.

The young man in spectacles no sooner arrived than he went aside with
Nadia and Maria Nikitishna, and entered into an animated whispering
conversation with them, with much frowning and impatience of manner.

This gentleman seemed to consider it his mission to treat Pavel Pavlovitch
with the most ineffable contempt.

Some of the girls proposed a game. One of them suggested “Proverbs,” but
it was voted dull; another suggested acting, but the objection was made
that they never knew how to finish off.

“It may be more successful with you,” said Nadia to Velchaninoff
confidentially. “You know we all thought you were Pavel Pavlovitch’s
friend, but it appears that he was only boasting. I am _very_ glad you
have come—for a certain reason!” she added, looking knowingly into
Velchaninoff’s face, and then retreating back again to Maria’s wing,
blushing.

“We’ll play ‘Proverbs’ in the evening,” said another, “and we’ll all chaff
Pavel Pavlovitch; _you_ must help us too!”

“We _are_ so glad you’re come—it’s so dull here as a rule,” said a third,
a funny-looking red-haired girl, whose face was comically hot, with
running apparently. Goodness knows where she had dropped from;
Velchaninoff had not observed her arrive.

Pavel Pavlovitch’s agitation increased every moment. Meanwhile
Velchaninoff took the opportunity of making great friends with Nadia. She
had ceased to frown at him as before, and had now developed the wildest of
spirits, dancing and jumping about, singing and whistling, and
occasionally even catching hold of his hand in her innocent friendliness.

She was very happy indeed, apparently; but she took no more notice of
Pavel Pavlovitch than if he had not been there at all.

Pavel Pavlovitch was very jealous of all this, and once or twice when
Nadia and Velchaninoff talked apart, he joined them and rudely interrupted
their conversation by interposing his anxious face between them.

Katia could not help being fully aware by this time that their charming
guest had not come in for her sake, as had been believed by the family;
indeed, it was clear that Nadia interested him so much that she excluded
everyone else, to a considerable extent, from his attention. However, in
spite of this, her good-natured face retained its amiability of expression
all the same. She seemed to be happy enough witnessing the happiness of
the rest and listening to the merry talk; she could not take a large share
in the conversation herself, poor girl!

“What a fine girl your sister, Katerina Fedosievna is,” remarked
Velchaninoff to Nadia.

“Katia? I should think so! there is no better girl in the world. She’s our
family angel! I’m in love with her myself!” replied Nadia
enthusiastically.

At last, dinner was announced, and a very good dinner it was, several
courses being added for the benefit of the guests: a bottle of tokay made
its appearance, and champagne was handed round in honour of the occasion.
The good humour of the company was general, old Zachlebnikoff was in high
spirits, having partaken of an extra glass of wine this evening. So
infectious was the hilarity that even Pavel Pavlovitch took heart of grace
and made a pun. From the end of the table where he sat beside the lady of
the house, there suddenly came a loud laugh from the delighted girls who
had been fortunate enough to hear the virgin attempt.

“Papa, papa, Pavel Pavlovitch has made a joke!” cried several at once: “he
says that there is quite a ‘galaxy of gals’ here!”

“Oho! _he’s_ made a pun too, has he?” cried the old fellow. “Well, what is
it, let’s have it!” He turned to Pavel Pavlovitch with beaming face,
prepared to roar over the latter’s joke.

“Why, I tell you, he says there’s quite a ‘galaxy of gals.’ ”

“Well, go on, where’s the joke?” repeated papa, still dense to the merits
of the pun, but beaming more and more with benevolent desire to see it.

“Oh, papa, how stupid you are not to see it. Why ‘gals’ and ‘galaxy,’
don’t you see?—he says there’s quite a gal-axy of gals!”

“Oh! oh!” guffawed the old gentleman, “Ha-ha! Well, we’ll hope he’ll make
a better one next time, that’s all.”

“Pavel Pavlovitch can’t acquire all the perfections at once,” said Maria
Nikitishna. “Oh, my goodness! he’s swallowed a bone—look!” she added,
jumping up from her chair.

The alarm was general, and Maria’s delight was great.

Poor Pavel Pavlovitch had only choked over a glass of wine, which he
seized and drank to hide his confusion; but Maria declared that it was a
fishbone—that she had seen it herself, and that people had been known to
die of swallowing a bone just like that.

“Clap him on the back!” cried somebody.

It appeared that there were numerous kind friends ready to perform this
friendly office, and poor Pavel protested in vain that it was nothing but
a common choke. The belabouring went on until the coughing fit was over,
and it became evident that mischievous Maria was at the bottom of it all.

After dinner old Mr. Zachlebnikoff retired for his post-prandial nap,
bidding the young people enjoy themselves in the garden as best they
might.

“You enjoy yourself, too!” he added to Pavel Pavlovitch, tapping the
latter’s shoulder affably as he went by.

When the party were all collected in the garden once more, Pavel suddenly
approached Velchaninoff: “One moment,” he whispered, pulling the latter by
the coat-sleeve.

The two men went aside into a lonely by-path.

“None of that _here_, please; I won’t allow it here!” said Pavel
Pavlovitch in a choking whisper.

“None of what? Who?” asked Velchaninoff, staring with all his eyes.

Pavel Pavlovitch said nothing more, but gazed furiously at his companion,
his lips trembling in a desperate attempt at a pretended smile. At this
moment the voices of several of the girls broke in upon them, calling them
to some game. Velchaninoff shrugged his shoulders and re-joined the party.
Pavel followed him.

“I’m sure Pavel Pavlovitch was borrowing a handkerchief from you, wasn’t
he? He forgot his handkerchief last time too. Pavel Pavlovitch has
forgotten his handkerchief again, and he has a cold as usual!” cried
Maria.

“Oh, Pavel Pavlovitch, why didn’t you say so?” cried Mrs. Zachlebnikoff,
making towards the house; “you shall have one at once.”

In vain poor Pavel protested that he had two of those necessary articles,
and was _not_ suffering from a cold. Mrs. Zachlebnikoff was glad of the
excuse for retiring to the house, and heard nothing. A few moments
afterwards a maid pursued Pavel with a handkerchief, to the confusion of
the latter gentleman.

A game of “proverbs” was now proposed. All sat down, and the young man
with spectacles was made to retire to a considerable distance and wait
there with his nose close up against the wall and his back turned until
the proverb should have been chosen and the words arranged. Velchaninoff
was the next in turn to be the questioner.

Then the cry arose for Pavel Pavlovitch, and the latter, who had more or
less recovered his good humour by this time, proceeded to the spot
indicated; and, resolved to do his duty like a man, took his stand with
his nose to the wall, ready to stay there motionless until called. The
red-haired young lady was detailed to watch him, in case of fraud on his
part.

No sooner, however, had the wretched Pavel taken up his position at the
wall, than the whole party took to their heels and ran away as fast as
their legs could carry them.

“Run quick!” whispered the girls to Velchaninoff, in despair, for he had
not started with them.

“Why, what’s happened? What’s the matter?” asked the latter, keeping up as
best he could.

“Don’t make a noise! we want to get away and let him go on standing
there—that’s all.”

Katia, it appeared, did not like this practical joke. When the last
stragglers of the party arrived at the end of the garden, among them
Velchaninoff, the latter found Katia angrily scolding the rest of the
girls.

“Very well,” she was saying, “I won’t tell mother this time; but I shall
go away myself: it’s too bad! What will the poor fellow’s feelings be,
standing all alone there, and finding us fled!”

And off she went. The rest, however, were entirely unsympathizing, and
enjoyed the joke thoroughly. Velchaninoff was entreated to appear entirely
unconscious when Pavel Pavlovitch should appear again, just as though
nothing whatever had happened. It was a full quarter of an hour before
Pavel put in an appearance, two thirds, at least, of that time he must
have stood at the wall. When he reached the party he found everyone busy
over a game of _Goriélki_, laughing and shouting and making themselves
thoroughly happy.

Wild with rage, Pavel Pavlovitch again made straight for Velchaninoff, and
tugged him by the coat-sleeve.

“One moment, sir!”

“Oh, my goodness! he’s always coming in with his ‘one moments’!” said
someone.

“A handkerchief wanted again probably!” shouted someone else after the
pair as they retired.

“Come now, this time it was you! You were the originator of this insult!”
muttered Pavel, his teeth chattering with fury.

Velchaninoff interrupted him, and strongly recommended Pavel to bestir
himself to be merrier.

“You are chaffed because you get angry,” he said; “if you try to be jolly
instead of sulky you’ll be let alone!”

To his surprise these words impressed Pavel deeply; he was quiet at once,
and returned to the party with a guilty air, and immediately began to take
part in the games engaged in once more. He was not further bullied at
present, and within half an hour his good humour seemed quite
re-established.

To Velchaninoff’s astonishment, however, he never seemed to presume to
speak to Nadia, although he kept as close to her, on all occasions, as he
possibly could. He seemed to take his position as quite natural, and was
not put out by her contemptuous air towards him.

Pavel Pavlovitch was teased once more, however, before the evening ended.

A game of “Hide-and-seek” was commenced, and Pavel had hidden in a small
room in the house. Being observed entering there by someone, he was locked
in, and left there raging for an hour. Meanwhile, Velchaninoff learned the
“special reason” for Nadia’s joy at his arrival. Maria conducted him to a
lonely alley, where Nadia was awaiting him alone.

“I have quite convinced myself,” began the latter, when they were left
alone, “that you are not nearly so great a friend of Pavel Pavlovitch as
he gave us to understand. I have also convinced myself that you alone can
perform a certain great service for me. Here is his horrid bracelet” (she
drew the case out of her pocket)—“I wish to ask you to be so kind as to
return it to him; I cannot do so myself, because I am quite determined
never to speak to him again all my life. You can tell him so from me, and
better add that he is not to worry me with any more of his nasty presents.
I’ll let him know something else I have to say through other channels.
Will you do this for me?”

“Oh, for goodness sake, spare me!” cried Velchaninoff, almost wringing his
hands.

“How spare you?” cried poor Nadia. Her artificial tone put on for the
occasion had collapsed at once before this check, and she was nearly
crying. Velchaninoff burst out laughing.

“I don’t mean—I should be delighted, you know—but the thing is, I have my
own accounts to settle with him!”

“I knew you weren’t his friend, and that he was lying. I shall never marry
him—never! You may rely on that! I don’t understand how he could dare—at
all events, you really _must_ give him back this horrid bracelet. What am
I to do if you don’t? I _must_ have it given back to him this very day.
He’ll catch it if he interferes with father about me!”

At this moment the spectacled young gentleman issued from the shrubs at
their elbow.

“You are bound to return the bracelet!” he burst out furiously, upon
Velchaninoff, “if only out of respect to the rights of woman——”

He did not finish the sentence, for Nadia pulled him away from beside
Velchaninoff with all her strength.

“How stupid you are,” she cried; “go away. How dare you listen? I told you
to stand a long way off!” She stamped her foot with rage, and for some
while after the young fellow had slunk away she continued to walk along
with flashing eyes, furious with indignation. “You wouldn’t believe how
stupid he is!” she cried at last. “You laugh, but think of my feelings!”

“That’s not _he_, is it?” laughed Velchaninoff.

“Of course not. How could you imagine such a thing! It’s only his friend,
and how he can choose such friends I can’t understand! They say he is a
‘future motive-power,’ but I don’t see it. Alexey Ivanovitch, for the last
time—I have no one else to ask—will you give the bracelet back or not?”

“Very well, I will. Give it to me!”

“Oh, you dear, good Alexey Ivanovitch, thanks!” she cried, enthusiastic
with delight. “I’ll sing all the evening for that! I sing beautifully, you
know! I was telling you a wicked story before dinner. Oh, I _wish_ you
would come down here again; I’d tell you _all_, then, and lots of other
things besides—for you are a dear, kind, good fellow, like—like Katia!”

And sure enough when they reached home she sat down and sang a couple of
songs in a voice which, though entirely untrained, was of great natural
sweetness and considerable strength.

When the party returned from the garden they had found Pavel Pavlovitch
drinking tea with the old folks on the balcony. He had probably been
talking on serious topics, as he was to take his departure the day after
to-morrow for nine months. He never so much as glanced at Velchaninoff and
the rest when they entered; but he evidently had not complained to the
authorities, and all was quiet as yet. But, when Nadia began to sing, he
came in. Nadia did not answer a single one of his questions, but he did
not seem offended by this, and took his stand behind her chair. Once
there, his whole appearance gave it to be understood that that was his own
place by right, and that he allowed none to dispute it.

“It’s Alexey Ivanovitch’s turn to sing now!” cried the girls, when Nadia’s
song was finished, and all crowded round to hear Velchaninoff, who sat
down to accompany himself. He chose a song of Glinke’s, too much neglected
nowadays; it ran:—

“When from your merry lips
Tenderness flows,” &c.

Velchaninoff seemed to address the words to Nadia exclusively, but the
whole party stood around him. His voice had long since gone the way of all
flesh, but it was clear that he must have had a good one once, and it so
happened that Velchaninoff had heard this particular song many years ago,
from Glinkes’ own lips, when a student at the university, and remembered
the great effect that it had made upon him when he first heard it. The
song was full of the most intense passion of expression, and Velchaninoff
sang it well, with his eyes fixed upon Nadia.

Amid the applause that followed the completion of the performance, Pavel
Pavlovitch came forward, seized Nadia’s hand and drew her away from the
proximity of Velchaninoff; he then returned to the latter at the piano,
and, with every evidence of frantic rage, whispered to him, his lips all
of a tremble,

“One moment with you!”

Velchaninoff, seeing that the man was capable of worse things in his then
frame of mind, took Pavel’s hand and led him out through the balcony into
the garden—quite dark now.

“Do you understand, sir, that you must come away at once—_this very
minute_?” said Pavel Pavlovitch.

“No, sir, I do not!”

“Do you remember,” continued Pavel in his frenzied whisper, “do you
remember that you begged me to tell you _all_, _everything_—down to the
smallest details? Well, the time has come for telling you all—come!”

Velchaninoff considered a moment, glanced once more at Pavel Pavlovitch,
and consented to go.

“Oh! stay and have another cup of tea!” said Mrs. Zachlebnikoff, when this
decision was announced.

“Pavel Pavlovitch, why are you taking Alexey Ivanovitch away?” cried the
girls, with angry looks. As for Nadia, she looked so cross with Pavel,
that the latter felt absolutely uncomfortable; but he did not give in.

“Oh, but I am very much obliged to Pavel Pavlovitch,” said Velchaninoff,
“for reminding me of some most important business which I must attend to
this very evening, and which I might have forgotten,” laughed
Velchaninoff, as he shook hands with his host and made his bow to the
ladies, especially to Katia, as the family thought.

“You must come again soon!” said the host; “we have been so glad to see
you; it was so good of you to come!”

“Yes, _so_ glad!” said the lady of the house.

“Do come again soon!” cried the girls, as Pavel Pavlovitch and
Velchaninoff took their seats in the carriage; “Alexey Ivanovitch, _do_
come back soon!” And with these voices in their ears they drove away.



CHAPTER XIII.


In spite of Velchaninoff’s apparently happy day, the feeling of annoyance
and suffering at his heart had hardly actually left him for a single
moment. Before he sang the song he had not known what to do with himself,
or suppressed anger and melancholy—perhaps that was the reason why he had
sung with so much feeling and passion.

“To think that I could so have lowered myself as to forget everything!” he
thought—and then despised himself for thinking it; “it is more humiliating
still to cry over what is done,” he continued. “Far better to fly into a
passion with someone instead.”

“Fool!” he muttered—looking askance at Pavel Pavlovitch, who sat beside
him as still as a mouse. Pavel Pavlovitch preserved a most obstinate
silence—probably concentrating and ranging his energies. He occasionally
took his hat off, impatiently, and wiped the perspiration from his
forehead.

Once—and once only—Pavel spoke, to the coachman, he asked whether there
was going to be a thunder-storm.

“Wheugh!” said the man, “I should think so! It’s been a steamy day—just
the day for it!”

By the time town was reached—half-past ten—the whole sky was overcast.

“I am coming to your house,” said Pavel to Velchaninoff, when almost at
the door.

“Quite so; but I warn you, I feel very unwell to-night!”

“All right—I won’t stay too long.”

When the two men passed under the gateway, Pavel Pavlovitch disappeared
into the ’dvornik’s’ room for a minute, to speak to Mavra.

“What did you go in there for?” asked Velchaninoff severely as they
mounted the stairs and reached his own door.

“Oh—nothing—nothing at all,—just to tell them about the coachman.——”

“Very well. Mind, I shall not allow you to drink!”

Pavel Pavlovitch did not answer.

Velchaninoff lit a candle, while Pavel threw himself into a chair;—then
the former came and stood menacingly before him.

“I may have told you I should have _my_ last word to say to-night, as well
as you!” he said with suppressed anger in his voice and manner: “Here it
is. I consider conscientiously that things are square between you and me,
now; and therefore there is no more to be said, understand me, about
_anything_. Since this is so, had you not better go, and let me close the
door after you?”

“Let’s cry ‘quits’ first, Alexey Ivanovitch,” said Pavel Pavlovitch,
gazing into Velchaninoff’s eyes with great sweetness.

“Quits?” cried the latter, in amazement; “you strange man, what are we to
cry quits about? Are you harping upon your promise of a ‘last word’?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, well, we have nothing more to cry quits for. We have been quits long
since,” said Velchaninoff.

“Dear me, do you really think so?” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, in a shrill,
sharp voice, pressing his two hands tightly together, finger to finger, as
he held them up before his breast.

Velchaninoff said nothing. He rose from his seat and began to walk up and
down the room. The word “Liza” resounded through and through his soul like
the voice of a bell.

“Well, what is there that you still consider unsettled between us?” he
asked at last, looking angrily at Pavel, who had never ceased to follow
him with his eyes—always holding his hands before his breast, finger tip
to finger tip.

“Don’t go down there any more,” said Pavel, almost in a whisper, and
rising from his seat with every indication of humble entreaty.

“_What!_ is _that_ all?” cried Velchaninoff, bursting into an angry laugh;
“good heavens, man, you have done nothing but surprise me all day.” He had
begun in a tone of exasperation, but he now abruptly changed both voice
and expression, and continued with an air of deep feeling. “Listen,” he
said, “listen to me. I don’t think I have ever felt so deeply humiliated
as I am feeling now, in consequence of the events of to-day. In the first
place, that I should have condescended to go down with you at all, and in
the second place, all that happened there. It has been such a day of
pettifogging—pitiful pettifogging. I have profaned and lowered myself by
taking a share in it all, and forgetting——Well, it’s done now. But look
here—you fell upon me to-day, unawares—upon a sick man. Oh, you needn’t
excuse yourself; at all events I shall certainly _not_ go there again. I
have not the slightest interest in so doing,” he concluded, with an air of
decision.

“No, really!” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, making no secret of his delight and
exultation.

Velchaninoff glanced contemptuously at him, and recommenced his march up
and down the room.

“You have determined to be happy under any circumstances, I suppose?” he
observed, after a pause. He could not resist making the remark
disdainfully.

“Yes, I have,” said Pavel, quietly.

“It’s no business of mine that he’s a fool and a knave, out of pure
idiocy!” thought Velchaninoff. “I can’t help hating him, though I feel
that he is not even worth hating.”

“I’m a permanent husband,” said Pavel Pavlovitch, with the most
exquisitely servile irony, at his own expense. “I remember you using that
expression, Alexey Ivanovitch, long ago, when you were with us at T——. I
remember many of your original phrases of that time, and when you spoke of
‘permanent husbands,’ the other day, I recollected the expression.”

At this point Mavra entered the room with a bottle of champagne and two
glasses.

“Forgive me, Alexey Ivanovitch,” said Pavel, “you know I can’t get on
without it. Don’t consider it an audacity on my part—think of it as a mere
bit of by-play unworthy your notice.”

“Well,” consented Velchaninoff, with a look of disgust, “but I must remind
you that I don’t feel well, and that—”

“One little moment—I’ll go at once, I really will—I _must_ just drink
_one_ glass, my throat is so——”

He seized the bottle eagerly, and poured himself out a glass, drank it
greedily at a gulp, and sat down. He looked at Velchaninoff almost
tenderly.

“What a nasty looking beast!” muttered the latter to himself.

“It’s all her friends that make her like that,” said Pavel, suddenly, with
animation.

“What? Oh, you refer to the lady. I——”

“And, besides, she is so very young still, you see,” resumed Pavel. “I
shall be her slave—she shall see a little society, and a bit of the world.
She will change, sir, entirely.”

“I mustn’t forget to give him back the bracelet, by-the-bye,” thought
Velchaninoff, frowning, as he felt for the case in his coat pocket.

“You said just now that I am determined to be happy, Alexey Ivanovitch,”
continued Pavel, confidentially, and with almost touching earnestness. “I
_must_ marry, else what will become of me? You see for yourself” (he
pointed to the bottle), “and that’s only a hundredth part of what I demean
myself to nowadays. I cannot get on without marrying again, sir; I _must_
have a new faith. If I can but believe in some one again, sir, I shall
rise—I shall be saved.”

“Why are you telling _me_ all this?” exclaimed Velchaninoff, very nearly
laughing in his face; it seemed so absurdly inconsistent.

“Look here,” he continued, roaring the words out, “let me know now, once
for all, why did you drag me down there? what good was I to do you there?”

“I—I wished to try——,” began Pavel, with some confusion.

“Try what?”

“The effect, sir. You see, Alexey Ivanovitch, I have only been visiting
there a week” (he grew more and more confused), “and yesterday, when I met
you, I thought to myself that I had never seen her yet in society; that
is, in the society of other _men_ besides myself—a stupid idea, I know it
is—I was very anxious to try—you know my wretchedly jealous nature.” He
suddenly raised his head and blushed violently.

“He _can’t_ be telling me the truth!” thought Velchaninoff; he was struck
dumb with surprise.

“Well, go on!” he muttered at last.

“Well, I see it was all her pretty childish nature, sir—that and her
friends together. You must forgive my stupid conduct towards yourself
to-day, Alexey Ivanovitch. I will never do it again—never again, sir, I
assure you!”

“I shall never be there to give you the opportunity,” replied Velchaninoff
with a laugh.

“That’s partly why I say it,” said Pavel.

“Oh, come! I’m not the only man in the world you know!” said the other
irritably.

“I am sorry to hear you say that, Alexey Ivanovitch. My esteem for Nadejda
is such that I——”

“Oh, forgive me, forgive me! I meant nothing, I assure you! Only it
surprises me that you should have expected so much of me—that you trusted
me so completely.”

“I trusted you entirely, sir, solely on account of—all that has passed.”

“So that you still consider me the most honourable of men?” Velchaninoff
paused, the naïve nature of his sudden question surprised even himself.

“I always did think you that, sir!” said Pavel, hanging his head.

“Of course, quite so—I didn’t mean quite that—I wanted to say, in spite of
all prejudices you may have formed, you——”

“Yes, in spite of all prejudices!”

“And when you first came to Petersburg?” asked Velchaninoff, who himself
felt the monstrosity of his own inquisitive questions, but could not
resist putting them.

“I considered you the most honourable of men when I first came to
Petersburg, sir; no less. I always respected you, Alexey Ivanovitch!”

Pavel Pavlovitch raised his eyes and looked at his companion without the
smallest trace of confusion.

Velchaninoff suddenly felt cowed and afraid. He was anxious that nothing
should result—nothing disagreeable—from this conversation, since he
himself was responsible for having initiated it.

“I loved you, Alexey Ivanovitch; all that year at T—— I loved you—you did
not observe it,” continued Pavel Pavlovitch, his voice trembling with
emotion, to the great discomfiture of his companion. “You did not observe
my affection, because I was too lowly a being to deserve any sort of
notice; but it was unnecessary that you should observe my love. Well, sir,
and all these nine years I have thought of you, for I have never known
such a year of life as that year was.” (Pavel’s eyes seemed to have a
special glare in them at this point.) “I remembered many of your sayings
and expressions, sir, and I thought of you always as a man imbued with the
loftiest sentiments, and gifted with knowledge and intellect, sir—of the
highest order—a man of grand ideas. ‘Great ideas do not proceed so
frequently from greatness of intellect, as from elevation of taste and
feeling.’ You yourself said that, sir, once. I dare say you have forgotten
the fact, but you did say it. Therefore I always thought of you, sir, as a
man of taste and feeling; consequently I concluded—consequently I trusted
you, in spite of everything.”

Pavel Pavlovitch’s chin suddenly began to tremble. Velchaninoff was
frightened out of his wits. This unexpected tone must be put an end to at
all hazards.

“Enough, Pavel Pavlovitch!” he said softly, blushing violently and with
some show of irritation. “And why—why (Velchaninoff suddenly began to
shout passionately)—why do you come hanging round the neck of a sick man,
a worried man—a man who is almost out of his wits with fever and annoyance
of all sorts, and drag him into this abyss of lies and mirage and vision
and shame—and unnatural, disproportionate, distorted nonsense! Yes, sir,
that’s the most shameful part of the whole business—the disproportionate
nonsense of what you say! You know it’s all humbug; both of us are mean
wretches—both of us; and if you like I’ll prove to you at once that not
only you don’t love me, but that you loathe and hate me with all your
heart, and that you are a liar, whether you know it or not! You took me
down to see your bride, not—not a bit in the world to try how she would
behave in the society of other men—absurd idea!—You simply saw me,
yesterday, and your vile impulse led you to carry me off there in order
that you might show me the girl, and say, as it were. There, look at that!
She’s to be mine! Try your hand _there_ if you can! It was nothing but
your challenge to me! You may not have known it, but this was so, as I
say; and you felt the impulse which I have described. Such a challenge
could not be made without hatred; consequently you hate me.”

Velchaninoff almost _rushed_ up and down the room as he shouted the above
words; and with every syllable the humiliating consciousness that he was
allowing himself to descend to the level of Pavel Pavlovitch afflicted him
and tormented him more and more!

“I was only anxious to be at peace with you, Alexey Ivanovitch!” said
Pavel sadly, his chin and lips working again.

Velchaninoff flew into a violent rage, as if he had been insulted in the
most unexampled manner.

“I tell you once more, sir,” he cried, “that you have attached yourself to
a sick and irritated man, in order that you may surprise him into saying
something unseemly in his madness! We are, I tell you, man, we are men of
different worlds. Understand me! between us two there is a grave,” he
hissed in his fury, and stopped.

“And how do you know,—sir,” cried Pavel Pavlovitch, his face suddenly
becoming all twisted, and deadly white to look at, as he strode up to
Velchaninoff, “how do you know what that grave means to me, sir, here!”
(He beat his breast with terrible earnestness, droll though he looked.)
“Yes, sir, we both stand on the brink of the grave, but on my side there
is more, sir, than on yours—yes, more, more, more!” he hissed, beating his
breast without pause—“more than on yours—the grave means more to me than
to you!”

But at this moment a loud ring at the bell brought both men to their
senses. Someone was ringing so loud that the bell-wire was in danger of
snapping.

“People don’t ring like that for me, observed Velchaninoff angrily.”

“No more they do for me, sir! I assure you they don’t!” said Pavel
Pavlovitch anxiously. He had become the quiet timid Pavel again in a
moment. Velchaninoff frowned and went to open the door.

“Mr. Velchaninoff, if I am not mistaken?” said a strange voice, apparently
belonging to some young and very self-satisfied person, at the door.

“What is it?”

“I have been informed that Mr. Trusotsky is at this moment in your rooms.
I must see him at once.”

Velchaninoff felt inclined to send this self-satisfied looking young
gentleman flying downstairs again; but he reflected—refrained, stood aside
and let him in.

“Here is Mr. Trusotsky. Come in.”



CHAPTER XIV.


A young fellow of some nineteen summers entered the room; he might have
been even younger, to judge by his handsome but self-satisfied and very
juvenile face.

He was not badly dressed, at all events his clothes fitted him well; in
stature he was a little above the middle height; he had thick black hair,
and dark, bold eyes—and these were the striking features of his face.
Unfortunately his nose was a little too broad and tip-tilted, otherwise he
would have been a really remarkably good-looking young fellow.—He came in
with some pretension.

“I believe I have the opportunity of speaking to Mr. Trusotsky?” he
observed deliberately, and bringing out the word opportunity with much
apparent satisfaction, as though he wished to accentuate the fact that he
could not possibly be supposed to feel either honour or pleasure in
meeting Mr. Trusotsky. Velchaninoff thought he knew what all this meant;
Pavel Pavlovitch seemed to have an inkling of the state of affairs, too.
His expression was one of anxiety, but he did not show the white feather.

“Not having the honour of your acquaintance,” he said with dignity, “I do
not understand what sort of business you can have with me.”

“Kindly listen to me first, and you can then let me know your ideas on the
subject,” observed the young gentleman, pulling out his tortoiseshell
glasses, and focusing the champagne bottle with them. Having deliberately
inspected that object, he put up his glasses again, and fixing his
attention once more upon Pavel Pavlovitch, remarked:

“Alexander Loboff.”

“What about Alexander Loboff?”

“That’s my name. You’ve not heard of me?”

“No.”

“H’m! Well, I don’t know when you should have, now I think of it; but I’ve
come on important business concerning yourself. I suppose I can sit down?
I’m tired.”

“Oh, pray sit down,” said Velchaninoff, but not before the young man had
taken a chair. In spite of the pain at his heart Velchaninoff could not
help being interested in this impudent youngling.

There seemed to be something in his good-looking, fresh young face that
reminded him of Nadia.

“You can sit down too,” observed Loboff, indicating an empty seat to Pavel
Pavlovitch, with a careless nod of his head.

“Thank you; I shall stand.”

“Very well, but you’ll soon get tired. You need not go away, I think, Mr.
Velchaninoff.”

“I have nowhere to go to, my good sir, I am at home.”

“As you like; I confess I should prefer your being present while I have an
explanation with this gentleman. Nadejda Fedosievna has given you a
flattering enough character, sir, to me.”

“Nonsense; how could she have had time to do so?”

“Immediately after you left. Now, Mr. Trusotsky, this is what I wish to
observe,” he continued to Pavel, the latter still standing in front of
him; “we, that is Nadejda Fedosievna and myself, have long loved one
another, and have plighted our troth. You have suddenly come between us as
an obstruction; I have come to tell you that you had better clear out of
the way at once. Are you prepared to adopt my suggestion?”

Pavel Pavlovitch took a step backward in amazement; his face paled
visibly, but in a moment a spiteful smile curled his lip.

“Not in the slightest degree prepared, sir,” he said, laconically.

“Dear me,” said the young fellow, settling himself comfortably in his
chair, and throwing one leg over the other.

“Indeed, I do not know whom I am speaking to,” added Pavel Pavlovitch, “so
that it can’t hardly be worth your while to continue.”

So saying he sat down at last.

“I _said_ you’d get tired,” remarked the youth. “I informed you just now,”
he added, “that my name is Alexander Loboff, and that Nadejda and I have
plighted our troth; consequently you cannot truthfully say, as you did say
just now, that you don’t know who I am, nor can you honestly assert that
you do not see what we can have to talk about. Not to speak of
myself—there is Nadejda Fedosievna to be considered—the lady to whom you
have so impudently attached yourself: that alone is matter sufficient for
explanation between us.”

All this the young fellow rattled off carelessly enough, as if the thing
were so self-evident that it hardly needed mentioning. While talking, he
raised his eye-glass once more, and inspected some object for an instant,
putting the glass back in his pocket immediately afterwards.

“Excuse me, young man,” began Pavel Pavlovitch: but the words “young man”
were fatal.

“At any other moment,” observed the youth, “I should of course forbid your
calling me ‘young man’ at once; but you must admit that in this case my
youth is my principal advantage over yourself, and that even this very day
you would have given anything—nay, at the moment when you presented your
bracelet—to be just a little bit younger.”

“Cheeky young brat!” muttered Velchaninoff.

“In any case,” began Pavel Pavlovitch, with dignity, “I do not consider
your reasons as set forth—most questionable and improper reasons at the
best—sufficient to justify the continuance of this conversation. I see
your ’business’ is mere childishness and nonsense: to-morrow I shall have
the pleasure of an explanation with Mr. Zachlebnikoff, my respected
friend. Meanwhile, sir, perhaps you will make it convenient to—depart.”

“That’s the sort of man he is,” cried the youth, hotly, turning to
Velchaninoff: “he is not content with being as good as kicked out of the
place, and having faces made at him, but he must go down again to-morrow
to carry tales about us to Mr. Zachlebnikoff. Do you not prove by this,
you obstinate man, that you wish to carry off the young lady by force?
that you desire to _buy_ her of people who preserve—thanks to the relics
of barbarism still triumphant among us—a species of power over her? Surely
she showed you sufficiently clearly that she _despises_ you? You have had
your wretched tasteless present of to-day—that bracelet thing—returned to
you; what more do you want?”

“Excuse me, no bracelet has been, or can be returned to me,” said Pavel
Pavlovitch, with a shudder of anxiety, however.

“How so? hasn’t Mr. Velchaninoff given it to you?”

“Oh, the deuce take you, sir,” thought Velchaninoff. “Nadejda Fedosievna
certainly did give me this case for you, Pavel Pavlovitch,” he said; “I
did not wish to take it, but she was anxious that I should: here it is,
I’m very sorry.”

He took out the case and laid it down on the table before the enraged
Pavel Pavlovitch.

“How is it you have not handed it to him before?” asked the young man
severely.

“I had no time, as you may conclude,” said Velchaninoff with a frown.

“H’m! Strange circumstance!”

“_What_, sir?”

“Well, you must admit it _is_ strange! However, I am quite prepared to
believe that there has been some mistake.”

Velchaninoff would have given worlds to get up and drub the impertinent
young rascal and drag him out of the house by the ear; but he could not
contain himself, and burst out laughing. The boy immediately followed suit
and laughed too.

But for Pavel Pavlovitch it was no laughing matter.

If Velchaninoff had seen the ferocious look which the former cast at him
at the moment when he and Loboff laughed, he would have realized that
Pavel Pavlovitch was in the act of passing a fatal limit of forbearance.
He did not see the look; but it struck him that it was only fair to stand
up for Pavel now.

“Listen, Mr. Loboff,” he said, in friendly tones, “not to enter into the
consideration of other matters, I may point out that Mr. Trusotsky brings
with him, in his wooing of Miss Zachlebnikoff, a name and circumstances
fully well-known to that esteemed family; in the second place, he brings a
fairly respectable position in the world; and thirdly, he brings wealth.
Therefore he may well be surprised to find himself confronted by such a
rival as yourself—a gentleman of great wealth, doubtless, but at the same
time so very young, that he could not possibly look upon you as a serious
rival; therefore, again, he is quite right in begging you to bring the
conversation to an end.”

“What do you mean by ‘so very young’? I was nineteen a month since; by the
law I might have been married long ago. That’s a sufficient answer to your
argument.”

“But what father would consent to allowing his daughter to marry you
_now_—even though you may be a Rothschild to come, or a benefactor to
humanity in the future. A man of nineteen years old is not capable of
answering for himself and yet you are ready to take on your own
responsibility another being—in other words, a being who is as much a
child as you are yourself. Why, it is hardly even honourable on your part,
is it? I have presumed to address you thus, because you yourself referred
the matter to me as a sort of arbiter between yourself and Pavel
Pavlovitch.”

“Yes, by-the-bye, ‘Pavel Pavlovitch,’ I forgot he was called that,”
remarked the youth. “I wonder why I thought of him all along as ‘Vassili
Petrovitch.’ Look here, sir (addressing Velchaninoff), you have not
surprised me in the least. I knew you were all tarred with one brush. It
is strange that you should have been described to me as a man of some
originality. However, to business. All that you have said is, of course,
utter nonsense; not only is there nothing ‘dishonourable’ about my
intentions, as you permitted yourself to suggest, but the fact of the
matter is entirely the reverse, as I hope to prove to you by-and-bye. In
the first place, we have promised each other marriage, besides which I
have given her my word that if she ever repents of her promise she shall
have her full liberty to throw me over. I have given her surety to that
effect before witnesses.”

“I bet anything your friend—what’s his name?—Predposiloff invented that
idea,” cried Velchaninoff.

“He-he-he!” giggled Pavel Pavlovitch contemptuously.

“What is that person giggling about? You are right, sir, it was
Predposiloff’s idea. But I don’t think you and I quite understand one
another, do we? and I had such a good report of you. How old are you? Are
you fifty yet?”

“Stick to business, if you please.”

“Forgive the liberty. I did not mean anything offensive. Well, to proceed.
I am no millionaire, and I am no great benefactor to humanity (to reply to
your arguments), but I shall manage to keep myself and my wife. Of course
I have nothing now; I was brought up, in fact, in their house from my
childhood.”

“How so?”

“Oh, because I am a distant relative of this Mr. Zachlebnikoff’s wife.
When my people died, he took me in and sent me to school. The old fellow
is really quite a kind-hearted man, if you only knew it.”

“I do know it!”

“Yes, he’s an old fogey rather, but a kind-hearted old fellow; but I left
him four months ago and began to keep myself. I first joined a railway
office at ten roubles a month, and am now in a notary’s place at
twenty-five. I made him a formal proposal for her a fortnight since. He
first laughed like mad, and afterwards fell into a violent rage, and Nadia
was locked up. She bore it heroically. He had been furious with me before
for throwing up a post in his department which he procured for me. You see
he is a good and kind old fellow at home, but get him in his office
and—oh, my word!—he’s a sort of _Jupiter Tonans_! I told him straight out
that I didn’t like his ways; but the great row was—thanks to the second
chief at the office; he said I insulted him, but I only told him he was an
ignorant beggar. So I threw them all up, and went in for the notary
business. Listen to that! What a clap! We shall have a thunder-storm
directly! What a good thing I arrived before the rain! I came here on
foot, you know, all the way, nearly at a run, too!”

“How in the world did you find an opportunity of speaking to Miss Nadia
then? especially since you are not allowed to meet.”

“Oh, one can always get over the railing; then there’s that red-haired
girl, she helps, and Maria Nikitishna—oh, but she’s a snake, that girl!
What’s the matter? Are you afraid of the thunder-storm?”

“No, I’m ill—seriously ill!”

Velchaninoff had risen from his seat with a fearful sudden pain in his
chest, and was trying to walk up and down the room.

“Oh, really! then I’m disturbing you. I shall go at once,” said the youth,
jumping up.

“No, you don’t disturb me!” said Velchaninoff ceremoniously.

“How not; of course I do, if you’ve got the stomach ache! Well now,
Vassili—what’s your name—Pavel Pavlovitch, let’s conclude this matter. I
will formulate my question for once into words which will adapt themselves
to your understanding: Are you prepared to renounce your claim to the hand
of Nadejda Fedosievna before her parents, and in my presence, with all due
formality?”

“No, sir; not in the slightest degree prepared,” said Pavel Pavlovitch
witheringly; “and allow me to say once more that all this is childish and
absurd, and that you had better clear out!”

“Take care,” said the youth, holding up a warning forefinger; “better give
it up now, for I warn you that otherwise you will spend a lot of money
down there, and take a lot of trouble; and when you come back in nine
months you will be turned out of the house by Nadejda Fedosievna herself;
and if you don’t go _then_, it will be the worse for you. Excuse me for
saying so, but at present you are like the dog in the manger. Think over
it, and be sensible for once in your life.”

“Spare me the moral, if you please,” began Pavel Pavlovitch furiously;
“and as for your low threats I shall take my measures to-morrow—_serious_
measures.”

“Low threats? pooh! You are low yourself to take them as such. Very well,
I’ll wait till to-morrow then; but if you—there’s the thunder again!—_au
revoir_—very glad to have met you, sir.” He nodded to Velchaninoff and
made off hurriedly, evidently anxious to reach home before the rain.



CHAPTER XV.


“You see, you see!” cried Pavel to Velchaninoff, the instant that the
young fellow’s back was turned.

“Yes; you are not going to succeed there,” said Velchaninoff. He would not
have been so abrupt and careless of Pavel’s feelings if it had not been
for the dreadful pain in his chest.

Pavel Pavlovitch shuddered as though from a sudden scald. “Well, sir, and
you—you were loth to give me back the bracelet, eh?”

“I hadn’t time.”

“Oh! you were sorry—you pitied me, as true friend pities friend!”

“Oh, well, I pitied you, then!” Velchaninoff was growing angrier every
moment. However, he informed Pavel Pavlovitch shortly as to how he had
received the bracelet, and how Nadia had almost forced it upon him.

“You must understand,” he added, “that otherwise I should never have
agreed to accept the commission; there are quite enough disagreeables
already.”

“You liked the job, and accepted it with pleasure,” giggled Pavel
Pavlovitch.

“That is foolish on your part; but I suppose you must be forgiven. You
must have seen from that boy’s behaviour that I play no part in this
matter. Others are the principal actors, not I!”

“At all events the job had attractions for you.” Pavel Pavlovitch sat down
and poured out a glass of wine.

“You think I shall knuckle under to that young gentleman? Pooh! I shall
drive him out to-morrow, sir, like dust. I’ll smoke this little gentleman
out of his nursery, sir; you see if I don’t.” He drank his wine off at a
gulp, and poured out some more. He seemed to grow freer as the moments
went by; he talked glibly now.

“Ha-ha! Sachinka and Nadienka!(2) darling little children. Ha-ha-ha!” He
was beside himself with fury.

At this moment, a terrific crash of thunder startled the silence, and was
followed by flashes of lightning and sheets of heavy rain. Pavel
Pavlovitch rose and shut the window.

“The fellow asked you if you were afraid of the thunder; do you remember?
Ha-ha-ha! Velchaninoff afraid of thunder! And all that about ‘fifty years
old’ wasn’t bad, eh? Ha-ha-ha!” Pavel Pavlovitch was in a spiteful mood.

“You seem to have settled yourself here,” said Velchaninoff, who could
hardly speak for agony. “Do as you like, I must lie down.”

“Come, you wouldn’t turn a _dog_ out to-night!” replied Pavel, glad of a
grievance.

“Of course, sit down; drink your wine—do anything you like,” murmured
Velchaninoff, as he laid himself flat on his divan, and groaned with pain.

“Am I to spend the night? Aren’t you afraid?”

“What of?” asked Velchaninoff, raising his head slightly.

“Oh, nothing. Only last time you seemed to be a little alarmed, that’s
all.”

“You are a fool!” said the other angrily, as he turned his face to the
wall.

“Very well, sir; all right,” said Pavel.

Velchaninoff fell asleep within a minute or so of lying down. The
unnatural strain of the day, and his sickly state of health together, had
suddenly undermined his strength, and he was as weak as a child. But
physical pain would have its own, and soon conquered weakness and sleep;
in an hour he was wide awake again, and rose from the divan in anguish.
Pavel Pavlovitch was asleep on the other sofa. He was dressed, and in his
boots; his hat lay on the floor, and his eye-glass hung by its cord almost
to the ground. Velchaninoff did not wake his guest. The room was full of
tobacco smoke, and the bottle was empty; he looked savagely at the
sleeping drunkard.

Having twisted himself painfully off his bed, Velchaninoff began to walk
about, groaning and thinking of his agony; he could lie no longer.

He was alarmed for this pain in his chest, and not without reason. He was
subject to these attacks, and had been so for many years; but they came
seldom, luckily—once a year or two years. On such occasions, his agony was
so dreadful for some ten hours or so that he invariably believed that he
must be actually dying.

This night, his anguish was terrible; it was too late to send for the
doctor, but it was far from morning yet. He staggered up and down the
room, and before long his groans became loud and frequent.

The noise awoke Pavel Pavlovitch. He sat up on his divan, and for some
time gazed in terror and perplexity upon Velchaninoff, as the latter
walked moaning up and down. At last he gathered his senses, and enquired
anxiously what was the matter.

Velchaninoff muttered something unintelligible.

“It’s your kidneys—I’m sure it is,” cried Pavel, very wide awake of a
sudden. “I remember Peter Kuzmich used to have the same sort of attacks.
The kidneys—why, one can die of it. Let me go and fetch Mavra.”

“No, no; I don’t want anything,” muttered Velchaninoff, waving him off
irritably.

But Pavel Pavlovitch—goodness knows why—was beside himself with anxiety;
he was as much exercised as though the matter at issue were the saving of
his own son’s life. He insisted on immediate compresses, and told
Velchaninoff he must drink two or three cups of very hot weak tea—boiling
hot. He ran for Mavra, lighted the fire in the kitchen, put the kettle on,
put the sick man back to bed, covered him up, and within twenty minutes
had the first hot application all ready, as well as the tea.

“Hot plates, sir, hot plates,” he cried, as he clapped the first, wrapped
in a napkin, on to Velchaninoff’s chest. “I have nothing else handy; but I
give you my word it’s as good as anything else. Drink this tea quick,
never mind if you scald your tongue—life is dearer. You can die of this
sort of thing, you know.” He sent sleepy Mavra out of her wits with
flurry; the plates were changed every couple of minutes. At the third
application, and after having taken two cups of scalding tea, Velchaninoff
suddenly felt decidedly better.

“Capital! thank God! if we can once get the better of the pain it’s a good
sign!” cried Pavel, delightedly, and away he ran for another plate and
some more tea.

“If only we can beat the pain down!” he kept muttering to himself every
minute.

In half an hour the agony was passed, but the sick man was so completely
knocked up that, in spite of Pavel’s repeated entreaties to be allowed to
apply “just one more plate,” he could bear no more. His eyes were drooping
from weakness.

“Sleep—sleep,” he muttered faintly.

“Very well,” consented Pavel, “go to sleep.”

“Are you spending the night here? What time is it?”

“Nearly two.”

“You must sleep here.”

“Yes, yes—all right. I will.”

A moment after the sick man called to Pavel again.

“You—you—” muttered the former faintly, as Pavel ran up and bent over him,
“you are better than I am. I understand all—all—thank you!”

“Go to sleep!” whispered Pavel Pavlovitch, as he crept back to his divan
on tip-toes.

Velchaninoff, dozing off, heard Pavel quietly make his bed, undress and
lie down, all very softly, and then put the light out.

Undoubtedly Velchaninoff fell asleep very quietly when the light was once
out; he remembered that much afterwards. Yet all the while he was asleep,
and until he awoke, he dreamed that he could not go to sleep in spite of
his weakness. At length he dreamed that he was delirious, and that he
could not for the life of him chase away the visions which crowded in upon
him, although he was conscious the whole while they _were_ but visions and
not reality. The apparition was familiar to him. He thought that his front
door was open, and that his room gradually filled with people pouring in.
At the table in the middle of the room, sat one man exactly as had been
the case a month before, during one of his dreams. As on the previous
occasion, this man leant on his elbow at the table and would not speak; he
was in a round hat with a crape band.

“How?” thought the dreamer. “Was it really Pavel Pavlovitch last time as
well?” However, when he looked at the man’s face, he was convinced that it
was quite another person.

“Why has he a crape band, then?” thought Velchaninoff in perplexity.

The noise and chattering of all these people was dreadful; they seemed
even more exasperated with Velchaninoff than on the former occasion. They
were all threatening him with something or other, shaking their fists at
him, and shouting something which he could not understand.

“It’s all a vision,” he dreamed, “I know quite well that I am up and
about, because I could not lie still for anguish!”

Yet the cries and noise at times seemed so real that he was now and again
half-convinced of their reality.

“Surely this _can’t_ be delirium!” he thought. “What on earth do all these
people want of me—my God!”

Yet if it were not a vision, surely all these cries would have roused
Pavel Pavlovitch? There he was, fast asleep in his divan!

Then something suddenly occurred as in the old dream. Another crowd of
people surged in, crushing those who were already collected inside. These
new arrivals carried something large and heavy; he could judge of the
weight by their footsteps labouring upstairs.

Those in the room cried, “They’re bringing it! they’re bringing it!”

Every eye flashed as it turned and glared at Velchaninoff; every hand
threatened him and then pointed to the stairs.

Undoubtedly it was reality, not delirium. Velchaninoff thought that he
stood up and raised himself on tip-toes, in order to see over the heads of
the crowd. He wanted to know what was being carried in.

His heart beat wildly, wildly, wildly; and suddenly, as in his former
dream, there came one—two—three loud rings at the bell.

And again, the sound of the bell was so distinct and clear that he felt it
_could_ not be a dream. He gave a cry, and awoke; but he did not rush to
the door as on the former occasion.

What sudden idea was it that guided his movements? Had he any idea at all,
or was it impulse that prompted him what to do? He sprang up in bed, with
arms outstretched, as though to ward off an attack, straight towards the
divan where Pavel Pavlovitch was sleeping.

His hands encountered other hands outstretched in his direction;
consequently some one must have been standing over him.

The curtains were drawn, but it was not absolutely dark, because a faint
light came from the next room, which had no curtains.

Suddenly something cut the palm of his left hand, some of his fingers
causing him sharp pain. He instantly realized that he had seized a knife
or a razor, and he closed his hand upon it with the rapidity of thought.

At that moment something fell to the ground with a hard metallic sound.

Velchaninoff was probably three times as strong as Pavel Pavlovitch, but
the struggle lasted for a long while—at least three minutes.

The former, however, forced his adversary to the earth, and bent his arms
back behind his head; then he paused, for he was most anxious to tie the
hands. Holding the assassin’s wrist with his wounded left hand, he felt
for the blind cord with his right. For a long while he could not find it;
at last he grasped it, and tore it down.

He was amazed afterwards at the unnatural strength which he must have
displayed during all this.

During the whole of the struggle neither man spoke a word; only their
heavy breathing was audible, and the inarticulate sounds emitted by both
as they fought.

At length, having secured his opponent’s hands, Velchaninoff left him on
the ground, rose, drew the curtains, and pulled up the blind.

The deserted street was light now. He opened the window, and stood
breathing in the fresh air for a few moments. It was a little past four
o’clock. He shut the window once more, fetched a towel and bound up his
cut hand as tightly as he could to stop the flow of blood.

At his feet he caught sight of the opened razor lying on the carpet; he
picked it up, wiped it, and put it by in its own case, which he now saw he
had left upon the little cupboard beside the divan which Pavel Pavlovitch
occupied. He locked the cupboard.

Having completed all these arrangements, he approached Pavel Pavlovitch
and looked at him. Meanwhile the latter had managed to raise himself from
the floor and reach a chair; he was now sitting in it—undressed to his
shirt, which was stained with marks of blood both back and
front—Velchaninoff’s blood, not his own.

Of course this was Pavel Pavlovitch; but it would have been only natural
for any one who had known him before, and saw him at this moment, to doubt
his identity. He sat upright in his chair—very stiffly, owing to the
uncomfortable position of his tightly bound hands behind his back; his
face looked yellow and crooked, and he shuddered every other moment. He
gazed intently, but with an expression of dazed perplexity, at
Velchaninoff.

Suddenly he smiled gravely, and nodding towards a carafe of water on the
table, muttered, “A little drop!” Velchaninoff poured some into a glass,
and held it for him to drink.

Pavel gulped a couple of mouthfuls greedily—then suddenly raised his head
and gazed intently at Velchaninoff standing over him; he said nothing,
however, but finished the water. He then sighed deeply.

Velchaninoff took his pillows and some of his clothing, and went into the
next room, locking Pavel Pavlovitch behind him.

His pain had quite disappeared, but he felt very weak after the strain of
his late exertion. Goodness knows whence came his strength for the trial;
he tried to think, but he could not collect his ideas, the shock had been
too great.

His eyes would droop now and again, sometimes for ten minutes at a time;
then he would shudder, wake up, remember all that had passed and raise the
blood-stained rag bound about his hand to prove the reality of his
thoughts; then he would relapse into eager, feverish thought. One thing
was quite certain, Pavel Pavlovitch had intended to cut his throat,
though, perhaps, a quarter of an hour before the fatal moment he had not
known that he would make the attempt. Perhaps he had seen the razor case
last evening, and thought nothing of it, only remembering the fact that it
was there. The razors were usually locked up, and only yesterday
Velchaninoff had taken one out in order to make himself neat for his visit
to the country, and had omitted to lock it up again.

“If he had premeditated murdering me, he would certainly have provided
himself with a knife or a pistol long ago; he could not have relied on my
razors, which he never saw until yesterday,” concluded Velchaninoff.

At last the clock struck six. Velchaninoff arose, dressed himself, and
went into Pavel Pavlovitch’s room. As he opened the door he wondered why
he had ever locked it, and why he had not allowed Pavel to go away at
once.

To his surprise the prisoner was dressed, he had doubtless found means to
get his hands loose. He was sitting in an arm-chair, but rose when
Velchaninoff entered. His hat was in his hand.

His anxious look seemed to say as plain as words:—

“Don’t talk to me! It’s no use talking—don’t talk to me!”

“Go!” said Velchaninoff. “Take your jewel-case!” he added.

Pavel Pavlovitch turned back and seized his bracelet-case, stuffing it
into his pocket, and went out.

Velchaninoff stood in the hall, waiting to shut the front door after him.

Their looks met for the last time. Pavel Pavlovitch stopped, and the two
men gazed into each others eyes for five seconds or so, as though in
indecision. At length Velchaninoff faintly waved him away with his hand.

“Go!” he said, only half aloud, as he closed the door and turned the key.



CHAPTER XVI.


A feeling of immense happiness took possession of Velchaninoff; something
was finished, and done with, and settled. Some huge anxiety was at an end,
so it seemed to him. This anxiety had lasted five weeks.

He raised his hand and looked at the blood-stained rag bound about it.

“Oh, yes!” he thought, “it is, indeed, all over now.”

And all this morning—the first time for many a day, he did not even once
think of Liza; just as if the blood from those cut fingers had wiped out
that grief as well, and made him “quits” with it.

He quite realized how terrible was the danger which he had passed through.

“For those people,” he thought, “who do not know a minute or two
before-hand that they are going to murder you, when they once get the
knife into their hands, and feel the first touch of warm blood—Good
Heaven! they not only cut your throat, they hack your head off
afterwards—right off!”

Velchaninoff could not sit at home, he _must_ go out and let something
happen to him, and he walked about in hopes of something turning up; he
longed to _talk_, and it struck him that he might fairly go to the doctor
and talk to him, and have his hand properly bound up.

The doctor inquired how he hurt his hand, which made Velchaninoff laugh
like mad; he was on the point of telling all, but refrained. Several times
during the day he was on the point of telling others the whole story. Once
it was to a perfect stranger in a restaurant, with whom he had begun to
converse on his own initiative. Before this day he had hated the very idea
of speaking to strangers in the public restaurants.

He went into a shop and ordered some new clothes, not with the idea of
visiting the Pogoryeltseffs however—the thought of any such visit was
distasteful to him; besides he could not leave town, he felt that he must
stay and see what was going to happen.

Velchaninoff dined and enjoyed his dinner, talking affably to his
neighbour and to the waiter as well. When evening fell he went home, his
head was whirling a little, and he felt slightly delirious; the first
sight of his rooms gave him quite a start. He walked round them and
reflected. He visited the kitchen, which he had hardly ever done before in
his life, and thought, “This is where they heated the plates last night.”
He locked the doors carefully, and lit his candles earlier than usual. As
he shut the door he remembered that he had asked Mavra, as he passed the
dvornik’s lodging, whether Pavel Pavlovitch had been. Just as if the
latter could possibly have been near the place!

Having then carefully locked himself in, he opened the little cupboard
where his razors were kept, and took out “the” razor. There was still some
of the blood on the bone handle. He put the razor back again, and locked
the cupboard.

He was sleepy; he felt that he must go to sleep as speedily as possible,
otherwise he would be useless “for to-morrow,” and to-morrow seemed to him
for some reason or other to be about to be a fateful day for him.

But all those thoughts which had crowded in upon him all day, and had
never left him for a moment, were still in full swing within his brain; he
thought, and thought, and thought, and could not fall asleep.

If Pavel Pavlovitch arrived at murdering point accidentally, had he ever
seriously thought of murder even for a single evil instant before?
Velchaninoff decided the question strangely enough: Pavel Pavlovitch _had_
the desire to murder him, but did not himself know of the existence of
this desire.

“It seems an absurd conclusion; but so it is!” thought Velchaninoff.

Pavel Pavlovitch did not come to Petersburg to look out for a new
appointment, nor did he come for the sake of finding Bagantoff, in spite
of his rage when the latter died. No! he despised Bagantoff thoroughly.
Pavel Pavlovitch had come to St. Petersburg for _him_, and had brought
Liza with him, for him alone, Velchaninoff.

“Did _I_ expect to have my throat cut?” Velchaninoff decided that he _had_
expected it, from the moment when he saw Pavel Pavlovitch in the carriage
following in Bagantoff’s funeral procession. “That is I expected
something—of course, not exactly to have my throat cut! And surely—surely,
it was not all _bonâ fide_ yesterday,” he reflected, raising his head from
the pillow in the excitement of the idea. “_Surely_ it cannot have been
all in good faith that that fellow assured me of his love for me, beating
his breast, and with his under lip trembling, as he spoke!

“Yes, it was absolutely _bonâ fide_!” he decided. “This quasimodo of T——
was quite good enough and generous enough to fall in love with his wife’s
lover—his wife in whom he never observed ’anything’ during the twenty
years of their married life.

“He respected and loved me for nine years, and remembered both me and my
sayings. My goodness, to think of that! and I knew nothing whatever of all
this! Oh, no! he was not lying yesterday! But did he love me _while_ he
declared his love for me, and said that we must be ‘quits!’ Yes, he did,
he loved me spitefully—and spiteful love is sometimes the strongest of
all.

“I daresay I made a colossal impression upon him down at T——, for it is
just upon such Schiller-like men that one is liable to make a colossal
impression. He exaggerated my value a thousand fold; perhaps it was my
‘philosophical retirement’ that struck him! It would be curious to
discover precisely what it was that made so great an impression upon him.
Who knows, it may have been that I wore a good pair of gloves, and knew
how to put them on. These quasimodo fellows love æstheticism to
distraction! Give them a start in the direction of admiration for
yourself, and they will do all the rest, and give you a thousand times
more than your due of every virtue that exists; will fight to the death
for you with pleasure, if you ask it of them. How high he must have held
my aptitude for illusionizing others; perhaps that has struck him as much
as anything else! for he remarked: ‘If _this_ man deceived me, whom am I
ever to trust again!’

“After such a cry as that a man may well turn wild beast.

“And he came here to ’embrace and weep over me,’ as he expressed it. H’m!
that means he came to cut my throat, and _thought_ that he came to embrace
and weep over me. He brought Liza with him, too.

“What if I _had_ wept with him and embraced him? Perhaps he really would
have fully and entirely forgiven me—for he was yearning to forgive me, I
could see that! And all this turned to drunkenness and bestiality at the
first check. Yes, Pavel Pavlovitch, the most deformed of all deformities
is the abortion with noble feelings. And this man was foolish enough to
take me down to see his ‘bride.’ My goodness! his bride! Only such a
lunatic of a fellow could ever have developed so wild an idea as a ‘new
existence’ to be inaugurated by an alliance between himself and Nadia. But
you are not to blame, Pavel Pavlovitch, you are a deformity, and all your
ideas and actions and aspirations must of necessity be deformed. But
deformity though he be, why in the world was _my_ sanction, _my_ blessing,
as it were, necessary to his union with Miss Zachlebnikoff? Perhaps he
sincerely hoped that there, with so much sweet innocence and charm around
us, we should fall into each other’s arms in some leafy spot, and weep out
our differences on each other’s shoulders?

“Was _murder_ in his thoughts when I caught him standing between our beds
that first time, in the darkness? No. I think not. And yet the first idea
of it may have entered his soul as he stood there—And if I had not left
the razors out, probably nothing would have happened. Surely that is so;
for he avoided me for weeks—he was _sorry_ for me, and avoided me. He
chose Bagantoff to expend his wrath upon, first, not me! He jumped out of
bed and fussed over the hot plates, to divert his mind from murder
perhaps—from the knife to charity! Perhaps he tried to save both himself
and me by his hot plates!”

So mused Velchaninoff, his poor overwrought brain working on and on, and
jumping from conclusion to conclusion with the endless activity of fever,
until he fell asleep. Next morning he awoke with no less tired brain and
body, but with a new terror, an unexpected and novel feeling of dread
hanging over him.

This dread consisted in the fact that he felt that he, Velchaninoff, must
go and see Pavel Pavlovitch that very day; he knew not why he must go, but
he felt drawn to go, as though by some unseen force. The idea was too
loathsome to look into, so he left it to take care of itself as an
unalterable fact. The madness of it, however, was modified, and the whole
aspect of the thought became more reasonable, after a while, when it took
shape and resolved itself into a conviction in Velchaninoff’s mind that
Pavel Pavlovitch had returned home, locked himself up, and hung himself to
the bedpost, as Maria Sisevna had described of the wretched suicide
witnessed by poor Liza.

“Why should the fool hang himself?” he repeated over and over again; yet
the thought _would_ return that he was bound to hang himself, as Liza had
said that he threatened to do. Velchaninoff could not help adding that if
he were in Pavel Pavlovitch’s place he would probably do the same.

So the end of it was that instead of going out to his dinner, he set off
for Pavel Pavlovitch’s lodging, “just to ask Maria Sisevna after him.” But
before he had reached the street he paused and his face flushed up with
shame. “Surely I am not going there to embrace and weep over him! Surely I
am not going to add this one last pitiful folly to the long list of my
late shameful actions!”

However, his good providence saved him from this “pitiful folly,” for he
had hardly passed through the large gateway into the street, when
Alexander Loboff suddenly collided with him. The young fellow was dashing
along in a state of great excitement.

“I was just coming to you. Our friend Pavel Pavlovitch—a nice sort of
fellow he is——”

“Has he hung himself?” gasped Velchaninoff.

“Hung himself? Who? Why?” asked Loboff, with his eyes starting out of his
head.

“Oh! go on, I meant nothing!”

“Tfu! What a funny line your thoughts seem to take. He hasn’t hung himself
a bit—why in the world should he?—on the contrary, he’s gone away. I’ve
just seen him off! My goodness, how that fellow can drink! We had three
bottles of wine. Predposiloff was there too—but how the fellow drinks!
Good heavens! he was singing in the carriage when the train went off! He
thought of you, and kissed his hand to you, and sent his love. He’s a
scamp, that fellow, eh?”

Young Loboff had apparently had quite his share of the three bottles, his
face was flushed and his utterance thick. Velchaninoff roared with
laughter.

“So you ended up by weeping over each others shoulders, did you? Ha-ha-ha!
Oh, you poetical, Schiller-ish, funny fellows, you!”

“Don’t scold us. You must know he went down _there_ yesterday and to-day,
and he has withdrawn. He ‘sneaked’ like anything about Nadia and me.
They’ve shut her up. There was such a row, but we wouldn’t give way—and,
my word, how the fellow drinks! He was always talking about you; but, of
course, he is no companion for you. You are, more or less, a respectable
sort of man, and must have belonged to society at some time of your life,
though you seem to have retired into private life just now. Is it poverty,
or what? I couldn’t make head or tail of Pavel Pavlovitch’s story.”

“Oh! Then it was he who gave you those interesting details about me?”

“Yes; don’t be cross about it. It’s better to be a citizen than ‘a swell’
any-day! The thing is one does not know whom to respect in Russia
nowadays! Don’t you think it a diseased feature of the times, in Russia,
that one doesn’t know whom to respect?”

“Quite so, quite so. Well, go on about Pavel Pavlovitch——”

“Well, he sat down in the railway carriage and began singing, then he
cried a bit. It was really disgusting to see the fellow. I hate fools!
Then he began to throw money to beggars ‘for the repose of Liza’s soul,’
he said. Is that his wife?”

“Daughter.”

“What’s the matter with your hand?”

“I cut it.”

“H’m! Never mind, cheer up! It’ll be all right soon! I am glad that fellow
has gone, you know,—confound him! But I bet anything he’ll marry as soon
as he arrives at his place.”

“Well, what of that? You are going to marry, too!”

“I! That’s quite a different affair! What a funny man you are! Why, if
_you_ are fifty, he must be sixty! Well, ta-ta! Glad I met you—can’t come
in—don’t ask me—no time!”

He started off at a run, but turned a minute after and came back.

“What a fool I am!” he cried, “I forgot all about it—he sent you a letter.
Here it is. How was it you didn’t see him off? Ta-ta!”

Velchaninoff returned home and opened the letter, which was sealed and
addressed to himself.

There was not a syllable inside in Pavel Pavlovitch’s own hand writing;
but he drew out another letter, and knew the writing at once. It was an
old, faded, yellow-looking sheet of paper, and the ink was faint and
discoloured; the letter was addressed to Velchaninoff, and written ten
years before—a couple of months after his departure from T——. He had never
received a copy of this one, but another letter, which he well remembered,
had evidently been written and sent instead of it; he could tell that by
the substance of the faded document in his hand. In this present letter
Natalia Vasilievna bade farewell to him for ever (as she had done in the
other communication), and informed him that she expected her confinement
in a few months. She added, for his consolation, that she would find an
opportunity of purveying his child to him in good time, and pointed out
that their friendship was now cemented for ever. She begged him to love
her no longer, because she could no longer return his love, but authorized
him to pay a visit to T—— after a year’s absence, in order to see the
child. Goodness only knows why she had not sent this letter, but had
changed it for another!

Velchaninoff was deadly pale when he read this document; but he imagined
Pavel Pavlovitch finding it in the family box of black wood with
mother-of-pearl ornamentation and silver mounting, and reading it for the
first time!

“I should think he, too, grew as pale as a corpse,” he reflected, catching
sight of his own face in the looking-glass. “Perhaps he read it and then
closed his eyes and hoped and prayed that when he opened them again the
dreadful letter would be nothing but a sheet of white paper once more!
Perhaps the poor fellow tried this desperate expedient two or three times
before he accepted the truth!”



CHAPTER XVII.


                          THE PERMANENT HUSBAND.


Two years have elapsed since the events recorded in the foregoing
chapters, and we find our friend Velchaninoff, one lovely summer day,
seated in a railway carriage on his way to Odessa; he was making the
journey for the purpose of seeing a great friend, and of being introduced
to a lady whose acquaintance he had long wished to make.

Without entering into any details, we may remark that Velchaninoff was
entirely changed during these last two years. He was no longer the
miserable, fanciful hypochondriac of those dark days. He had returned to
society and to his friends, who gladly forgave him his temporary relapse
into seclusion. Even those whom he had ceased to bow to, when met, were
now among the first to extend the hand of friendship once more, and asked
no questions—just as though he had been abroad on private business, which
was no affair of theirs.

His success in the legal matters of which we have heard, and the fact of
having his sixty thousand roubles safe at his bankers—enough to keep him
all his life—was the elixir which brought him back to health and spirits.
His premature wrinkles departed, his eyes grew brighter, and his
complexion better; he became more active and vigorous—in fact, as he sat
thinking in a comfortable first-class carriage, he looked a very different
man from the Velchaninoff of two years ago.

The next station to be reached was that at which passengers were expected
to dine, forty minutes being allowed for this purpose.

It so happened that Velchaninoff, while seated at the dinner table, was
able to do a service to a lady who was also dining there. This lady was
young and nice looking, though rather too flashily dressed, and was
accompanied by a young officer who unfortunately was scarcely in a
befitting condition for ladies’ society, having refreshed himself at the
bar to an unnecessary extent. This young man succeeded in quarrelling with
another person equally unfit for ladies’ society, and a brawl ensued,
which threatened to land both parties upon the table in close proximity to
the lady. Velchaninoff interfered, and removed the brawlers to a safe
distance, to the great and almost boundless gratitude of the alarmed lady,
who hailed him as her “guardian angel.” Velchaninoff was interested in the
young woman, who looked like a respectable provincial lady—of provincial
manners and taste, as her dress and gestures showed.

A conversation was opened, and the lady immediately commenced to lament
that her husband was “never by when he was wanted,” and that he had now
gone and hidden himself somewhere just because he happened to be required.

“Poor fellow, he’ll catch it for this,” thought Velchaninoff. “If you will
tell me your husband’s name,” he added aloud, “I will find him, with
pleasure.”

“Pavel Pavlovitch,” hiccupped the young officer.

“Your husband’s name is Pavel Pavlovitch, is it?” inquired Velchaninoff
with curiosity, and at the same moment a familiar bald head was interposed
between the lady and himself.

“Here you are _at last_,” cried the wife, hysterically.

It was indeed Pavel Pavlovitch.

He gazed in amazement and dread at Velchaninoff, falling back before him
just as though he saw a ghost. So great was his consternation, that for
some time it was clear that he did not understand a single word of what
his wife was telling him—which was that Velchaninoff had acted as her
guardian angel, and that he (Pavel) ought to be ashamed of himself for
never being at hand when he was wanted.

At last Pavel Pavlovitch shuddered, and woke up to consciousness.

Velchaninoff suddenly burst out laughing. “Why, we are old friends”—he
cried, “friends from childhood!” He clapped his hand familiarly and
encouragingly on Pavel’s shoulder. Pavel smiled wanly. “Hasn’t he ever
spoken to you of Velchaninoff?”

“No, never,” said the wife, a little confused.

“Then introduce me to your wife, you faithless friend!”

“This—this is Mr. Velchaninoff!” muttered Pavel Pavlovitch, looking the
picture of confusion.

All went swimmingly after this. Pavel Pavlovitch was despatched to cater
for the party, while his lady informed Velchaninoff that they were on
their way from O——, where Pavel Pavlovitch served, to their country
place—a lovely house, she said, some twenty-five miles away. There they
hoped to receive a party of friends, and if Mr. Velchaninoff would be so
very kind as to take pity on their rustic home, and honour it with a
visit, she should do her best to show her gratitude to the guardian angel
who, etc., etc. Velchaninoff replied that he would be delighted; and that
he was an idle man, and always free—adding a compliment or two which
caused the fair lady to blush with delight, and to tell Pavel Pavlovitch,
who now returned from his quest, that Alexey Ivanovitch had been so kind
as to promise to pay them a visit next week, and stay a whole month.

Pavel Pavlovitch, to the amazed wrath of his wife, smiled a sickly smile,
and said nothing.

After dinner the party bade farewell to Velchaninoff, and returned to
their carriage, while the latter walked up and down the platform smoking
his cigar; he knew that Pavel Pavlovitch would return to talk to him.

So it turned out. Pavel came up with an expression of the most anxious and
harassed misery. Velchaninoff smiled, took his arm, led him to a seat, and
sat down beside him. He did not say anything, for he was anxious that
Pavel should make the first move.

“So you are coming to us?” murmured the latter at last, plunging _in
medias res_.

“I knew you’d begin like that! you haven’t changed an atom!” cried
Velchaninoff, roaring with laughter, and slapping him confidentially on
the back. “Surely, you don’t really suppose that I ever had the smallest
intention of visiting you—and staying a month too!”

Pavel Pavlovitch gave a start.

“Then you’re _not_ coming?” he cried, without an attempt to hide his joy.

“No, no! of course not!” replied Velchaninoff, laughing. He did not know
why, but all this was exquisitely droll to him; and the further it went
the funnier it seemed.

“Really—are you really serious?” cried Pavel, jumping up.

“Yes; I tell you, I won’t come—not for the world!”

“But what will my wife say now? She thinks you intend to come!”

“Oh, tell her I’ve broken my leg—or anything you like!”

“She won’t believe!” said Pavel, looking anxious.

“Ha-ha-ha! You catch it at home, I see! Tell me, who is that young
officer?”

“Oh, a distant relative of mine—an unfortunate young fellow——”

“Pavel Pavlovitch!” cried a voice from the carriage, “the second bell has
rung!”

Pavel was about to move off—Velchaninoff stopped him.

“Shall I go and tell your wife how you tried to cut my throat?” he said.

“What are you thinking of—God forbid!” cried Pavel, in a terrible fright.

“Well, go along, then!” said the other, loosing his hold of Pavel’s
shoulder.

“Then—then—you won’t come, will you?” said Pavel once more, timidly and
despairingly, and clasping his hands in entreaty.

“No—I won’t—I swear!—run away—you’ll be late!” He put out his hand
mechanically, then recollected himself, and shuddered. Pavel did not take
the proffered hand, he withdrew his own.

The third bell rang.

An instantaneous but total change seemed to have come over both. Something
snapped within Velchaninoff’s heart—so it seemed to him, and he who had
been roaring with laughter a moment before, seized Pavel Pavlovitch
angrily by the shoulder.

“If I—_I_ offer you my hand, sir” (he showed the scar on the palm of his
left hand)—“if _I_ can offer you my hand, sir, I should think _you_ might
accept it!” he hissed with white and trembling lips.

Pavel Pavlovitch grew deadly white also, his lips quivered and a
convulsion seemed to run through his features:

“And—Liza?” he whispered quickly. Suddenly his whole face worked, and
tears started to his eyes.

Velchaninoff stood like a log before him.

“Pavel Pavlovitch! Pavel Pavlovitch!” shrieked the voice from the
carriage, in despairing accents, as though some one were being murdered.

Pavel roused himself and started to run. At that moment the engine
whistled, and the train moved off. Pavel Pavlovitch just managed to cling
on, and so climb into his carriage, as it moved out of the station.

Velchaninoff waited for another train, and then continued his journey to
Odessa.



                                 THE END.

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          PRINTED BY CHAS. STRAKER AND SONS, LONDON AND REDHILL.



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FOOTNOTES


    1 The present value of a rouble is about two shillings.

    2 Short for Alexander and Nadejda.





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