"Of course, mother," said Avdotya Romanovna emphatically.
"This is what it is," she began in haste, as though the permission to speak of her trouble lifted a weight off her mind. "Very early this morning we got a note from Pyotr Petrovitch in reply to our letter announcing our arrival. He promised to meet us at the station, you know; instead of that he sent a servant to bring us the address of these lodgings and to show us the way; and he sent a message that he would be here himself this morning. But this morning this note came from him. You'd better read it yourself; there is one point in it which worries me very much . . . you will soon see what that is, and . . . tell me your candid opinion, Dmitri Prokofitch! You know Rodya's character better than anyone and no one can advise us better than you can. Dounia, I must tell you, made her decision at once, but I still don't feel sure how to act and I . . . I've been waiting for your opinion."
Razumihin opened the note which was dated the previous evening and read as follows:
"Dear Madam, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, I have the honour to inform you that owing to unforeseen obstacles I was rendered unable to meet you at the railway station; I sent a very competent person with the same object in view. I likewise shall be deprived of the honour of an interview with you to-morrow morning by business in the Senate that does not admit of delay, and also that I may not intrude on your family circle while you are meeting your son, and Avdotya Romanovna her brother. I shall have the honour of visiting you and paying you my respects at your lodgings not later than to-morrow evening at eight o'clock precisely, and herewith I venture to present my earnest and, I may add, imperative request that Rodion Romanovitch may not be present at our interview — as he offered me a gross and unprecedented affront on the occasion of my visit to him in his illness yesterday, and, moreover, since I desire from you personally an indispensable and circumstantial explanation upon a certain point, in regard to which I wish to learn your own interpretation. I have the honour to inform you, in anticipation, that if, in spite of my request, I meet Rodion Romanovitch, I shall be compelled to withdraw immediately and then you have only yourself to blame. I write on the assumption that Rodion Romanovitch who appeared so ill at my visit, suddenly recovered two hours later and so, being able to leave the house, may visit you also. I was confirmed in that belief by the testimony of my own eyes in the lodging of a drunken man who was run over and has since died, to whose daughter, a young woman of notorious behaviour, he gave twenty-five roubles on the pretext of the funeral, which gravely surprised me knowing what pains you were at to raise that sum. Herewith expressing my special respect to your estimable daughter, Avdotya Romanovna, I beg you to accept the respectful homage of
"Your humble servant,
"What am I to do now, Dmitri Prokofitch?" began Pulcheria Alexandrovna, almost weeping. "How can I ask Rodya not to come? Yesterday he insisted so earnestly on our refusing Pyotr Petrovitch and now we are ordered not to receive Rodya! He will come on purpose if he knows, and . . . what will happen then?"
"Act on Avdotya Romanovna's decision," Razumihin answered calmly at once.
"Oh, dear me! She says . . . goodness knows what she says, she doesn't explain her object! She says that it would be best, at least, not that it would be best, but that it's absolutely necessary that Rodya should make a point of being here at eight o'clock and that they must meet . . . . I didn't want even to show him the letter, but to prevent him from coming by some stratagem with your help . . . because he is so irritable . . . . Besides I don't understand about that drunkard who died and that daughter, and how he could have given the daughter all the money . . . which . . . "
"Which cost you such sacrifice, mother," put in Avdotya Romanovna.
"He was not himself yesterday," Razumihin said thoughtfully, "if you only knew what he was up to in a restaurant yesterday, though there was sense in it too . . . . Hm! He did say something, as we were going home yesterday evening, about a dead man and a girl, but I didn't understand a word . . . . But last night, I myself . . . "
"The best thing, mother, will be for us to go to him ourselves and there I assure you we shall see at once what's to be done. Besides, it's getting late — good heavens, it's past ten," she cried looking at a splendid gold enamelled watch which hung round her neck on a thin Venetian chain, and looked entirely out of keeping with the rest of her dress. "A present from her fiance," thought Razumihin.
"We must start, Dounia, we must start," her mother cried in a flutter. "He will be thinking we are still angry after yesterday, from our coming so late. Merciful heavens!"
While she said this she was hurriedly putting on her hat and mantle; Dounia, too, put on her things. Her gloves, as Razumihin noticed, were not merely shabby but had holes in them, and yet this evident poverty gave the two ladies an air of special dignity, which is always found in people who know how to wear poor clothes. Razumihin looked reverently at Dounia and felt proud of escorting her. "The queen who mended her stockings in prison," he thought, "must have looked then every inch a queen and even more a queen than at sumptuous banquets and levees."
"My God!" exclaimed Pulcheria Alexandrovna, "little did I think that I should ever fear seeing my son, my darling, darling Rodya! I am afraid, Dmitri Prokofitch," she added, glancing at him timidly.
"Don't be afraid, mother," said Dounia, kissing her, "better have faith in him."
"Oh, dear, I have faith in him, but I haven't slept all night," exclaimed the poor woman.
They came out into the street.
"Do you know, Dounia, when I dozed a little this morning I dreamed of Marfa Petrovna . . . she was all in white . . . she came up to me, took my hand, and shook her head at me, but so sternly as though she were blaming me . . . . Is that a good omen? Oh, dear me! You don't know, Dmitri Prokofitch, that Marfa Petrovna's dead!"
"No, I didn't know; who is Marfa Petrovna?"
"She died suddenly; and only fancy . . . "
"Afterwards, mamma," put in Dounia. "He doesn't know who Marfa Petrovna is."
"Ah, you don't know? And I was thinking that you knew all about us. Forgive me, Dmitri Prokofitch, I don't know what I am thinking about these last few days. I look upon you really as a providence for us, and so I took it for granted that you knew all about us. I look on you as a relation . . . . Don't be angry with me for saying so. Dear me, what's the matter with your right hand? Have you knocked it?"
"Yes, I bruised it," muttered Razumihin overjoyed.
"I sometimes speak too much from the heart, so that Dounia finds fault with me . . . . But, dear me, what a cupboard he lives in! I wonder whether he is awake? Does this woman, his landlady, consider it a room? Listen, you say he does not like to show his feelings, so perhaps I shall annoy him with my . . . weaknesses? Do advise me, Dmitri Prokofitch, how am I to treat him? I feel quite distracted, you know."
"Don't question him too much about anything if you see him frown; don't ask him too much about his health; he doesn't like that."
"Ah, Dmitri Prokofitch, how hard it is to be a mother! But here are the stairs . . . . What an awful staircase!"
"Mother, you are quite pale, don't distress yourself, darling," said Dounia caressing her, then with flashing eyes she added: "He ought to be happy at seeing you, and you are tormenting yourself so."
"Wait, I'll peep in and see whether he has waked up."
The ladies slowly followed Razumihin, who went on before, and when they reached the landlady's door on the fourth storey, they noticed that her door was a tiny crack open and that two keen black eyes were watching them from the darkness within. When their eyes met, the door was suddenly shut with such a slam that Pulcheria Alexandrovna almost cried out.