"Dear me! How you have gone into all the refinements and details of the question! Why, my dear fellow, you are not a caligraphist, you are an artist! Eh, Gania?"
"Wonderful!" said Gania. "And he knows it too," he added, with a sarcastic smile.
"You may smile, — but there's a career in this," said the general. "You don't know what a great personage I shall show this to, prince. Why, you can command a situation at thirty-five roubles per month to start with. However, it's half-past twelve," he concluded, looking at his watch; "so to business, prince, for I must be setting to work and shall not see you again today. Sit down a minute. I have told you that I cannot receive you myself very often, but I should like to be of some assistance to you, some small assistance, of a kind that would give you satisfaction. I shall find you a place in one of the State departments, an easy place — but you will require to be accurate. Now, as to your plans — in the house, or rather in the family of Gania here — my young friend, whom I hope you will know better — his mother and sister have prepared two or three rooms for lodgers, and let them to highly recommended young fellows, with board and attendance. I am sure Nina Alexandrovna will take you in on my recommendation. There you will be comfortable and well taken care of; for I do not think, prince, that you are the sort of man to be left to the mercy of Fate in a town like Petersburg. Nina Alexandrovna, Gania's mother, and Varvara Alexandrovna, are ladies for whom I have the highest possible esteem and respect. Nina Alexandrovna is the wife of General Ardalion Alexandrovitch, my old brother in arms, with whom, I regret to say, on account of certain circumstances, I am no longer acquainted. I give you all this information, prince, in order to make it clear to you that I am personally recommending you to this family, and that in so doing, I am more or less taking upon myself to answer for you. The terms are most reasonable, and I trust that your salary will very shortly prove amply sufficient for your expenditure. Of course pocket-money is a necessity, if only a little; do not be angry, prince, if I strongly recommend you to avoid carrying money in your pocket. But as your purse is quite empty at the present moment, you must allow me to press these twenty-five roubles upon your acceptance, as something to begin with. Of course we will settle this little matter another time, and if you are the upright, honest man you look, I anticipate very little trouble between us on that score. Taking so much interest in you as you may perceive I do, I am not without my object, and you shall know it in good time. You see, I am perfectly candid with you. I hope, Gania, you have nothing to say against the prince's taking up his abode in your house?"
"Oh, on the contrary! my mother will be very glad," said Gania, courteously and kindly.
"I think only one of your rooms is engaged as yet, is it not? That fellow Ferd-Ferd — "
"Yes — I don't like that Ferdishenko. I can't understand why Nastasia Philipovna encourages him so. Is he really her cousin, as he says?"
"Oh dear no, it's all a joke. No more cousin than I am."
"Well, what do you think of the arrangement, prince?"
"Thank you, general; you have behaved very kindly to me; all the more so since I did not ask you to help me. I don't say that out of pride. I certainly did not know where to lay my head tonight. Rogojin asked me to come to his house, of course, but — "
"Rogojin? No, no, my good fellow. I should strongly recommend you, paternally, — or, if you prefer it, as a friend, — to forget all about Rogojin, and, in fact, to stick to the family into which you are about to enter."
"Thank you," began the prince; "and since you are so very kind there is just one matter which I — "
"You must really excuse me," interrupted the general, "but I positively haven't another moment now. I shall just tell Elizabetha Prokofievna about you, and if she wishes to receive you at once — as I shall advise her — I strongly recommend you to ingratiate yourself with her at the first opportunity, for my wife may be of the greatest service to you in many ways. If she cannot receive you now, you must be content to wait till another time. Meanwhile you, Gania, just look over these accounts, will you? We mustn't forget to finish off that matter — "
The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.
Gania lit a cigarette and offered one to the prince. The latter accepted the offer, but did not talk, being unwilling to disturb Gania's work. He commenced to examine the study and its contents. But Gania hardly so much as glanced at the papers lying before him; he was absent and thoughtful, and his smile and general appearance struck the prince still more disagreeably now that the two were left alone together.
Suddenly Gania approached our hero who was at the moment standing over Nastasia Philipovna's portrait, gazing at it.
"Do you admire that sort of woman, prince?" he asked, looking intently at him. He seemed to have some special object in the question.
"It's a wonderful face," said the prince, "and I feel sure that her destiny is not by any means an ordinary, uneventful one. Her face is smiling enough, but she must have suffered terribly — hasn't she? Her eyes show it — those two bones there, the little points under her eyes, just where the cheek begins. It's a proud face too, terribly proud! And I — I can't say whether she is good and kind, or not. Oh, if she be but good! That would make all well!"
"And would you marry a woman like that, now?" continued Gania, never taking his excited eyes off the prince's face.
"I cannot marry at all," said the latter. "I am an invalid."
"Would Rogojin marry her, do you think?"
"Why not? Certainly he would, I should think. He would marry her tomorrow! — marry her tomorrow and murder her in a week!"
Hardly had the prince uttered the last word when Gania gave such a fearful shudder that the prince almost cried out.
"What's the matter?" said he, seizing Gania's hand.
"Your highness! His excellency begs your presence in her excellency's apartments!" announced the footman, appearing at the door.
The prince immediately followed the man out of the room.