THE occurrence at the Vauxhall had filled both mother and daughters with something like horror. In their excitement Lizabetha Prokofievna and the girls were nearly running all the way home.
In her opinion there was so much disclosed and laid bare by the episode, that, in spite of the chaotic condition of her mind, she was able to feel more or less decided on certain points which, up to now, had been in a cloudy condition.
However, one and all of the party realized that something important had happened, and that, perhaps fortunately enough, something which had hitherto been enveloped in the obscurity of guess-work had now begun to come forth a little from the mists. In spite of Prince S.'s assurances and explanations, Evgenie Pavlovitch's real character and position were at last coming to light. He was publicly convicted of intimacy with "that creature." So thought Lizabetha Prokofievna and her two elder daughters.
But the real upshot of the business was that the number of riddles to be solved was augmented. The two girls, though rather irritated at their mother's exaggerated alarm and haste to depart from the scene, had been unwilling to worry her at first with questions.
Besides, they could not help thinking that their sister Aglaya probably knew more about the whole matter than both they and their mother put together.
Prince S. looked as black as night, and was silent and moody. Mrs. Epanchin did not say a word to him all the way home, and he did not seem to observe the fact. Adelaida tried to pump him a little by asking, "who was the uncle they were talking about, and what was it that had happened in Petersburg?" But he had merely muttered something disconnected about "making inquiries," and that "of course it was all nonsense." "Oh, of course," replied Adelaida, and asked no more questions. Aglaya, too, was very quiet; and the only remark she made on the way home was that they were "walking much too fast to be pleasant."
Once she turned and observed the prince hurrying after them. Noticing his anxiety to catch them up, she smiled ironically, and then looked back no more. At length, just as they neared the house, General Epanchin came out and met them; he had only just arrived from town.
His first word was to inquire after Evgenie Pavlovitch. But Lizabetha stalked past him, and neither looked at him nor answered his question.
He immediately judged from the faces of his daughters and Prince S. that there was a thunderstorm brewing, and he himself already bore evidences of unusual perturbation of mind.
He immediately button-holed Prince S., and standing at the front door, engaged in a whispered conversation with him. By the troubled aspect of both of them, when they entered the house, and approached Mrs. Epanchin, it was evident that they had been discussing very disturbing news.
Little by little the family gathered together upstairs in Lizabetha Prokofievna's apartments, and Prince Muishkin found himself alone on the verandah when he arrived. He settled himself in a corner and sat waiting, though he knew not what he expected. It never struck him that he had better go away, with all this disturbance in the house. He seemed to have forgotten all the world, and to be ready to sit on where he was for years on end. From upstairs he caught sounds of excited conversation every now and then.
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.
Suddenly Aglaya entered the verandah. She seemed to be quite calm, though a little pale.
Observing the prince, whom she evidently did not expect to see there, alone in the corner, she smiled, and approached him:
"What are you doing there?" she asked.
The prince muttered something, blushed, and jumped up; but Aglaya immediately sat down beside him; so he reseated himself.
She looked suddenly, but attentively into his face, then at the window, as though thinking of something else, and then again at him.
"Perhaps she wants to laugh at me," thought the prince, "but no; for if she did she certainly would do so."
"Would you like some tea? I'll order some," she said, after a minute or two of silence.
"N-no thanks, I don't know — "
"Don't know! How can you not know? By-the-by, look here — if someone were to challenge you to a duel, what should you do? I wished to ask you this — some time ago — "
"Why? Nobody would ever challenge me to a duel!"
"But if they were to, would you be dreadfully frightened?"
"I dare say I should be — much alarmed!"
"Seriously? Then are you a coward?"
"N-no! — I don't think so. A coward is a man who is afraid and runs away; the man who is frightened but does not run away, is not quite a coward," said the prince with a smile, after a moment's thought.
"And you wouldn't run away?"
"No — I don't think I should run away," replied the prince, laughing outright at last at Aglaya's questions.
"Though I am a woman, I should certainly not run away for anything," said Aglaya, in a slightly pained voice. "However, I see you are laughing at me and twisting your face up as usual in order to make yourself look more interesting. Now tell me, they generally shoot at twenty paces, don't they? At ten, sometimes? I suppose if at ten they must be either wounded or killed, mustn't they?"
"I don't think they often kill each other at duels."
"They killed Pushkin that way."
"That may have been an accident."
"Not a bit of it; it was a duel to the death, and he was killed."
"The bullet struck so low down that probably his antagonist would never have aimed at that part of him — people never do; he would have aimed at his chest or head; so that probably the bullet hit him accidentally. I have been told this by competent authorities."
"Well, a soldier once told me that they were always ordered to aim at the middle of the body. So you see they don't aim at the chest or head; they aim lower on purpose. I asked some officer about this afterwards, and he said it was perfectly true."
"That is probably when they fire from a long distance."
"Can you shoot at all?"
"No, I have never shot in my life."
"Can't you even load a pistol?"
"No! That is, I understand how it's done, of course, but I have never done it."
"Then, you don't know how, for it is a matter that needs practice. Now listen and learn; in the first place buy good powder, not damp (they say it mustn't be at all damp, but very dry), some fine kind it is — you must ask for PISTOL powder, not the stuff they load cannons with. They say one makes the bullets oneself, somehow or other. Have you got a pistol?"
"No — and I don't want one," said the prince, laughing.