"I shan't ever be a Rothschild, and there is no reason why I should," he added, smiling; "but I shall have a house in the Liteynaya, perhaps two, and that will be enough for me." "Who knows but what I may have three!" he concluded to himself; but this dream, cherished inwardly, he never confided to a soul.
Nature loves and favours such people. Ptitsin will certainly have his reward, not three houses, but four, precisely because from childhood up he had realized that he would never be a Rothschild. That will be the limit of Ptitsin's fortune, and, come what may, he will never have more than four houses.
Varvara Ardalionovna was not like her brother. She too, had passionate desires, but they were persistent rather than impetuous. Her plans were as wise as her methods of carrying them out. No doubt she also belonged to the category of ordinary people who dream of being original, but she soon discovered that she had not a grain of true originality, and she did not let it trouble her too much. Perhaps a certain kind of pride came to her help. She made her first concession to the demands of practical life with great resolution when she consented to marry Ptitsin. However, when she married she did not say to herself, "Never mind a mean action if it leads to the end in view," as her brother would certainly have said in such a case; it is quite probable that he may have said it when he expressed his elder-brotherly satisfaction at her decision. Far from this; Varvara Ardalionovna did not marry until she felt convinced that her future husband was unassuming, agreeable, almost cultured, and that nothing on earth would tempt him to a really dishonourable deed. As to small meannesses, such trifles did not trouble her. Indeed, who is free from them? It is absurd to expect the ideal! Besides, she knew that her marriage would provide a refuge for all her family. Seeing Gania unhappy, she was anxious to help him, in spite of their former disputes and misunderstandings. Ptitsin, in a friendly way, would press his brother-in-law to enter the army. "You know," he said sometimes, jokingly, "you despise generals and generaldom, but you will see that 'they' will all end by being generals in their turn. You will see it if you live long enough!"
"But why should they suppose that I despise generals?" Gania thought sarcastically to himself.
To serve her brother's interests, Varvara Ardalionovna was constantly at the Epanchins' house, helped by the fact that in childhood she and Gania had played with General Ivan Fedorovitch's daughters. It would have been inconsistent with her character if in these visits she had been pursuing a chimera; her project was not chimerical at all; she was building on a firm basis — on her knowledge of the character of the Epanchin family, especially Aglaya, whom she studied closely. All Varvara's efforts were directed towards bringing Aglaya and Gania together. Perhaps she achieved some result; perhaps, also, she made the mistake of depending too much upon her brother, and expecting more from him than he would ever be capable of giving. However this may be, her manoeuvres were skilful enough. For weeks at a time she would never mention Gania. Her attitude was modest but dignified, and she was always extremely truthful and sincere. Examining the depths of her conscience, she found nothing to reproach herself with, and this still further strengthened her in her designs. But Varvara Ardalionovna sometimes remarked that she felt spiteful; that there was a good deal of vanity in her, perhaps even of wounded vanity. She noticed this at certain times more than at others, and especially after her visits to the Epanchins.
Today, as I have said, she returned from their house with a heavy feeling of dejection. There was a sensation of bitterness, a sort of mocking contempt, mingled with it.
Arrived at her own house, Varia heard a considerable commotion going on in the upper storey, and distinguished the voices of her father and brother. On entering the salon she found Gania pacing up and down at frantic speed, pale with rage and almost tearing his hair. She frowned, and subsided on to the sofa with a tired air, and without taking the trouble to remove her hat. She very well knew that if she kept quiet and asked her brother nothing about his reason for tearing up and down the room, his wrath would fall upon her head. So she hastened to put the question:
"The old story, eh?"
"Old story? No! Heaven knows what's up now — I don't! Father has simply gone mad; mother's in floods of tears. Upon my word, Varia, I must kick him out of the house; or else go myself," he added, probably remembering that he could not well turn people out of a house which was not his own.
"You must make allowances," murmured Varia.
"Make allowances? For whom? Him — the old blackguard? No, no, Varia — that won't do! It won't do, I tell you! And look at the swagger of the man! He's all to blame himself, and yet he puts on so much 'side' that you'd think — my word! — 'It's too much trouble to go through the gate, you must break the fence for me!' That's the sort of air he puts on; but what's the matter with you, Varia? What a curious expression you have!"
"I'm all right," said Varia, in a tone that sounded as though she were all wrong.
Gania looked more intently at her.
"You've been THERE?" he asked, suddenly.
"Did you find out anything?"
"Nothing unexpected. I discovered that it's all true. My husband was wiser than either of us. Just as he suspected from the beginning, so it has fallen out. Where is he?"
"Out. Well — what has happened? — go on."
"The prince is formally engaged to her — that's settled. The elder sisters told me about it. Aglaya has agreed. They don't attempt to conceal it any longer; you know how mysterious and secret they have all been up to now. Adelaida's wedding is put off again, so that both can be married on one day. Isn't that delightfully romantic? Somebody ought to write a poem on it. Sit down and write an ode instead of tearing up and down like that. This evening Princess Bielokonski is to arrive; she comes just in time — they have a party tonight. He is to be presented to old Bielokonski, though I believe he knows her already; probably the engagement will be openly announced. They are only afraid that he may knock something down, or trip over something when he comes into the room. It would be just like him."
Gania listened attentively, but to his sister's astonishment he was by no means so impressed by this news (which should, she thought, have been so important to him) as she had expected.
"Well, it was clear enough all along," he said, after a moment's reflection. "So that's the end," he added, with a disagreeable smile, continuing to walk up and down the room, but much slower than before, and glancing slyly into his sister's face.
"It's a good thing that you take it philosophically, at all events," said Varia. "I'm really very glad of it."
"Yes, it's off our hands — off YOURS, I should say."
"I think I have served you faithfully. I never even asked you what happiness you expected to find with Aglaya."
"Did I ever expect to find happiness with Aglaya?"
"Come, come, don't overdo your philosophy. Of course you did. Now it's all over, and a good thing, too; pair of fools that we have been! I confess I have never been able to look at it seriously. I busied myself in it for your sake, thinking that there was no knowing what might happen with a funny girl like that to deal with. There were ninety to one chances against it. To this moment I can't make out why you wished for it."
"H'm! now, I suppose, you and your husband will never weary of egging me on to work again. You'll begin your lectures about perseverance and strength of will, and all that. I know it all by heart," said Gania, laughing.
"He's got some new idea in his head," thought Varia. "Are they pleased over there — the parents?" asked Gania, suddenly.
"N — no, I don't think they are. You can judge for yourself. I think the general is pleased enough; her mother is a little uneasy. She always loathed the idea of the prince as a HUSBAND; everybody knows that."
"Of course, naturally. The bridegroom is an impossible and ridiculous one. I mean, has SHE given her formal consent?"
"She has not said 'no,' up to now, and that's all. It was sure to be so with her. You know what she is like. You know how absurdly shy she is. You remember how she used to hide in a cupboard as a child, so as to avoid seeing visitors, for hours at a time. She is just the same now; but, do you know, I think there is something serious in the matter, even from her side; I feel it, somehow. She laughs at the prince, they say, from morn to night in order to hide her real feelings; but you may be sure she finds occasion to say something or other to him on the sly, for he himself is in a state of radiant happiness. He walks in the clouds; they say he is extremely funny just now; I heard it from themselves. They seemed to be laughing at me in their sleeves — those elder girls — I don't know why."