Gania had begun to frown, and probably Varia added this last sentence in order to probe his thought. However, at this moment, the noise began again upstairs.
"I'll turn him out!" shouted Gania, glad of the opportunity of venting his vexation. "I shall just turn him out — we can't have this."
"Yes, and then he'll go about the place and disgrace us as he did yesterday."
"How 'as he did yesterday'? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?" asked Gania, in alarm.
"Why, goodness me, don't you know?" Varia stopped short.
"What? You don't mean to say that he went there yesterday!" cried Gania, flushing red with shame and anger. "Good heavens, Varia! Speak! You have just been there. WAS he there or not, QUICK?" And Gania rushed for the door. Varia followed and caught him by both hands.
"What are you doing? Where are you going to? You can't let him go now; if you do he'll go and do something worse."
"What did he do there? What did he say?" "They couldn't tell me themselves; they couldn't make head or tail of it; but he frightened them all. He came to see the general, who was not at home; so he asked for Lizabetha Prokofievna. First of all, he begged her for some place, or situation, for work of some kind, and then he began to complain about US, about me and my husband, and you, especially YOU; he said a lot of things."
"Oh! couldn't you find out?" muttered Gania, trembling hysterically.
"No — nothing more than that. Why, they couldn't understand him themselves; and very likely didn't tell me all."
Gania seized his head with both hands and tottered to the window; Varia sat down at the other window.
"Funny girl, Aglaya," she observed, after a pause. "When she left me she said, 'Give my special and personal respects to your parents; I shall certainly find an opportunity to see your father one day,' and so serious over it. She's a strange creature."
"Wasn't she joking? She was speaking sarcastically!" "Not a bit of it; that's just the strange part of it."
"Does she know about father, do you think — or not?"
"That they do NOT know about it in the house is quite certain, the rest of them, I mean; but you have given me an idea. Aglaya perhaps knows. She alone, though, if anyone; for the sisters were as astonished as I was to hear her speak so seriously. If she knows, the prince must have told her."
"Oh! it's not a great matter to guess who told her. A thief! A thief in our family, and the head of the family, too!"
"Oh! nonsense!" cried Varia, angrily. "That was nothing but a drunkard's tale. Nonsense! Why, who invented the whole thing — Lebedeff and the prince — a pretty pair! Both were probably drunk."
"Father is a drunkard and a thief; I am a beggar, and the husband of my sister is a usurer," continued Gania, bitterly. "There was a pretty list of advantages with which to enchant the heart of Aglaya."
"That same husband of your sister, the usurer — "
"Feeds me? Go on. Don't stand on ceremony, pray."
"Don't lose your temper. You are just like a schoolboy. You think that all this sort of thing would harm you in Aglaya's eyes, do you? You little know her character. She is capable of refusing the most brilliant party, and running away and starving in a garret with some wretched student; that's the sort of girl she is. You never could or did understand how interesting you would have seen in her eyes if you had come firmly and proudly through our misfortunes. The prince has simply caught her with hook and line; firstly, because he never thought of fishing for her, and secondly, because he is an idiot in the eyes of most people. It's quite enough for her that by accepting him she puts her family out and annoys them all round — that's what she likes. You don't understand these things."
"We shall see whether I understand or no!" said Gania, enigmatically. "But I shouldn't like her to know all about father, all the same. I thought the prince would manage to hold his tongue about this, at least. He prevented Lebedeff spreading the news — he wouldn't even tell me all when I asked him — "
"Then you must see that he is not responsible. What does it matter to you now, in any case? What are you hoping for still? If you HAVE a hope left, it is that your suffering air may soften her heart towards you."
"Oh, she would funk a scandal like anyone else. You are all tarred with one brush!"
"What! AGLAYA would have funked? You are a chicken-hearted fellow, Gania!" said Varia, looking at her brother with contempt. "Not one of us is worth much. Aglaya may be a wild sort of a girl, but she is far nobler than any of us, a thousand times nobler!"
"Well — come! there's nothing to get cross about," said Gania.
"All I'm afraid of is — mother. I'm afraid this scandal about father may come to her ears; perhaps it has already. I am dreadfully afraid."
"It undoubtedly has already!" observed Gania.
Varia had risen from her place and had started to go upstairs to her mother; but at this observation of Gania's she turned and gazed at him attentively.
"Who could have told her?"
"Hippolyte, probably. He would think it the most delightful amusement in the world to tell her of it the instant he moved over here; I haven't a doubt of it."
"But how could he know anything of it? Tell me that. Lebedeff and the prince determined to tell no one — even Colia knows nothing."
"What, Hippolyte? He found it out himself, of course. Why, you have no idea what a cunning little animal he is; dirty little gossip! He has the most extraordinary nose for smelling out other people's secrets, or anything approaching to scandal. Believe it or not, but I'm pretty sure he has got round Aglaya. If he hasn't, he soon will. Rogojin is intimate with him, too. How the prince doesn't notice it, I can't understand. The little wretch considers me his enemy now and does his best to catch me tripping. What on earth does it matter to him, when he's dying? However, you'll see; I shall catch HIM tripping yet, and not he me."
"Why did you get him over here, if you hate him so? And is it really worth your while to try to score off him?"
"Why, it was yourself who advised me to bring him over!"
"I thought he might be useful. You know he is in love with Aglaya himself, now, and has written to her; he has even written to Lizabetha Prokofievna!"
"Oh! he's not dangerous there!" cried Gania, laughing angrily. "However, I believe there is something of that sort in the air; he is very likely to be in love, for he is a mere boy. But he won't write anonymous letters to the old lady; that would be too audacious a thing for him to attempt; but I dare swear the very first thing he did was to show me up to Aglaya as a base deceiver and intriguer. I confess I was fool enough to attempt something through him at first. I thought he would throw himself into my service out of revengeful feelings towards the prince, the sly little beast! But I know him better now. As for the theft, he may have heard of it from the widow in Petersburg, for if the old man committed himself to such an act, he can have done it for no other object but to give the money to her. Hippolyte said to me, without any prelude, that the general had promised the widow four hundred roubles. Of course I understood, and the little wretch looked at me with a nasty sort of satisfaction. I know him; you may depend upon it he went and told mother too, for the pleasure of wounding her. And why doesn't he die, I should like to know? He undertook to die within three weeks, and here he is getting fatter. His cough is better, too. It was only yesterday that he said that was the second day he hadn't coughed blood."
"Well, turn him out!"
"I don't HATE, I despise him," said Gania, grandly. "Well, I do hate him, if you like!" he added, with a sudden access of rage, "and I'll tell him so to his face, even when he's dying! If you had but read his confession — good Lord! what refinement of impudence! Oh, but I'd have liked to whip him then and there, like a schoolboy, just to see how surprised he would have been! Now he hates everybody because he — Oh, I say, what on earth are they doing there! Listen to that noise! I really can't stand this any longer. Ptitsin!" he cried, as the latter entered the room, "what in the name of goodness are we coming to? Listen to that — "
But the noise came rapidly nearer, the door burst open, and old General Ivolgin, raging, furious, purple-faced, and trembling with anger, rushed in. He was followed by Nina Alexandrovna, Colia, and behind the rest, Hippolyte.