"Come along, let's go out for a walk!" cried Adelaida. "We'll all go together, and the prince must absolutely go with us. You needn't go away, you dear good fellow! ISN'T he a dear, Aglaya? Isn't he, mother? I must really give him a kiss for — for his explanation to Aglaya just now. Mother, dear, I may kiss him, mayn't I? Aglaya, may I kiss YOUR prince?" cried the young rogue, and sure enough she skipped up to the prince and kissed his forehead.
He seized her hands, and pressed them so hard that Adelaida nearly cried out; he then gazed with delight into her eyes, and raising her right hand to his lips with enthusiasm, kissed it three times.
"Come along," said Aglaya. "Prince, you must walk with me. May he, mother? This young cavalier, who won't have me? You said you would NEVER have me, didn't you, prince? No-no, not like that; THAT'S not the way to give your arm. Don't you know how to give your arm to a lady yet? There — so. Now, come along, you and I will lead the way. Would you like to lead the way with me alone, tete-a-tete?"
She went on talking and chatting without a pause, with occasional little bursts of laughter between.
"Thank God — thank God!" said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
"What extraordinary people they are!" thought Prince S., for perhaps the hundredth time since he had entered into intimate relations with the family; but — he liked these "extraordinary people," all the same. As for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch himself, Prince S. did not seem quite to like him, somehow. He was decidedly preoccupied and a little disturbed as they all started off.
Evgenie Pavlovitch seemed to be in a lively humour. He made Adelaida and Alexandra laugh all the way to the Vauxhall; but they both laughed so very really and promptly that the worthy Evgenie began at last to suspect that they were not listening to him at all.
At this idea, he burst out laughing all at once, in quite unaffected mirth, and without giving any explanation.
The sisters, who also appeared to be in high spirits, never tired of glancing at Aglaya and the prince, who were walking in front. It was evident that their younger sister was a thorough puzzle to them both.
Prince S. tried hard to get up a conversation with Mrs. Epanchin upon outside subjects, probably with the good intention of distracting and amusing her; but he bored her dreadfully. She was absent-minded to a degree, and answered at cross purposes, and sometimes not at all.
But the puzzle and mystery of Aglaya was not yet over for the evening. The last exhibition fell to the lot of the prince alone. When they had proceeded some hundred paces or so from the house, Aglaya said to her obstinately silent cavalier in a quick half-whisper:
"Look to the right!"
The prince glanced in the direction indicated.
"Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees — that green bench?"
The prince replied that he saw it.
"Do you like the position of it? Sometimes of a morning early, at seven o'clock, when all the rest are still asleep, I come out and sit there alone."
The prince muttered that the spot was a lovely one.
"Now, go away, I don't wish to have your arm any longer; or perhaps, better, continue to give me your arm, and walk along beside me, but don't speak a word to me. I wish to think by myself."
The warning was certainly unnecessary; for the prince would not have said a word all the rest of the time whether forbidden to speak or not. His heart beat loud and painfully when Aglaya spoke of the bench; could she — but no! he banished the thought, after an instant's deliberation.
At Pavlofsk, on weekdays, the public is more select than it is on Sundays and Saturdays, when the townsfolk come down to walk about and enjoy the park.
The ladies dress elegantly, on these days, and it is the fashion to gather round the band, which is probably the best of our pleasure-garden bands, and plays the newest pieces. The behaviour of the public is most correct and proper, and there is an appearance of friendly intimacy among the usual frequenters. Many come for nothing but to look at their acquaintances, but there are others who come for the sake of the music. It is very seldom that anything happens to break the harmony of the proceedings, though, of course, accidents will happen everywhere.
On this particular evening the weather was lovely, and there were a large number of people present. All the places anywhere near the orchestra were occupied.
Our friends took chairs near the side exit. The crowd and the music cheered Mrs. Epanchin a little, and amused the girls; they bowed and shook hands with some of their friends and nodded at a distance to others; they examined the ladies' dresses, noticed comicalities and eccentricities among the people, and laughed and talked among themselves. Evgenie Pavlovitch, too, found plenty of friends to bow to. Several people noticed Aglaya and the prince, who were still together.
Before very long two or three young men had come up, and one or two remained to talk; all of these young men appeared to be on intimate terms with Evgenie Pavlovitch. Among them was a young officer, a remarkably handsome fellow — very good-natured and a great chatterbox. He tried to get up a conversation with Aglaya, and did his best to secure her attention. Aglaya behaved very graciously to him, and chatted and laughed merrily. Evgenie Pavlovitch begged the prince's leave to introduce their friend to him. The prince hardly realized what was wanted of him, but the introduction came off; the two men bowed and shook hands.
Evgenie Pavlovitch's friend asked the prince some question, but the latter did not reply, or if he did, he muttered something so strangely indistinct that there was nothing to be made of it. The officer stared intently at him, then glanced at Evgenie, divined why the latter had introduced him, and gave his undivided attention to Aglaya again. Only Evgenie Pavlovitch observed that Aglaya flushed up for a moment at this.
The prince did not notice that others were talking and making themselves agreeable to Aglaya; in fact, at moments, he almost forgot that he was sitting by her himself. At other moments he felt a longing to go away somewhere and be alone with his thoughts, and to feel that no one knew where he was.
Or if that were impossible he would like to be alone at home, on the terrace-without either Lebedeff or his children, or anyone else about him, and to lie there and think — a day and night and another day again! He thought of the mountains-and especially of a certain spot which he used to frequent, whence he would look down upon the distant valleys and fields, and see the waterfall, far off, like a little silver thread, and the old ruined castle in the distance. Oh! how he longed to be there now — alone with his thoughts — to think of one thing all his life — one thing! A thousand years would not be too much time! And let everyone here forget him — forget him utterly! How much better it would have been if they had never known him — if all this could but prove to be a dream. Perhaps it was a dream!
Now and then he looked at Aglaya for five minutes at a time, without taking his eyes off her face; but his expression was very strange; he would gaze at her as though she were an object a couple of miles distant, or as though he were looking at her portrait and not at herself at all.
"Why do you look at me like that, prince?" she asked suddenly, breaking off her merry conversation and laughter with those about her. "I'm afraid of you! You look as though you were just going to put out your hand and touch my face to see if it's real! Doesn't he, Evgenie Pavlovitch — doesn't he look like that?"
The prince seemed surprised that he should have been addressed at all; he reflected a moment, but did not seem to take in what had been said to him; at all events, he did not answer. But observing that she and the others had begun to laugh, he too opened his mouth and laughed with them.
The laughter became general, and the young officer, who seemed a particularly lively sort of person, simply shook with mirth.
Aglaya suddenly whispered angrily to herself the word —