SHE laughed, but she was rather angry too.
"He's asleep! You were asleep," she said, with contemptuous surprise.
"Is it really you?" muttered the prince, not quite himself as yet, and recognizing her with a start of amazement. "Oh yes, of course," he added, "this is our rendezvous. I fell asleep here."
"So I saw."
"Did no one awake me besides yourself? Was there no one else here? I thought there was another woman."
"There was another woman here?"
At last he was wide awake.
"It was a dream, of course," he said, musingly. "Strange that I should have a dream like that at such a moment. Sit down — "
He took her hand and seated her on the bench; then sat down beside her and reflected.
Aglaya did not begin the conversation, but contented herself with watching her companion intently.
He looked back at her, but at times it was clear that he did not see her and was not thinking of her.
Aglaya began to flush up.
"Oh yes!" cried the prince, starting. "Hippolyte's suicide — "
"What? At your house?" she asked, but without much surprise. "He was alive yesterday evening, wasn't he? How could you sleep here after that?" she cried, growing suddenly animated.
"Oh, but he didn't kill himself; the pistol didn't go off." Aglaya insisted on hearing the whole story. She hurried the prince along, but interrupted him with all sorts of questions, nearly all of which were irrelevant. Among other things, she seemed greatly interested in every word that Evgenie Pavlovitch had said, and made the prince repeat that part of the story over and over again.
"Well, that'll do; we must be quick," she concluded, after hearing all. "We have only an hour here, till eight; I must be home by then without fail, so that they may not find out that I came and sat here with you; but I've come on business. I have a great deal to say to you. But you have bowled me over considerably with your news. As to Hippolyte, I think his pistol was bound not to go off; it was more consistent with the whole affair. Are you sure he really wished to blow his brains out, and that there was no humbug about the matter?"
"No humbug at all."
"Very likely. So he wrote that you were to bring me a copy of his confession, did he? Why didn't you bring it?"
"Why, he didn't die! I'll ask him for it, if you like."
"Bring it by all means; you needn't ask him. He will be delighted, you may be sure; for, in all probability, he shot at himself simply in order that I might read his confession. Don't laugh at what I say, please, Lef Nicolaievitch, because it may very well be the case."
"I'm not laughing. I am convinced, myself, that that may have been partly the reason.
"You are convinced? You don't really mean to say you think that honestly?" asked Aglaya, extremely surprised.
She put her questions very quickly and talked fast, every now and then forgetting what she had begun to say, and not finishing her sentence. She seemed to be impatient to warn the prince about something or other. She was in a state of unusual excitement, and though she put on a brave and even defiant air, she seemed to be rather alarmed. She was dressed very simply, but this suited her well. She continually trembled and blushed, and she sat on the very edge of the seat.
The fact that the prince confirmed her idea, about Hippolyte shooting himself that she might read his confession, surprised her greatly.
"Of course," added the prince, "he wished us all to applaud his conduct — besides yourself."
"How do you mean — applaud?"
"Well — how am I to explain? He was very anxious that we should all come around him, and say we were so sorry for him, and that we loved him very much, and all that; and that we hoped he wouldn't kill himself, but remain alive. Very likely he thought more of you than the rest of us, because he mentioned you at such a moment, though perhaps he did not know himself that he had you in his mind's eye."
"I don't understand you. How could he have me in view, and not be aware of it himself? And yet, I don't know — perhaps I do. Do you know I have intended to poison myself at least thirty times — ever since I was thirteen or so — and to write to my parents before I did it? I used to think how nice it would be to lie in my coffin, and have them all weeping over me and saying it was all their fault for being so cruel, and all that — what are you smiling at?" she added, knitting her brow. "What do YOU think of when you go mooning about alone? I suppose you imagine yourself a field-marshal, and think you have conquered Napoleon?"
"Well, I really have thought something of the sort now and then, especially when just dozing off," laughed the prince. "Only it is the Austrians whom I conquer — not Napoleon."
"I don't wish to joke with you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I shall see Hippolyte myself. Tell him so. As for you, I think you are behaving very badly, because it is not right to judge a man's soul as you are judging Hippolyte's. You have no gentleness, but only justice — so you are unjust."
The prince reflected.
"I think you are unfair towards me," he said. "There is nothing wrong in the thoughts I ascribe to Hippolyte; they are only natural. But of course I don't know for certain what he thought. Perhaps he thought nothing, but simply longed to see human faces once more, and to hear human praise and feel human affection. Who knows? Only it all came out wrong, somehow. Some people have luck, and everything comes out right with them; others have none, and never a thing turns out fortunately."
"I suppose you have felt that in your own case," said Aglaya.
"Yes, I have," replied the prince, quite unsuspicious of any irony in the remark.
"H'm — well, at all events, I shouldn't have fallen asleep here, in your place. It wasn't nice of you, that. I suppose you fall asleep wherever you sit down?"
"But I didn't sleep a wink all night. I walked and walked about, and went to where the music was — "
"Where they played last night. Then I found this bench and sat down, and thought and thought — and at last I fell fast asleep."
"Oh, is that it? That makes a difference, perhaps. What did you go to the bandstand for?"
"I don't know; I — -"
"Very well — afterwards. You are always interrupting me. What woman was it you were dreaming about?"
"It was — about — you saw her — "
"Quite so; I understand. I understand quite well. You are very — Well, how did she appear to you? What did she look like? No, I don't want to know anything about her," said Aglaya, angrily; "don't interrupt me — "
She paused a moment as though getting breath, or trying to master her feeling of annoyance.
"Look here; this is what I called you here for. I wish to make you a — to ask you to be my friend. What do you stare at me like that for?" she added, almost angrily.