The prince certainly had darted a rather piercing look at her, and now observed that she had begun to blush violently. At such moments, the more Aglaya blushed, the angrier she grew with herself; and this was clearly expressed in her eyes, which flashed like fire. As a rule, she vented her wrath on her unfortunate companion, be it who it might. She was very conscious of her own shyness, and was not nearly so talkative as her sisters for this reason — in fact, at times she was much too quiet. When, therefore, she was bound to talk, especially at such delicate moments as this, she invariably did so with an air of haughty defiance. She always knew beforehand when she was going to blush, long before the blush came.
"Perhaps you do not wish to accept my proposition?" she asked, gazing haughtily at the prince.
"Oh yes, I do; but it is so unnecessary. I mean, I did not think you need make such a proposition," said the prince, looking confused.
"What did you suppose, then? Why did you think I invited you out here? I suppose you think me a 'little fool,' as they all call me at home?"
"I didn't know they called you a fool. I certainly don't think you one."
"You don't think me one! Oh, dear me! — that's very clever of you; you put it so neatly, too."
"In my opinion, you are far from a fool sometimes — in fact, you are very intelligent. You said a very clever thing just now about my being unjust because I had ONLY justice. I shall remember that, and think about it."
Aglaya blushed with pleasure. All these changes in her expression came about so naturally and so rapidly — they delighted the prince; he watched her, and laughed.
"Listen," she began again; "I have long waited to tell you all this, ever since the time when you sent me that letter — even before that. Half of what I have to say you heard yesterday. I consider you the most honest and upright of men — more honest and upright than any other man; and if anybody says that your mind is — is sometimes affected, you know — it is unfair. I always say so and uphold it, because even if your surface mind be a little affected (of course you will not feel angry with me for talking so — I am speaking from a higher point of view) yet your real mind is far better than all theirs put together. Such a mind as they have never even DREAMED of; because really, there are TWO minds — the kind that matters, and the kind that doesn't matter. Isn't it so?"
"May be! may be so!" said the prince, faintly; his heart was beating painfully.
"I knew you would not misunderstand me," she said, triumphantly. "Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch and Alexandra don't understand anything about these two kinds of mind, but, just fancy, mamma does!"
"You are very like Lizabetha Prokofievna."
"What! surely not?" said Aglaya.
"Yes, you are, indeed."
"Thank you; I am glad to be like mamma," she said, thoughtfully. "You respect her very much, don't you?" she added, quite unconscious of the naiveness of the question.
"VERY much; and I am so glad that you have realized the fact."
"I am very glad, too, because she is often laughed at by people. But listen to the chief point. I have long thought over the matter, and at last I have chosen you. I don't wish people to laugh at me; I don't wish people to think me a 'little fool.' I don't want to be chaffed. I felt all this of a sudden, and I refused Evgenie Pavlovitch flatly, because I am not going to be forever thrown at people's heads to be married. I want — I want — well, I'll tell you, I wish to run away from home, and I have chosen you to help me."
"Run away from home?" cried the prince.
"Yes — yes — yes! Run away from home!" she repeated, in a transport of rage. "I won't, I won't be made to blush every minute by them all! I don't want to blush before Prince S. or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or anyone, and therefore I have chosen you. I shall tell you everything, EVERYTHING, even the most important things of all, whenever I like, and you are to hide nothing from me on your side. I want to speak to at least one person, as I would to myself. They have suddenly begun to say that I am waiting for you, and in love with you. They began this before you arrived here, and so I didn't show them the letter, and now they all say it, every one of them. I want to be brave, and be afraid of nobody. I don't want to go to their balls and things — I want to do good. I have long desired to run away, for I have been kept shut up for twenty years, and they are always trying to marry me off. I wanted to run away when I was fourteen years old — I was a little fool then, I know — but now I have worked it all out, and I have waited for you to tell me about foreign countries. I have never seen a single Gothic cathedral. I must go to Rome; I must see all the museums; I must study in Paris. All this last year I have been preparing and reading forbidden books. Alexandra and Adelaida are allowed to read anything they like, but I mayn't. I don't want to quarrel with my sisters, but I told my parents long ago that I wish to change my social position. I have decided to take up teaching, and I count on you because you said you loved children. Can we go in for education together — if not at once, then afterwards? We could do good together. I won't be a general's daughter any more! Tell me, are you a very learned man?"
"Oh no; not at all."
"Oh-h-h! I'm sorry for that. I thought you were. I wonder why I always thought so — but at all events you'll help me, won't you? Because I've chosen you, you know."
"Aglaya Ivanovna, it's absurd."
"But I will, I WILL run away!" she cried — and her eyes flashed again with anger — "and if you don't agree I shall go and marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch! I won't be considered a horrible girl, and accused of goodness knows what."
"Are you out of your mind?" cried the prince, almost starting from his seat. "What do they accuse you of? Who accuses you?"
"At home, everybody, mother, my sisters, Prince S., even that detestable Colia! If they don't say it, they think it. I told them all so to their faces. I told mother and father and everybody. Mamma was ill all the day after it, and next day father and Alexandra told me that I didn't understand what nonsense I was talking. I informed them that they little knew me — I was not a small child — I understood every word in the language — that I had read a couple of Paul de Kok's novels two years since on purpose, so as to know all about everything. No sooner did mamma hear me say this than she nearly fainted!"
A strange thought passed through the prince's brain; he gazed intently at Aglaya and smiled.
He could not believe that this was the same haughty young girl who had once so proudly shown him Gania's letter. He could not understand how that proud and austere beauty could show herself to be such an utter child — a child who probably did not even now understand some words.
"Have you always lived at home, Aglaya Ivanovna?" he asked. "I mean, have you never been to school, or college, or anything?"
"No — never — nowhere! I've been at home all my life, corked up in a bottle; and they expect me to be married straight out of it. What are you laughing at again? I observe that you, too, have taken to laughing at me, and range yourself on their side against me," she added, frowning angrily. "Don't irritate me — I'm bad enough without that — I don't know what I am doing sometimes. I am persuaded that you came here today in the full belief that I am in love with you, and that I arranged this meeting because of that," she cried, with annoyance.
"I admit I was afraid that that was the case, yesterday," blundered the prince (he was rather confused), "but today I am quite convinced that — "
"How?" cried Aglaya — and her lower lip trembled violently. "You were AFRAID that I — you dared to think that I — good gracious! you suspected, perhaps, that I sent for you to come here in order to catch you in a trap, so that they should find us here together, and make you marry me — "
"Aglaya Ivanovna, aren't you ashamed of saying such a thing? How could such a horrible idea enter your sweet, innocent heart? I am certain you don't believe a word of what you say, and probably you don't even know what you are talking about."
Aglaya sat with her eyes on the ground; she seemed to have alarmed even herself by what she had said.
"No, I'm not; I'm not a bit ashamed!" she murmured. "And how do you know my heart is innocent? And how dared you send me a love — letter that time?"
"LOVE-LETTER? My letter a love-letter? That letter was the most respectful of letters; it went straight from my heart, at what was perhaps the most painful moment of my life! I thought of you at the time as a kind of light. I — "
"Well, very well, very well!" she said, but quite in a different tone. She was remorseful now, and bent forward to touch his shoulder, though still trying not to look him in the face, as if the more persuasively to beg him not to be angry with her. "Very well," she continued, looking thoroughly ashamed of herself, "I feel that I said a very foolish thing. I only did it just to try you. Take it as unsaid, and if I offended you, forgive me. Don't look straight at me like that, please; turn your head away. You called it a 'horrible idea'; I only said it to shock you. Very often I am myself afraid of saying what I intend to say, and out it comes all the same. You have just told me that you wrote that letter at the most painful moment of your life. I know what moment that was!" she added softly, looking at the ground again.
"Oh, if you could know all!"