Mrs. Epanchin examined the portrait of Nastasia Philipovna for some little while, holding it critically at arm's length.
"Yes, she is pretty," she said at last, "even very pretty. I have seen her twice, but only at a distance. So you admire this kind of beauty, do you?" she asked the prince, suddenly.
"Yes, I do — this kind."
"Do you mean especially this kind?"
"Yes, especially this kind."
"There is much suffering in this face," murmured the prince, more as though talking to himself than answering the question.
"I think you are wandering a little, prince," Mrs. Epanchin decided, after a lengthened survey of his face; and she tossed the portrait on to the table, haughtily.
Alexandra took it, and Adelaida came up, and both the girls examined the photograph. Just then Aglaya entered the room.
"What a power!" cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly examined the portrait over her sister's shoulder.
"Whom? What power?" asked her mother, crossly.
"Such beauty is real power," said Adelaida. "With such beauty as that one might overthrow the world." She returned to her easel thoughtfully.
Aglaya merely glanced at the portrait — frowned, and put out her underlip; then went and sat down on the sofa with folded hands. Mrs. Epanchin rang the bell.
"Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way," said she to the man who answered.
"Mamma!" cried Alexandra, significantly.
"I shall just say two words to him, that's all," said her mother, silencing all objection by her manner; she was evidently seriously put out. "You see, prince, it is all secrets with us, just now — all secrets. It seems to be the etiquette of the house, for some reason or, other. Stupid nonsense, and in a matter which ought to be approached with all candour and open-heartedness. There is a marriage being talked of, and I don't like this marriage — "
"Mamma, what are you saying?" said Alexandra again, hurriedly.
"Well, what, my dear girl? As if you can possibly like it yourself? The heart is the great thing, and the rest is all rubbish — though one must have sense as well. Perhaps sense is really the great thing. Don't smile like that, Aglaya. I don't contradict myself. A fool with a heart and no brains is just as unhappy as a fool with brains and no heart. I am one and you are the other, and therefore both of us suffer, both of us are unhappy."
"Why are you so unhappy, mother?" asked Adelaida, who alone of all the company seemed to have preserved her good temper and spirits up to now.
"In the first place, because of my carefully brought-up daughters," said Mrs. Epanchin, cuttingly; "and as that is the best reason I can give you we need not bother about any other at present. Enough of words, now! We shall see how both of you (I don't count Aglaya) will manage your business, and whether you, most revered Alexandra Ivanovna, will be happy with your fine mate."
"Ah!" she added, as Gania suddenly entered the room, "here's another marrying subject. How do you do?" she continued, in response to Gania's bow; but she did not invite him to sit down. "You are going to be married?"
"Married? how — what marriage?" murmured Gania, overwhelmed with confusion.
"Are you about to take a wife? I ask, — if you prefer that expression."
"No, no I-I — no!" said Gania, bringing out his lie with a tell-tale blush of shame. He glanced keenly at Aglaya, who was sitting some way off, and dropped his eyes immediately.
Aglaya gazed coldly, intently, and composedly at him, without taking her eyes off his face, and watched his confusion.
"No? You say no, do you?" continued the pitiless Mrs. General. "Very well, I shall remember that you told me this Wednesday morning, in answer to my question, that you are not going to be married. What day is it, Wednesday, isn't it?"
"Yes, I think so!" said Adelaida.
"You never know the day of the week; what's the day of the month?"
"Twenty-seventh!" said Gania.
"Twenty-seventh; very well. Good-bye now; you have a good deal to do, I'm sure, and I must dress and go out. Take your portrait. Give my respects to your unfortunate mother, Nina Alexandrovna. Au revoir, dear prince, come in and see us often, do; and I shall tell old Princess Bielokonski about you. I shall go and see her on purpose. And listen, my dear boy, I feel sure that God has sent you to Petersburg from Switzerland on purpose for me. Maybe you will have other things to do, besides, but you are sent chiefly for my sake, I feel sure of it. God sent you to me! Au revoir! Alexandra, come with me, my dear."
Mrs. Epanchin left the room.
Gania — confused, annoyed, furious — took up his portrait, and turned to the prince with a nasty smile on his face.
"Prince," he said, "I am just going home. If you have not changed your mind as to living with us, perhaps you would like to come with me. You don't know the address, I believe?"
"Wait a minute, prince," said Aglaya, suddenly rising from her seat, "do write something in my album first, will you? Father says you are a most talented caligraphist; I'll bring you my book in a minute." She left the room.
"Well, au revoir, prince," said Adelaida, "I must be going too." She pressed the prince's hand warmly, and gave him a friendly smile as she left the room. She did not so much as look at Gania.
"This is your doing, prince," said Gania, turning on the latter so soon as the others were all out of the room. "This is your doing, sir! YOU have been telling them that I am going to be married!" He said this in a hurried whisper, his eyes flashing with rage and his face ablaze. "You shameless tattler!"
"I assure you, you are under a delusion," said the prince, calmly and politely. "I did not even know that you were to be married."
"You heard me talking about it, the general and me. You heard me say that everything was to be settled today at Nastasia Philipovna's, and you went and blurted it out here. You lie if you deny it. Who else could have told them Devil take it, sir, who could have told them except yourself? Didn't the old woman as good as hint as much to me?"
"If she hinted to you who told her you must know best, of course; but I never said a word about it."
"Did you give my note? Is there an answer?" interrupted Gania, impatiently.
But at this moment Aglaya came back, and the prince had no time to reply.
"There, prince," said she, "there's my album. Now choose a page and write me something, will you? There's a pen, a new one; do you mind a steel one? I have heard that you caligraphists don't like steel pens."
Conversing with the prince, Aglaya did not even seem to notice that Gania was in the room. But while the prince was getting his pen ready, finding a page, and making his preparations to write, Gania came up to the fireplace where Aglaya was standing, to the right of the prince, and in trembling, broken accents said, almost in her ear:
"One word, just one word from you, and I'm saved."
The prince turned sharply round and looked at both of them. Gania's face was full of real despair; he seemed to have said the words almost unconsciously and on the impulse of the moment.
Aglaya gazed at him for some seconds with precisely the same composure and calm astonishment as she had shown a little while before, when the prince handed her the note, and it appeared that this calm surprise and seemingly absolute incomprehension of what was said to her, were more terribly overwhelming to Gania than even the most plainly expressed disdain would have been.