ARRIVED at her house, Lizabetha Prokofievna paused in the first room. She could go no farther, and subsided on to a couch quite exhausted; too feeble to remember so much as to ask the prince to take a seat. This was a large reception-room, full of flowers, and with a glass door leading into the garden.
Alexandra and Adelaida came in almost immediately, and looked inquiringly at the prince and their mother.
The girls generally rose at about nine in the morning in the country; Aglaya, of late, had been in the habit of getting up rather earlier and having a walk in the garden, but not at seven o'clock; about eight or a little later was her usual time.
Lizabetha Prokofievna, who really had not slept all night, rose at about eight on purpose to meet Aglaya in the garden and walk with her; but she could not find her either in the garden or in her own room.
This agitated the old lady considerably; and she awoke her other daughters. Next, she learned from the maid that Aglaya had gone into the park before seven o'clock. The sisters made a joke of Aglaya's last freak, and told their mother that if she went into the park to look for her, Aglaya would probably be very angry with her, and that she was pretty sure to be sitting reading on the green bench that she had talked of two or three days since, and about which she had nearly quarrelled with Prince S., who did not see anything particularly lovely in it.
Arrived at the rendezvous of the prince and her daughter, and hearing the strange words of the latter, Lizabetha Prokofievna had been dreadfully alarmed, for many reasons. However, now that she had dragged the prince home with her, she began to feel a little frightened at what she had undertaken. Why should not Aglaya meet the prince in the park and have a talk with him, even if such a meeting should be by appointment?
"Don't suppose, prince," she began, bracing herself up for the effort, "don't suppose that I have brought you here to ask questions. After last night, I assure you, I am not so exceedingly anxious to see you at all; I could have postponed the pleasure for a long while." She paused.
"But at the same time you would be very glad to know how I happened to meet Aglaya Ivanovna this morning?" The prince finished her speech for her with the utmost composure.
"Well, what then? Supposing I should like to know?" cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, blushing. "I'm sure I am not afraid of plain speaking. I'm not offending anyone, and I never wish to, and — "
"Pardon me, it is no offence to wish to know this; you are her mother. We met at the green bench this morning, punctually at seven o'clock, — according to an agreement made by Aglaya Ivanovna with myself yesterday. She said that she wished to see me and speak to me about something important. We met and conversed for an hour about matters concerning Aglaya Ivanovna herself, and that's all."
"Of course it is all, my friend. I don't doubt you for a moment," said Lizabetha Prokofievna with dignity.
"Well done, prince, capital!" cried Aglaya, who entered the room at this moment. "Thank you for assuming that I would not demean myself with lies. Come, is that enough, mamma, or do you intend to put any more questions?"
"You know I have never needed to blush before you, up to this day, though perhaps you would have been glad enough to make me," said Lizabetha Prokofievna, — with majesty. "Good-bye, prince; forgive me for bothering you. I trust you will rest assured of my unalterable esteem for you."
The prince made his bows and retired at once. Alexandra and Adelaida smiled and whispered to each other, while Lizabetha Prokofievna glared severely at them. "We are only laughing at the prince's beautiful bows, mamma," said Adelaida. "Sometimes he bows just like a meal-sack, but to-day he was like — like Evgenie Pavlovitch!"
"It is the HEART which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master," said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.
When the prince reached home, about nine o'clock, he found Vera Lebedeff and the maid on the verandah. They were both busy trying to tidy up the place after last night's disorderly party.
"Thank goodness, we've just managed to finish it before you came in!" said Vera, joyfully.
"Good-morning! My head whirls so; I didn't sleep all night. I should like to have a nap now."
"Here, on the verandah? Very well, I'll tell them all not to come and wake you. Papa has gone out somewhere."
The servant left the room. Vera was about to follow her, but returned and approached the prince with a preoccupied air.
"Prince!" she said, "have pity on that poor boy; don't turn him out today."
"Not for the world; he shall do just as he likes."
"He won't do any harm now; and — and don't be too severe with him."
"Oh dear no! Why — "
"And — and you won't LAUGH at him? That's the chief thing."
"Oh no! Never."
"How foolish I am to speak of such things to a man like you," said Vera, blushing. "Though you do look tired," she added, half turning away, "your eyes are so splendid at this moment — so full of happiness."
"Really?" asked the prince, gleefully, and he laughed in delight.
But Vera, simple-minded little girl that she was (just like a boy, in fact), here became dreadfully confused, of a sudden, and ran hastily out of the room, laughing and blushing.
"What a dear little thing she is," thought the prince, and immediately forgot all about her.
He walked to the far end of the verandah, where the sofa stood, with a table in front of it. Here he sat down and covered his face with his hands, and so remained for ten minutes. Suddenly he put his hand in his coat-pocket and hurriedly produced three letters.
But the door opened again, and out came Colia.
The prince actually felt glad that he had been interrupted, — and might return the letters to his pocket. He was glad of the respite.
"Well," said Colia, plunging in medias res, as he always did, "here's a go! What do you think of Hippolyte now? Don't respect him any longer, eh?"
"Why not? But look here, Colia, I'm tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?"
"Asleep — he'll sleep for a couple of hours yet. I quite understand — you haven't slept — you walked about the park, I know. Agitation — excitement — all that sort of thing — quite natural, too!"
"How do you know I walked in the park and didn't sleep at home?"
"Vera just told me. She tried to persuade me not to come, but I couldn't help myself, just for one minute. I have been having my turn at the bedside for the last two hours; Kostia Lebedeff is there now. Burdovsky has gone. Now, lie down, prince, make yourself comfortable, and sleep well! I'm awfully impressed, you know."
"Naturally, all this — "
"No, no, I mean with the 'explanation,' especially that part of it where he talks about Providence and a future life. There is a gigantic thought there."
The prince gazed affectionately at Colia, who, of course, had come in solely for the purpose of talking about this "gigantic thought."
"But it is not any one particular thought, only; it is the general circumstances of the case. If Voltaire had written this now, or Rousseau, I should have just read it and thought it remarkable, but should not have been so IMPRESSED by it. But a man who knows for certain that he has but ten minutes to live and can talk like that — why — it's — it's PRIDE, that is! It is really a most extraordinary, exalted assertion of personal dignity, it's — it's DEFIANT! What a GIGANTIC strength of will, eh? And to accuse a fellow like that of not putting in the cap on purpose; it's base and mean! You know he deceived us last night, the cunning rascal. I never packed his bag for him, and I never saw his pistol. He packed it himself. But he put me off my guard like that, you see. Vera says you are going to let him stay on; I swear there's no danger, especially as we are always with him."