"All the while I was in their house I felt sure that somewhere beneath the floor there was hidden away some dreadful corpse, wrapped in oil-cloth, perhaps buried there by his father, who knows? Just as in the Moscow case. I could have shown you the very spot!
"He is always silent, but I know well that he loves me so much that he must hate me. My wedding and yours are to be on the same day; so I have arranged with him. I have no secrets from him. I would kill him from very fright, but he will kill me first. He has just burst out laughing, and says that I am raving. He knows I am writing to you."
There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters — one of them was very long.
At last the prince came out of the dark, gloomy park, in which he had wandered about for hours just as yesterday. The bright night seemed to him to be lighter than ever. "It must be quite early," he thought. (He had forgotten his watch.) There was a sound of distant music somewhere. "Ah," he thought, "the Vauxhall! They won't be there today, of course!" At this moment he noticed that he was close to their house; he had felt that he must gravitate to this spot eventually, and, with a beating heart, he mounted the verandah steps.
No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.
It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
"How did you come here?" she asked, at last.
"I-I — came in — "
"Mamma is not very well, nor is Aglaya. Adelaida has gone to bed, and I am just going. We were alone the whole evening. Father and Prince S. have gone to town."
"I have come to you — now — to — "
"Do you know what time it is?"
"N — no!"
"Half-past twelve. We are always in bed by one."
"I-I thought it was half-past nine!"
"Never mind!" she laughed, "but why didn't you come earlier? Perhaps you were expected!"
"I thought" he stammered, making for the door.
"Au revoir! I shall amuse them all with this story tomorrow!"
He walked along the road towards his own house. His heart was beating, his thoughts were confused, everything around seemed to be part of a dream.
And suddenly, just as twice already he had awaked from sleep with the same vision, that very apparition now seemed to rise up before him. The woman appeared to step out from the park, and stand in the path in front of him, as though she had been waiting for him there.
He shuddered and stopped; she seized his hand and pressed it frenziedly.
No, this was no apparition!
There she stood at last, face to face with him, for the first time since their parting.
She said something, but he looked silently back at her. His heart ached with anguish. Oh! never would he banish the recollection of this meeting with her, and he never remembered it but with the same pain and agony of mind.
She went on her knees before him — there in the open road — like a madwoman. He retreated a step, but she caught his hand and kissed it, and, just as in his dream, the tears were sparkling on her long, beautiful lashes.
"Get up!" he said, in a frightened whisper, raising her. "Get up at once!"
"Are you happy — are you happy?" she asked. "Say this one word. Are you happy now? Today, this moment? Have you just been with her? What did she say?"
She did not rise from her knees; she would not listen to him; she put her questions hurriedly, as though she were pursued.
"I am going away tomorrow, as you bade me — I won't write — so that this is the last time I shall see you, the last time! This is really the LAST TIME!"
"Oh, be calm — be calm! Get up!" he entreated, in despair.
She gazed thirstily at him and clutched his hands.
"Good-bye!" she said at last, and rose and left him, very quickly.
The prince noticed that Rogojin had suddenly appeared at her side, and had taken her arm and was leading her away.
"Wait a minute, prince," shouted the latter, as he went. "I shall be back in five minutes."
He reappeared in five minutes as he had said. The prince was waiting for him.
"I've put her in the carriage," he said; "it has been waiting round the corner there since ten o'clock. She expected that you would be with THEM all the evening. I told her exactly what you wrote me. She won't write to the girl any more, she promises; and tomorrow she will be off, as you wish. She desired to see you for the last time, although you refused, so we've been sitting and waiting on that bench till you should pass on your way home."
"Did she bring you with her of her own accord?"
"Of course she did!" said Rogojin, showing his teeth; "and I saw for myself what I knew before. You've read her letters, I suppose?"
"Did you read them?" asked the prince, struck by the thought.
"Of course — she showed them to me herself. You are thinking of the razor, eh? Ha, ha, ha!"
"Oh, she is mad!" cried the prince, wringing his hands. "Who knows? Perhaps she is not so mad after all," said Rogojin, softly, as though thinking aloud.
The prince made no reply.
"Well, good-bye," said Rogojin. "I'm off tomorrow too, you know. Remember me kindly! By-the-by," he added, turning round sharply again, "did you answer her question just now? Are you happy, or not?"
"No, no, no!" cried the prince, with unspeakable sadness.
"Ha, ha! I never supposed you would say 'yes,'" cried Rogojin, laughing sardonically.
And he disappeared, without looking round again.