"About the hedgehog."
"That is — I suppose you wish to know how I received the hedgehog, Aglaya Ivanovna, — or, I should say, how I regarded your sending him to me? In that case, I may tell you — in a word — that I — in fact — "
He paused, breathless.
"Come — you haven't told us much!" said Aglaya, after waiting some five seconds. "Very well, I am ready to drop the hedgehog, if you like; but I am anxious to be able to clear up this accumulation of misunderstandings. Allow me to ask you, prince, — I wish to hear from you, personally — are you making me an offer, or not?"
"Gracious heavens!" exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. The general stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.
"Don't deceive me now, prince — tell the truth. All these people persecute me with astounding questions — about you. Is there any ground for all these questions, or not? Come!"
"I have not asked you to marry me yet, Aglaya Ivanovna," said the prince, becoming suddenly animated; "but you know yourself how much I love you and trust you."
"No — I asked you this — answer this! Do you intend to ask for my band, or not?"
"Yes — I do ask for it!" said the prince, more dead than alive now.
There was a general stir in the room.
"No — no — my dear girl," began the general. "You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that's how the matter stands. It's impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but — Lizabetha Prokofievna!" — he appealed to his spouse for help — "you must really — "
"Not I — not I! I retire from all responsibility," said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.
"Allow me to speak, please, mamma," said Aglaya. "I think I ought to have something to say in the matter. An important moment of my destiny is about to be decided" — (this is how Aglaya expressed herself) — "and I wish to find out how the matter stands, for my own sake, though I am glad you are all here. Allow me to ask you, prince, since you cherish those intentions, how you consider that you will provide for my happiness?"
"I — I don't quite know how to answer your question, Aglaya Ivanovna. What is there to say to such a question? And — and must I answer?"
"I think you are rather overwhelmed and out of breath. Have a little rest, and try to recover yourself. Take a glass of water, or — but they'll give you some tea directly."
"I love you, Aglaya Ivanovna, — I love you very much. I love only you — and — please don't jest about it, for I do love you very much."
"Well, this matter is important. We are not children — we must look into it thoroughly. Now then, kindly tell me — what does your fortune consist of?"
"No — Aglaya — come, enough of this, you mustn't behave like this," said her father, in dismay.
"It's disgraceful," said Lizabetha Prokofievna in a loud whisper.
"She's mad — quite!" said Alexandra.
"Fortune — money — do you mean?" asked the prince in some surprise.
"I have now — let's see — I have a hundred and thirty-five thousand roubles," said the prince, blushing violently.
"Is that all, really?" said Aglaya, candidly, without the slightest show of confusion. "However, it's not so bad, especially if managed with economy. Do you intend to serve?"
"I — I intended to try for a certificate as private tutor."
"Very good. That would increase our income nicely. Have you any intention of being a Kammer-junker?"
"A Kammer-junker? I had not thought of it, but — "
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of them burst into irrepressible laughter.
Adelaida had long since detected in Aglaya's features the gathering signs of an approaching storm of laughter, which she restrained with amazing self-control.
Aglaya looked menacingly at her laughing sisters, but could not contain herself any longer, and the next minute she too had burst into an irrepressible, and almost hysterical, fit of mirth. At length she jumped up, and ran out of the room.
"I knew it was all a joke!" cried Adelaida. "I felt it ever since — since the hedgehog."
"No, no! I cannot allow this, — this is a little too much," cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, exploding with rage, and she rose from her seat and followed Aglaya out of the room as quickly as she could.
The two sisters hurriedly went after her.
The prince and the general were the only two persons left in the room.
"It's — it's really — now could you have imagined anything like it, Lef Nicolaievitch?" cried the general. He was evidently so much agitated that he hardly knew what he wished to say. "Seriously now, seriously I mean — "
"I only see that Aglaya Ivanovna is laughing at me," said the poor prince, sadly.
"Wait a bit, my boy, I'll just go — you stay here, you know. But do just explain, if you can, Lef Nicolaievitch, how in the world has all this come about? And what does it all mean? You must understand, my dear fellow; I am a father, you see, and I ought to be allowed to understand the matter — do explain, I beg you!"
"I love Aglaya Ivanovna — she knows it, — and I think she must have long known it."
The general shrugged his shoulders.
"Strange — it's strange," he said, "and you love her very much?"
"Yes, very much."
"Well — it's all most strange to me. That is — my dear fellow, it is such a surprise — such a blow — that . . . You see, it is not your financial position (though I should not object if you were a bit richer) — I am thinking of my daughter's happiness, of course, and the thing is — are you able to give her the happiness she deserves? And then — is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? I don't mean on your side, but on hers."
At this moment Alexandra's voice was heard outside the door, calling out "Papa!"
"Wait for me here, my boy — will you? Just wait and think it all over, and I'll come back directly," he said hurriedly, and made off with what looked like the rapidity of alarm in response to Alexandra's call.
He found the mother and daughter locked in one another's arms, mingling their tears.
These were the tears of joy and peace and reconciliation. Aglaya was kissing her mother's lips and cheeks and hands; they were hugging each other in the most ardent way.
"There, look at her now — Ivan Fedorovitch! Here she is — all of her! This is our REAL Aglaya at last!" said Lizabetha Prokofievna.