Aglaya raised her happy, tearful face from her mother's breast, glanced at her father, and burst out laughing. She sprang at him and hugged him too, and kissed him over and over again. She then rushed back to her mother and hid her face in the maternal bosom, and there indulged in more tears. Her mother covered her with a corner of her shawl.
"Oh, you cruel little girl! How will you treat us all next, I wonder?" she said, but she spoke with a ring of joy in her voice, and as though she breathed at last without the oppression which she had felt so long.
"Cruel?" sobbed Aglaya. "Yes, I AM cruel, and worthless, and spoiled — tell father so, — oh, here he is — I forgot Father, listen!" She laughed through her tears.
"My darling, my little idol," cried the general, kissing and fondling her hands (Aglaya did not draw them away); "so you love this young man, do you?"
"No, no, no, can't BEAR him, I can't BEAR your young man!" cried Aglaya, raising her head. "And if you dare say that ONCE more, papa — I'm serious, you know, I'm, — do you hear me — I'm serious!"
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
The general felt troubled and remained silent, while Lizabetha Prokofievna telegraphed to him from behind Aglaya to ask no questions.
"If that's the case, darling — then, of course, you shall do exactly as you like. He is waiting alone downstairs. Hadn't I better hint to him gently that he can go?" The general telegraphed to Lizabetha Prokofievna in his turn.
"No, no, you needn't do anything of the sort; you mustn't hint gently at all. I'll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because I hurt his feelings."
"Yes, SERIOUSLY," said the general, gravely.
"Well, you'd better stay here, all of you, for a little, and I'll go down to him alone to begin with. I'll just go in and then you can follow me almost at once. That's the best way."
She had almost reached the door when she turned round again.
"I shall laugh — I know I shall; I shall die of laughing," she said, lugubriously.
However, she turned and ran down to the prince as fast as her feet could carry her.
"Well, what does it all mean? What do you make of it?" asked the general of his spouse, hurriedly.
"I hardly dare say," said Lizabetha, as hurriedly, "but I think it's as plain as anything can be."
"I think so too, as clear as day; she loves him."
"Loves him? She is head over ears in love, that's what she is," put in Alexandra.
"Well, God bless her, God bless her, if such is her destiny," said Lizabetha, crossing herself devoutly.
"H'm destiny it is," said the general, "and there's no getting out of destiny."
With these words they all moved off towards the drawing-room, where another surprise awaited them. Aglaya had not only not laughed, as she had feared, but had gone to the prince rather timidly, and said to him:
"Forgive a silly, horrid, spoilt girl" — (she took his hand here) — "and be quite assured that we all of us esteem you beyond all words. And if I dared to turn your beautiful, admirable simplicity to ridicule, forgive me as you would a little child its mischief. Forgive me all my absurdity of just now, which, of course, meant nothing, and could not have the slightest consequence." She spoke these words with great emphasis.
Her father, mother, and sisters came into the room and were much struck with the last words, which they just caught as they entered — "absurdity which of course meant nothing" — and still more so with the emphasis with which Aglaya had spoken.
They exchanged glances questioningly, but the prince did not seem to have understood the meaning of Aglaya's words; he was in the highest heaven of delight.
"Why do you speak so?" he murmured. "Why do you ask my forgiveness?"
He wished to add that he was unworthy of being asked for forgiveness by her, but paused. Perhaps he did understand Aglaya's sentence about "absurdity which meant nothing," and like the strange fellow that he was, rejoiced in the words.
Undoubtedly the fact that he might now come and see Aglaya as much as he pleased again was quite enough to make him perfectly happy; that he might come and speak to her, and see her, and sit by her, and walk with her — who knows, but that all this was quite enough to satisfy him for the whole of his life, and that he would desire no more to the end of time?
(Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that this might be the case, and she didn't like it; though very probably she could not have put the idea into words.)
It would be difficult to describe the animation and high spirits which distinguished the prince for the rest of the evening.
He was so happy that "it made one feel happy to look at him," as Aglaya's sisters expressed it afterwards. He talked, and told stories just as he had done once before, and never since, namely on the very first morning of his acquaintance with the Epanchins, six months ago. Since his return to Petersburg from Moscow, he had been remarkably silent, and had told Prince S. on one occasion, before everyone, that he did not think himself justified in degrading any thought by his unworthy words.
But this evening he did nearly all the talking himself, and told stories by the dozen, while he answered all questions put to him clearly, gladly, and with any amount of detail.
There was nothing, however, of love-making in his talk. His ideas were all of the most serious kind; some were even mystical and profound.
He aired his own views on various matters, some of his most private opinions and observations, many of which would have seemed rather funny, so his hearers agreed afterwards, had they not been so well expressed.
The general liked serious subjects of conversation; but both he and Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that they were having a little too much of a good thing tonight, and as the evening advanced, they both grew more or less melancholy; but towards night, the prince fell to telling funny stories, and was always the first to burst out laughing himself, which he invariably did so joyously and simply that the rest laughed just as much at him as at his stories.
As for Aglaya, she hardly said a word all the evening; but she listened with all her ears to Lef Nicolaievitch's talk, and scarcely took her eyes off him.
"She looked at him, and stared and stared, and hung on every word he said," said Lizabetha afterwards, to her husband, "and yet, tell her that she loves him, and she is furious!"
"What's to be done? It's fate," said the general, shrugging his shoulders, and, for a long while after, he continued to repeat: "It's fate, it's fate!"
We may add that to a business man like General Epanchin the present position of affairs was most unsatisfactory. He hated the uncertainty in which they had been, perforce, left. However, he decided to say no more about it, and merely to look on, and take his time and tune from Lizabetha Prokofievna.
The happy state in which the family had spent the evening, as just recorded, was not of very long duration. Next day Aglaya quarrelled with the prince again, and so she continued to behave for the next few days. For whole hours at a time she ridiculed and chaffed the wretched man, and made him almost a laughing-stock.
It is true that they used to sit in the little summer-house together for an hour or two at a time, very often, but it was observed that on these occasions the prince would read the paper, or some book, aloud to Aglaya.
"Do you know," Aglaya said to him once, interrupting the reading, "I've remarked that you are dreadfully badly educated. You never know anything thoroughly, if one asks you; neither anyone's name, nor dates, nor about treaties and so on. It's a great pity, you know!"
"I told you I had not had much of an education," replied the prince.
"How am I to respect you, if that's the case? Read on now. No — don't! Stop reading!"
And once more, that same evening, Aglaya mystified them all. Prince S. had returned, and Aglaya was particularly amiable to him, and asked a great deal after Evgenie Pavlovitch. (Muishkin had not come in as yet.)
Suddenly Prince S. hinted something about "a new and approaching change in the family." He was led to this remark by a communication inadvertently made to him by Lizabetha Prokofievna, that Adelaida's marriage must be postponed a little longer, in order that the two weddings might come off together.
It is impossible to describe Aglaya's irritation. She flared up, and said some indignant words about "all these silly insinuations." She added that "she had no intentions as yet of replacing anybody's mistress."