He only stayed at his country seat a few days on this occasion, but he had time to make his arrangements. Great changes took place in the child’s education; a good governess was engaged, a Swiss lady of experience and culture. For four years this lady resided in the house with little Nastia, and then the education was considered complete. The governess took her departure, and another lady came down to fetch Nastia, by Totski’s instructions. The child was now transported to another of Totski’s estates in a distant part of the country. Here she found a delightful little house, just built, and prepared for her reception with great care and taste; and here she took up her abode together with the lady who had accompanied her from her old home. In the house there were two experienced maids, musical instruments of all sorts, a charming “young lady’s library,” pictures, paint-boxes, a lap-dog, and everything to make life agreeable. Within a fortnight Totski himself arrived, and from that time he appeared to have taken a great fancy to this part of the world and came down each summer, staying two and three months at a time. So passed four years peacefully and happily, in charming surroundings.
So saying Lebedeff fixed the prince with his sharp little eyes, still in hope that he would get his curiosity satisfied.
She seemed to wish to show him something, not far off, in the park.
During the next fortnight--that is, through the early part of July--the history of our hero was circulated in the form of strange, diverting, most unlikely-sounding stories, which passed from mouth to mouth, through the streets and villas adjoining those inhabited by Lebedeff, Ptitsin, Nastasia Philipovna and the Epanchins; in fact, pretty well through the whole town and its environs. All society--both the inhabitants of the place and those who came down of an evening for the music--had got hold of one and the same story, in a thousand varieties of detail--as to how a certain young prince had raised a terrible scandal in a most respectable household, had thrown over a daughter of the family, to whom he was engaged, and had been captured by a woman of shady reputation whom he was determined to marry at once--breaking off all old ties for the satisfaction of his insane idea; and, in spite of the public indignation roused by his action, the marriage was to take place in Pavlofsk openly and publicly, and the prince had announced his intention of going through with it with head erect and looking the whole world in the face. The story was so artfully adorned with scandalous details, and persons of so great eminence and importance were apparently mixed up in it, while, at the same time, the evidence was so circumstantial, that it was no wonder the matter gave food for plenty of curiosity and gossip.
Evidently the quiet, pleasant current of the family life of the Epanchins was about to undergo a change.
“So I am really a princess,” she whispered to herself, ironically, and glancing accidentally at Daria Alexeyevna’s face, she burst out laughing.
“Your philosophy is rather like that of an old woman we know, who is rich and yet does nothing but try how little she can spend. She talks of nothing but money all day. Your great philosophical idea of a grand life in a prison and your four happy years in that Swiss village are like this, rather,” said Aglaya.
“Oh! that’s enough in all conscience! Pray for whom you choose, and the devil take them and you! We have a scholar here; you did not know that, prince?” he continued, with a sneer. “He reads all sorts of books and memoirs now.”
“If I am admitted and tolerated here,” he had said one day, “it is simply because I talk in this way. How can anyone possibly receive such a man as I am? I quite understand. Now, could I, a Ferdishenko, be allowed to sit shoulder to shoulder with a clever man like Afanasy Ivanovitch? There is one explanation, only one. I am given the position because it is so entirely inconceivable!”
“Let it to me,” said the prince.
Again Nastasia Philipovna did not hear the sentence out. She glanced at Gania, and cried, laughing, “What a face! My goodness, what a face you have on at this moment!”
“Don’t interrupt, we are not such fools as you think, Mr. Lawyer,” cried Lebedeff’s nephew angrily. “Of course there is a difference between a hundred roubles and two hundred and fifty, but in this case the principle is the main point, and that a hundred and fifty roubles are missing is only a side issue. The point to be emphasized is that Burdovsky will not accept your highness’s charity; he flings it back in your face, and it scarcely matters if there are a hundred roubles or two hundred and fifty. Burdovsky has refused ten thousand roubles; you heard him. He would not have returned even a hundred roubles if he was dishonest! The hundred and fifty roubles were paid to Tchebaroff for his travelling expenses. You may jeer at our stupidity and at our inexperience in business matters; you have done all you could already to make us look ridiculous; but do not dare to call us dishonest. The four of us will club together every day to repay the hundred and fifty roubles to the prince, if we have to pay it in instalments of a rouble at a time, but we will repay it, with interest. Burdovsky is poor, he has no millions. After his journey to see the prince Tchebaroff sent in his bill. We counted on winning... Who would not have done the same in such a case?”The Epanchins’ country-house was a charming building, built after the model of a Swiss chalet, and covered with creepers. It was surrounded on all sides by a flower garden, and the family sat, as a rule, on the open verandah as at the prince’s house.
“The pleasure is, of course, mutual; but life is not all pleasure, as you are aware. There is such a thing as business, and I really do not see what possible reason there can be, or what we have in common to--”“Oh no; not at all.”
“Old story? No! Heaven knows what’s up now--I don’t! Father has simply gone mad; mother’s in floods of tears. Upon my word, Varia, I must kick him out of the house; or else go myself,” he added, probably remembering that he could not well turn people out of a house which was not his own.At that moment Gania, accompanied by Ptitsin, came out to the terrace. From an adjoining room came a noise of angry voices, and General Ivolgin, in loud tones, seemed to be trying to shout them down. Colia rushed off at once to investigate the cause of the uproar.
“Come, come, I’ve always heard that you ran away with the beautiful Countess Levitsky that time--throwing up everything in order to do it--and not from the Jesuits at all,” said Princess Bielokonski, suddenly.
And so the conclusion of the matter was that it would be far better to take it quietly, and wait coolly to see what would turn up. But, alas! peace did not reign for more than ten minutes. The first blow dealt to its power was in certain news communicated to Lizabetha Prokofievna as to events which had happened during her trip to see the princess. (This trip had taken place the day after that on which the prince had turned up at the Epanchins at nearly one o’clock at night, thinking it was nine.)The prince took down the chain and opened the door. He started back in amazement--for there stood Nastasia Philipovna. He knew her at once from her photograph. Her eyes blazed with anger as she looked at him. She quickly pushed by him into the hall, shouldering him out of her way, and said, furiously, as she threw off her fur cloak: