THEY ALL WENT to their rooms, and except Anatole, who fell asleep the instant he got into bed, no one could get to sleep for a long while that night. “Can he possibly be—my husband, that stranger, that handsome, kind man; yes, he is certainly kind,” thought Princess Marya, and a feeling of terror, such as she scarcely ever felt, came upon her. She was afraid to look round; it seemed to her that there was some one there—the devil, and he was that man with his white forehead, black eyebrows, and red lips.
She rang for her maid and asked her to sleep in her room.
Mademoiselle Bourienne walked up and down the winter garden for a long while that evening, in vain expectation of some one; at one moment she was smiling at that some one, the next, moved to tears by an imaginary reference to ma pauvre mère reproaching her for her fall.
The little princess kept grumbling to her maid that her bed had not been properly made. She could not lie on her side nor on her face. She felt uncomfortable and ill at ease in every position. Her burden oppressed her, oppressed her more than ever that night, because Anatole's presence had carried her vividly back to another time when it was not so, and she had been light and gay. She sat in a low chair in her nightcap and dressing-jacket. Katya, sleepy and dishevelled, for the third time beat and turned the heavy feather bed, murmuring something.
“I told you it was all in lumps and hollows,” the little princess repeated; “I should be glad enough to go to sleep, so it's not my fault.”
And her voice quivered like a child's when it is going to cry.
The old prince too could not sleep. Tihon, half asleep, heard him pacing angrily up and down and blowing his nose. The old prince felt as though he had been insulted through his daughter. The insult was the more bitter because it concerned not himself, but another, his daughter, whom he loved more than himself. He said to himself that he would think the whole matter over thoroughly and decide what was right and what must be done, but instead of doing so, he only worked up his irritation more and more.
“The first stray comer that appears! and father and all forgotten, and she runs upstairs, and does up her hair, and rigs herself out, and doesn't know what she's doing! She's glad to abandon her father! And she knew I should notice it. Fr…fr…fr…And don't I see the fool has no eyes but for Bourienne (must get rid of her). And how can she have so little pride, as not to see it? If not for her own sake, if she has no pride, at least for mine. I must show her that the blockhead doesn't give her a thought, and only looks at Bourienne. She has no pride, but I'll make her see it…”
By telling his daughter that she was making a mistake, that Anatole was getting up a flirtation with Mademoiselle Bourienne, the old prince knew that he would wound her self-respect, and so his object (not to be parted from his daughter) would be gained, and so at this reflection he grew calmer. He called Tihon and began undressing.
“The devil brought them here!” he thought, as Tihon slipped his nightshirt over his dried-up old body and his chest covered with grey hair.
“I didn't invite them. They come and upset my life. And there's not much of it left. Damn them!” he muttered, while his head was hidden in the nightshirt. Tihon was used to the prince's habit of expressing his thoughts aloud, and so it was with an unmoved countenance that he met the wrathful and inquiring face that emerged from the nightshirt.
“Gone to bed?” inquired the prince.
Tihon, like all good valets, indeed, knew by instinct the direction of his master's thoughts. He guessed that it was Prince Vassily and his son who were meant.
“Their honours have gone to bed and put out their lights, your excellency.”
“They had no reason, no reason…” the prince articulated rapidly, and slipping his feet into his slippers and his arms into his dressing-gown, he went to the couch on which he always slept.
Although nothing had been said between Anatole and Mademoiselle Bourienne, they understood each other perfectly so far as the first part of the romance was concerned, the part previous to the pauvre mère episode. They felt that they had a great deal to say to each other in private, and so from early morning they sought an opportunity of meeting alone. While the princess was away, spending her hour as usual with her father, Mademoiselle Bourienne was meeting Anatole in the winter garden.
That day it was with even more than her usual trepidation that Princess Marya went to the door of the study. It seemed to her not only that every one was aware that her fate would be that day decided, but that all were aware of what she was feeling about it. She read it in Tihon's face and in the face of Prince Vassily's valet, who met her in the corridor with hot water, and made her a low bow.
The old prince's manner to his daughter that morning was extremely affectionate, though strained. That strained expression Princess Marya knew well. It was the expression she saw in his face at the moments when his withered hands were clenched with vexation at Princess Marya's not understanding some arithmetical problem, and he would get up and walk away from her, repeating the same words over several times in a low voice.
He came to the point at once and began talking. “A proposal has been made to me on your behalf,” he said, with an unnatural smile. “I dare say, you have guessed,” he went on “that Prince Vassily has not come here and brought his protégé” (for some unknown reason the old prince elected to refer to Anatole in this way) “for the sake of my charms. Yesterday, they made me a proposal on your behalf. And as you know my principles, I refer the matter to you.”
“How am I to understand you, mon père?” said the princess, turning pale and red.
“How understand me!” cried her father angrily. “Prince Vassily finds you to his taste as a daughter-in-law, and makes you a proposal for his protégé. That's how to understand it. How understand it!… Why, I ask you.”
“I don't know how you, mon père…” the princess articulated in a whisper.
“I? I? what have I to do with it? leave me out of the question. I am not going to be married. What do you say? that's what it's desirable to learn.”
The princess saw that her father looked with ill-will on the project, but at that instant the thought had occurred to her that now or never the fate of her life would be decided. She dropped her eyes so as to avoid the gaze under which she felt incapable of thought, and capable of nothing but her habitual obedience: “My only desire is to carry out your wishes,” she said; “if I had to express my own desire…”
She had not time to finish. The prince cut her short. “Very good, then!” he shouted. “He shall take you with your dowry, and hook on Mademoiselle Bourienne into the bargain. She'll be his wife, while you…” The prince stopped. He noticed the effect of these words on his daughter. She had bowed her head and was beginning to cry.
“Come, come, I was joking, I was joking,” he said. “Remember one thing, princess; I stick to my principles, that a girl has a full right to choose. And I give you complete freedom. Remember one thing; the happiness of your life depends on your decision. No need to talk about me.”
“But I don't know…father.”
“No need for talking! He's told to, and he's ready to marry any one, but you are free to choose.… Go to your own room, think it over, and come to me in an hour's time and tell me in his presence: yes or no. I know you will pray over it. Well, pray if you like. Only you'd do better to think. You can go.”
“Yes or no, yes or no, yes or no!” he shouted again as the princess went out of the room, reeling in a sort of fog. Her fate was decided, and decided for happiness. But what her father had said about Mademoiselle Bourienne, that hint was horrible. It was not true, of course, but still it was horrible; she could not help thinking of it. She walked straight forward through the winter garden, seeing and hearing nothing, when all of a sudden she was roused by the familiar voice of Mademoiselle Bourienne. She lifted her eyes, and only two paces before her she saw Anatole with his arms round the Frenchwoman, whispering something to her. With a terrible expression on his handsome face, Anatole looked round at Princess Marya, and did not for the first second let go the waist of Mademoiselle Bourienne, who had not seen her.
“Who's there? What do you want? Wait a little!” was what Anatole's face expressed. Princess Marya gazed blankly at them. She could not believe her eyes. At last Mademoiselle Bourienne shrieked and ran away. With a gay smile Anatole bowed to Princess Marya, as though inviting her to share his amusement at this strange incident, and with a shrug of his shoulders he went to the door that led to his apartment.
An hour later Tihon came to summon Princess Marya to the old prince, and added that Prince Vassily was with him. When Tihon came to her, Princess Marya was sitting on the sofa in her own room holding in her arms the weeping Mademoiselle Bourienne. Princess Marya was softly stroking her head. Her beautiful eyes had regained all their luminous peace, and were gazing with tender love and commiseration at the pretty little face of Mademoiselle Bourienne.
“Oh, princess, I am ruined for ever in your heart,” Mademoiselle Bourienne was saying.
“Why? I love you more than ever,” said Princess Marya, “and I will try to do everything in my power for your happiness.”
“But you despise me, you who are so pure, you will never understand this frenzy of passion. Ah, it is only my poor mother …”
“I understand everything,” said Princess Marya, smiling mournfully. “Calm yourself, my dear. I am going to my father,” she said, and she went out.
When the princess went in, Prince Vassily was sitting with one leg crossed high over the other, and a snuff-box in his hand. There was a smile of emotion on his face, and he looked as though moved to such an extreme point that he could but regret and smile at his own sensibility. He took a hasty pinch of snuff.
“Ah, my dear, my dear!” he said, getting up and taking her by both hands. He heaved a sigh, and went on: “My son's fate is in your hands. Decide, my good dear, sweet Marie, whom I have always loved like a daughter.” He drew back. There was a real tear in his eye.
“Fr … ffr …” snorted the old prince. “The prince in his protégé's … his son's name makes you a proposal. Are you willing or not to be the wife of Prince Anatole Kuragin? You say: yes or no,” he shouted, “and then I reserve for myself the right to express my opinion. Yes, my opinion, and nothing but my opinion,” added the old prince, to Prince Vassily in response to his supplicating expression, “Yes or no!”
“My wish, mon père, is never to leave you; never to divide my life from yours. I do not wish to marry,” she said resolutely, glancing with her beautiful eyes at Prince Vassily and at her father.
“Nonsense, fiddlesticks! Nonsense, nonsense!” shouted the old prince, frowning. He took his daughter's hand, drew her towards him and did not kiss her, but bending over, touched her forehead with his, and wrung the hand he held so violently that she winced and uttered a cry. Prince Vassily got up.
“My dear, let me tell you that this is a moment I shall never forget, never; but, dear, will you not give us a little hope of touching so kind and generous a heart. Say that perhaps.… The future is so wide.… Say: perhaps.”
“Prince, what I have said is all that is in my heart. I thank you for the honour you do me, but I shall never be your son's wife.”
“Well, then it's all over, my dear fellow. Very glad to have seen you, very glad to have seen you. Go to your room, princess; go along now,” said the old prince. “Very, very glad to have seen you,” he repeated, embracing Prince Vassily.
“My vocation is a different one,” Princess Marya was thinking to herself; “my vocation is to be happy in the happiness of others, in the happiness of love and self-sacrifice. And at any cost I will make poor Amélie happy. She loves him so passionately. She is so passionately penitent. I will do everything to bring about their marriage. If he is not rich I will give her means, I will beg my father, I will beg Andrey. I shall be so happy when she is his wife. She is so unhappy, a stranger, solitary and helpless! And, my God, how passionately she must love him to be able to forget herself so. Perhaps I might have done the same!…” thought Princess Marya.