Gania stood and frowned, he expected a family scene. He never thought of apologizing to the prince, however.
“No! That is, I understand how it’s done, of course, but I have never done it.”
“I thought you were capable of development,” said Hippolyte, coming out of his fit of abstraction. “Yes, that is what I meant to say,” he added, with the satisfaction of one who suddenly remembers something he had forgotten. “Here is Burdovsky, sincerely anxious to protect his mother; is not that so? And he himself is the cause of her disgrace. The prince is anxious to help Burdovsky and offers him friendship and a large sum of money, in the sincerity of his heart. And here they stand like two sworn enemies--ha, ha, ha! You all hate Burdovsky because his behaviour with regard to his mother is shocking and repugnant to you; do you not? Is not that true? Is it not true? You all have a passion for beauty and distinction in outward forms; that is all you care for, isn’t it? I have suspected for a long time that you cared for nothing else! Well, let me tell you that perhaps there is not one of you who loved your mother as Burdovsky loved his. As to you, prince, I know that you have sent money secretly to Burdovsky’s mother through Gania. Well, I bet now,” he continued with an hysterical laugh, “that Burdovsky will accuse you of indelicacy, and reproach you with a want of respect for his mother! Yes, that is quite certain! Ha, ha, ha!”Hippolyte suddenly burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, which turned into a choking cough.“He declares that your humbug of a landlord revised this gentleman’s article--the article that was read aloud just now--in which you got such a charming dressing-down.”
“In the first place, I have had the opportunity of getting a correct idea of Mr. Burdovsky. I see what he is for myself. He is an innocent man, deceived by everyone! A defenceless victim, who deserves indulgence! Secondly, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, in whose hands I had placed the matter, had his first interview with me barely an hour ago. I had not heard from him for some time, as I was away, and have been ill for three days since my return to St. Petersburg. He tells me that he has exposed the designs of Tchebaroff and has proof that justifies my opinion of him. I know, gentlemen, that many people think me an idiot. Counting upon my reputation as a man whose purse-strings are easily loosened, Tchebaroff thought it would be a simple matter to fleece me, especially by trading on my gratitude to Pavlicheff. But the main point is--listen, gentlemen, let me finish!--the main point is that Mr. Burdovsky is not Pavlicheff’s son at all. Gavrila Ardalionovitch has just told me of his discovery, and assures me that he has positive proofs. Well, what do you think of that? It is scarcely credible, even after all the tricks that have been played upon me. Please note that we have positive proofs! I can hardly believe it myself, I assure you; I do not yet believe it; I am still doubtful, because Gavrila Ardalionovitch has not had time to go into details; but there can be no further doubt that Tchebaroff is a rogue! He has deceived poor Mr. Burdovsky, and all of you, gentlemen, who have come forward so nobly to support your friend--(he evidently needs support, I quite see that!). He has abused your credulity and involved you all in an attempted fraud, for when all is said and done this claim is nothing else!”“I never thought of doing any such thing. I have not seen him, and he is not a rogue, in my opinion. I have had a letter from him.”
The prince begged him to step in and sit down.
“Dear me! This is very unpleasant!”“Ah! What visitor did you turn away from my door, about an hour ago?”“Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way,” said she to the man who answered.
“If you say,” she began in shaky tones, “if you say that this woman of yours is mad--at all events I have nothing to do with her insane fancies. Kindly take these three letters, Lef Nicolaievitch, and throw them back to her, from me. And if she dares,” cried Aglaya suddenly, much louder than before, “if she dares so much as write me one word again, tell her I shall tell my father, and that she shall be taken to a lunatic asylum.”
At about half-past seven the prince started for the church in his carriage.
Gania--confused, annoyed, furious--took up his portrait, and turned to the prince with a nasty smile on his face.
“Speak, Ivan Fedorovitch! What are we to do?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, irritably. “Please break your majestic silence! I tell you, if you cannot come to some decision, I will stay here all night myself. You have tyrannized over me enough, you autocrat!”
“It’s all a joke, mamma; it’s just a joke like the ‘poor knight’--nothing more whatever, I assure you!” Alexandra whispered in her ear. “She is chaffing him--making a fool of him, after her own private fashion, that’s all! But she carries it just a little too far--she is a regular little actress. How she frightened us just now--didn’t she?--and all for a lark!”
At this moment she was called by someone. She broke loose from him with an air of relief and ran away.
So saying, the prince repeated the letter almost word for word, as he had written it.
“Well, what am I to do? What do you advise me? I cannot go on receiving these letters, you know.”“Then they were only words on your part? I thought, on the contrary...”
“Of course he was delighted to get hold of someone upon whom to vent his rage against things in general.
“Thanks, prince, many thanks, eccentric friend of the family, for the pleasant evening you have provided for us. I am sure you are quite pleased that you have managed to mix us up with your extraordinary affairs. It is quite enough, dear family friend; thank you for giving us an opportunity of getting to know you so well.”“I beg your pardon, gentlemen; please excuse me,” said the prince. “I thought absolute frankness on both sides would be best, but have it your own way. I told Tchebaroff that, as I was not in Petersburg, I would commission a friend to look into the matter without delay, and that I would let you know, Mr. Burdovsky. Gentlemen, I have no hesitation in telling you that it was the fact of Tchebaroff’s intervention that made me suspect a fraud. Oh! do not take offence at my words, gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake do not be so touchy!” cried the prince, seeing that Burdovsky was getting excited again, and that the rest were preparing to protest. “If I say I suspected a fraud, there is nothing personal in that. I had never seen any of you then; I did not even know your names; I only judged by Tchebaroff; I am speaking quite generally--if you only knew how I have been ‘done’ since I came into my fortune!”