The princess’s face coloured red in patches at the sight of the letter. She took it hurriedly and bent over it.

“From Heloise?” asked the prince, showing his still strong, yellow teeth in a cold smile.

“Yes, from Julie,” said the princess, glancing timidly at him, and timidly smiling.

“Two more letters I’ll let pass, but the third I shall read,” said the prince severely. “I’m afraid you write a lot of nonsense. The third I shall read.”

“Read this one, father,” answered the princess, colouring still more and handing him the letter.

“The third, I said the third,” the prince cried shortly; pushing away the letter and leaning his elbow on the table, he drew up to him the book with the figures of geometry in it.

“Now, madam,” began the old man, bending over the book close to his daughter, and laying one arm on the back of the chair she was sitting on, so that the princess felt herself surrounded on all sides by the peculiar acrid smell of old age and tobacco, which she had so long associated with her father. “Come, madam, these triangles are equal: kindly look; the angle A B C. …”

The princess glanced in a scared way at her father’s eyes gleaming close beside her. The red patches overspread her whole face, and it was evident that she did not understand a word, and was so frightened that terror prevented her from understanding all the subsequent explanations her father offered her, however clear they might be. Whether it was the teacher’s fault or the pupil’s, every day the same scene was repeated. The princess’s eyes grew dim; she could see and hear nothing; she could feel nothing but the dry face of her stern father near her, his breath and the smell of him, and could think of nothing but how to escape as soon as possible from the study and to make out the problem in freedom in her room. The old man lost his temper; with a loud, grating noise he pushed back and drew up again the chair he was sitting on, made an effort to control himself, not to fly into a rage, and almost every time did fly into a rage, and scold, and sometimes flung the book away.

The princess answered a question wrong.

“Well, you are too stupid!” cried the prince, pushing away the book, and turning sharply away. But he got up immediately, walked up and down, laid his hand on the princess’s hair, and sat down again. He drew himself up to the table and continued his explanations. “This won’t do; it won’t do,” he said, when Princess Marya, taking the exercise-book with the lesson set her, and shutting it, was about to leave the room: “mathematics is a grand subject, madam. And to have you like the common run of our silly misses is what I don’t want at all. Patience, and you’ll get to like it.” He patted her on the cheek. “It will drive all the nonsense out of your head.” She would have gone; he stopped her with a gesture, and took a new, uncut book from the high table.

“Here’s a book, too, your Heloise sends you some sort of Key to the Mystery. Religious. But I don’t interfere with any one’s belief…. I have looked at it. Take it. Come, run along, run along.”

He patted her on the shoulder, and himself closed the door after her.

Princess Marya went back to her own room with that dejected, scared expression that rarely left her, and made her plain, sickly face even plainer. She sat down at her writing-table, which was dotted with miniature portraits, and strewn with books and manuscripts. The princess was as untidy as her father was tidy. She put down the geometry exercise-book and impatiently opened the letter. The letter was from the princess’s dearest friend from childhood; this friend was none other than Julie Karagin, who had been at the Rostovs’ name-day party.

Julie wrote in French:

  By PanEris using Melati.

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