“But he, Ippolit, didn’t tell you, did he?” said Prince Vassily (addressing his son and taking the little princess by the arm, as though she would have run away and he were just in time to catch her); “he didn’t tell you how he, Ippolit himself, was breaking his heart over our sweet princess, and how she turned him out of doors.”

“Oh! she is the pearl of women, princess,” he said, addressing Princess Marya. Mademoiselle Bourienne on her side, at the mention of Paris, did not let her chance slip for taking a share in the common stock of recollections.

She ventured to inquire if it were long since Anatole was in Paris, and how he had liked that city. Anatole very readily answered the Frenchwoman, and smiling and staring at her, he talked to her about her native country. At first sight of the pretty Mademoiselle, Anatole had decided that even here at Bleak Hills he should not be dull. “Not half bad-looking,” he thought, scrutinising her, “she’s not half bad-looking, that companion! I hope she’ll bring her along when we’re married,” he mused; “she is a nice little thing.”

The old prince was dressing deliberately in his room, scowling and ruminating on what he was to do. The arrival of these visitors angered him. “What’s Prince Vassily to me, he and his son? Prince Vassily is a braggart, an empty-headed fool, and a nice fellow the son is, I expect,” he growled to himself. What angered him was that this visit revived in his mind the unsettled question, continually thrust aside, the question in regard to which the old prince always deceived himself. That question was whether he would ever bring himself to part with his daughter and give her to a husband. The prince could never bring himself to put this question directly to himself, knowing beforehand that if he did he would have to answer it justly, but against justice in this case was ranged more than feeling, the very possibility of life. Life without Princess Marya was unthinkable to the old prince, little as in appearance he prized her. “And what is she to be married for?” he thought; “to be unhappy, beyond a doubt. Look at Liza with Andrey (and a better husband, I should fancy, it would be difficult to find nowadays), but she’s not satisfied with her lot.

And who would marry her for love? She’s plain and ungraceful. She’d be married for her connections, her wealth. And don’t old maids get on well enough? They are happier really!” So Prince Nikolay Andreivitch mused, as he dressed, yet the question constantly deferred demanded an immediate decision. Prince Vassily had brought his son obviously with the intention of making an offer, and probably that day or the next he would ask for a direct answer. The name, the position in the world, was suitable. “Well, I’m not against it,” the prince kept saying to himself, “only let him be worthy of her. That’s what we shall see. That’s what we shall see,” he said aloud, “that’s what we shall see,” and with his usual alert step he walked into the drawing-room, taking in the whole company in a rapid glance. He noticed the change in the dress of the little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne’s ribbon, and the hideous way in which Princess Marya’s hair was done, and the smiles of the Frenchwoman and Anatole, and the isolation of his daughter in the general talk. “She’s decked herself out like a fool!” he thought, glancing vindictively at his daughter. “No shame in her; while he doesn’t care to speak to her!”

He went up to Prince Vassily.

“Well, how d’ye do, how d’ye do, glad to see you.”

“For a friend that one loves seven versts is close by,” said Prince Vassily, quoting the Russian proverb, and speaking in his usual rapid, self-confident, and familiar tone. “This is my second, I beg you to love him and welcome him, as they say.”

Prince Nikolay Andreivitch scrutinised Anatole.

“A fine fellow, a fine fellow!” he said. “Well, come and give me a kiss,” and he offered him his cheek. Anatole kissed the old man, and looked at him with curiosity and perfect composure, waiting for some instance of the eccentricity his father had told him to expect.

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