“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.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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