Vera was now four-and-twenty, and had been brought out everywhere; and, in spite of the fact that she was undeniably good-looking and sensible, no one had hitherto made her an offer. The offer was accepted.

“You see,” Berg said to a comrade, whom he called his friend—only because he knew all people do have friends—“you see, I have taken everything into consideration, and I should not have got married if I had not thought it well over, or if it had been unsuitable in any way. But at present my papa and mamma are well provided for, I have secured them the lease of that place in the Ostsee district, and I can live in Petersburg with my pay and her fortune and my careful habits. We can get along nicely. I’m not marrying for money, I consider that ungentlemanly, but the wife ought to bring her share and the husband his. I have my position in the service; she has connections and some small means. That’s worth something nowadays, isn’t it? And what’s the chief consideration, she’s handsome, estimable girl, and she loves me.…”

Berg blushed and smiled.

“And I love her because she has a character that is reasonable and very nice. Her sister now—though they are of the same family—is utterly different, and her character is disagreeable, and she has none of that intelligence, but something you know … I don’t like. … But my betrothed … You must come and see us; come to …” Berg, went on; he was going to say “to dinner,” but on second thoughts he said “to tea,” and putting out his tongue he blew a little ring of tobacco smoke that embodied for him all his dreams of happiness.

The first feeling of hesitation aroused in the parents by Berg’s proposal had been followed by the festivity and rejoicing in the family usual on such occasions, but the rejoicing was apparent and not genuine.

A certain embarrassment and shamefacedness could be detected in the feelings of the relations in regard to this marriage. It was as though their conscience smote them for not having been very fond of Vera and of being so ready now to get her off their hands. The old count was more disconcerted over it than any one. He would most likely have been unable to say what made him feel so, but his financial difficulties were at the root of the matter. He absolutely did not know what he had, how much his debts amounted to, and what he would be in a position to give for Vera’s dowry. Each of his daughters had at their birth been assigned a portion, consisting of an estate with three hundred serfs on it. But one of those estates had by now been sold, and the other had been mortgaged, and the interest was so much in arrears that it would have to be sold, so that to give this estate was impossible. There was no money either.

Berg had been betrothed more than a month, and it was only a week before the date fixed for the wedding, but the count was still unable to come to a decision on the subject of the dowry, and had not spoken of it to his wife. At one time the count thought of making over the Ryazan estate to Vera, then he thought of selling his forest, then of borrowing money on a note of hand.

A few days before the wedding, Berg went early in the morning into the count’s study, and with an agreeable smile, respectfully invited his father-in-law to let him know what fortune would be given with the Countess Vera. The count was so much disconcerted by this long-foreseen inquiry that, without thinking, he said the first thing that came into his head.

“I like your being businesslike about it, I like it; you will be quite satisfied…”

And clapping Berg on the shoulder, he got up, intending to cut short the conversation. But Berg, smiling blandly, announced that if he were not to know for certain what would be given with Vera, and to receive at least part of the dowry in advance, he would be obliged to break off the marriage. “Because, you must consider, count, if I were to allow myself to marry now without having a definite security for the maintenance of my wife I should be acting like a scoundrel…”

The conversation ended by the count, in his anxiety to be generous and to avoid further requests, saying that he would give him a note of hand for eighty thousand. Berg smiled gently, kissed the count on the

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