Écoutez, Bilibin” (Ellen always called friends of the category to which Bilibin belonged by their surnames), and she touched his coat-sleeve with her white, beringed fingers. “Tell me, as you would a sister, what ought I to do? Which of the two?”

Bilibin wrinkled up the skin over his eyebrows, and pondered with a smile on his lips.

“You do not take me unawares, you know,” he said. “As a true friend, I have thought, and thought again of your affair. You see, if you marry the prince”—(the younger suitor) he crooked his finger—“you lose forever the chance of marrying the other, and then you displease the court. (There is a sort of relationship, you know.) But if you marry the old count, you make the happiness of his last days. And then as widow of the great … the prince will not be making a mésalliance in marrying you …” and Bilibin let the wrinkles run out of his face.

“That’s a real friend!” said Ellen beaming, and once more touching Bilibin’s sleeve. “But the fact is I love them both, and I don’t want to make them unhappy. I would give my life for the happiness of both,” she declared.

Bilibin shrugged his shoulders to denote that for such a trouble even he could suggest no remedy.

Une maîtresse-femme! That is what’s called putting the question squarely. She would like to be married to all three at once,” thought Bilibin.

“But do tell me what is your husband’s view of the question?” he said, the security of his reputation saving him from all fear of discrediting himself by so naïve a question. “Does he consent?”

“Oh, he is so fond of me!” said Ellen, who, for some unknown reason, fancied that Pierre too adored her. “Il fera tout pour moi.”

Bilibin puckered up his face in preparation of the coming mot.

Même le divorce?” he said.

Ellen laughed.

Among the persons who ventured to question the legality of the proposed marriage was Ellen’s mother, Princess Kuragin. She had constantly suffered pangs of envy of her daughter, and now when the ground for such envy was the one nearest to her own heart, she could not reconcile herself to the idea of it.

She consulted a Russian priest to ascertain how far divorce and remarriage was possible for a woman in her husband’s lifetime. The priest assured her that this was impossible; and to her delight referred her to the text in the Gospel in which (as it seemed to the priest) remarriage during the lifetime of the husband was directly forbidden.

Armed with these arguments, which seemed to her irrefutable, Princess Kuragin drove round to her daughter’s early one morning in order to find her alone.

Ellen heard her mother’s protests to the end, and smiled with bland sarcasm.

“You see it is plainly said: ‘He who marryeth her that is divorced…’ ”

“O mamma, don’t talk nonsense. You don’t understand. In my position I have duties…” Ellen began, passing out of Russian into French, for in the former language she always felt a lack of clearness about her case.

“But, my dear…”

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.