The room they were now sitting in was a large one, lofty but dark, well furnished, principally with writing-tables and desks covered with papers and books. A wide sofa covered with red morocco evidently served Rogojin for a bed. On the table beside which the prince had been invited to seat himself lay some books; one containing a marker where the reader had left off, was a volume of Solovieff’s History. Some oil-paintings in worn gilded frames hung on the walls, but it was impossible to make out what subjects they represented, so blackened were they by smoke and age. One, a life-sized portrait, attracted the prince’s attention. It showed a man of about fifty, wearing a long riding-coat of German cut. He had two medals on his breast; his beard was white, short and thin; his face yellow and wrinkled, with a sly, suspicious expression in the eyes.
Nastasia Philipovna was quite capable of ruining herself, and even of perpetrating something which would send her to Siberia, for the mere pleasure of injuring a man for whom she had developed so inhuman a sense of loathing and contempt. He had sufficient insight to understand that she valued nothing in the world--herself least of all--and he made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was a coward in some respects. For instance, if he had been told that he would be stabbed at the altar, or publicly insulted, he would undoubtedly have been frightened; but not so much at the idea of being murdered, or wounded, or insulted, as at the thought that if such things were to happen he would be made to look ridiculous in the eyes of society.
“Quite likely, though I bought it here. Gania, give the prince some paper. Here are pens and paper; now then, take this table. What’s this?” the general continued to Gania, who had that moment taken a large photograph out of his portfolio, and shown it to his senior. “Halloa! Nastasia Philipovna! Did she send it you herself? Herself?” he inquired, with much curiosity and great animation.
“No--no, prince; you must forgive me, but I can’t undertake any such commissions! I really can’t.”
“Are you happy--are you happy?” she asked. “Say this one word. Are you happy now? Today, this moment? Have you just been with her? What did she say?”
“Is he mad?” asked Madame Epanchin suddenly.

“I am very proud, in spite of what I am,” she continued. “You called me ‘perfection’ just now, prince. A nice sort of perfection to throw up a prince and a million and a half of roubles in order to be able to boast of the fact afterwards! What sort of a wife should I make for you, after all I have said? Afanasy Ivanovitch, do you observe I have really and truly thrown away a million of roubles? And you thought that I should consider your wretched seventy-five thousand, with Gania thrown in for a husband, a paradise of bliss! Take your seventy-five thousand back, sir; you did not reach the hundred thousand. Rogojin cut a better dash than you did. I’ll console Gania myself; I have an idea about that. But now I must be off! I’ve been in prison for ten years. I’m free at last! Well, Rogojin, what are you waiting for? Let’s get ready and go.”

“Very,” said his neighbour, readily, “and this is a thaw, too. Fancy if it had been a hard frost! I never thought it would be so cold in the old country. I’ve grown quite out of the way of it.”In a word, the incident closed as such incidents do, and the band began to play again. The prince walked away after the Epanchin party. Had he thought of looking round to the left after he had been pushed so unceremoniously into the chair, he would have observed Aglaya standing some twenty yards away. She had stayed to watch the scandalous scene in spite of her mother’s and sisters’ anxious cries to her to come away.“In the first place, it is not for you to address me as ‘sir,’ and, in the second place, I refuse to give you any explanation,” said Ivan Fedorovitch vehemently; and he rose without another word, and went and stood on the first step of the flight that led from the verandah to the street, turning his back on the company. He was indignant with Lizabetha Prokofievna, who did not think of moving even now.All this was no doubt extremely coarse, and moreover it was premeditated, but after all Ferdishenko had persuaded everyone to accept him as a buffoon.
“Oh, I don’t know what this means” cried Ivan Fedorovitch, transported with indignation.

“I am base--base!” muttered Lebedeff, beating his breast, and hanging his head.

“Silence!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “You are about as fit to understand me as the housemaid here, who bore witness against her lover in court the other day. She would understand me better than you do.”

“Tell me about it,” said Aglaya.

“The face was depicted as though still suffering; as though the body, only just dead, was still almost quivering with agony. The picture was one of pure nature, for the face was not beautified by the artist, but was left as it would naturally be, whosoever the sufferer, after such anguish.

“Delighted, I’m sure,” said Aglaya; “I am acquainted with Varvara Ardalionovna and Nina Alexandrovna.” She was trying hard to restrain herself from laughing.

Lebedeff had his desire. He went off with the noisy group of Rogojin’s friends towards the Voznesensky, while the prince’s route lay towards the Litaynaya. It was damp and wet. The prince asked his way of passers-by, and finding that he was a couple of miles or so from his destination, he determined to take a droshky.

“DEAR COLIA,--Please be so kind as to give the enclosed sealed letter to Aglaya Ivanovna. Keep well--Ever your loving,

“Oho! ho, ho, ho!” cried Ferdishenko. “_Now_ then, prince! My word, what things I would say if I had such a chance as that! My goodness, prince--go on!”

“He sprang up from his chair and turned away. His wife was crying in the corner; the child had begun to moan again. I pulled out my note-book and began writing in it. When I had finished and rose from my chair he was standing before me with an expression of alarmed curiosity.

Hippolyte raised his head with an effort, saying:

“And she gave it you to read herself--_herself?_”

While Gania put this question, a new idea suddenly flashed into his brain, and blazed out, impatiently, in his eyes. The general, who was really agitated and disturbed, looked at the prince too, but did not seem to expect much from his reply.