“Ye-yes, foot and mouth disease, or something of that s-sort,” said the prince; “so I st-stayed at home. Well, and how’s your h-husband, my dear Anna Nic-Nicolaevna? Still at his proc-procuror’s work?”
“No, prince!” said Maria Alexandrovna, a little disconcerted. “My husband is not a procurer.”
“I’ll bet anything that uncle has mixed you up with Anna Nicolaevna Antipova,” said Mosgliakoff, but stopped suddenly on observing the look on Maria Alexandrovna’s face.
“Ye-yes, of course, Anna Nicolaevna. A-An. What the deuce! I’m always f-forgetting; Antipova, Antipova, of course,” continued the prince.
“No, prince, you have made a great mistake,” remarked Maria Alexandrovna, with a bitter smile. “I am not Anna Nicolaevna at all, and I confess I should never have believed that you would not recognise me. You have astonished me, prince. I am your old friend, Maria Alexandrovna Moskaloﬀ. Don’t you remember Maria Alexandrovna?”
“M-Maria Alexandrovna! think of that; and I thought she was w-what’s her name. Y-yes, Anna Vasilievna! C’est délicieux. W-why I thought you were going to take me to this A-Anna Matveyevna. Dear me! C'est ch-charmant! It often happens so w-with me. I get taken to the wrong house; but I’m v-very pleased, v-very pleased! So you’re not Nastasia Vasilievna? How interesting.”
“I’m Maria Alexandrovna, prince; Maria Alexandrovna! Oh! how naughty you are, Prince, to forget your best, best friend!”
“Ye-es! ye-yes! best friend; best friend, for-forgive me!” stammered the old man, staring at Zina.
“That’s my daughter Zina. You are not acquainted yet, prince. She wasn’t here when you were last in the town, in the year … you know.”
“Oh, th-this is your d-daughter!” muttered the old man, staring hungrily at Zina through his glasses. “Dear me, dear me. Ch-charmante, ch-armante! But what a lo-ovely girl,” he added, evidently impressed.
“Tea! prince,” remarked Maria Alexandrovna, directing his attention to the page standing before him with the tray. The prince took a cup, and examined the boy, who had a nice fresh face of his own.
“Ah! this is your l-little boy? Wh-what a charming little b-boy! and does he be-behave nicely?”
“But, prince,” interrupted Maria Alexandrovna, impatiently, “what is this dreadful occurrence I hear of? I confess I was nearly beside myself with terror when I heard of it. Were you not hurt at all? Do take care. One cannot make light of this sort of thing.”
“Upset, upset; the c-coachman upset me!” cried the prince, with unwonted vivacity. “I thought it was the end of the world, and I was fri-frightened out of my wits. I didn’t expect it; I didn’t, indeed! and my co-oachman is to blame for it all. I trust you, my friend, to lo-ok into the matter well. I feel sure he was making an attempt on my life!”
“All right, all right, uncle,” said Paul; “I’ll see about it. But look here-forgive him, just this once, uncle; just this once, won’t you?”
“N-not I! Not for anything! I’m sure he wants my life, he and Lavrenty too. It’s-it’s the ’new ideas;’ it’s Com-Communism, in the fullest sense of the word. I daren’t meet them anywhere.”
“You are right, you are quite right, prince,” cried Maria Alexandrovna. “You don’t know how I suﬀer myself from these wretched people. I’ve just been obliged to change two of my servants; and you’ve no idea how stupid they are, prince.”
“Ye-yes! quite so!” said the prince, delighted-as all old men are whose senile chatter is listened to with servility. “But I like a ﬂ-ﬂunky to look stupid; it gives them presence. There’s my Terenty, now. You remember Terenty, my friend? Well, the f-ﬁrst time I ever looked at him I said, ‘You shall be my ha-hall porter.’ He’s stupid, phen-phen-omenally stupid, he looks like a she-sheep; but his dig-dignity and majesty are wonderful. When I look at him he seems to be composing some l-learned dis-sertation. He’s just like the German philosopher, Kant, or like some fa-fat old turkey, and that’s just what one wants in a serving-man.”
Maria Alexandrovna laughed, and clapped her hands in the highest state of ecstasy; Paul supported her with all his might; Nastasia Petrovna laughed too;
and even Zina smiled.
“But, prince, how clever, how witty, how humorous you are!” cried Maria Alexandrovna. “What a wonderful gilt of remarking the smallest refinements of character. And for a man like you to eschew all society, and shut yourself up for ﬁve years! With such talents! Why, prince, you could write, you could be an author. You could emulate Von Vezin, Gribojedoﬀ, Gogol!”
“Ye-yes! ye-yes!” said the delighted prince. “I can reproduce things I see, very well. And, do you know, I used to be a very wi-witty fellow indeed, some time ago. I even wrote a play once. There were some very smart couplets, I remember; but it was never acted.”
“Oh! how nice it would be to read it over, especially just now, eh, Zina? for we are thinking of getting up a play, you must know, prince, for the beneﬁt of the ‘martyrs of the Fatherland,’ the wounded soldiers. There, now, how handy your play would come in!”
“Certainly, certainly. I-I would even write you another. I think I’ve quite forgotten the old one. I remember there were two or three such epigrams that (here the prince kissed his own hand to convey an idea of the exquisite wit of his lines) I recollect when I was abroad I made a real furore. I remember Lord Byron well; we were great friends; you should have seen him dance the mazurka one day during the Vienna Congress.”
“Lord Byron, uncle?-Surely not!”
“Ye-yes, Lord Byron. Perhaps it was not Lord Byron, though, perhaps it was someone else; no, it wasn’t Lord Byron, it was some Pole; I remember now. A won-der-ful fellow that Pole was! He said he was a C-Count, and he turned out to be a c-cookshop man! But he danced the mazurka won-der-fully, and broke his leg at last. I recollect I wrote some lines at the time: —
“Our little Pole Danced like blazes.”
– How did it go on, now? Wait a minute! No, I can’t remember.”
“I’ll tell you, uncle. It must have been like this,” said Paul, becoming more and more inspired: —
“But he tripped in a hole, Which stopped his crazes.”
“Ye-yes, that was it, I think, or something very like it. I don’t know, though – perhaps it wasn’t. Anyhow, the lines were very sm-art. I forget a good deal of what I have seen and done. I’m so b-busy now!”
“But do let me hear how you have employed your time in your solitude, dear prince,” said Maria Alexandrovna. “I must confess that I have thought of you so often, and often, that I am burning with impatience to hear more about you and your doings.”
“Employed my time? Oh, very busy; very busy, ge-generally. One rests, you see, part of the day; and then I imagine a good many things.”
“I should think you have a very strong imagination, haven’t you, uncle?” remarked Paul.
“Exceptionally so, my dear fellow. I sometimes imagine things which amaze even myself! When I was at Kadueﬀ, – by-the-by, you were vice-governor of Kadueﬀ, weren’t you?”
“I, uncle! Why, what are you thinking of?”
“No? Just fancy, my dear fellow! and I’ve been thinking all this time how f-funny that the vice-governor of Kadueﬀ should be here with quite a diﬀerent face: he had a ﬁne intelligent, dig-digniﬁed face, you know. A wo-wonderful fellow! Always writing verses, too; he was rather like the Ki-King of Diamonds from the side view, but – “
“No, prince,” interrupted Maria Alexandrovna. “I assure you, you’ll ruin yourself with the life you are leading! To make a hermit of oneself for five years, and see no one, and hear no one: you’re a lost man, dear prince! Ask any one of those who love you, they’ll all tell you the same; you’re a lost man!”
“No,” cried the prince, “really?”
“Yes, I assure you of it! I am speaking to you as a sister – as a friend! I am telling you this because you are very dear to me, and because the memory of the past is sacred to me. No, no! You must change your way of living; otherwise you will fall ill, and break up, and die!”
“Gracious heavens! Surely I shan’t d-die so soon?” cried the old man. “You-you are right about being ill; I am ill now and then. I’ll tell you all the sy-symptoms! I’ll de-detail them to you. Firstly I – “
“Uncle, don’t you think you had better tell us all about it another day?” Paul interrupted hurriedly. “I think we had better be starting just now, don’t you?”
“Yes-yes, perhaps, perhaps. But remind me to tell you another time; it’s a most interesting case, I assure you!”
“But listen, my dear prince!” Maria Alexandrovna resumed, “why don’t you try being doctored abroad?”
“Ab-road? Yes, yes – I shall certainly go abroad. I remember when I was abroad, about ‘20; it was delightfully g-gay and jolly. I very nearly married a vi-viscountess, a French woman. I was fearfully in love, but som-somebody else married her, not I. It was a very s-strange thing. I had only gone away for a coup-couple of hours, and this Ger-German baron fellow came and carried her oﬀ! He went into a ma-madhouse afterwards!”
“Yes, dear prince, you must look after your health. There are such good doctors abroad; and – besides, the mere change of life, what will not that alone do for you! You must desert your dear Donchanovo, if only for a time!”
“C-certainly, certainly! I’ve long meant to do it. I’m going to try hy-hydropathy!”
“Yes. I’ve tried it once before: I was abroad, you know, and they persuaded me to try drinking the wa-waters. There wasn’t anything the matter with me, but I agreed, just out of deli-delicacy for their feelings; and I did seem to feel easier, somehow. So I drank, and drank, and dra-ank up a whole waterfall;
and I assure you if I hadn’t fallen ill just then I should have been quite well, th-thanks to the water! But, I confess, you’ve frightened me so about these ma-maladies and things, I feel quite put out. I’ll come back d-directly!”