“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
Muishkin himself came in very timidly. He seemed to feel his way, and looked in each person’s eyes in a questioning way,--for Aglaya was absent, which fact alarmed him at once.But Lizabetha Prokofievna felt somewhat consoled when she could say that one of her girls, Adelaida, was settled at last. “It will be one off our hands!” she declared aloud, though in private she expressed herself with greater tenderness. The engagement was both happy and suitable, and was therefore approved in society. Prince S. was a distinguished man, he had money, and his future wife was devoted to him; what more could be desired? Lizabetha Prokofievna had felt less anxious about this daughter, however, although she considered her artistic tastes suspicious. But to make up for them she was, as her mother expressed it, “merry,” and had plenty of “common-sense.” It was Aglaya’s future which disturbed her most. With regard to her eldest daughter, Alexandra, the mother never quite knew whether there was cause for anxiety or not. Sometimes she felt as if there was nothing to be expected from her. She was twenty-five now, and must be fated to be an old maid, and “with such beauty, too!” The mother spent whole nights in weeping and lamenting, while all the time the cause of her grief slumbered peacefully. “What is the matter with her? Is she a Nihilist, or simply a fool?”
“We shall see whether I understand or no!” said Gania, enigmatically. “But I shouldn’t like her to know all about father, all the same. I thought the prince would manage to hold his tongue about this, at least. He prevented Lebedeff spreading the news--he wouldn’t even tell me all when I asked him--”
“Well, it is a silly little story, in a few words,” began the delighted general. “A couple of years ago, soon after the new railway was opened, I had to go somewhere or other on business. Well, I took a first-class ticket, sat down, and began to smoke, or rather _continued_ to smoke, for I had lighted up before. I was alone in the carriage. Smoking is not allowed, but is not prohibited either; it is half allowed--so to speak, winked at. I had the window open.”
“Lizabetha Prokofievna!” exclaimed the prince.
Ptitsin had tactfully retreated to Lebedeff’s wing; and Gania soon followed him.
“You have no sort of right to suppose such things,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in a tone of authority.
“Well, where are we to go to now, father?” he asked. “You don’t want to go to the prince’s; you have quarrelled with Lebedeff; you have no money; I never have any; and here we are in the middle of the road, in a nice sort of mess.”
She gazed thirstily at him and clutched his hands.