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CHAPTER VI.
Gently burnt the hanging lamp before the glass case, wherein glittered the gold and silver frames of the ancestral icons. The flickering light lit faintly the curtained bed, and the table strewn with labelled phials. Near the fireplace sat a servant at her spinning wheel, and only the light sound of her distaff broke the silence.

[Pg 259]

"Who is there?" asked a weak voice. The maid rose instantly, approached the bed, and quietly raised the curtain.

"Will it soon be dawn?" asked Natalia.

"It is already noon," replied the maid.

"Oh, heavens! and why is it so dark?"

"The shutters are closed, miss."

"Then let me dress quickly."

"You must not, miss; the doctor forbids it."

"Am I ill then? How long?"

"Nearly a fortnight now."

"Is it really so? And it seems to me but last night that I went to bed."

Natasha was silent; she tried to collect her scattered thoughts. Something had happened to her, what it was she could not remember. The maid stood before her, awaiting her orders. At that moment a muffled sound was heard below.

"What is it?" asked the patient.

"The masters have finished dinner," answered the attendant; "they are rising from table. Tatiana Afanassievna will be here directly."

Natasha seemed pleased, she waved her feeble hand. The maid dropped the curtain and resumed her seat at the spinning wheel.

A few minutes after, a head, covered with a broad white cap with dark ribbons, peeped through the door and asked in a low voice:

[Pg 260]

"How is Natasha?"

"How do you do, auntie?" said the invalid gently, and Tatiana Afanassievna hurried towards her.

"The young lady is conscious," said the maid, cautiously moving up an easy chair. With tears in her eyes the old lady kissed the pale languid face of her niece, and sat down beside her. Immediately after her came the German doctor in a black caftan and learned wig. He counted Natalia's pulse, and told them first in Latin, then in Russian, that the crisis was over. He asked for paper and ink, wrote a new prescription, and departed. The old lady rose, kissed Natalia again, and at once went down with the good news to Gavril Afanassievitch.

In the drawing-room in full uniform, with sword and hat in hand, sat the royal negro, talking respectfully with Gavril Afanassievitch. Korsakoff, stretched full length upon a downy couch, reclined, listening to their conversation while he teased the greyhound. Tired of this occupation, he approached a mirror, the usual refuge of the idle, and in it saw Tatiana Afanassievna behind the door making unperceived signs to her brother.

"You are wanted, Gavril Afanassievitch," said Korsakoff to him, interrupting Ibrahim.

Gavril Afanassievitch instantly went to his sister, closing the door behind him.

[Pg 261]

"I am astonished at your patience," said Korsakoff to Ibrahim. "A whole hour have you been listening to ravings about the ancient descent of the Lykoffs and the Rjevskis, and have even added your own moral observations. In your place j'aurais planté la the old liar and all his race, including Natalia Gavrilovna, who is only affected and shamming illness, une petite santé. Tell me truly, is it possible that you are in love with that little mijaurée?"

"No," replied Ibrahim, "I am of course marrying, not from love, but from consideration, and that only if she has no actual dislike for me." "Listen, Ibrahim," said Korsakoff, "for once take my advice; really I am wiser than I look. Give up this silly idea—don't marry. It seems to me that your chosen bride has no particular liking for you. Don't many things happen in this world? For instance: of course I am not bad looking, but it has happened to me to deceive husbands who were really not a whit my inferior. Yourself too.... you remember our Parisian friend Count L.? A woman's fidelity cannot be counted on. Happy is he who can bear the change with equanimity. But you! with "your passionate, brooding, and suspicious nature, with your flat nose, thick lips, is it with these that you propose to rush into all the dangers of matrimony?"

"Thank you for your friendly advice," said[Pg 262] Ibrahim, coldly; "you know the proverb: 'it is not your duty to rock other folk's children.'"

"Take care, Ibrahim," replied Korsakoff, smiling, "that it does not fall to your lot to illustrate that proverb literally later on."

The conversation in the next room waxed hot.

"You will kill her," the old lady was saying; "she cannot bear the sight of him."

"But just consider," replied her obstinate brother. "For a fortnight now he has been calling as her accepted bridegroom, and hitherto has not seen his bride. He might think a............
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