"I scarcely know. . . . He is so fond of ridiculing everybody. I do not like Aleksey Ivanovitch. I have an antipathy for him, and yet it is strange, I should not like to displease him. It would make me very anxious."
"And what do you think, Maria Ivanovna? does he like you or not?"
Maria Ivanovna looked confused and blushed.
"I think," she said, "I think I do please him."
"But why do you think so?"
"Because he proposed to me."
"Proposed! he proposed to you! when?"
"Last year. Two months before your arrival."
"And you did not accept him?"
"I did not, as you see. Aleksey Ivanovitch is, of course, a clever man, of good birth, and some fortune; but when I think that I should have to kiss him in the presence of everybody under the crown—never! not for anything in the world."
Maria Ivanovna's words opened my eyes and explained a great many things to me. I understood why Shvabrine persisted in slandering her. He had probably noticed our mutual liking, and wished to draw us away from each other. The words which had given rise to our quarrel appeared to me to be still more abominable, when I discovered in them a premeditated calumny, and not only a coarse indecent joke. The desire to punish the daring caluminator became stronger within me, and I impatiently awaited a fitting opportunity.
- Crowns are held over the heads of the bride and bridegroom during the marriage ceremony.—Tr.