“What a good deed you did yesterday to our poor compatriot!” said the princess.
Varenka flushed a little. “I don’t remember. I don’t think I did anything,” she said.
“Why, you saved that Levin from disagreeable consequences.”
“Yes, sa compagne called me, and I tried to pacify him, he’s very ill, and was dissatisfied with the doctor. I’m used to looking after such invalids.”
“Yes, I’ve heard you live at Mentone with your aunt—I think— Madame Stahl: I used to know her belle-soeur.”
“No, she’s not my aunt. I call her mamma, but I am not related to her; I was brought up by her,” answered Varenka, flushing a little again.
This was so simply said, and so sweet was the truthful and candid expression of her face, that the princess saw why Kitty had taken such a fancy to Varenka.
“Well, and what’s this Levin going to do?” asked the princess.
“He’s going away,” answered Varenka.
At that instant Kitty came up from the spring beaming with delight that her mother had become acquainted with her unknown friend.
“Well, see, Kitty, your intense desire to make friends with Mademoiselle. . .”
“Varenka,” Varenka put in smiling, “that’s what everyone calls me.”
Kitty blushed with pleasure, and slowly, without speaking, pressed her new friend’s hand, which did not respond to her pressure, but lay motionless in her hand. The hand did not respond to her pressure, but the face of Mademoiselle Varenka glowed with a soft, glad, though rather mournful smile, that showed large but handsome teeth.
“I have long wished for this too,” she said.
“But you are so busy.”
“Oh, no, I’m not at all busy,” answered Varenka, but at that moment she had to leave her new friends because two little Russian girls, children of an invalid, ran up to her.
“Varenka, mamma’s calling!” they cried.
And Varenka went after them.
The particulars which the princess had learned in regard to Varenka’s past and her relations with Madame Stahl were as follows:
Madame Stahl, of whom some people said that she had worried her husband out of his life, while others said it was he who had made her wretched by his immoral behavior, had always been a woman of weak health and enthusiastic temperament. When, after her separation from her husband, she gave birth to her only child, the child had died almost immediately, and the family of Madame Stahl, knowing her sensibility, and fearing the news would kill her, had substituted another child, a baby born the same night and in the same house in Petersburg, the daughter of the chief cook of the Imperial Household. This was Varenka. Madame Stahl learned later on that Varenka was not her own child, but she went on bringing her up, especially as very soon afterwards Varenka had not a relation