Chapter 32The 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 Peterburg, 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 afterward Varenka had not a relation of her own living.
Madame Stahl had now been living without a break, more than ten years abroad, in the south, never leaving her couch. And some people said that Madame Stahl had made her social position as a philanthropic, highly religious woman; other people said she really was at heart the highly ethical being, living for nothing but the good of her fellow creatures, which she represented herself to be. No one knew what her faith was - Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. But one fact was indubitable - she was in amicable relations with the highest dignitaries of all the churches and sects.
Varenka lived with her all the while abroad, and everyone who knew Madame Stahl knew and liked Mademoiselle Varenka, as everyone called her.
Having learned all these facts, the Princess found nothing to object to in her daughter's intimacy with Varenka, more especially as Varenka's breeding and education were of the best - she spoke French and English extremely well - and, what was of the most weight, brought a message from Madame Stahl expressing her regret that she had been prevented by her ill-health from making the acquaintance of the Princess.
After getting to know Varenka, Kitty became more and more fascinated by her friend, and every day she discovered new virtues in her.
The Princess, hearing that Varenka had a good voice, asked her to come and sing to them in the evening.
`Kitty plays, and we have a piano; not a good one, it's true, but you will give us so much pleasure,' said the Princess with her affected smile, which Kitty disliked particularly just then, because she noticed that Varenka had no inclination to sing. Varenka came, however, in the evening, and brought a roll of music with her. The Princess had invited Marya Eugenyevna and her daughter, and the colonel.
Varenka seemed quite unaffected by the presence of persons whom she did not know, and she went directly to the piano. She could not accompany herself, but she could sing music at sight very well. Kitty, who played well, accompanied her.
`You have an extraordinary talent,' the Princess said to her after Varenka had sung the first song excellently.
Marya Eugenyevna and her daughter expressed their thanks and admiration.
`Look,' said the colonel, looking out of the window, `what an audience has collected to listen to you.'
There actually was a considerable crowd under the windows.
`I am very glad it gives you pleasure,' Varenka answered simply.
Kitty looked with pride at her friend. She was enchanted by her talent, and her voice, and her face, but most of all by her manner, by Varenka's obviously thinking nothing of her singing and being quite unmoved by their praise. She seemed only to be asking: `Am I to sing again, or is that enough?'
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