All three of the Miss Epanchins were fine, healthy girls, well- grown, with good
shoulders and busts, and strong--almost masculine--hands; and, of course, with all the
above attributes, they enjoyed capital appetites, of which they were not in the least
Elizabetha Prokofievna sometimes informed the girls that they were a little too candid in
this matter, but in spite of their outward deference to their mother these three young
women, in solemn conclave, had long agreed to modify the unquestioning obedience
which they had been in the habit of according to her; and Mrs. General Epanchin had
judged it better to say nothing about it, though, of course, she was well aware of the
It is true that her nature sometimes rebelled against these dictates of reason, and that
she grew yearly more capricious and impatient; but having a respectful and well-
disciplined husband under her thumb at all times, she found it possible, as a rule, to
empty any little accumulations of spleen upon his head, and therefore the harmony of
the family was kept duly balanced, and things went as smoothly as family matters can.
Mrs. Epanchin had a fair appetite herself, and generally took her share of the capital
mid-day lunch which was always served for the girls, and which was nearly as good as
a dinner. The young ladies used to have a cup of coffee each before this meal, at ten
o'clock, while still in bed. This was a favourite and unalterable arrangement with them.
At half-past twelve, the table was laid in the small dining-room, and occasionally the
general himself appeared at the family gathering, if he had time.
Besides tea and coffee, cheese, honey, butter, pan-cakes of various kinds (the lady of
the house loved these best), cutlets, and so on, there was generally strong beef soup,
and other substantial delicacies.
On the particular morning on which our story has opened, the family had assembled in
the dining-room, and were waiting the general's appearance, the latter having promised
to come this day. If he had been one moment late, he would have been sent for at once;
but he turned up punctually.
As he came forward to wish his wife good-morning and kiss her hands, as his custom
was, he observed something in her look which boded ill. He thought he knew the
reason, and had expected it, but still, he was not altogether comfortable. His daughters
advanced to kiss him, too, and though they did not look exactly angry, there was
something strange in their expression as well.