“Dear me! This is very unpleasant!”

“Suddenly the monster reappeared; it crawled slowly across the room and made for the door, as though with some fixed intention, and with a slow movement that was more horrible than ever.

One way or the other the question was to be decided at last--finally.

“I assure you, you are under a delusion,” said the prince, calmly and politely. “I did not even know that you were to be married.”

“No; because I am unworthy of my sufferings, if you like!”

“And you are not offended?”

She went away in great anxiety about him, but when she saw him in the morning, he seemed to be quite himself again, greeted her with a smile, and told her that he would very likely be back by the evening. It appears that he did not consider it necessary to inform anyone excepting Vera of his departure for town.

“No, not yet. Very likely she never will. I suppose you haven’t forgotten about tonight, have you, Ivan Fedorovitch? You were one of those specially invited, you know.”

The young fellow accompanying the general was about twenty-eight, tall, and well built, with a handsome and clever face, and bright black eyes, full of fun and intelligence.

“What a silly idea,” said the actress. “Of course it is not the case. I have never stolen anything, for one.”

“Quite right!” agreed General Ivolgin in a loud voice.

“And did you learn science and all that, with your professor over there?” asked the black-haired passenger.

Only the prince stopped behind for a moment, as though in indecision; and Evgenie Pavlovitch lingered too, for he had not collected his scattered wits. But the Epanchins had not had time to get more than twenty paces away when a scandalous episode occurred. The young officer, Evgenie Pavlovitch’s friend who had been conversing with Aglaya, said aloud in a great state of indignation:

The words were spoken in a grave tone, and even somewhat shyly.

The prince began to think of Aglaya. She had certainly given him a wonderful smile, both at coming and again at leave-taking, but had not said a word, not even when the others all professed their friendship for him. She had looked very intently at him, but that was all. Her face had been paler than usual; she looked as though she had slept badly.

“Why? do you--”

“Why did you ask me?”

Nastasia must have overheard both question and reply, but her vivacity was not in the least damped. On the contrary, it seemed to increase. She immediately overwhelmed the general once more with questions, and within five minutes that gentleman was as happy as a king, and holding forth at the top of his voice, amid the laughter of almost all who heard him.

“One more second and I should have stopped him,” said Keller, afterwards. In fact, he and Burdovsky jumped into another carriage and set off in pursuit; but it struck them as they drove along that it was not much use trying to bring Nastasia back by force.

“But this is intolerable!” cried the visitors, some of them starting to their feet.

“In our dear country, as indeed in the whole of Europe, a famine visits humanity about four times a century, as far as I can remember; once in every twenty-five years. I won’t swear to this being the exact figure, but anyhow they have become comparatively rare.”

The prince did not hear the rest, because at this point the servant continued his communication in a whisper.

“Ah, you want to arouse our curiosity!” said Aglaya. “And how terribly solemn you are about it!”

However, when he did master the fact, it acted upon him as a tonic by completely distracting his attention. He went at once to Nina Alexandrovna’s, whither the general had been carried, and stayed there until the evening. He could do no good, but there are people whom to have near one is a blessing at such times. Colia was in an almost hysterical state; he cried continuously, but was running about all day, all the same; fetching doctors, of whom he collected three; going to the chemist’s, and so on.

“Well, I don’t mind telling you the truth--you only! Because you see through a man somehow. Words and actions, truth and falsehood, are all jumbled up together in me, and yet I am perfectly sincere. I feel the deepest repentance, believe it or not, as you choose; but words and lies come out in the infernal craving to get the better of other people. It is always there--the notion of cheating people, and of using my repentant tears to my own advantage! I assure you this is the truth, prince! I would not tell any other man for the world! He would laugh and jeer at me--but you, you judge a man humanely.”

He looked intently around him, and wondered why he had come here; he was very tired, so he approached the bench and sat down on it. Around him was profound silence; the music in the Vauxhall was over. The park seemed quite empty, though it was not, in reality, later than half-past eleven. It was a quiet, warm, clear night--a real Petersburg night of early June; but in the dense avenue, where he was sitting, it was almost pitch dark.

“You have no sort of right to suppose such things,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in a tone of authority.

“Oh, I supposed you were coming,” the other replied, smiling sarcastically, “and I was right in my supposition, you see; but how was I to know that you would come _today?_”

“And--and--the general?”

Nastasia Philipovna looked surprised, and smiled, but evidently concealed something beneath her smile and with some confusion and a glance at Gania she left the room.

Muishkin gave him excellent cigars to smoke, and Lebedeff, for his part, regaled him with liqueurs, brought in by Vera, to whom the doctor--a married man and the father of a family--addressed such compliments that she was filled with indignation. They parted friends, and, after leaving the prince, the doctor said to Lebedeff: “If all such people were put under restraint, there would be no one left for keepers.” Lebedeff then, in tragic tones, told of the approaching marriage, whereupon the other nodded his head and replied that, after all, marriages like that were not so rare; that he had heard that the lady was very fascinating and of extraordinary beauty, which was enough to explain the infatuation of a wealthy man; that, further, thanks to the liberality of Totski and of Rogojin, she possessed--so he had heard--not only money, but pearls, diamonds, shawls, and furniture, and consequently she could not be considered a bad match. In brief, it seemed to the doctor that the prince’s choice, far from being a sign of foolishness, denoted, on the contrary, a shrewd, calculating, and practical mind. Lebedeff had been much struck by this point of view, and he terminated his confession by assuring the prince that he was ready, if need be, to shed his very life’s blood for him.

With these words they all moved off towards the drawing-room, where another surprise awaited them. Aglaya had not only not laughed, as she had feared, but had gone to the prince rather timidly, and said to him:

The prince reddened slightly.

“I don’t know what you are driving at; what mask do you mean?” said Mrs. Epanchin, irritably. She began to see pretty clearly though what it meant, and whom they referred to by the generally accepted title of “poor knight.” But what specially annoyed her was that the prince was looking so uncomfortable, and blushing like a ten-year-old child.

Totski ended his tale with the same dignity that had characterized its commencement.

“No, no! Heaven forbid that we should bring Nina Alexandrovna into this business! Or Colia, either. But perhaps I have not yet quite understood you, Lebedeff?”

“It’s a good thing that there is peace in the house, at all events,” he continued. “They never utter a hint about the past, not only in Aglaya’s presence, but even among themselves. The old people are talking of a trip abroad in the autumn, immediately after Adelaida’s wedding; Aglaya received the news in silence.”

But a moment or two afterwards he began to glance keenly about him. That first vision might only too likely be the forerunner of a second; it was almost certain to be so. Surely he had not forgotten the possibility of such a meeting when he came to the Vauxhall? True enough, he had not remarked where he was coming to when he set out with Aglaya; he had not been in a condition to remark anything at all.

But the puzzle and mystery of Aglaya was not yet over for the evening. The last exhibition fell to the lot of the prince alone. When they had proceeded some hundred paces or so from the house, Aglaya said to her obstinately silent cavalier in a quick half-whisper:

Nastasia Philipovna burst out laughing and jumped up from the sofa.

“It hid itself under the cupboard and under the chest of drawers, and crawled into the corners. I sat on a chair and kept my legs tucked under me. Then the beast crawled quietly across the room and disappeared somewhere near my chair. I looked about for it in terror, but I still hoped that as my feet were safely tucked away it would not be able to touch me.

“But after all, what is it? Is it possible that I should have just risked my fate by tossing up?” he went on, shuddering; and looked round him again. His eyes had a curious expression of sincerity. “That is an astonishing psychological fact,” he cried, suddenly addressing the prince, in a tone of the most intense surprise. “It is... it is something quite inconceivable, prince,” he repeated with growing animation, like a man regaining consciousness. “Take note of it, prince, remember it; you collect, I am told, facts concerning capital punishment... They told me so. Ha, ha! My God, how absurd!” He sat down on the sofa, put his elbows on the table, and laid his head on his hands. “It is shameful--though what does it matter to me if it is shameful?

“Well, I don’t mind telling you the truth--you only! Because you see through a man somehow. Words and actions, truth and falsehood, are all jumbled up together in me, and yet I am perfectly sincere. I feel the deepest repentance, believe it or not, as you choose; but words and lies come out in the infernal craving to get the better of other people. It is always there--the notion of cheating people, and of using my repentant tears to my own advantage! I assure you this is the truth, prince! I would not tell any other man for the world! He would laugh and jeer at me--but you, you judge a man humanely.”

The prince followed her.

“It is not my intrigue!” cried Lebedeff, waving his hand.

“What! didn’t I tell you? Ha, ha, ha! I thought I had. Why, I received a letter, you know, to be handed over--”

“No one ever thought of such a thing! There has never been a word said about it!” cried Alexandra.

“What? Surrender her to _you?_” cried Daria Alexeyevna. “To a fellow who comes and bargains for a wife like a moujik! The prince wishes to marry her, and you--”

It so happened, however, that on this particular evening all these good people were in excellent humour and highly pleased with themselves. Every one of them felt that they were doing the Epanchins the greatest possible honour by their presence. But alas! the prince never suspected any such subtleties! For instance, he had no suspicion of the fact that the Epanchins, having in their mind so important a step as the marriage of their daughter, would never think of presuming to take it without having previously “shown off” the proposed husband to the dignitary--the recognized patron of the family. The latter, too, though he would probably have received news of a great disaster to the Epanchin family with perfect composure, would nevertheless have considered it a personal offence if they had dared to marry their daughter without his advice, or we might almost say, his leave.

“I will explain my idea by a practical example, to make it clearer. You know the sort of man he is. At present his only failing is that he is crazy about that captain’s widow, and he cannot go to her without money, and I mean to catch him at her house today--for his own good; but supposing it was not only the widow, but that he had committed a real crime, or at least some very dishonourable action (of which he is, of course, incapable), I repeat that even in that case, if he were treated with what I may call generous tenderness, one could get at the whole truth, for he is very soft-hearted! Believe me, he would betray himself before five days were out; he would burst into tears, and make a clean breast of the matter; especially if managed with tact, and if you and his family watched his every step, so to speak. Oh, my dear prince,” Lebedeff added most emphatically, “I do not positively assert that he has... I am ready, as the saying is, to shed my last drop of blood for him this instant; but you will admit that debauchery, drunkenness, and the captain’s widow, all these together may lead him very far.”

“Nothing unexpected. I discovered that it’s all true. My husband was wiser than either of us. Just as he suspected from the beginning, so it has fallen out. Where is he?”

“My father went into the army, too. He was a sub-lieutenant in the Vasiliefsky regiment.”

“Orphans, poor orphans!” he began in a pathetic voice.

“You are deviating from the truth, sir, as usual!” she remarked, boiling over with indignation; “you never carried her in your life!”

“I love you, Aglaya Ivanovna,--I love you very much. I love only you--and--please don’t jest about it, for I do love you very much.”

“My dear, I am quite ready; naturally... the prince.”

“Come,” he said.

“You don’t seem to want to tell us,” said Aglaya, with a mocking air.

“Very glad, I’m particularly hungry. Yes, yes, a strange coincidence--almost a psychological--”

“Nor the general? Ha, ha, ha!”

“What Osterman?” asked the prince in some surprise.

That the prince was almost in a fever was no more than the truth. He wandered about the park for a long while, and at last came to himself in a lonely avenue. He was vaguely conscious that he had already paced this particular walk--from that large, dark tree to the bench at the other end--about a hundred yards altogether--at least thirty times backwards and forwards.

“Oh, I’ve still got it, here!”

“They killed Pushkin that way.”

The prince, however, immediately began, with some show of annoyance, to question Lebedeff categorically, as to the general’s present condition, and his opinion thereon. He described the morning’s interview in a few words.

He declared, further, that he had intended to go every day, but had always been prevented by circumstances; but that now he would promise himself the pleasure--however far it was, he would find them out. And so Ivan Petrovitch _really_ knew Natalia Nikitishna!--what a saintly nature was hers!--and Martha Nikitishna! Ivan Petrovitch must excuse him, but really he was not quite fair on dear old Martha. She was severe, perhaps; but then what else could she be with such a little idiot as he was then? (Ha, ha.) He really was an idiot then, Ivan Petrovitch must know, though he might not believe it. (Ha, ha.) So he had really seen him there! Good heavens! And was he really and truly and actually a cousin of Pavlicheff’s?

“We have evidence. In the first place, his mysterious disappearance at seven o’clock, or even earlier.”

“My dear good Prince Lef Nicolaievitch,” began the general again, suddenly, “both I and Lizabetha Prokofievna--(who has begun to respect you once more, and me through you, goodness knows why!)--we both love you very sincerely, and esteem you, in spite of any appearances to the contrary. But you’ll admit what a riddle it must have been for us when that calm, cold, little spitfire, Aglaya--(for she stood up to her mother and answered her questions with inexpressible contempt, and mine still more so, because, like a fool, I thought it my duty to assert myself as head of the family)--when Aglaya stood up of a sudden and informed us that ‘that madwoman’ (strangely enough, she used exactly the same expression as you did) ‘has taken it into her head to marry me to Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, and therefore is doing her best to choke Evgenie Pavlovitch off, and rid the house of him.’ That’s what she said. She would not give the slightest explanation; she burst out laughing, banged the door, and went away. We all stood there with our mouths open. Well, I was told afterwards of your little passage with Aglaya this afternoon, and--and--dear prince--you are a good, sensible fellow, don’t be angry if I speak out--she is laughing at you, my boy! She is enjoying herself like a child, at your expense, and therefore, since she is a child, don’t be angry with her, and don’t think anything of it. I assure you, she is simply making a fool of you, just as she does with one and all of us out of pure lack of something better to do. Well--good-bye! You know our feelings, don’t you--our sincere feelings for yourself? They are unalterable, you know, dear boy, under all circumstances, but--Well, here we part; I must go down to the right. Rarely have I sat so uncomfortably in my saddle, as they say, as I now sit. And people talk of the charms of a country holiday!”

“Ferdishenko,” he said, gazing intently and inquiringly into the prince’s eyes.

“Your son, indeed! A nice papa you are! _You_ might have come to see me anyhow, without compromising anyone. Do you hide yourself, or does your son hide you?”

“Why, how strange!” he ejaculated. “You didn’t answer me seriously, surely, did you?”

All around, on the bed, on a chair beside it, on the floor, were scattered the different portions of a magnificent white silk dress, bits of lace, ribbons and flowers. On a small table at the bedside glittered a mass of diamonds, torn off and thrown down anyhow. From under a heap of lace at the end of the bed peeped a small white foot, which looked as though it had been chiselled out of marble; it was terribly still.

“My word! what a thing to be melancholy about! Why, do you think I should be any happier if I were to feel disturbed about the excavations you tell me of?”

“How beautiful that is!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, with sincere admiration. “Whose is it?”

“I guessed which was your house from a hundred yards off,” said the prince at last.

“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”

At this idea, he burst out laughing all at once, in quite unaffected mirth, and without giving any explanation.

Nastasia Philipovna was at this moment passing the young ladies’ chairs.

Seeing him laugh, Lebedeff thought fit to laugh also, and though much agitated his satisfaction was quite visible.

“_She_ is insane,” muttered the prince, suddenly recollecting all that had passed, with a spasm of pain at his heart.

“Well, how anybody can call you an idiot after that, is more than I can understand!” cried the boxer.

They passed through the same rooms which the prince had traversed on his arrival. In the largest there were pictures on the walls, portraits and landscapes of little interest. Over the door, however, there was one of strange and rather striking shape; it was six or seven feet in length, and not more than a foot in height. It represented the Saviour just taken from the cross.

“What, you here too, prince?” said Rogojin, absently, but a little surprised all the same “Still in your gaiters, eh?” He sighed, and forgot the prince next moment, and his wild eyes wandered over to Nastasia again, as though attracted in that direction by some magnetic force.

“Oh, no, it is not the point, not a bit. It makes no difference, my marrying her--it means nothing.”

“Oh no! not at all--I--”

Aglaya wanted to be angry, of course, but suddenly some quite unexpected feeling seized upon her heart, all in a moment.

“Oh! do stop--you are too absurd!”

“There’s news!” said the general in some excitement, after listening to the story with engrossed attention.

“Shut up, Gania!” said Colia.

This is the reason why he was so unwilling to take lunch (on the morning upon which we took up this narrative) with the rest of his family. Before the prince’s arrival he had made up his mind to plead business, and “cut” the meal; which simply meant running away.

“Let it to me,” said the prince.

“Of course,” remarked General Epanchin, “he does this out of pure innocence. It’s a little dangerous, perhaps, to encourage this sort of freedom; but it is rather a good thing that he has arrived just at this moment. He may enliven us a little with his originalities.”

“Who said that, Colia?”

“Do you see those brightly-lighted windows?” said the general. “Many of my old comrades-in-arms live about here, and I, who served longer, and suffered more than any of them, am walking on foot to the house of a woman of rather questionable reputation! A man, look you, who has thirteen bullets on his breast!... You don’t believe it? Well, I can assure you it was entirely on my account that Pirogoff telegraphed to Paris, and left Sebastopol at the greatest risk during the siege. Nelaton, the Tuileries surgeon, demanded a safe conduct, in the name of science, into the besieged city in order to attend my wounds. The government knows all about it. ‘That’s the Ivolgin with thirteen bullets in him!’ That’s how they speak of me.... Do you see that house, prince? One of my old friends lives on the first floor, with his large family. In this and five other houses, three overlooking Nevsky, two in the Morskaya, are all that remain of my personal friends. Nina Alexandrovna gave them up long ago, but I keep in touch with them still... I may say I find refreshment in this little coterie, in thus meeting my old acquaintances and subordinates, who worship me still, in spite of all. General Sokolovitch (by the way, I have not called on him lately, or seen Anna Fedorovna)... You know, my dear prince, when a person does not receive company himself, he gives up going to other people’s houses involuntarily. And yet... well... you look as if you didn’t believe me.... Well now, why should I not present the son of my old friend and companion to this delightful family--General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin? You will see a lovely girl--what am I saying--a lovely girl? No, indeed, two, three! Ornaments of this city and of society: beauty, education, culture--the woman question--poetry--everything! Added to which is the fact that each one will have a dot of at least eighty thousand roubles. No bad thing, eh?... In a word I absolutely must introduce you to them: it is a duty, an obligation. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin. Tableau!”

“Away, out of the way!” cried Nastasia. “Make room, all of you! Gania, what are you standing there for? Don’t stand on ceremony. Put in your hand! There’s your whole happiness smouldering away, look! Quick!”

At last he was wide awake.

The prince was instantly covered with confusion; for it appeared to be plain that everyone expected something of him--that everyone looked at him as though anxious to congratulate him, and greeted him with hints, and smiles, and knowing looks.

“Just wait a while, my boy!” said she; “don’t be too certain of your triumph.” And she sat down heavily, in the arm-chair pushed forward by the prince.

“Hippolyte,” said the prince, “give me the papers, and go to bed like a sensible fellow. We’ll have a good talk tomorrow, but you really mustn’t go on with this reading; it is not good for you!”

Lebedeff strained his eyes and ears to take in what the prince was saying. The latter was frowning more and more, and walking excitedly up and down, trying not to look at Lebedeff.