“Oh, you are right again,” said the fair-haired traveller, “for I really am _almost_ wrong when I say she and I are related. She is hardly a relation at all; so little, in fact, that I was not in the least surprised to have no answer to my letter. I expected as much.”
“Listen, Lebedeff,” began the prince, quite overwhelmed; “_do_ act quietly--don’t make a scandal, Lebedeff, I ask you--I entreat you! No one must know--_no one_, mind! In that case only, I will help you.”
“What was the matter yesterday?” (she wrote on another sheet). “I passed by you, and you seemed to me to _blush_. Perhaps it was only my fancy. If I were to bring you to the most loathsome den, and show you the revelation of undisguised vice--you should not blush. You can never feel the sense of personal affront. You may hate all who are mean, or base, or unworthy--but not for yourself--only for those whom they wrong. No one can wrong _you_. Do you know, I think you ought to love me--for you are the same in my eyes as in his--you are as light. An angel cannot hate, perhaps cannot love, either. I often ask myself--is it possible to love everybody? Indeed it is not; it is not in nature. Abstract love of humanity is nearly always love of self. But you are different. You cannot help loving all, since you can compare with none, and are above all personal offence or anger. Oh! how bitter it would be to me to know that you felt anger or shame on my account, for that would be your fall--you would become comparable at once with such as me.
Everyone gasped; some even crossed themselves.
“It was--about--you saw her--”
“Mr. Terentieff,” said the prince.
“H’m! Prince Muishkin is not Ferdishenko,” said the general, impatiently. This worthy gentleman could never quite reconcile himself to the idea of meeting Ferdishenko in society, and on an equal footing.
“Look here, my dear sir,” he began, addressing Ptitsin in a very loud tone of voice; “if you have really made up your mind to sacrifice an old man--your father too or at all events father of your wife--an old man who has served his emperor--to a wretched little atheist like this, all I can say is, sir, my foot shall cease to tread your floors. Make your choice, sir; make your choice quickly, if you please! Me or this--screw! Yes, screw, sir; I said it accidentally, but let the word stand--this screw, for he screws and drills himself into my soul--”
“I am very glad, too, because she is often laughed at by people. But listen to the chief point. I have long thought over the matter, and at last I have chosen you. I don’t wish people to laugh at me; I don’t wish people to think me a ‘little fool.’ I don’t want to be chaffed. I felt all this of a sudden, and I refused Evgenie Pavlovitch flatly, because I am not going to be forever thrown at people’s heads to be married. I want--I want--well, I’ll tell you, I wish to run away from home, and I have chosen you to help me.”
“The fact of the matter is that all this _does_ exist, but that we know absolutely nothing about the future life and its laws!
“I should think so indeed!” cried the latter. “The court-martial came to no decision. It was a mysterious, an impossible business, one might say! Captain Larionoff, commander of the company, had died; his command was handed over to the prince for the moment. Very well. This soldier, Kolpakoff, stole some leather from one of his comrades, intending to sell it, and spent the money on drink. Well! The prince--you understand that what follows took place in the presence of the sergeant-major, and a corporal--the prince rated Kolpakoff soundly, and threatened to have him flogged. Well, Kolpakoff went back to the barracks, lay down on a camp bedstead, and in a quarter of an hour was dead: you quite understand? It was, as I said, a strange, almost impossible, affair. In due course Kolpakoff was buried; the prince wrote his report, the deceased’s name was removed from the roll. All as it should be, is it not? But exactly three months later at the inspection of the brigade, the man Kolpakoff was found in the third company of the second battalion of infantry, Novozemlianski division, just as if nothing had happened!”
“He has lost his breath now!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna coldly, looking at him with more curiosity than pity: “Come, my dear boy, that is quite enough--let us make an end of this.”
“No finessing, please. What did you write about?”
The clerk, rather confused, tried to say something, hesitated, began to speak, and again stopped. The prince looked at him gravely.
“Why are you ashamed of your stories the moment after you have told them?” asked Aglaya, suddenly.
“I really think I must request you to step into the next room!” he said, with all the insistence he could muster.
Half an hour after this conversation, she went off to town, and thence to the Kammenny Ostrof, [“Stone Island,” a suburb and park of St. Petersburg] to see Princess Bielokonski, who had just arrived from Moscow on a short visit. The princess was Aglaya’s godmother.
“What! didn’t I tell you? Ha, ha, ha! I thought I had. Why, I received a letter, you know, to be handed over--”
And again he stood like a log in the middle of the pavement; so amazed that his mouth remained open after the last word had left it.
“No--no--my dear girl,” began the general. “You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that’s how the matter stands. It’s impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but--Lizabetha Prokofievna!”--he appealed to his spouse for help--“you must really--”
Totski ended his tale with the same dignity that had characterized its commencement.
Lebedeff began to grin again, rubbed his hands, sneezed, but spoke not a word in reply.
“Do you like the position of it? Sometimes of a morning early, at seven o’clock, when all the rest are still asleep, I come out and sit there alone.”
“Yes... from you it is quite natural.”
“Of course I looked there,--of course I did! Very much so! I looked and scrambled about, and felt for it, and wouldn’t believe it was not there, and looked again and again. It is always so in such cases. One longs and expects to find a lost article; one sees it is not there, and the place is as bare as one’s palm; and yet one returns and looks again and again, fifteen or twenty times, likely enough!”
But Muishkin had risen, and was on his way to open the door for his visitors.
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
“What you say is quite true,” observed General Epanchin; then, clasping his hands behind his back, he returned to his place on the terrace steps, where he yawned with an air of boredom.
“If so, you are a heartless man!” cried Aglaya. “As if you can’t see that it is not myself she loves, but you, you, and only you! Surely you have not remarked everything else in her, and only not _this?_ Do you know what these letters mean? They mean jealousy, sir--nothing but pure jealousy! She--do you think she will ever really marry this Rogojin, as she says here she will? She would take her own life the day after you and I were married.”
“Reading? None of your reading now!” said somebody; “it’s supper-time.” “What sort of an article is it? For a paper? Probably it’s very dull,” said another. But the prince’s timid gesture had impressed even Hippolyte.
“I hardly knew him; he is much changed, and for the better!”
But Vera, simple-minded little girl that she was (just like a boy, in fact), here became dreadfully confused, of a sudden, and ran hastily out of the room, laughing and blushing.
“Why, how could she--”
“You’ve lost four hundred roubles? Oh! I’m sorry for that.”
“That Nastasia Philipovna will accept you, and that the question is as good as settled; and secondly, that even if she did, you would be able to pocket the money. Of course, I know very little about it, but that’s my view. When a man marries for money it often happens that the wife keeps the money in her own hands.”
This idea was, that if Rogojin were in Petersburg, though he might hide for a time, yet he was quite sure to come to him--the prince--before long, with either good or evil intentions, but probably with the same intention as on that other occasion. At all events, if Rogojin were to come at all he would be sure to seek the prince here--he had no other town address--perhaps in this same corridor; he might well seek him here if he needed him. And perhaps he did need him. This idea seemed quite natural to the prince, though he could not have explained why he should so suddenly have become necessary to Rogojin. Rogojin would not come if all were well with him, that was part of the thought; he would come if all were not well; and certainly, undoubtedly, all would not be well with him. The prince could not bear this new idea; he took his hat and rushed out towards the street. It was almost dark in the passage.
“She has not said ‘no,’ up to now, and that’s all. It was sure to be so with her. You know what she is like. You know how absurdly shy she is. You remember how she used to hide in a cupboard as a child, so as to avoid seeing visitors, for hours at a time. She is just the same now; but, do you know, I think there is something serious in the matter, even from her side; I feel it, somehow. She laughs at the prince, they say, from morn to night in order to hide her real feelings; but you may be sure she finds occasion to say something or other to him on the sly, for he himself is in a state of radiant happiness. He walks in the clouds; they say he is extremely funny just now; I heard it from themselves. They seemed to be laughing at me in their sleeves--those elder girls--I don’t know why.”
“You saw me as a child!” exclaimed the prince, with surprise.
“Hey! look at it, it’ll burn in another minute or two!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “You’ll hang yourself afterwards, you know, if it does! I’m not joking.”
“Why do you say all this here?” cried Aglaya, suddenly. “Why do you talk like this to _them?_”
“A nap?” shrieked the general. “I am not drunk, sir; you insult me! I see,” he continued, rising, “I see that all are against me here. Enough--I go; but know, sirs--know that--”
“Why, where are you going to squeeze lodgers in here? Don’t you use a study? Does this sort of thing pay?” she added, turning to Nina Alexandrovna.
According to the reports of the most talented gossip-mongers--those who, in every class of society, are always in haste to explain every event to their neighbours--the young gentleman concerned was of good family--a prince--fairly rich--weak of intellect, but a democrat and a dabbler in the Nihilism of the period, as exposed by Mr. Turgenieff. He could hardly talk Russian, but had fallen in love with one of the Miss Epanchins, and his suit met with so much encouragement that he had been received in the house as the recognized bridegroom-to-be of the young lady. But like the Frenchman of whom the story is told that he studied for holy orders, took all the oaths, was ordained priest, and next morning wrote to his bishop informing him that, as he did not believe in God and considered it wrong to deceive the people and live upon their pockets, he begged to surrender the orders conferred upon him the day before, and to inform his lordship that he was sending this letter to the public press,--like this Frenchman, the prince played a false game. It was rumoured that he had purposely waited for the solemn occasion of a large evening party at the house of his future bride, at which he was introduced to several eminent persons, in order publicly to make known his ideas and opinions, and thereby insult the “big-wigs,” and to throw over his bride as offensively as possible; and that, resisting the servants who were told off to turn him out of the house, he had seized and thrown down a magnificent china vase. As a characteristic addition to the above, it was currently reported that the young prince really loved the lady to whom he was engaged, and had thrown her over out of purely Nihilistic motives, with the intention of giving himself the satisfaction of marrying a fallen woman in the face of all the world, thereby publishing his opinion that there is no distinction between virtuous and disreputable women, but that all women are alike, free; and a “fallen” woman, indeed, somewhat superior to a virtuous one.
“Be silent! At once!” interrupted the prince, red with indignation, and perhaps with shame, too. “It is impossible and absurd! All that has been invented by you, or fools like you! Let me never hear you say a word again on that subject!”
No sooner had his sister left him alone, than Gania took the note out of his pocket, kissed it, and pirouetted around.
“It was a dream, of course,” he said, musingly. “Strange that I should have a dream like that at such a moment. Sit down--”
“Ah, there I am _really_ talented! I may say I am a real caligraphist. Let me write you something, just to show you,” said the prince, with some excitement.
“It was engineered by other people, and is, properly speaking, rather a fantasy than an intrigue!”
“Take care, don’t commit yourself for a whole lifetime.”
“If that is the case, why did you begin by making such a fuss about it?” asked the astonished prince.
“I give you my word of honour that I had nothing to do with the matter and know nothing about it.”
“In point of fact I don’t think I thought much about it,” said the old fellow. He seemed to have a wonderfully good memory, however, for he told the prince all about the two old ladies, Pavlicheff’s cousins, who had taken care of him, and whom, he declared, he had taken to task for being too severe with the prince as a small sickly boy--the elder sister, at least; the younger had been kind, he recollected. They both now lived in another province, on a small estate left to them by Pavlicheff. The prince listened to all this with eyes sparkling with emotion and delight.
“Oh, come--nonsense!” cried Gania; “if you did not go shaming us all over the town, things might be better for all parties.”
“Wonderful!” said Gania. “And he knows it too,” he added, with a sarcastic smile.
“Won’t you be ashamed, afterwards, to reflect that your wife very nearly ran away with Rogojin?”
“You are crying, aren’t you?”
“Wasn’t she joking? She was speaking sarcastically!”
Colia’s eyes flashed as he listened.
“How dare you speak so to me?” she said, with a haughtiness which was quite indescribable, replying to Nastasia’s last remark.
The prince looked at him, but said nothing. He had suddenly relapsed into musing, and had probably not heard the question at all. Rogojin did not insist upon an answer, and there was silence for a few moments.
Hippolyte had been waiting for the prince all this time, and had never ceased looking at him and Evgenie Pavlovitch as they conversed in the corner. He became much excited when they approached the table once more. He was disturbed in his mind, it seemed; perspiration stood in large drops on his forehead; in his gleaming eyes it was easy to read impatience and agitation; his gaze wandered from face to face of those present, and from object to object in the room, apparently without aim. He had taken a part, and an animated one, in the noisy conversation of the company; but his animation was clearly the outcome of fever. His talk was almost incoherent; he would break off in the middle of a sentence which he had begun with great interest, and forget what he had been saying. The prince discovered to his dismay that Hippolyte had been allowed to drink two large glasses of champagne; the one now standing by him being the third. All this he found out afterwards; at the moment he did not notice anything, very particularly.
It was generally agreed, afterwards, in recalling that evening, that from this moment Nastasia Philipovna seemed entirely to lose her senses. She continued to sit still in her place, looking around at her guests with a strange, bewildered expression, as though she were trying to collect her thoughts, and could not. Then she suddenly turned to the prince, and glared at him with frowning brows; but this only lasted one moment. Perhaps it suddenly struck her that all this was a jest, but his face seemed to reassure her. She reflected, and smiled again, vaguely.
“Asleep?” whispered the prince.
“There, you see! Even your own son supports my statement that there never was such a person as Captain Eropegoff!” that the old fellow muttered confusedly:
The prince blushed, but this time he said nothing. Colia burst out laughing and clapped his hands. A minute later the prince laughed too, and from this moment until the evening he looked at his watch every other minute to see how much time he had to wait before evening came.
“Then I read it,” said Hippolyte, in the tone of one bowing to the fiat of destiny. He could not have grown paler if a verdict of death had suddenly been presented to him.
“Yes, what is it?” asked others. The packet sealed with red wax seemed to attract everyone, as though it were a magnet.
It was late now, nearly half-past two, and the prince did not find General Epanchin at home. He left a card, and determined to look up Colia, who had a room at a small hotel near. Colia was not in, but he was informed that he might be back shortly, and had left word that if he were not in by half-past three it was to be understood that he had gone to Pavlofsk to General Epanchin’s, and would dine there. The prince decided to wait till half-past three, and ordered some dinner. At half-past three there was no sign of Colia. The prince waited until four o’clock, and then strolled off mechanically wherever his feet should carry him.
“Oh, no; oh, no! Not to theology alone, I assure you! Why, Socialism is the progeny of Romanism and of the Romanistic spirit. It and its brother Atheism proceed from Despair in opposition to Catholicism. It seeks to replace in itself the moral power of religion, in order to appease the spiritual thirst of parched humanity and save it; not by Christ, but by force. ‘Don’t dare to believe in God, don’t dare to possess any individuality, any property! _Fraternité ou la Mort_; two million heads. ‘By their works ye shall know them’--we are told. And we must not suppose that all this is harmless and without danger to ourselves. Oh, no; we must resist, and quickly, quickly! We must let our Christ shine forth upon the Western nations, our Christ whom we have preserved intact, and whom they have never known. Not as slaves, allowing ourselves to be caught by the hooks of the Jesuits, but carrying our Russian civilization to _them_, we must stand before them, not letting it be said among us that their preaching is ‘skilful,’ as someone expressed it just now.”
“It was only out of generosity, madame,” he said in a resonant voice, “and because I would not betray a friend in an awkward position, that I did not mention this revision before; though you heard him yourself threatening to kick us down the steps. To clear the matter up, I declare now that I did have recourse to his assistance, and that I paid him six roubles for it. But I did not ask him to correct my style; I simply went to him for information concerning the facts, of which I was ignorant to a great extent, and which he was competent to give. The story of the gaiters, the appetite in the Swiss professor’s house, the substitution of fifty roubles for two hundred and fifty--all such details, in fact, were got from him. I paid him six roubles for them; but he did not correct the style.”
“Because he _didn’t_ exist--never could and never did--there! You’d better drop the subject, I warn you!”
“Pavlicheff?--Pavlicheff turned Roman Catholic? Impossible!” he cried, in horror.
The question as to what she might have to say of special interest to himself occurred to him once or twice. He did not doubt, for a moment, that she really had some such subject of conversation in store, but so very little interested in the matter was he that it did not strike him to wonder what it could be. The crunch of gravel on the path suddenly caused him to raise his head.
“Burning for nothing,” shouted others.
“Ardalion,” said Nina Alexandrovitch, entreatingly.
“My doctor insisted on my sitting down again to get my breath. He now said something to his wife who, without leaving her place, addressed a few words of gratitude and courtesy to me. She seemed very shy over it, and her sickly face flushed up with confusion. I remained, but with the air of a man who knows he is intruding and is anxious to get away. The doctor’s remorse at last seemed to need a vent, I could see.
“Of course you have your own lodging at Pavlofsk at--at your daughter’s house,” began the prince, quite at a loss what to say. He suddenly recollected that the general had come for advice on a most important matter, affecting his destiny.
“Excuse me; I was able to deliver it almost immediately after receiving your commission, and I gave it, too, just as you asked me to. It has come into my hands now because Aglaya Ivanovna has just returned it to me.”
The prince shuddered.
“I continued in that strain for a long while, pointing out to Bachmatoff how impossible it is to follow up the effects of any isolated good deed one may do, in all its influences and subtle workings upon the heart and after-actions of others.
The prince gazed into his face with pleasure, but still seemed to have no power to speak. His breath failed him. The old man’s face pleased him greatly.
Hippolyte went out.
He spoke so seriously in addressing Lebedeff, that his tone contrasted quite comically with that of the others. They were very nearly laughing at him, too, but he did not notice it.
“Not for anything!” cried the other; “no, no, no!”
But Gania first conducted the prince to the family apartments. These consisted of a “salon,” which became the dining-room when required; a drawing-room, which was only a drawing-room in the morning, and became Gania’s study in the evening, and his bedroom at night; and lastly Nina Alexandrovna’s and Varvara’s bedroom, a small, close chamber which they shared together.
“It is accursed, certainly accursed!” replied the clerk, vehemently.
“Well, a day or two afterwards, when I returned from drill, Nikifor says to me: ‘We oughtn’t to have left our tureen with the old lady, I’ve nothing to serve the soup in.’
It so happened that Prince S---- introduced a distant relation of his own into the Epanchin family--one Evgenie Pavlovitch, a young officer of about twenty-eight years of age, whose conquests among the ladies in Moscow had been proverbial. This young gentleman no sooner set eyes on Aglaya than he became a frequent visitor at the house. He was witty, well-educated, and extremely wealthy, as the general very soon discovered. His past reputation was the only thing against him.
“Oh-h-h! I’m sorry for that. I thought you were. I wonder why I always thought so--but at all events you’ll help me, won’t you? Because I’ve chosen you, you know.”
The general rose.
“Oh, but think how delightful to hear how one’s friends lie! Besides you needn’t be afraid, Gania; everybody knows what your worst action is without the need of any lying on your part. Only think, gentlemen,”--and Ferdishenko here grew quite enthusiastic, “only think with what eyes we shall observe one another tomorrow, after our tales have been told!”
“No--no, impossible!” said Evgenie, rising.
“Do go on, Ferdishenko, and don’t make unnecessary preface, or you’ll never finish,” said Nastasia Philipovna. All observed how irritable and cross she had become since her last burst of laughter; but none the less obstinately did she stick to her absurd whim about this new game. Totski sat looking miserable enough. The general lingered over his champagne, and seemed to be thinking of some story for the time when his turn should come.
“I certainly thought they invited you with quite other views.”
“Yours. You forbade me yourself to mention it before you, most excellent prince,” murmured Lebedeff. Then, satisfied that he had worked up Muishkin’s curiosity to the highest pitch, he added abruptly: “She is afraid of Aglaya Ivanovna.”