“What do you see?” said the prince, startled.
According to Lebedeff’s account, he had first tried what he could do with General Epanchin. The latter informed him that he wished well to the unfortunate young man, and would gladly do what he could to “save him,” but that he did not think it would be seemly for him to interfere in this matter. Lizabetha Prokofievna would neither hear nor see him. Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch only shrugged their shoulders, and implied that it was no business of theirs. However, Lebedeff had not lost heart, and went off to a clever lawyer,--a worthy and respectable man, whom he knew well. This old gentleman informed him that the thing was perfectly feasible if he could get hold of competent witnesses as to Muishkin’s mental incapacity. Then, with the assistance of a few influential persons, he would soon see the matter arranged.
“You can stay with him if you like,” said Muishkin.
It appeared that neither the prince, nor the doctor with whom he lived in Switzerland, had thought of waiting for further communications; but the prince had started straight away with Salaskin’s letter in his pocket.
But, of late, Totski had observed many strange and original features and characteristics in Nastasia, which he had neither known nor reckoned upon in former times, and some of these fascinated him, even now, in spite of the fact that all his old calculations with regard to her were long ago cast to the winds.
“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.
The prince rose from his seat, and Lebedeff, surprised to see his guest preparing to go so soon, remarked: “You are not interested?” in a respectful tone.
Lizabetha Prokofievna frowned, but had not as yet grasped the subject, which seemed to have arisen out of a heated argument. Aglaya sat apart, almost in the corner, listening in stubborn silence.
“Oh--if that is the state of affairs--” began Gania.
“In the other wing.”
Muishkin looked at him inquiringly.
“I’ll wear it; and you shall have mine. I’ll take it off at once.”
“Well, that is the murderer! It is he--in fact--”
“Why, Keller said the same thing to me nearly word for word a few minutes ago!” cried Muishkin. “And you both seem inclined to boast about it! You astonish me, but I think he is more sincere than you, for you make a regular trade of it. Oh, don’t put on that pathetic expression, and don’t put your hand on your heart! Have you anything to say to me? You have not come for nothing...”
“I tell you, my dear fellow, Aglaya is such an extraordinary, such a self-willed, fantastical little creature, you wouldn’t believe it! Every high quality, every brilliant trait of heart and mind, are to be found in her, and, with it all, so much caprice and mockery, such wild fancies--indeed, a little devil! She has just been laughing at her mother to her very face, and at her sisters, and at Prince S., and everybody--and of course she always laughs at me! You know I love the child--I love her even when she laughs at me, and I believe the wild little creature has a special fondness for me for that very reason. She is fonder of me than any of the others. I dare swear she has had a good laugh at _you_ before now! You were having a quiet talk just now, I observed, after all the thunder and lightning upstairs. She was sitting with you just as though there had been no row at all.”
“Why? You very nearly were, anyhow.”
“I don’t understand you in the least, Parfen.”
Evgenie himself was very likely going abroad also; so were Prince S. and his wife, if affairs allowed of it; the general was to stay at home. They were all at their estate of Colmina now, about twenty miles or so from St. Petersburg. Princess Bielokonski had not returned to Moscow yet, and was apparently staying on for reasons of her own. Lizabetha Prokofievna had insisted that it was quite impossible to remain in Pavlofsk after what had happened. Evgenie had told her of all the rumours current in town about the affair; so that there could be no talk of their going to their house on the Yelagin as yet.
All around burst out laughing.
“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed in alarm, snatching her hand away. She went hastily out of the room in a state of strange confusion.
If Schneider himself had arrived then and seen his former pupil and patient, remembering the prince’s condition during the first year in Switzerland, he would have flung up his hands, despairingly, and cried, as he did then:
Murmurs arose in the neighbourhood of Burdovsky and his companions; Lebedeff’s nephew protested under his breath.
“Thank you,” he said gently. “Sit opposite to me, and let us talk. We must have a talk now, Lizabetha Prokofievna; I am very anxious for it.” He smiled at her once more. “Remember that today, for the last time, I am out in the air, and in the company of my fellow-men, and that in a fortnight I shall certainly be no longer in this world. So, in a way, this is my farewell to nature and to men. I am not very sentimental, but do you know, I am quite glad that all this has happened at Pavlofsk, where at least one can see a green tree.”
“You have no sort of right to suppose such things,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in a tone of authority.
Aglaya began to flush up.
“It’s a garden knife, isn’t it?”
Mrs. Epanchin, long accustomed to her husband’s infidelities, had heard of the pearls, and the rumour excited her liveliest curiosity and interest. The general remarked her suspicions, and felt that a grand explanation must shortly take place--which fact alarmed him much.
The latter requested him to take a seat once more, and sat down himself.
“Well, you have no right, you have no right, no right at all!... Your friends indeed!”... gabbled Burdovsky, defiantly examining the faces round him, and becoming more and more excited. “You have no right!...” As he ended thus abruptly, he leant forward, staring at the prince with his short-sighted, bloodshot eyes. The latter was so astonished, that he did not reply, but looked steadily at him in return.
Colia took the prince to a public-house in the Litaynaya, not far off. In one of the side rooms there sat at a table--looking like one of the regular guests of the establishment--Ardalion Alexandrovitch, with a bottle before him, and a newspaper on his knee. He was waiting for the prince, and no sooner did the latter appear than he began a long harangue about something or other; but so far gone was he that the prince could hardly understand a word.
“The good of it! Well, I want just to see a ray of the sun,” said Hippolyte. “Can one drink to the sun’s health, do you think, prince?”
He drew a long, deep breath of relief, as it seemed. He realized that all was not over as yet, that the sun had not risen, and that the guests had merely gone to supper. He smiled, and two hectic spots appeared on his cheeks.
The prince’s body slipped convulsively down the steps till it rested at the bottom. Very soon, in five minutes or so, he was discovered, and a crowd collected around him.
The woman lowered her eyes.
“I asked Nicolai Ardalionovitch...”
The present visitor, Ptitsin, was also afraid of her. This was a young fellow of something under thirty, dressed plainly, but neatly. His manners were good, but rather ponderously so. His dark beard bore evidence to the fact that he was not in any government employ. He could speak well, but preferred silence. On the whole he made a decidedly agreeable impression. He was clearly attracted by Varvara, and made no secret of his feelings. She trusted him in a friendly way, but had not shown him any decided encouragement as yet, which fact did not quell his ardour in the least.
“No one ever tormented you on the subject,” murmured Adelaida, aghast.
“Oh, this is unbearable!” said Lebedeff’s nephew impatiently. “What is the good of all this romancing?”
“I have met you somewhere, I believe, but--”
Rogojin suffered from brain fever for two months. When he recovered from the attack he was at once brought up on trial for murder.
“Happy! you can be happy?” cried Aglaya. “Then how can you say you did not learn to see? I should think you could teach _us_ to see!”
“Do you wish me to beg pardon of this creature because she has come here to insult our mother and disgrace the whole household, you low, base wretch?” cried Varia, looking back at her brother with proud defiance.
He seized a glass from the table, broke away from the prince, and in a moment had reached the terrace steps.
The prince would rather have kept this particular cross.
“Everyone has his worries, prince, especially in these strange and troublous times of ours,” Lebedeff replied, drily, and with the air of a man disappointed of his reasonable expectations.
“But let me resume.”
“Quite so--parties--you are very right,” said the prince. “I was reading a book about Napoleon and the Waterloo campaign only the other day, by Charasse, in which the author does not attempt to conceal his joy at Napoleon’s discomfiture at every page. Well now, I don’t like that; it smells of ‘party,’ you know. You are quite right. And were you much occupied with your service under Napoleon?”
“Oh, just a silly, little occurrence, really not worth telling, about Princess Bielokonski’s governess, Miss Smith, and--oh, it is really not worth telling!”
“I told them how unhappy Marie was, and after a while they stopped their abuse of her, and let her go by silently. Little by little we got into the way of conversing together, the children and I. I concealed nothing from them, I told them all. They listened very attentively and soon began to be sorry for Marie. At last some of them took to saying ‘Good-morning’ to her, kindly, when they met her. It is the custom there to salute anyone you meet with ‘Good-morning’ whether acquainted or not. I can imagine how astonished Marie was at these first greetings from the children.
“Come, come, come! There, you must not cry, that will do. You are a good child! God will forgive you, because you knew no better. Come now, be a man! You know presently you will be ashamed.”
“‘Profoundest respect!’ What nonsense! First, insane giggling, and then, all of a sudden, a display of ‘profoundest respect.’ Why respect? Tell me at once, why have you suddenly developed this ‘profound respect,’ eh?”
But it was Hippolyte’s last idea which upset him.
“This is most interesting!” observed Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“I have heard that my son--” began Ardalion Alexandrovitch.
Gania certainly did look dreadfully abashed. Colia rushed up to comfort the prince, and after him crowded Varia, Rogojin and all, even the general.
“Tfu! look what the fellow got! Look at the blood on his cheek! Ha, ha!”
The general was, of course, repeating what he had told Lebedeff the night before, and thus brought it out glibly enough, but here he looked suspiciously at the prince out of the corners of his eyes.
“No--Aglaya--come, enough of this, you mustn’t behave like this,” said her father, in dismay.
The prince trembled all over. Why was he so agitated? Why had he flown into such transports of delight without any apparent reason? He had far outshot the measure of joy and emotion consistent with the occasion. Why this was it would be difficult to say.
“Do you wish to make acquaintance?” asked the prince.
“Absolutely, your excellency,” said Lebedeff, without the least hesitation.
“Look here, Aglaya--” began the general.
The guests exchanged glances; they were annoyed and bewildered by the episode; but it was clear enough that all this had been pre-arranged and expected by Nastasia Philipovna, and that there was no use in trying to stop her now--for she was little short of insane.
“Keller told me (I found him at your place) that you were in the park. ‘Of course he is!’ I thought.”
Mrs. Epanchin flushed up; some accumulation of spleen in her suddenly needed an outlet. She could not bear this General Ivolgin whom she had once known, long ago--in society.
But Dr. Schneider frowns ever more and more and shakes his head; he hints that the brain is fatally injured; he does not as yet declare that his patient is incurable, but he allows himself to express the gravest fears.
“You see,” said Hippolyte, coolly, “you can’t restrain yourself. You’ll be dreadfully sorry afterwards if you don’t speak out now. Come, you shall have the first say. I’ll wait.”
“Oh, the devil take Switzerland!”
“A slap in the face? From whom? And so early in the morning?”
“Four years! and I was in the same place nearly all the time,--in one village.”
Lebedeff could restrain himself no longer; he made his way through the row of chairs.
“Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. “I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o’clock,” he added, looking at his watch.
“Well, sir, I suppose you wanted to make me look ridiculous?”
“No, prince, she will not. Aglaya loved like a woman, like a human being, not like an abstract spirit. Do you know what, my poor prince? The most probable explanation of the matter is that you never loved either the one or the other in reality.”
Next day the prince had to go to town, on business. Returning in the afternoon, he happened upon General Epanchin at the station. The latter seized his hand, glancing around nervously, as if he were afraid of being caught in wrong-doing, and dragged him into a first-class compartment. He was burning to speak about something of importance.
All the guests were known to the prince; but the curious part of the matter was that they had all arrived on the same evening, as though with one accord, although he had only himself recollected the fact that it was his birthday a few moments since.
“There’s news!” said the general in some excitement, after listening to the story with engrossed attention.
He left the room quickly, covering his face with his hands.
“Yes, he would!” said Rogojin, quietly, but with an air of absolute conviction.
“Once I had to interfere by force; and after that I took to speaking to them every day and whenever I could. Occasionally they stopped and listened; but they teased Marie all the same.
Gania looked dreadfully put out, and tried to say something in reply, but Nastasia interrupted him:
“It was impossible for me to go on living when life was full of such detestable, strange, tormenting forms. This ghost had humiliated me;--nor could I bear to be subordinate to that dark, horrible force which was embodied in the form of the loathsome insect. It was only towards evening, when I had quite made up my mind on this point, that I began to feel easier.”
“No, sir, I do not exaggerate, I understate the matter, if anything, undoubtedly understate it; simply because I cannot express myself as I should like, but--”
The impatience of Lizabetha Prokofievna “to get things settled” explained a good deal, as well as the anxiety of both parents for the happiness of their beloved daughter. Besides, Princess Bielokonski was going away soon, and they hoped that she would take an interest in the prince. They were anxious that he should enter society under the auspices of this lady, whose patronage was the best of recommendations for any young man.
“Go on! Go on!”
“Ah! that is what you feared! It was inevitable, you say! Well, let me tell you that if I hate anyone here--I hate you all,” he cried, in a hoarse, strained voice--“but you, you, with your jesuitical soul, your soul of sickly sweetness, idiot, beneficent millionaire--I hate you worse than anything or anyone on earth! I saw through you and hated you long ago; from the day I first heard of you. I hated you with my whole heart. You have contrived all this! You have driven me into this state! You have made a dying man disgrace himself. You, you, you are the cause of my abject cowardice! I would kill you if I remained alive! I do not want your benefits; I will accept none from anyone; do you hear? Not from any one! I want nothing! I was delirious, do not dare to triumph! I curse every one of you, once for all!”
“I may have said so,” answered Hippolyte, as if trying to remember. “Yes, I certainly said so,” he continued with sudden animation, fixing an unflinching glance on his questioner. “What of it?”
Lebedeff could restrain himself no longer; he made his way through the row of chairs.
“The fact of the matter is that all this _does_ exist, but that we know absolutely nothing about the future life and its laws!
“When you are not with me I hate you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I have loathed you every day of these three months since I last saw you. By heaven I have!” said Rogojin. “I could have poisoned you at any minute. Now, you have been with me but a quarter of an hour, and all my malice seems to have melted away, and you are as dear to me as ever. Stay here a little longer.”
An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
“Do you think I am deceiving you?” asked the prince.
“I assure you, general, I do not in the least doubt your statement. One of our living autobiographers states that when he was a small baby in Moscow in 1812 the French soldiers fed him with bread.”
“What in the world induces you to act so? You are nothing but a spy. Why did you write anonymously to worry so noble and generous a lady? Why should not Aglaya Ivanovna write a note to whomever she pleases? What did you mean to complain of today? What did you expect to get by it? What made you go at all?”
“Well, what, general? Not quite good form, eh? Oh, nonsense! Here have I been sitting in my box at the French theatre for the last five years like a statue of inaccessible virtue, and kept out of the way of all admirers, like a silly little idiot! Now, there’s this man, who comes and pays down his hundred thousand on the table, before you all, in spite of my five years of innocence and proud virtue, and I dare be sworn he has his sledge outside waiting to carry me off. He values me at a hundred thousand! I see you are still angry with me, Gania! Why, surely you never really wished to take _me_ into your family? _me_, Rogojin’s mistress! What did the prince say just now?”
“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.”