“No, no, we must have it!” cried Nastasia merrily.
“I have not asked you to marry me yet, Aglaya Ivanovna,” said the prince, becoming suddenly animated; “but you know yourself how much I love you and trust you.”
“‘Do you know what has suddenly come into my head?’ said I, suddenly--leaning further and further over the rail.
“No, no, no, can’t _bear_ him, I can’t _bear_ your young man!” cried Aglaya, raising her head. “And if you dare say that _once_ more, papa--I’m serious, you know, I’m,--do you hear me--I’m serious!”
“We are neighbours, so will you be so kind as to come over one day and explain the Apocalypse to me?” said Aglaya. “I do not understand it in the least.”
“When I entered the yard I thought I saw a man going along on the far side of it; but it was so dark I could not make out his figure.
“I confess I came here with an object. I wished to persuade Nastasia to go abroad for her health; she requires it. Both mind and body need a change badly. I did not intend to take her abroad myself. I was going to arrange for her to go without me. Now I tell you honestly, Parfen, if it is true that all is made up between you, I will not so much as set eyes upon her, and I will never even come to see you again.
“Well, it was clear enough all along,” he said, after a moment’s reflection. “So that’s the end,” he added, with a disagreeable smile, continuing to walk up and down the room, but much slower than before, and glancing slyly into his sister’s face.
“No, no, no, no, no! Nothing of the sort, I assure you!” said Lebedeff, hastily. “Oh dear no, not for the world! Totski’s the only man with any chance there. Oh, no! He takes her to his box at the opera at the French theatre of an evening, and the officers and people all look at her and say, ‘By Jove, there’s the famous Nastasia Philipovna!’ but no one ever gets any further than that, for there is nothing more to say.”
“Please don’t be angry with me,” continued the prince. “I know very well that I have seen less of life than other people, and have less knowledge of it. I must appear to speak strangely sometimes...”
“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin,” replied the latter, with perfect readiness.
“Then within his distant castle, Home returned, he dreamed his days-- Silent, sad,--and when death took him He was mad, the legend says.”
“I do not ask you what your business may be, all I have to do is to announce you; and unless the secretary comes in here I cannot do that.”
“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.
“They are insane,” muttered Lizabetha Prokofievna. “Either they frighten one out of one’s wits, or else--”
The prince noticed the sweet, welcoming look on Vera Lebedeff’s face, as she made her way towards him through the crowd. He held out his hand to her. She took it, blushing with delight, and wished him “a happy life from that day forward.” Then she ran off to the kitchen, where her presence was necessary to help in the preparations for supper. Before the prince’s arrival she had spent some time on the terrace, listening eagerly to the conversation, though the visitors, mostly under the influence of wine, were discussing abstract subjects far beyond her comprehension. In the next room her younger sister lay on a wooden chest, sound asleep, with her mouth wide open; but the boy, Lebedeff’s son, had taken up his position close beside Colia and Hippolyte, his face lit up with interest in the conversation of his father and the rest, to which he would willingly have listened for ten hours at a stretch.
“Ah, ah! here’s the climax at last, at half-past twelve!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Sit down, gentlemen, I beg you. Something is about to happen.”
She appeared to be in the last stages of wrath and irritation; her eyes flashed. The prince stood dumbly and blindly before her, and suddenly grew pale.
“I will not accept ten thousand roubles,” said Burdovsky.
“But while our young millionaire dwelt as it were in the Empyrean, something new occurred. One fine morning a man called upon him, calm and severe of aspect, distinguished, but plainly dressed. Politely, but in dignified terms, as befitted his errand, he briefly explained the motive for his visit. He was a lawyer of enlightened views; his client was a young man who had consulted him in confidence. This young man was no other than the son of P----, though he bears another name. In his youth P----, the sensualist, had seduced a young girl, poor but respectable. She was a serf, but had received a European education. Finding that a child was expected, he hastened her marriage with a man of noble character who had loved her for a long time. He helped the young couple for a time, but he was soon obliged to give up, for the high-minded husband refused to accept anything from him. Soon the careless nobleman forgot all about his former mistress and the child she had borne him; then, as we know, he died intestate. P----’s son, born after his mother’s marriage, found a true father in the generous man whose name he bore. But when he also died, the orphan was left to provide for himself, his mother now being an invalid who had lost the use of her limbs. Leaving her in a distant province, he came to the capital in search of pupils. By dint of daily toil he earned enough to enable him to follow the college courses, and at last to enter the university. But what can one earn by teaching the children of Russian merchants at ten copecks a lesson, especially with an invalid mother to keep? Even her death did not much diminish the hardships of the young man’s struggle for existence. Now this is the question: how, in the name of justice, should our scion have argued the case? Our readers will think, no doubt, that he would say to himself: ‘P---- showered benefits upon me all my life; he spent tens of thousands of roubles to educate me, to provide me with governesses, and to keep me under treatment in Switzerland. Now I am a millionaire, and P----’s son, a noble young man who is not responsible for the faults of his careless and forgetful father, is wearing himself out giving ill-paid lessons. According to justice, all that was done for me ought to have been done for him. The enormous sums spent upon me were not really mine; they came to me by an error of blind Fortune, when they ought to have gone to P----’s son. They should have gone to benefit him, not me, in whom P---- interested himself by a mere caprice, instead of doing his duty as a father. If I wished to behave nobly, justly, and with delicacy, I ought to bestow half my fortune upon the son of my benefactor; but as economy is my favourite virtue, and I know this is not a case in which the law can intervene, I will not give up half my millions. But it would be too openly vile, too flagrantly infamous, if I did not at least restore to P----’s son the tens of thousands of roubles spent in curing my idiocy. This is simply a case of conscience and of strict justice. Whatever would have become of me if P---- had not looked after my education, and had taken care of his own son instead of me?’
“Oh no! I have been here a long while,” replied Colia, who was at the front door when the general met him. “I am keeping Hippolyte company. He is worse, and has been in bed all day. I came down to buy some cards. Marfa Borisovna expects you. But what a state you are in, father!” added the boy, noticing his father’s unsteady gait. “Well, let us go in.”
“As to faith,” he said, smiling, and evidently unwilling to leave Rogojin in this state--“as to faith, I had four curious conversations in two days, a week or so ago. One morning I met a man in the train, and made acquaintance with him at once. I had often heard of him as a very learned man, but an atheist; and I was very glad of the opportunity of conversing with so eminent and clever a person. He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking _outside the subject_. And it has always struck me, both in speaking to such men and in reading their books, that they do not seem really to be touching on that at all, though on the surface they may appear to do so. I told him this, but I dare say I did not clearly express what I meant, for he could not understand me.
“But it will lead at least to solidarity, and balance of interests,” said Ptitsin.
Hardly had the prince uttered the last word when Gania gave such a fearful shudder that the prince almost cried out.
“Oh, of course, mamma, if we needn’t stand on ceremony with him, we must give the poor fellow something to eat after his journey; especially as he has not the least idea where to go to,” said Alexandra, the eldest of the girls.
“You are always preaching about resting; you are a regular nurse to me, prince. As soon as the sun begins to ‘resound’ in the sky--what poet said that? ‘The sun resounded in the sky.’ It is beautiful, though there’s no sense in it!--then we will go to bed. Lebedeff, tell me, is the sun the source of life? What does the source, or ‘spring,’ of life really mean in the Apocalypse? You have heard of the ‘Star that is called Wormwood,’ prince?”
The prince asked a few more questions, and though he learned nothing else, he became more and more agitated.
“No, but you--”
“A--a moral one?” asked the prince, involuntarily.
Even if there seems something strange about the match, the general and his wife said to each other, the “world” will accept Aglaya’s fiance without any question if he is under the patronage of the princess. In any case, the prince would have to be “shown” sooner or later; that is, introduced into society, of which he had, so far, not the least idea. Moreover, it was only a question of a small gathering of a few intimate friends. Besides Princess Bielokonski, only one other lady was expected, the wife of a high dignitary. Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was to escort the princess, was the only young man.
“H’m! very well, Daria Alexeyevna; you have not stolen anything--agreed. But how about the prince, now--look how he is blushing!”
“H’m! were you long away?”
“Whom did you hear it from?” asked Aglaya, alarmed. “Rogojin said something about it yesterday, but nothing definite.”
“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.
Gania looked more intently at her.
“You do not care if he does?” added Evgenie Pavlovitch. “Neither do I; in fact, I should be glad, merely as a proper punishment for our dear Lizabetha Prokofievna. I am very anxious that she should get it, without delay, and I shall stay till she does. You seem feverish.”
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“H’m! very well, Daria Alexeyevna; you have not stolen anything--agreed. But how about the prince, now--look how he is blushing!”
“Well, what conclusion have you reached?”
“What? What can you have heard?” said the prince, stammering.
“Is such a thing possible?”
He broke off abruptly, and could not add another word. This was his one attempt to stop the mad child, and, after he had made it, he followed her as though he had no will of his own. Confused as his thoughts were, he was, nevertheless, capable of realizing the fact that if he did not go with her, she would go alone, and so he must go with her at all hazards. He guessed the strength of her determination; it was beyond him to check it.
“And what shall I tell him by way of answer?”
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.
“It’s loaded all right,” said Keller, examining the pistol, “but--”
“Well, you’ll both hear and see him soon; he even tries to borrow money from me. _Avis au lecteur._ Good-bye; do you think a man can possibly live with a name like Ferdishenko?”
Colia was right; the Epanchin ladies were only a few steps behind him. As they approached the terrace other visitors appeared from Lebedeff’s side of the house--the Ptitsins, Gania, and Ardalion Alexandrovitch.
“I didn’t know they called you a fool. I certainly don’t think you one.”
Burdovsky next jumped up and explained that he had come in by accident, having escorted Hippolyte from town. He murmured that he was glad he had “written nonsense” in his letter, and then pressed the prince’s hand warmly and sat down again.
“Oh--well, look here, if I have some time to wait, would you mind telling me, is there any place about where I could have a smoke? I have my pipe and tobacco with me.”
Gania seized his head with both hands and tottered to the window; Varia sat down at the other window.
“Oh, of course it’s nothing but humbug!” cried Gania, a little disturbed, however. “It’s all humbug; the young merchant was pleased to indulge in a little innocent recreation! I have heard something of Rogojin!”
The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.
“Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees--that green bench?”
“You are laughing, I think? Why do you keep laughing at me?” said Hippolyte irritably to Evgenie Pavlovitch, who certainly was laughing.
“You will have to excuse very much in my husband, if you stay with us,” said Nina Alexandrovna; “but he will not disturb you often. He dines alone. Everyone has his little peculiarities, you know, and some people perhaps have more than those who are most pointed at and laughed at. One thing I must beg of you--if my husband applies to you for payment for board and lodging, tell him that you have already paid me. Of course anything paid by you to the general would be as fully settled as if paid to me, so far as you are concerned; but I wish it to be so, if you please, for convenience’ sake. What is it, Varia?”
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
“She was very quiet always--and I remember once, when she had suddenly begun singing at her work, everyone said, ‘Marie tried to sing today!’ and she got so chaffed that she was silent for ever after. She had been treated kindly in the place before; but when she came back now--ill and shunned and miserable--not one of them all had the slightest sympathy for her. Cruel people! Oh, what hazy understandings they have on such matters! Her mother was the first to show the way. She received her wrathfully, unkindly, and with contempt. ‘You have disgraced me,’ she said. She was the first to cast her into ignominy; but when they all heard that Marie had returned to the village, they ran out to see her and crowded into the little cottage--old men, children, women, girls--such a hurrying, stamping, greedy crowd. Marie was lying on the floor at the old woman’s feet, hungry, torn, draggled, crying, miserable.
All we know is, that the marriage really was arranged, and that the prince had commissioned Lebedeff and Keller to look after all the necessary business connected with it; that he had requested them to spare no expense; that Nastasia herself was hurrying on the wedding; that Keller was to be the prince’s best man, at his own earnest request; and that Burdovsky was to give Nastasia away, to his great delight. The wedding was to take place before the middle of July.
“Yes--yes--for a while, I think,” stammered the prince.
“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.”
Lebedeff had not returned, so towards evening Keller managed to penetrate into the prince’s apartments. He was not drunk, but in a confidential and talkative mood. He announced that he had come to tell the story of his life to Muishkin, and had only remained at Pavlofsk for that purpose. There was no means of turning him out; nothing short of an earthquake would have removed him.
“Oh, she’ll understand, she’ll understand!” cried the prince, clasping his hands. “She would understand that all this is not the point--not a bit the real point--it is quite foreign to the real question.”
“It’s all nonsense on both sides,” snapped out Varia. “Let them alone, mother.”
The next day Keller came to visit the prince. He was in a high state of delight with the post of honour assigned to him at the wedding.
“Oh! nonsense!” cried Varia, angrily. “That was nothing but a drunkard’s tale. Nonsense! Why, who invented the whole thing--Lebedeff and the prince--a pretty pair! Both were probably drunk.”
“Parfen Semionovitch is not at home,” she announced from the doorway. “Whom do you want?”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Hippolyte, “is not this rather sentimental? You said you wished to come to the point; please remember that it is after nine o’clock.”
“Yes--that’s a copy of a Holbein,” said the prince, looking at it again, “and a good copy, too, so far as I am able to judge. I saw the picture abroad, and could not forget it--what’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?” said the prince.
“Of course, you don’t know all; but, I assure you, you needn’t be afraid, it won’t be like that in our case. There are circumstances,” said Gania, rather excitedly. “And as to her answer to me, there’s no doubt about that. Why should you suppose she will refuse me?”
“Speak, Ivan Fedorovitch! What are we to do?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, irritably. “Please break your majestic silence! I tell you, if you cannot come to some decision, I will stay here all night myself. You have tyrannized over me enough, you autocrat!”
“You have no sort of right to suppose such things,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in a tone of authority.
“Is it long since you saw her?”
“Well, how anybody can call you an idiot after that, is more than I can understand!” cried the boxer.
“Allow me to speak, please, mamma,” said Aglaya. “I think I ought to have something to say in the matter. An important moment of my destiny is about to be decided”--(this is how Aglaya expressed herself)--“and I wish to find out how the matter stands, for my own sake, though I am glad you are all here. Allow me to ask you, prince, since you cherish those intentions, how you consider that you will provide for my happiness?”
“You may add that I have surely enough to think of, on my own account, without him; and therefore it is all the more surprising that I cannot tear my eyes and thoughts away from his detestable physiognomy.”
“You must excuse my asking, you know. Your appearance led me to think--but just wait for the secretary; the general is busy now, but the secretary is sure to come out.”
“She’s a real princess! I’d sell my soul for such a princess as that!”
“Your exclamation proves the generous sympathy of your nature, prince; for four hundred roubles--to a struggling family man like myself--is no small matter!”
“I don’t know--perhaps you are right in much that you have said, Evgenie Pavlovitch. You are very wise, Evgenie Pavlovitch--oh! how my head is beginning to ache again! Come to her, quick--for God’s sake, come!”
The prince was much interested in the young man who had just entered. He easily concluded that this was Evgenie Pavlovitch Radomski, of whom he had already heard mention several times. He was puzzled, however, by the young man’s plain clothes, for he had always heard of Evgenie Pavlovitch as a military man. An ironical smile played on Evgenie’s lips all the while the recitation was proceeding, which showed that he, too, was probably in the secret of the ‘poor knight’ joke. But it had become quite a different matter with Aglaya. All the affectation of manner which she had displayed at the beginning disappeared as the ballad proceeded. She spoke the lines in so serious and exalted a manner, and with so much taste, that she even seemed to justify the exaggerated solemnity with which she had stepped forward. It was impossible to discern in her now anything but a deep feeling for the spirit of the poem which she had undertaken to interpret.
A silly, meaningless smile played on his white, death-like lips. He could not take his eyes off the smouldering packet; but it appeared that something new had come to birth in his soul--as though he were vowing to himself that he would bear this trial. He did not move from his place. In a few seconds it became evident to all that he did not intend to rescue the money.
“Yes--I have business--” began the prince.
“Koulakoff... Koulakoff means nothing. This is Sokolovitch’s flat, and I am ringing at his door.... What do I care for Koulakoff?... Here comes someone to open.”
“Be quiet, you can talk afterwards! What was the letter about? Why are you blushing?”
“Cruel?” sobbed Aglaya. “Yes, I _am_ cruel, and worthless, and spoiled--tell father so,--oh, here he is--I forgot Father, listen!” She laughed through her tears.
“Well, let me at least embrace you and say goodbye, you strange fellow!” cried the prince, looking with gentle reproach at Rogojin, and advancing towards him. But the latter had hardly raised his arms when he dropped them again. He could not make up his mind to it; he turned away from the prince in order to avoid looking at him. He could not embrace him.
“Are you happy--are you happy?” she asked. “Say this one word. Are you happy now? Today, this moment? Have you just been with her? What did she say?”
“Oh, I only judge by what I see. Varvara Ardalionovna said just now--”
Madame Filisoff was a little woman of forty, with a cunning face, and crafty, piercing eyes. When, with an air of mystery, she asked her visitor’s name, he refused at first to answer, but in a moment he changed his mind, and left strict instructions that it should be given to Nastasia Philipovna. The urgency of his request seemed to impress Madame Filisoff, and she put on a knowing expression, as if to say, “You need not be afraid, I quite understand.” The prince’s name evidently was a great surprise to her. He stood and looked absently at her for a moment, then turned, and took the road back to his hotel. But he went away not as he came. A great change had suddenly come over him. He went blindly forward; his knees shook under him; he was tormented by “ideas”; his lips were blue, and trembled with a feeble, meaningless smile. His demon was upon him once more.
It was impossible to avoid noticing them, however, in reality, for they made their presence only too conspicuous by laughing and talking loudly. It was to be supposed that some of them were more than half drunk, although they were well enough dressed, some even particularly well. There were one or two, however, who were very strange-looking creatures, with flushed faces and extraordinary clothes; some were military men; not all were quite young; one or two were middle-aged gentlemen of decidedly disagreeable appearance, men who are avoided in society like the plague, decked out in large gold studs and rings, and magnificently “got up,” generally.
“Why, I’ve not only heard of it; I see it for myself,” he said. “When have you ever spoken like that before? It wasn’t like yourself, prince. Why, if I hadn’t heard this report about you, I should never have come all this way into the park--at midnight, too!”
“I assure you this business left me no peace for many a long year. Why did I do it? I was not in love with her myself; I’m afraid it was simply mischief--pure ‘cussedness’ on my part.
At last, about half-past ten, the prince was left alone. His head ached. Colia was the last to go, after having helped him to change his wedding clothes. They parted on affectionate terms, and, without speaking of what had happened, Colia promised to come very early the next day. He said later that the prince had given no hint of his intentions when they said good-bye, but had hidden them even from him. Soon there was hardly anyone left in the house. Burdovsky had gone to see Hippolyte; Keller and Lebedeff had wandered off together somewhere.
“No, it is impossible for me to come to your house again,” he added slowly.
They were evidently on quite familiar terms. In Moscow they had had many occasions of meeting; indeed, some few of those meetings were but too vividly impressed upon their memories. They had not met now, however, for three months.
Suddenly Hippolyte jumped up as though he had been shot.
“I think I have served you faithfully. I never even asked you what happiness you expected to find with Aglaya.”