The prince made his bows and retired at once. Alexandra and Adelaida smiled and whispered to each other, while Lizabetha Prokofievna glared severely at them. “We are only laughing at the prince’s beautiful bows, mamma,” said Adelaida. “Sometimes he bows just like a meal-sack, but to-day he was like--like Evgenie Pavlovitch!”

He aired his own views on various matters, some of his most private opinions and observations, many of which would have seemed rather funny, so his hearers agreed afterwards, had they not been so well expressed.

“Certainly. Anything is possible when one is intoxicated, as you neatly express it, prince. But consider--if I, intoxicated or not, dropped an object out of my pocket on to the ground, that object ought to remain on the ground. Where is the object, then?”

“What--what sort of opinion, Aglaya Ivanovna?”

“Poodle? What was that? And in a railway carriage? Dear me,” said Nastasia, thoughtfully, as though trying to recall something to mind.

“You were prevented by Aglaya Ivanovna. I think I am not mistaken? That is your daughter, Aglaya Ivanovna? She is so beautiful that I recognized her directly, although I had never seen her before. Let me, at least, look on beauty for the last time in my life,” he said with a wry smile. “You are here with the prince, and your husband, and a large company. Why should you refuse to gratify my last wish?”

“My dear Lebedeff, I--”

“Is it jolly there?”

“I don’t _hate_, I despise him,” said Gania, grandly. “Well, I do hate him, if you like!” he added, with a sudden access of rage, “and I’ll tell him so to his face, even when he’s dying! If you had but read his confession--good Lord! what refinement of impudence! Oh, but I’d have liked to whip him then and there, like a schoolboy, just to see how surprised he would have been! Now he hates everybody because he--Oh, I say, what on earth are they doing there! Listen to that noise! I really can’t stand this any longer. Ptitsin!” he cried, as the latter entered the room, “what in the name of goodness are we coming to? Listen to that--”

“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.

Lebedeff made an impatient movement.

“Well, I went homewards, and near the hotel I came across a poor woman, carrying a child--a baby of some six weeks old. The mother was quite a girl herself. The baby was smiling up at her, for the first time in its life, just at that moment; and while I watched the woman she suddenly crossed herself, oh, so devoutly! ‘What is it, my good woman?’ I asked her. (I was never but asking questions then!) ‘Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of His children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart!’ This is what that poor woman said to me, almost word for word; and such a deep, refined, truly religious thought it was--a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity was expressed in one flash--that is, the recognition of God as our Father, and of God’s joy in men as His own children, which is the chief idea of Christ. She was a simple country-woman--a mother, it’s true--and perhaps, who knows, she may have been the wife of the drunken soldier!

“Nothing. I only thought I--”

“I can but thank you,” he said, in a tone too respectful to be sincere, “for your kindness in letting me speak, for I have often noticed that our Liberals never allow other people to have an opinion of their own, and immediately answer their opponents with abuse, if they do not have recourse to arguments of a still more unpleasant nature.”

“Oh, a long way off, near the Great Theatre, just in the square there--It won’t be a large party.”

The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.

“It is not a Christian religion, in the first place,” said the latter, in extreme agitation, quite out of proportion to the necessity of the moment. “And in the second place, Roman Catholicism is, in my opinion, worse than Atheism itself. Yes--that is my opinion. Atheism only preaches a negation, but Romanism goes further; it preaches a disfigured, distorted Christ--it preaches Anti-Christ--I assure you, I swear it! This is my own personal conviction, and it has long distressed me. The Roman Catholic believes that the Church on earth cannot stand without universal temporal Power. He cries ‘non possumus!’ In my opinion the Roman Catholic religion is not a faith at all, but simply a continuation of the Roman Empire, and everything is subordinated to this idea--beginning with faith. The Pope has seized territories and an earthly throne, and has held them with the sword. And so the thing has gone on, only that to the sword they have added lying, intrigue, deceit, fanaticism, superstition, swindling;--they have played fast and loose with the most sacred and sincere feelings of men;--they have exchanged everything--everything for money, for base earthly _power!_ And is this not the teaching of Anti-Christ? How could the upshot of all this be other than Atheism? Atheism is the child of Roman Catholicism--it proceeded from these Romans themselves, though perhaps they would not believe it. It grew and fattened on hatred of its parents; it is the progeny of their lies and spiritual feebleness. Atheism! In our country it is only among the upper classes that you find unbelievers; men who have lost the root or spirit of their faith; but abroad whole masses of the people are beginning to profess unbelief--at first because of the darkness and lies by which they were surrounded; but now out of fanaticism, out of loathing for the Church and Christianity!”

The general was satisfied. He had excited himself, and was evidently now regretting that he had gone so far. He turned to the prince, and suddenly the disagreeable thought of the latter’s presence struck him, and the certainty that he must have heard every word of the conversation. But he felt at ease in another moment; it only needed one glance at the prince to see that in that quarter there was nothing to fear.

“She sent to say, yesterday morning, that I was never to dare to come near the house again.”

“I have a couple of words to say to you,” he began, “and those on a very important matter; let’s go aside for a minute or two.”

It was true that she was lonely in her present life; Totski had judged her thoughts aright. She longed to rise, if not to love, at least to family life and new hopes and objects, but as to Gavrila Ardalionovitch, she could not as yet say much. She thought it must be the case that he loved her; she felt that she too might learn to love him, if she could be sure of the firmness of his attachment to herself; but he was very young, and it was a difficult question to decide. What she specially liked about him was that he worked, and supported his family by his toil.

“Don’t go after him just now, Colia, or he’ll be vexed, and the benefit of this moment will be lost!” said the prince, as the boy was hurrying out of the room.

“Prince,” said the general, pressing his hand, and looking at him with flashing eyes, and an expression as though he were under the influence of a sudden thought which had come upon him with stunning force. “Prince, you are so kind, so simple-minded, that sometimes I really feel sorry for you! I gaze at you with a feeling of real affection. Oh, Heaven bless you! May your life blossom and fructify in love. Mine is over. Forgive me, forgive me!”

“Why not? Certainly he would, I should think. He would marry her tomorrow!--marry her tomorrow and murder her in a week!”

“From the portrait!”

“Yes, she is pretty,” she said at last, “even very pretty. I have seen her twice, but only at a distance. So you admire this kind of beauty, do you?” she asked the prince, suddenly.

“No, he didn’t, for I saw it all myself,” said Colia. “On the contrary, Hippolyte kissed his hand twice and thanked him; and all the prince said was that he thought Hippolyte might feel better here in the country!”

“Is Parfen Semionovitch at home?” he asked.

Muttering these disconnected words, Rogojin began to make up the beds. It was clear that he had devised these beds long before; last night he slept on the sofa. But there was no room for two on the sofa, and he seemed anxious that he and the prince should be close to one another; therefore, he now dragged cushions of all sizes and shapes from the sofas, and made a sort of bed of them close by the curtain. He then approached the prince, and gently helped him to rise, and led him towards the bed. But the prince could now walk by himself, so that his fear must have passed; for all that, however, he continued to shudder.

“Forgiving me! why so? What have I done to need his forgiveness?”

“Prince! Money! Why I would give that man not only my money, but my very life, if he wanted it. Well, perhaps that’s exaggeration; not life, we’ll say, but some illness, a boil or a bad cough, or anything of that sort, I would stand with pleasure, for his sake; for I consider him a great man fallen--money, indeed!”

And as to her face, could it inspire nothing but passion? Could her face inspire passion at all now? Oh, it inspired suffering, grief, overwhelming grief of the soul! A poignant, agonizing memory swept over the prince’s heart.

His audience consisted of a youth of about fifteen years of age with a clever face, who had a book in his hand, though he was not reading; a young lady of twenty, in deep mourning, stood near him with an infant in her arms; another girl of thirteen, also in black, was laughing loudly, her mouth wide open; and on the sofa lay a handsome young man, with black hair and eyes, and a suspicion of beard and whiskers. He frequently interrupted the speaker and argued with him, to the great delight of the others.

“Yes, but let’s have the story first!” cried the general.

Exclamations arose on all sides.

Before very long two or three young men had come up, and one or two remained to talk; all of these young men appeared to be on intimate terms with Evgenie Pavlovitch. Among them was a young officer, a remarkably handsome fellow--very good-natured and a great chatterbox. He tried to get up a conversation with Aglaya, and did his best to secure her attention. Aglaya behaved very graciously to him, and chatted and laughed merrily. Evgenie Pavlovitch begged the prince’s leave to introduce their friend to him. The prince hardly realized what was wanted of him, but the introduction came off; the two men bowed and shook hands.

“It was engineered by other people, and is, properly speaking, rather a fantasy than an intrigue!”

“It’s all his--the whole packet is for him, do you hear--all of you?” cried Nastasia Philipovna, placing the packet by the side of Gania. “He restrained himself, and didn’t go after it; so his self-respect is greater than his thirst for money. All right--he’ll come to directly--he must have the packet or he’ll cut his throat afterwards. There! He’s coming to himself. General, Totski, all of you, did you hear me? The money is all Gania’s. I give it to him, fully conscious of my action, as recompense for--well, for anything he thinks best. Tell him so. Let it lie here beside him. Off we go, Rogojin! Goodbye, prince. I have seen a man for the first time in my life. Goodbye, Afanasy Ivanovitch--and thanks!”

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.

“Aglaya.”

At length, in the last letter of all, he found:

“Very simply indeed! I found it under the chair upon which my coat had hung; so that it is clear the purse simply fell out of the pocket and on to the floor!”

“I quite agree with you there!” said Prince S., laughing.

“Yes, me, of course! Of course you were afraid of me, or you would not have decided to come. You cannot despise one you fear. And to think that I have actually esteemed you up to this very moment! Do you know why you are afraid of me, and what is your object now? You wished to satisfy yourself with your own eyes as to which he loves best, myself or you, because you are fearfully jealous.”

“Podkoleosin” [A character in Gogol’s comedy, The Wedding.] was perhaps an exaggeration, but he was by no means a non-existent character; on the contrary, how many intelligent people, after hearing of this Podkoleosin from Gogol, immediately began to find that scores of their friends were exactly like him! They knew, perhaps, before Gogol told them, that their friends were like Podkoleosin, but they did not know what name to give them. In real life, young fellows seldom jump out of the window just before their weddings, because such a feat, not to speak of its other aspects, must be a decidedly unpleasant mode of escape; and yet there are plenty of bridegrooms, intelligent fellows too, who would be ready to confess themselves Podkoleosins in the depths of their consciousness, just before marriage. Nor does every husband feel bound to repeat at every step, “_Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!_” like another typical personage; and yet how many millions and billions of Georges Dandins there are in real life who feel inclined to utter this soul-drawn cry after their honeymoon, if not the day after the wedding! Therefore, without entering into any more serious examination of the question, I will content myself with remarking that in real life typical characters are “watered down,” so to speak; and all these Dandins and Podkoleosins actually exist among us every day, but in a diluted form. I will just add, however, that Georges Dandin might have existed exactly as Molière presented him, and probably does exist now and then, though rarely; and so I will end this scientific examination, which is beginning to look like a newspaper criticism. But for all this, the question remains,--what are the novelists to do with commonplace people, and how are they to be presented to the reader in such a form as to be in the least degree interesting? They cannot be left out altogether, for commonplace people meet one at every turn of life, and to leave them out would be to destroy the whole reality and probability of the story. To fill a novel with typical characters only, or with merely strange and uncommon people, would render the book unreal and improbable, and would very likely destroy the interest. In my opinion, the duty of the novelist is to seek out points of interest and instruction even in the characters of commonplace people.

“What, these waggons may coldly exclude?” repeated someone.

“Yes, it’s quite true, isn’t it?” cried the general, his eyes sparkling with gratification. “A small boy, a child, would naturally realize no danger; he would shove his way through the crowds to see the shine and glitter of the uniforms, and especially the great man of whom everyone was speaking, for at that time all the world had been talking of no one but this man for some years past. The world was full of his name; I--so to speak--drew it in with my mother’s milk. Napoleon, passing a couple of paces from me, caught sight of me accidentally. I was very well dressed, and being all alone, in that crowd, as you will easily imagine...”

“Listen, Mr. Terentieff,” said Ptitsin, who had bidden the prince good-night, and was now holding out his hand to Hippolyte; “I think you remark in that manuscript of yours, that you bequeath your skeleton to the Academy. Are you referring to your own skeleton--I mean, your very bones?”

“By all means! I assure you I am delighted--you need not have entered into all these explanations. As for your remarks about friendship with me--thanks, very much indeed. You must excuse my being a little absent this evening. Do you know, I cannot somehow be attentive to anything just now?”

“There are the letters.” (Aglaya took three letters out of her pocket and threw them down before the prince.) “For a whole week she has been entreating and worrying and persuading me to marry you. She--well, she is clever, though she may be mad--much cleverer than I am, as you say. Well, she writes that she is in love with me herself, and tries to see me every day, if only from a distance. She writes that you love me, and that she has long known it and seen it, and that you and she talked about me--there. She wishes to see you happy, and she says that she is certain only I can ensure you the happiness you deserve. She writes such strange, wild letters--I haven’t shown them to anyone. Now, do you know what all this means? Can you guess anything?”

Varvara Ardalionovna married Ptitsin this winter, and it was said that the fact of Gania’s retirement from business was the ultimate cause of the marriage, since Gania was now not only unable to support his family, but even required help himself.

The old man was in a state of great mental perturbation. The whole of the journey, which occupied nearly an hour, he continued in this strain, putting questions and answering them himself, shrugging his shoulders, pressing the prince’s hand, and assuring the latter that, at all events, he had no suspicion whatever of _him_. This last assurance was satisfactory, at all events. The general finished by informing him that Evgenie’s uncle was head of one of the civil service departments, and rich, very rich, and a gourmand. “And, well, Heaven preserve him, of course--but Evgenie gets his money, don’t you see? But, for all this, I’m uncomfortable, I don’t know why. There’s something in the air, I feel there’s something nasty in the air, like a bat, and I’m by no means comfortable.”

“In the first place, don’t dare to suppose,” she began, “that I am going to apologize. Nonsense! You were entirely to blame.”

Aglaya left the room in a fit of irritation, and it was not until late in the evening, past eleven, when the prince was taking his departure, that she said a word or two to him, privately, as she accompanied him as far as the front door.

“Well, I went homewards, and near the hotel I came across a poor woman, carrying a child--a baby of some six weeks old. The mother was quite a girl herself. The baby was smiling up at her, for the first time in its life, just at that moment; and while I watched the woman she suddenly crossed herself, oh, so devoutly! ‘What is it, my good woman?’ I asked her. (I was never but asking questions then!) ‘Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of His children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart!’ This is what that poor woman said to me, almost word for word; and such a deep, refined, truly religious thought it was--a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity was expressed in one flash--that is, the recognition of God as our Father, and of God’s joy in men as His own children, which is the chief idea of Christ. She was a simple country-woman--a mother, it’s true--and perhaps, who knows, she may have been the wife of the drunken soldier!

Rogojin listened to the prince’s excited words with a bitter smile. His conviction was, apparently, unalterable.

Alexandra, however, found it difficult to keep absolute silence on the subject. Long since holding, as she did, the post of “confidential adviser to mamma,” she was now perpetually called in council, and asked her opinion, and especially her assistance, in order to recollect “how on earth all this happened?” Why did no one see it? Why did no one say anything about it? What did all that wretched “poor knight” joke mean? Why was she, Lizabetha Prokofievna, driven to think, and foresee, and worry for everybody, while they all sucked their thumbs, and counted the crows in the garden, and did nothing? At first, Alexandra had been very careful, and had merely replied that perhaps her father’s remark was not so far out: that, in the eyes of the world, probably the choice of the prince as a husband for one of the Epanchin girls would be considered a very wise one. Warming up, however, she added that the prince was by no means a fool, and never had been; and that as to “place in the world,” no one knew what the position of a respectable person in Russia would imply in a few years--whether it would depend on successes in the government service, on the old system, or what.

The fire, choked between a couple of smouldering pieces of wood, had died down for the first few moments after the packet was thrown upon it. But a little tongue of fire now began to lick the paper from below, and soon, gathering courage, mounted the sides of the parcel, and crept around it. In another moment, the whole of it burst into flames, and the exclamations of woe and horror were redoubled.

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.

“Look here, once for all,” cried Aglaya, boiling over, “if I hear you talking about capital punishment, or the economical condition of Russia, or about Beauty redeeming the world, or anything of that sort, I’ll--well, of course I shall laugh and seem very pleased, but I warn you beforehand, don’t look me in the face again! I’m serious now, mind, this time I _am really_ serious.” She certainly did say this very seriously, so much so, that she looked quite different from what she usually was, and the prince could not help noticing the fact. She did not seem to be joking in the slightest degree.

He only knew that he began to distinguish things clearly from the moment when Aglaya suddenly appeared, and he jumped up from the sofa and went to meet her. It was just a quarter past seven then.

“Don’t be in a hurry, mother; the prince says that he has some motive behind his simplicity,” cried Aglaya.

“What is the good of repentance like that? It is the same exactly as mine yesterday, when I said, ‘I am base, I am base,’--words, and nothing more!”

“Excellency,” he said, impulsively, “if you want a reliable man for the night, I am ready to sacrifice myself for my friend--such a soul as he has! I have long thought him a great man, excellency! My article showed my lack of education, but when he criticizes he scatters pearls!”

“Well?”

“I never, never thought you were like that,” said Muishkin, drawing a deep breath. “I thought you--you weren’t capable of--”

“Oh, but, positively, you know--a hundred thousand roubles!”

“He discovered everything, the monster... himself......”

“What do you suppose she wants to talk about tomorrow?” asked Gania.

“Ha, ha, ha!”

“When I am with you you trust me; but as soon as my back is turned you suspect me,” said the prince, smiling, and trying to hide his emotion.

“Look here,” said the prince; he was bewildered, and his brain wandered. He seemed to be continually groping for the questions he wished to ask, and then losing them. “Listen--tell me--how did you--with a knife?--That same one?”

“Very happy to meet him, I’m sure,” remarked the latter. “I remember Lef Nicolaievitch well. When General Epanchin introduced us just now, I recognized you at once, prince. You are very little changed, though I saw you last as a child of some ten or eleven years old. There was something in your features, I suppose, that--”

Totski sat and shrugged his shoulders, bewildered. He was the only guest left sitting at this time; the others had thronged round the table in disorder, and were all talking at once.

“Quite so--together! But the second time I thought better to say nothing about finding it. I found it alone.”

“Yes, it was a beautiful turn-out, certainly!”

“It is much warmer in the rooms here than it is abroad at this season,” observed the prince; “but it is much warmer there out of doors. As for the houses--a Russian can’t live in them in the winter until he gets accustomed to them.”

Observing the prince, whom she evidently did not expect to see there, alone in the corner, she smiled, and approached him:

This country villa pleased the prince very much in his state of physical and mental exhaustion. On the day that they left for Pavlofsk, that is the day after his attack, he appeared almost well, though in reality he felt very far from it. The faces of those around him for the last three days had made a pleasant impression. He was pleased to see, not only Colia, who had become his inseparable companion, but Lebedeff himself and all the family, except the nephew, who had left the house. He was also glad to receive a visit from General Ivolgin, before leaving St. Petersburg.

“Did you know he had communications with Aglaya?”

Aglaya left the room in a fit of irritation, and it was not until late in the evening, past eleven, when the prince was taking his departure, that she said a word or two to him, privately, as she accompanied him as far as the front door.

“Oh, he won’t shoot himself!” cried several voices, sarcastically.

“Enough,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna abruptly, trembling with anger, “we have had enough of this balderdash!”

At last Rogojin took the prince’s hand, and stood so for some moments, as though he could not make up his mind. Then he drew him along, murmuring almost inaudibly,

Mrs. Epanchin could bear her suspense no longer, and in spite of the opposition of husband and daughters, she sent for Aglaya, determined to get a straightforward answer out of her, once for all.

“An idiot!”--the prince distinctly heard the word half whispered from behind him. This was Ferdishenko’s voluntary information for Nastasia’s benefit.

No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.

“You, you! She has loved you ever since that day, her birthday! Only she thinks she cannot marry you, because it would be the ruin of you. ‘Everybody knows what sort of a woman I am,’ she says. She told me all this herself, to my very face! She’s afraid of disgracing and ruining you, she says, but it doesn’t matter about me. She can marry me all right! Notice how much consideration she shows for me!”

“But I ask you, my dear sir, how can there be anything in common between Evgenie Pavlovitch, and--her, and again Rogojin? I tell you he is a man of immense wealth--as I know for a fact; and he has further expectations from his uncle. Simply Nastasia Philipovna--”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I should stay even if they were to invite me. I’ve simply come to make their acquaintance, and nothing more.”

“Oh yes, of course, on purpose! I quite understand.”

“Didn’t you put it away in some drawer, perhaps?”

“Oh yes, I knew General Epanchin well,” General Ivolgin was saying at this moment; “he and Prince Nicolai Ivanovitch Muishkin--whose son I have this day embraced after an absence of twenty years--and I, were three inseparables. Alas one is in the grave, torn to pieces by calumnies and bullets; another is now before you, still battling with calumnies and bullets--”

“They will lose all respect if they are allowed to be so free and easy; besides it is not proper for them,” he declared at last, in answer to a direct question from the prince.

“Oh, I’m so glad!” said the prince, joyfully. “I was so afraid.”

“Excuse me,” said Lebedeff, “but did you observe the young gentleman’s style? ‘I’ll go and blow my brains out in the park,’ says he, ‘so as not to disturb anyone.’ He thinks he won’t disturb anybody if he goes three yards away, into the park, and blows his brains out there.”

“I shall be delighted if he will stay; it would certainly be difficult for him to get back to Petersburg,” said the prince, in answer to the eager questions of Lizabetha Prokofievna.

“Aha! do--by all means! if you tan my hide you won’t turn me away from your society. You’ll bind me to you, with your lash, for ever. Ha, ha! here we are at the station, though.”

“Naturally, all this--”

“Parfen, I am not your enemy, and I do not intend to oppose your intentions in any way. I repeat this to you now just as I said it to you once before on a very similar occasion. When you were arranging for your projected marriage in Moscow, I did not interfere with you--you know I did not. That first time she fled to me from you, from the very altar almost, and begged me to ‘save her from you.’ Afterwards she ran away from me again, and you found her and arranged your marriage with her once more; and now, I hear, she has run away from you and come to Petersburg. Is it true? Lebedeff wrote me to this effect, and that’s why I came here. That you had once more arranged matters with Nastasia Philipovna I only learned last night in the train from a friend of yours, Zaleshoff--if you wish to know.