He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him--he could not tell why.
“Yes--those very ones,” interrupted Rogojin, impatiently, and with scant courtesy. I may remark that he had not once taken any notice of the blotchy-faced passenger, and had hitherto addressed all his remarks direct to the prince.
“A slap in the face? From whom? And so early in the morning?”
So he walked back looking about him for the shop, and his heart beat with intolerable impatience. Ah! here was the very shop, and there was the article marked “60 cop.” Of course, it’s sixty copecks, he thought, and certainly worth no more. This idea amused him and he laughed.
Nastasia noticed this with satisfaction. She was in full dress this evening; and her appearance was certainly calculated to impress all beholders. She took his hand and led him towards her other guests. But just before they reached the drawing-room door, the prince stopped her, and hurriedly and in great agitation whispered to her:
“Yes, I think so!” said Adelaida.
The prince brought out his “copy-book sentence” in the firm belief that it would produce a good effect. He felt instinctively that some such well-sounding humbug, brought out at the proper moment, would soothe the old man’s feelings, and would be specially acceptable to such a man in such a position. At all hazards, his guest must be despatched with heart relieved and spirit comforted; that was the problem before the prince at this moment.
“You are afraid of the million, I suppose,” said Gania, grinning and showing his teeth.
“Restrain your tongue!” she said. “I did not come here to fight you with your own weapons.
“It undoubtedly has already!” observed Gania.
“This is your doing, prince,” said Gania, turning on the latter so soon as the others were all out of the room. “This is your doing, sir! _You_ have been telling them that I am going to be married!” He said this in a hurried whisper, his eyes flashing with rage and his face ablaze. “You shameless tattler!”
“I am rather young-looking, I know; but I am actually older than I appear to be. I was ten or eleven in the year 1812. I don’t know my age exactly, but it has always been a weakness of mine to make it out less than it really is.”
Nastasia occupied a medium-sized, but distinctly tasteful, flat, beautifully furnished and arranged. At one period of these five years of Petersburg life, Totski had certainly not spared his expenditure upon her. He had calculated upon her eventual love, and tried to tempt her with a lavish outlay upon comforts and luxuries, knowing too well how easily the heart accustoms itself to comforts, and how difficult it is to tear one’s self away from luxuries which have become habitual and, little by little, indispensable.
“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.”
“Look here,” cried Rogojin, seizing him fiercely by the arm, “look here, if you so much as name Nastasia Philipovna again, I’ll tan your hide as sure as you sit there!”
This good flunkey, in spite of his conscientious scruples, really could not resist continuing such a very genteel and agreeable conversation.
Hippolyte, too, was a source of some distraction to the prince at this time; he would send for him at any and every hour of the day. They lived,--Hippolyte and his mother and the children,--in a small house not far off, and the little ones were happy, if only because they were able to escape from the invalid into the garden. The prince had enough to do in keeping the peace between the irritable Hippolyte and his mother, and eventually the former became so malicious and sarcastic on the subject of the approaching wedding, that Muishkin took offence at last, and refused to continue his visits.
“Look here, Parfen; if you love her so much, surely you must be anxious to earn her respect? And if you do so wish, surely you may hope to? I said just now that I considered it extraordinary that she could still be ready to marry you. Well, though I cannot yet understand it, I feel sure she must have some good reason, or she wouldn’t do it. She is sure of your love; but besides that, she must attribute _something_ else to you--some good qualities, otherwise the thing would not be. What you have just said confirms my words. You say yourself that she found it possible to speak to you quite differently from her usual manner. You are suspicious, you know, and jealous, therefore when anything annoying happens to you, you exaggerate its significance. Of course, of course, she does not think so ill of you as you say. Why, if she did, she would simply be walking to death by drowning or by the knife, with her eyes wide open, when she married you. It is impossible! As if anybody would go to their death deliberately!”
“Let’s go and hear the band, then,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, angrily rising from her place.
“I do not wish to quarrel with them about this; in some things they won’t be reasonable. I always did feel a loathing for the laws which seem to guide mamma’s conduct at times. I don’t speak of father, for he cannot be expected to be anything but what he is. Mother is a noble-minded woman, I know; you try to suggest anything mean to her, and you’ll see! But she is such a slave to these miserable creatures! I don’t mean old Bielokonski alone. She is a contemptible old thing, but she is able to twist people round her little finger, and I admire that in her, at all events! How mean it all is, and how foolish! We were always middle-class, thoroughly middle-class, people. Why should we attempt to climb into the giddy heights of the fashionable world? My sisters are all for it. It’s Prince S. they have to thank for poisoning their minds. Why are you so glad that Evgenie Pavlovitch is coming?”
“Why did you get him over here, if you hate him so? And is it really worth your while to try to score off him?”
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.
He had attained his end. The prince left the house beside himself with terror.
“Let it to me,” said the prince.
“There, he is feeling embarrassed; I expected as much,” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch suddenly in the prince’s ear. “It is a bad sign; what do you think? Now, out of spite, he will come out with something so outrageous that even Lizabetha Prokofievna will not be able to stand it.”
So that if our readers were to ask an explanation, not of the wild reports about the prince’s Nihilistic opinions, but simply as to how such a marriage could possibly satisfy his real aspirations, or as to the spiritual condition of our hero at this time, we confess that we should have great difficulty in giving the required information.
“I think you might have spared me that,” murmured the prince reproachfully, almost in a whisper.
He could not settle himself to his papers again, for agitation and excitement, but began walking up and down the room from corner to corner.
“Pavlicheff’s son! It is not worth while!” cried Lebedeff. “There is no necessity to see them, and it would be most unpleasant for your excellency. They do not deserve...”
When recalling all this afterwards the prince could not for the life of him understand how to reconcile the beautiful, sincere, pure nature of the girl with the irony of this jest. That it was a jest there was no doubt whatever; he knew that well enough, and had good reason, too, for his conviction; for during her recitation of the ballad Aglaya had deliberately changed the letters A. N. B. into N. P. B. He was quite sure she had not done this by accident, and that his ears had not deceived him. At all events her performance--which was a joke, of course, if rather a crude one,--was premeditated. They had evidently talked (and laughed) over the ‘poor knight’ for more than a month.
The prince thought a moment. Then he pulled out of his waistcoat pocket an untidy slip of paper, on which was scrawled:
The prince did not answer, and there was silence again. “I love Gavrila Ardalionovitch,” she said, quickly; but hardly audibly, and with her head bent lower than ever.
Hippolyte was not in the house. Lebedeff turned up late in the afternoon; he had been asleep ever since his interview with the prince in the morning. He was quite sober now, and cried with real sincerity over the sick general--mourning for him as though he were his own brother. He blamed himself aloud, but did not explain why. He repeated over and over again to Nina Alexandrovna that he alone was to blame--no one else--but that he had acted out of “pure amiable curiosity,” and that “the deceased,” as he insisted upon calling the still living general, had been the greatest of geniuses.
“Yes, but he died at Elizabethgrad, not at Tver,” said the prince, rather timidly. “So Pavlicheff told me.”
“How has he changed for the better?” asked Mrs. Epanchin. “I don’t see any change for the better! What’s better in him? Where did you get _that_ idea from? _What’s_ better?”
“If you really intended to shoot yourself, Terentieff,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, laughing, “if I were you, after all these compliments, I should just not shoot myself in order to vex them all.”
The girls generally rose at about nine in the morning in the country; Aglaya, of late, had been in the habit of getting up rather earlier and having a walk in the garden, but not at seven o’clock; about eight or a little later was her usual time.
Hippolyte frowned gloomily.
“Oh dear no, oh no! As for a situation, I should much like to find one for I am anxious to discover what I really am fit for. I have learned a good deal in the last four years, and, besides, I read a great many Russian books.”
“No, they did not cure me.”
“Oh, I’ve still got it, here!”
The general shouted in his fury; but it was to be concluded that his wrath was not kindled by the expressed doubt as to Kapiton’s existence. This was his scapegoat; but his excitement was caused by something quite different. As a rule he would have merely shouted down the doubt as to Kapiton, told a long yarn about his friend, and eventually retired upstairs to his room. But today, in the strange uncertainty of human nature, it seemed to require but so small an offence as this to make his cup to overflow. The old man grew purple in the face, he raised his hands. “Enough of this!” he yelled. “My curse--away, out of the house I go! Colia, bring my bag away!” He left the room hastily and in a paroxysm of rage.
“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.
A violent fit of coughing, which lasted a full minute, prevented him from finishing his sentence.
“I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte,” said Colia. “He is the eldest son of the lady you met just now, and was in the next room. He is ill, and has been in bed all day. But he is rather strange, and extremely sensitive, and I thought he might be upset considering the circumstances in which you came... Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father, while it is _his_ mother. That, of course, makes a great difference. What is a terrible disgrace to a woman, does not disgrace a man, at least not in the same way. Perhaps public opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other. Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is really a slave to his opinions.”
“H’m! and instead of a bad action, your excellency has detailed one of your noblest deeds,” said Ferdishenko. “Ferdishenko is ‘done.’”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” said the prince, apparently in a deep reverie.
“Mamma, it’s rather a strange order, that!” said Adelaida, who was fussing among her paints and paint-brushes at the easel. Aglaya and Alexandra had settled themselves with folded hands on a sofa, evidently meaning to be listeners. The prince felt that the general attention was concentrated upon himself.
Evgenie Pavlovitch remarked here that he had spoken of his intention of leaving the service long ago. He had, however, always made more or less of a joke about it, so no one had taken him seriously. For that matter he joked about everything, and his friends never knew what to believe, especially if he did not wish them to understand him.
The prince was very nervous as he reached the outer door; but he did his best to encourage himself with the reflection that the worst thing that could happen to him would be that he would not be received, or, perhaps, received, then laughed at for coming.
“And do you know,” the prince continued, “I am amazed at your naive ways, Lebedeff! Don’t be angry with me--not only yours, everybody else’s also! You are waiting to hear something from me at this very moment with such simplicity that I declare I feel quite ashamed of myself for having nothing whatever to tell you. I swear to you solemnly, that there is nothing to tell. There! Can you take that in?” The prince laughed again.
“And how are you to know that one isn’t lying? And if one lies the whole point of the game is lost,” said Gania.
“Oh, that may be. He may have known her some time ago--two or three years, at least. He used to know Totski. But it is impossible that there should be any intimacy between them. She has not even been in the place--many people don’t even know that she has returned from Moscow! I have only observed her carriage about for the last three days or so.”
“Do not distress yourself, Aglaya Ivanovitch,” he answered calmly; “your mother knows that one cannot strike a dying man. I am ready to explain why I was laughing. I shall be delighted if you will let me--”
Aglaya stamped her foot.
“Why? do you--”
“Let’s go,” said Rogojin, touching his shoulder. They left the alcove and sat down in the two chairs they had occupied before, opposite to one another. The prince trembled more and more violently, and never took his questioning eyes off Rogojin’s face.
This apparition was too much for Gania. Vain and ambitious almost to morbidness, he had had much to put up with in the last two months, and was seeking feverishly for some means of enabling himself to lead a more presentable kind of existence. At home, he now adopted an attitude of absolute cynicism, but he could not keep this up before Nastasia Philipovna, although he had sworn to make her pay after marriage for all he suffered now. He was experiencing a last humiliation, the bitterest of all, at this moment--the humiliation of blushing for his own kindred in his own house. A question flashed through his mind as to whether the game was really worth the candle.
“Afraid! Then you had some grounds for supposing he might be the culprit?” said Lebedeff, frowning.
“Yes, of course,” said Ferdishenko. “C’est du nouveau.”
“I see, I see,” said Evgenie, smiling gently. His mirth seemed very near the surface this evening.
“When I do go to bed I shall never get up again,” said Hippolyte, with a smile. “I meant to take to my bed yesterday and stay there till I died, but as my legs can still carry me, I put it off for two days, so as to come here with them to-day--but I am very tired.”
“Yes, lock it.”
Rogojin began to wander--muttering disconnectedly; then he took to shouting and laughing. The prince stretched out a trembling hand and gently stroked his hair and his cheeks--he could do nothing more. His legs trembled again and he seemed to have lost the use of them. A new sensation came over him, filling his heart and soul with infinite anguish.
“Oh, I’ll write you a new one in half a minute,” said the prince, “if you like!”
“Yes, and I heard that you were here, too,” added Evgenie Pavlovitch; “and since I had long promised myself the pleasure of seeking not only your acquaintance but your friendship, I did not wish to waste time, but came straight on. I am sorry to hear that you are unwell.”
Alas Aglaya still did not come--and the prince was quite lost. He had the greatest difficulty in expressing his opinion that railways were most useful institutions,--and in the middle of his speech Adelaida laughed, which threw him into a still worse state of confusion.
He tried to get upon his feet again, but the old man still restrained him, gazing at him with increasing perturbation as he went on.
The prince took a paper from his pocket-book, and handed it to Lizabetha Prokofievna. It ran as follows:
“Well, what does it all mean? What do you make of it?” asked the general of his spouse, hurriedly.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, let me speak at last,” cried the prince, anxious and agitated. “Please let us understand one another. I say nothing about the article, gentlemen, except that every word is false; I say this because you know it as well as I do. It is shameful. I should be surprised if any one of you could have written it.”
“Yes. It really would be happier for him to die young. If I were in his place I should certainly long for death. He is unhappy about his brother and sisters, the children you saw. If it were possible, if we only had a little money, we should leave our respective families, and live together in a little apartment of our own. It is our dream. But, do you know, when I was talking over your affair with him, he was angry, and said that anyone who did not call out a man who had given him a blow was a coward. He is very irritable to-day, and I left off arguing the matter with him. So Nastasia Philipovna has invited you to go and see her?”
“Oh yes!” cried the prince, starting. “Hippolyte’s suicide--”
Gania gazed after him uneasily, but said nothing.
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
Gania was a beginner, as it were, upon this road. A deep and unchangeable consciousness of his own lack of talent, combined with a vast longing to be able to persuade himself that he was original, had rankled in his heart, even from childhood.
“Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things that Gania does not know,” exclaimed the prince, as he considered Colia’s last words.
“No, Tver,” insisted the general; “he removed just before his death. You were very small and cannot remember; and Pavlicheff, though an excellent fellow, may have made a mistake.”
“It was--about--you saw her--”
“How did you--find me here?” asked the prince for the sake of saying something.
“H’m--well, at all events, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep here, in your place. It wasn’t nice of you, that. I suppose you fall asleep wherever you sit down?”
The latter came at once.
But the old lady, before Parfen had time to touch her, raised her right hand, and, with three fingers held up, devoutly made the sign of the cross three times over the prince. She then nodded her head kindly at him once more.
The prince was haunted all that day by the face of Lebedeff’s nephew whom he had seen for the first time that morning, just as one is haunted at times by some persistent musical refrain. By a curious association of ideas, the young man always appeared as the murderer of whom Lebedeff had spoken when introducing him to Muishkin. Yes, he had read something about the murder, and that quite recently. Since he came to Russia, he had heard many stories of this kind, and was interested in them. His conversation with the waiter, an hour ago, chanced to be on the subject of this murder of the Zemarins, and the latter had agreed with him about it. He thought of the waiter again, and decided that he was no fool, but a steady, intelligent man: though, said he to himself, “God knows what he may really be; in a country with which one is unfamiliar it is difficult to understand the people one meets.” He was beginning to have a passionate faith in the Russian soul, however, and what discoveries he had made in the last six months, what unexpected discoveries! But every soul is a mystery, and depths of mystery lie in the soul of a Russian. He had been intimate with Rogojin, for example, and a brotherly friendship had sprung up between them--yet did he really know him? What chaos and ugliness fills the world at times! What a self-satisfied rascal is that nephew of Lebedeff’s! “But what am I thinking,” continued the prince to himself. “Can he really have committed that crime? Did he kill those six persons? I seem to be confusing things... how strange it all is.... My head goes round... And Lebedeff’s daughter--how sympathetic and charming her face was as she held the child in her arms! What an innocent look and child-like laugh she had! It is curious that I had forgotten her until now. I expect Lebedeff adores her--and I really believe, when I think of it, that as sure as two and two make four, he is fond of that nephew, too!”
But why recall all this? There was insanity on both sides. For him, the prince, to love this woman with passion, was unthinkable. It would be cruel and inhuman. Yes. Rogojin is not fair to himself; he has a large heart; he has aptitude for sympathy. When he learns the truth, and finds what a pitiable being is this injured, broken, half-insane creature, he will forgive her all the torment she has caused him. He will become her slave, her brother, her friend. Compassion will teach even Rogojin, it will show him how to reason. Compassion is the chief law of human existence. Oh, how guilty he felt towards Rogojin! And, for a few warm, hasty words spoken in Moscow, Parfen had called him “brother,” while he--but no, this was delirium! It would all come right! That gloomy Parfen had implied that his faith was waning; he must suffer dreadfully. He said he liked to look at that picture; it was not that he liked it, but he felt the need of looking at it. Rogojin was not merely a passionate soul; he was a fighter. He was fighting for the restoration of his dying faith. He must have something to hold on to and believe, and someone to believe in. What a strange picture that of Holbein’s is! Why, this is the street, and here’s the house, No. 16.
“That picture! That picture!” cried Muishkin, struck by a sudden idea. “Why, a man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!”
“I really don’t quite know how to tell you,” replied the prince, “but it certainly did seem to me that the man was full of passion, and not, perhaps, quite healthy passion. He seemed to be still far from well. Very likely he will be in bed again in a day or two, especially if he lives fast.”
“Oh, don’t you begin bantering him,” said mamma. “He is probably a good deal cleverer than all three of you girls put together. We shall see. Only you haven’t told us anything about Aglaya yet, prince; and Aglaya and I are both waiting to hear.”
“My goodness, what utter twaddle, and what may all this nonsense have signified, pray? If it had any meaning at all!” said Mrs. Epanchin, cuttingly, after having listened with great attention.
“I was strict, but just by nature. At that time we were stationed in a small town. I was quartered at an old widow’s house, a lieutenant’s widow of eighty years of age. She lived in a wretched little wooden house, and had not even a servant, so poor was she.
While Gania put this question, a new idea suddenly flashed into his brain, and blazed out, impatiently, in his eyes. The general, who was really agitated and disturbed, looked at the prince too, but did not seem to expect much from his reply.
“May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?”
“I know Charasse’s book! Oh! I was so angry with his work! I wrote to him and said--I forget what, at this moment. You ask whether I was very busy under the Emperor? Oh no! I was called ‘page,’ but hardly took my duty seriously. Besides, Napoleon very soon lost hope of conciliating the Russians, and he would have forgotten all about me had he not loved me--for personal reasons--I don’t mind saying so now. My heart was greatly drawn to him, too. My duties were light. I merely had to be at the palace occasionally to escort the Emperor out riding, and that was about all. I rode very fairly well. He used to have a ride before dinner, and his suite on those occasions were generally Davoust, myself, and Roustan.”
The letter had evidently been written in a hurry:
“Calm yourself, my dear fellow. You are exaggerating again; you really have no occasion to be so grateful to us. It is a feeling which does you great credit, but an exaggeration, for all that.”
“As the true friend of your father, I wish to say a few words to you,” he began. “I have suffered--there was a catastrophe. I suffered without a trial; I had no trial. Nina Alexandrovna my wife, is an excellent woman, so is my daughter Varvara. We have to let lodgings because we are poor--a dreadful, unheard-of come-down for us--for me, who should have been a governor-general; but we are very glad to have _you_, at all events. Meanwhile there is a tragedy in the house.”
“No--never--nowhere! I’ve been at home all my life, corked up in a bottle; and they expect me to be married straight out of it. What are you laughing at again? I observe that you, too, have taken to laughing at me, and range yourself on their side against me,” she added, frowning angrily. “Don’t irritate me--I’m bad enough without that--I don’t know what I am doing sometimes. I am persuaded that you came here today in the full belief that I am in love with you, and that I arranged this meeting because of that,” she cried, with annoyance.