“You are wonderfully polite. You know he is greatly improved. He loves me better than his life. He let his hand burn before my very eyes in order to prove to me that he loved me better than his life!”
“But perhaps you may not have observed it, oh, you damned idiot, you!” he shouted, quite beside himself with fury. “You can’t even describe what went on.”
“Of course I know they say that one must be obedient, and of course, too, the prince is one of those who say so: that one must be obedient without questions, out of pure goodness of heart, and that for my worthy conduct in this matter I shall meet with reward in another world. We degrade God when we attribute our own ideas to Him, out of annoyance that we cannot fathom His ways.
“Oh, but think how delightful to hear how one’s friends lie! Besides you needn’t be afraid, Gania; everybody knows what your worst action is without the need of any lying on your part. Only think, gentlemen,”--and Ferdishenko here grew quite enthusiastic, “only think with what eyes we shall observe one another tomorrow, after our tales have been told!”
“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!”
The prince regarded Lebedeff with astonishment.
“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”
“Yes, of course; he had written letters to the latter with proposals of peace, had he not?” put in the prince.
“Yes, yes, I ought--but I couldn’t! She would have died--she would have killed herself. You don’t know her; and I should have told Aglaya everything afterwards--but I see, Evgenie Pavlovitch, you don’t know all. Tell me now, why am I not allowed to see Aglaya? I should have cleared it all up, you know. Neither of them kept to the real point, you see. I could never explain what I mean to you, but I think I could to Aglaya. Oh! my God, my God! You spoke just now of Aglaya’s face at the moment when she ran away. Oh, my God! I remember it! Come along, come along--quick!” He pulled at Evgenie’s coat-sleeve nervously and excitedly, and rose from his chair.
“You may smile,--but there’s a career in this,” said the general. “You don’t know what a great personage I shall show this to, prince. Why, you can command a situation at thirty-five roubles per month to start with. However, it’s half-past twelve,” he concluded, looking at his watch; “so to business, prince, for I must be setting to work and shall not see you again today. Sit down a minute. I have told you that I cannot receive you myself very often, but I should like to be of some assistance to you, some small assistance, of a kind that would give you satisfaction. I shall find you a place in one of the State departments, an easy place--but you will require to be accurate. Now, as to your plans--in the house, or rather in the family of Gania here--my young friend, whom I hope you will know better--his mother and sister have prepared two or three rooms for lodgers, and let them to highly recommended young fellows, with board and attendance. I am sure Nina Alexandrovna will take you in on my recommendation. There you will be comfortable and well taken care of; for I do not think, prince, that you are the sort of man to be left to the mercy of Fate in a town like Petersburg. Nina Alexandrovna, Gania’s mother, and Varvara Alexandrovna, are ladies for whom I have the highest possible esteem and respect. Nina Alexandrovna is the wife of General Ardalion Alexandrovitch, my old brother in arms, with whom, I regret to say, on account of certain circumstances, I am no longer acquainted. I give you all this information, prince, in order to make it clear to you that I am personally recommending you to this family, and that in so doing, I am more or less taking upon myself to answer for you. The terms are most reasonable, and I trust that your salary will very shortly prove amply sufficient for your expenditure. Of course pocket-money is a necessity, if only a little; do not be angry, prince, if I strongly recommend you to avoid carrying money in your pocket. But as your purse is quite empty at the present moment, you must allow me to press these twenty-five roubles upon your acceptance, as something to begin with. Of course we will settle this little matter another time, and if you are the upright, honest man you look, I anticipate very little trouble between us on that score. Taking so much interest in you as you may perceive I do, I am not without my object, and you shall know it in good time. You see, I am perfectly candid with you. I hope, Gania, you have nothing to say against the prince’s taking up his abode in your house?”
“Yes, especially this kind.”
“You seem to be very religious,” he continued, kindly, addressing the prince, “which is a thing one meets so seldom nowadays among young people.”
“Here you all are,” began the prince, “settling yourselves down to listen to me with so much curiosity, that if I do not satisfy you you will probably be angry with me. No, no! I’m only joking!” he added, hastily, with a smile.
“Yes--I nearly was,” whispered the prince, hanging his head.
“There you are, mother, you are always like that. You begin by promising that there are to be no reproaches or insinuations or questions, and here you are beginning them at once. We had better drop the subject--we had, really. I shall never leave you, mother; any other man would cut and run from such a sister as this. See how she is looking at me at this moment! Besides, how do you know that I am blinding Nastasia Philipovna? As for Varia, I don’t care--she can do just as she pleases. There, that’s quite enough!”
“How--what do you mean you didn’t allow?”
Adelaida had long since detected in Aglaya’s features the gathering signs of an approaching storm of laughter, which she restrained with amazing self-control.
“In the eyes of the world I am sure that I have no cause for pride or self-esteem. I am much too insignificant for that. But what may be so to other men’s eyes is not so to yours. I am convinced that you are better than other people. Doktorenko disagrees with me, but I am content to differ from him on this point. I will never accept one single copeck from you, but you have helped my mother, and I am bound to be grateful to you for that, however weak it may seem. At any rate, I have changed my opinion about you, and I think right to inform you of the fact; but I also suppose that there can be no further intercourse between us.
“Rogojin and his hundred thousand roubles, no doubt of it,” muttered Ptitsin to himself.
“But how was it?” he asked, “how was it that you (idiot that you are),” he added to himself, “were so very confidential a couple of hours after your first meeting with these people? How was that, eh?”
As for his red-nosed neighbour, the latter--since the information as to the identity of Rogojin--hung over him, seemed to be living on the honey of his words and in the breath of his nostrils, catching at every syllable as though it were a pearl of great price.
“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. You wish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once--he will be free in a minute; but you--you had better wait in the ante-chamber,--hadn’t you? Why is he here?” he added, severely, to the man.
“Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! But what’s the matter?... what?... How is Marfa Borisovna?”
“At moments I was in a state of dreadful weakness and misery, so that Colia was greatly disturbed when he left me.
“The son is not responsible for the misdeeds of his father; and the mother is not to blame,” added Hippolyte, with warmth.
“But after all is said, we are mixed up in it. Your daughters are mixed up in it, Ivan Fedorovitch; young ladies in society, young ladies at an age to be married; they were present, they heard everything there was to hear. They were mixed up with that other scene, too, with those dreadful youths. You must be pleased to remember they heard it all. I cannot forgive that wretched prince. I never shall forgive him! And why, if you please, has Aglaya had an attack of nerves for these last three days? Why has she all but quarrelled with her sisters, even with Alexandra--whom she respects so much that she always kisses her hands as though she were her mother? What are all these riddles of hers that we have to guess? What has Gavrila Ardalionovitch to do with it? Why did she take upon herself to champion him this morning, and burst into tears over it? Why is there an allusion to that cursed ‘poor knight’ in the anonymous letter? And why did I rush off to him just now like a lunatic, and drag him back here? I do believe I’ve gone mad at last. What on earth have I done now? To talk to a young man about my daughter’s secrets--and secrets having to do with himself, too! Thank goodness, he’s an idiot, and a friend of the house! Surely Aglaya hasn’t fallen in love with such a gaby! What an idea! Pfu! we ought all to be put under glass cases--myself first of all--and be shown off as curiosities, at ten copecks a peep!”
“Ardalion,” said Nina Alexandrovitch, entreatingly.
“Reading? None of your reading now!” said somebody; “it’s supper-time.” “What sort of an article is it? For a paper? Probably it’s very dull,” said another. But the prince’s timid gesture had impressed even Hippolyte.
“Quite so, quite so!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, delighted. “I see you _can_ be sensible now and then, Alexandra. You were speaking of Switzerland, prince?”
“I carried you in my arms as a baby,” he observed.
“There is much suffering in this face,” murmured the prince, more as though talking to himself than answering the question.
“Oh no! You see, I was half in hopes the general might find it. Because if I found it, why should not he too observe an object lying before his very eyes? I moved the chair several times so as to expose the purse to view, but the general never saw it. He is very absent just now, evidently. He talks and laughs and tells stories, and suddenly flies into a rage with me, goodness knows why.”
There was no need to repeat that she was serious. The general, like all drunkards, was extremely emotional and easily touched by recollections of his better days. He rose and walked quietly to the door, so meekly that Mrs. Epanchin was instantly sorry for him.
“I don’t understand you in the least, Parfen.”
“Rogojin was evidently by no means pleased to see me, and hinted, delicately, that he saw no reason why our acquaintance should continue. For all that, however, I spent a very interesting hour, and so, I dare say, did he. There was so great a contrast between us that I am sure we must both have felt it; anyhow, I felt it acutely. Here was I, with my days numbered, and he, a man in the full vigour of life, living in the present, without the slightest thought for ‘final convictions,’ or numbers, or days, or, in fact, for anything but that which-which--well, which he was mad about, if he will excuse me the expression--as a feeble author who cannot express his ideas properly.
“Drink some water, and don’t look like that!”
A maid opened the door for the prince (Nastasia’s servants were all females) and, to his surprise, received his request to announce him to her mistress without any astonishment. Neither his dirty boots, nor his wide-brimmed hat, nor his sleeveless cloak, nor his evident confusion of manner, produced the least impression upon her. She helped him off with his cloak, and begged him to wait a moment in the ante-room while she announced him.
“Didn’t I tell you the truth now, when I said you were in love?” he said, coming up to Muishkin of his own accord, and stopping him.
“This--this is going beyond all limits!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, suddenly alarmed.
Lebedeff grimaced and wriggled again.
Poor Lizabetha Prokofievna was most anxious to get home, and, according to Evgenie’s account, she criticized everything foreign with much hostility.
“Oh, you needn’t laugh! These things do happen, you know! Now then--why didn’t you come to us? We have a wing quite empty. But just as you like, of course. Do you lease it from _him?_--this fellow, I mean,” she added, nodding towards Lebedeff. “And why does he always wriggle so?”
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.
It never struck him that all this refined simplicity and nobility and wit and personal dignity might possibly be no more than an exquisite artistic polish. The majority of the guests--who were somewhat empty-headed, after all, in spite of their aristocratic bearing--never guessed, in their self-satisfied composure, that much of their superiority was mere veneer, which indeed they had adopted unconsciously and by inheritance.
“What is it?” someone asked, breathlessly--“A misfire?”
“My dear,” said the general, “it seems to me that a sick-nurse would be of more use here than an excitable person like you. Perhaps it would be as well to get some sober, reliable man for the night. In any case we must consult the prince, and leave the patient to rest at once. Tomorrow we can see what can be done for him.”
And suddenly, just as twice already he had awaked from sleep with the same vision, that very apparition now seemed to rise up before him. The woman appeared to step out from the park, and stand in the path in front of him, as though she had been waiting for him there.
All present concentrated their attention upon Ptitsin, reading the prince’s letter. The general curiosity had received a new fillip. Ferdishenko could not sit still. Rogojin fixed his eyes first on the prince, and then on Ptitsin, and then back again; he was extremely agitated. Lebedeff could not stand it. He crept up and read over Ptitsin’s shoulder, with the air of a naughty boy who expects a box on the ear every moment for his indiscretion.
“Really, really, gentlemen,” cried the prince in great agitation, “you are misunderstanding me again. In the first place, Mr. Keller, you have greatly overestimated my fortune in your article. I am far from being a millionaire. I have barely a tenth of what you suppose. Secondly, my treatment in Switzerland was very far from costing tens of thousands of roubles. Schneider received six hundred roubles a year, and he was only paid for the first three years. As to the pretty governesses whom Pavlicheff is supposed to have brought from Paris, they only exist in Mr. Keller’s imagination; it is another calumny. According to my calculations, the sum spent on me was very considerably under ten thousand roubles, but I decided on that sum, and you must admit that in paying a debt I could not offer Mr. Burdovsky more, however kindly disposed I might be towards him; delicacy forbids it; I should seem to be offering him charity instead of rightful payment. I don’t know how you cannot see that, gentlemen! Besides, I had no intention of leaving the matter there. I meant to intervene amicably later on and help to improve poor Mr. Burdovsky’s position. It is clear that he has been deceived, or he would never have agreed to anything so vile as the scandalous revelations about his mother in Mr. Keller’s article. But, gentlemen, why are you getting angry again? Are we never to come to an understanding? Well, the event has proved me right! I have just seen with my own eyes the proof that my conjecture was correct!” he added, with increasing eagerness.
Thanks to the manner in which he regarded Nastasia’s mental and moral condition, the prince was to some extent freed from other perplexities. She was now quite different from the woman he had known three months before. He was not astonished, for instance, to see her now so impatient to marry him--she who formerly had wept with rage and hurled curses and reproaches at him if he mentioned marriage! “It shows that she no longer fears, as she did then, that she would make me unhappy by marrying me,” he thought. And he felt sure that so sudden a change could not be a natural one. This rapid growth of self-confidence could not be due only to her hatred for Aglaya. To suppose that would be to suspect the depth of her feelings. Nor could it arise from dread of the fate that awaited her if she married Rogojin. These causes, indeed, as well as others, might have played a part in it, but the true reason, Muishkin decided, was the one he had long suspected--that the poor sick soul had come to the end of its forces. Yet this was an explanation that did not procure him any peace of mind. At times he seemed to be making violent efforts to think of nothing, and one would have said that he looked on his marriage as an unimportant formality, and on his future happiness as a thing not worth considering. As to conversations such as the one held with Evgenie Pavlovitch, he avoided them as far as possible, feeling that there were certain objections to which he could make no answer.
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
“Where have you dropped from?” cried the prince.
“Bravo! That’s frank, at any rate!” shouted Ferdishenko, and there was general laughter.
“I know nothing whatever about it!” replied the latter, who was, himself, in a state of nervous excitement.
“Send me back then this one word of sympathy, only sympathy, I swear to you; and oh! do not be angry with the audacity of despair, with the drowning man who has dared to make this last effort to save himself from perishing beneath the waters.
“Just so! just so! He wanted to win over the aristocracy! When his eagle eye fell on me, mine probably flashed back in response. ‘_Voilà un garçon bien éveillé! Qui est ton père?_’ I immediately replied, almost panting with excitement, ‘A general, who died on the battle-fields of his country!’ ‘_Le fils d’un boyard et d’un brave, pardessus le marché. J’aime les boyards. M’aimes-tu, petit?_’
“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”
“H’m! impossible is rather a strong word,” said Ivan Petrovitch. “You must allow, my dear prince... However, of course you value the memory of the deceased so very highly; and he certainly was the kindest of men; to which fact, by the way, I ascribe, more than to anything else, the success of the abbot in influencing his religious convictions. But you may ask me, if you please, how much trouble and worry I, personally, had over that business, and especially with this same Gurot! Would you believe it,” he continued, addressing the dignitary, “they actually tried to put in a claim under the deceased’s will, and I had to resort to the very strongest measures in order to bring them to their senses? I assure you they knew their cue, did these gentlemen--wonderful! Thank goodness all this was in Moscow, and I got the Court, you know, to help me, and we soon brought them to their senses.”
“At home? Oh, I can do as I like there, of course; only my father will make a fool of himself, as usual. He is rapidly becoming a general nuisance. I don’t ever talk to him now, but I hold him in check, safe enough. I swear if it had not been for my mother, I should have shown him the way out, long ago. My mother is always crying, of course, and my sister sulks. I had to tell them at last that I intended to be master of my own destiny, and that I expect to be obeyed at home. At least, I gave my sister to understand as much, and my mother was present.”
“Of course he never existed!” Gania interrupted.
“Once more let us beg you to be calm, my dear boy. We’ll talk of all this another time--I shall do so with the greatest pleasure, for one,” said the old dignitary, with a smile.
“Is that true?” she asked.
He stopped for a moment at the door; a great flush of shame came over him. “I am a coward, a wretched coward,” he said, and moved forward again; but once more he paused.
“No, no, you needn’t do anything of the sort; you mustn’t hint gently at all. I’ll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because I hurt his feelings.”
“What extraordinary people they are!” thought Prince S., for perhaps the hundredth time since he had entered into intimate relations with the family; but--he liked these “extraordinary people,” all the same. As for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch himself, Prince S. did not seem quite to like him, somehow. He was decidedly preoccupied and a little disturbed as they all started off.
“Of course not--of course not!--bah! The criminal was a fine intelligent fearless man; Le Gros was his name; and I may tell you--believe it or not, as you like--that when that man stepped upon the scaffold he _cried_, he did indeed,--he was as white as a bit of paper. Isn’t it a dreadful idea that he should have cried--cried! Whoever heard of a grown man crying from fear--not a child, but a man who never had cried before--a grown man of forty-five years. Imagine what must have been going on in that man’s mind at such a moment; what dreadful convulsions his whole spirit must have endured; it is an outrage on the soul that’s what it is. Because it is said ‘thou shalt not kill,’ is he to be killed because he murdered some one else? No, it is not right, it’s an impossible theory. I assure you, I saw the sight a month ago and it’s dancing before my eyes to this moment. I dream of it, often.”
“I? I? Do you mean me? Often, my friend, often! I only pretended I had not in order to avoid a painful subject. You saw today, you were a witness, that I did all that a kind, an indulgent father could do. Now a father of altogether another type shall step into the scene. You shall see; the old soldier shall lay bare this intrigue, or a shameless woman will force her way into a respectable and noble family.”
“It’s quite a clear case,” said the hitherto silent Gania. “I have watched the prince almost all day, ever since the moment when he first saw Nastasia Philipovna’s portrait, at General Epanchin’s. I remember thinking at the time what I am now pretty sure of; and what, I may say in passing, the prince confessed to myself.”
“Asleep--he’ll sleep for a couple of hours yet. I quite understand--you haven’t slept--you walked about the park, I know. Agitation--excitement--all that sort of thing--quite natural, too!”
“There’s a girl for you!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Mr. Ptitsin, I congratulate you on your choice.”
“Yes, I hear.”
“I only want to know, Mr. Hippolyte--excuse me, I forget your surname.”
“He may not be home for a week.”
“Yes, I have,” replied the prince, quite unsuspicious of any irony in the remark.
“For two days the children looked after her, and then, when the village people got to know that Marie was really dying, some of the old women came and took it in turns to sit by her and look after her a bit. I think they began to be a little sorry for her in the village at last; at all events they did not interfere with the children any more, on her account.
“Is there over there?”
“I only wished to say that this ‘distortion,’ as Evgenie Pavlovitch expressed it, is met with very often, and is far more the general rule than the exception, unfortunately for Russia. So much so, that if this distortion were not the general rule, perhaps these dreadful crimes would be less frequent.”
The prince shuddered, and gazed fixedly at Parfen. Suddenly he burst out laughing.
“Meek! What do you mean?”
“It is not my intrigue!” cried Lebedeff, waving his hand.
All present watched both of them with curiosity.
He found the mother and daughter locked in one another’s arms, mingling their tears.
Gavrila Ardalionovitch listened attentively, and gazed at the prince with great curiosity. At last he motioned the man aside and stepped hurriedly towards the prince.
The sisters replied candidly and fully enough to their mother’s impatient questions on her return. They said, in the first place, that nothing particular had happened since her departure; that the prince had been, and that Aglaya had kept him waiting a long while before she appeared--half an hour, at least; that she had then come in, and immediately asked the prince to have a game of chess; that the prince did not know the game, and Aglaya had beaten him easily; that she had been in a wonderfully merry mood, and had laughed at the prince, and chaffed him so unmercifully that one was quite sorry to see his wretched expression.
“Come then. You know, I suppose, that you must escort me there? You are well enough to go out, aren’t you?”
“Yes; and I have another request to make, general. Have you ever been at Nastasia Philipovna’s?”
“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”
“I cannot boast of any such knowledge, of course, but I wished to know your name.”
“Perhaps you think I am mad, eh?” he asked him, laughing very strangely.
“Has anyone a coin about them? Give me a twenty-copeck piece, somebody!” And Hippolyte leapt from his chair.
All present interchanged glances, but at last the old dignitary burst out laughing frankly. Prince N. took out his eye-glass to have a good look at the speaker. The German poet came out of his corner and crept nearer to the table, with a spiteful smile.
“When I observed that it was all the same whether one died among trees or in front of a blank brick wall, as here, and that it was not worth making any fuss over a fortnight, he agreed at once. But he insisted that the good air at Pavlofsk and the greenness would certainly cause a physical change for the better, and that my excitement, and my _dreams_, would be perhaps relieved. I remarked to him, with a smile, that he spoke like a materialist, and he answered that he had always been one. As he never tells a lie, there must be something in his words. His smile is a pleasant one. I have had a good look at him. I don’t know whether I like him or not; and I have no time to waste over the question. The hatred which I felt for him for five months has become considerably modified, I may say, during the last month. Who knows, perhaps I am going to Pavlofsk on purpose to see him! But why do I leave my chamber? Those who are sentenced to death should not leave their cells. If I had not formed a final resolve, but had decided to wait until the last minute, I should not leave my room, or accept his invitation to come and die at Pavlofsk. I must be quick and finish this explanation before tomorrow. I shall have no time to read it over and correct it, for I must read it tomorrow to the prince and two or three witnesses whom I shall probably find there.
“Alexandra Michailovna out, too! How disappointing! Would you believe it, I am always so unfortunate! May I most respectfully ask you to present my compliments to Alexandra Michailovna, and remind her... tell her, that with my whole heart I wish for her what she wished for herself on Thursday evening, while she was listening to Chopin’s Ballade. She will remember. I wish it with all sincerity. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin!”
“Here, on the verandah? Very well, I’ll tell them all not to come and wake you. Papa has gone out somewhere.”
“But why talk now?” replied Lizabetha Prokofievna, more and more alarmed; “You are quite feverish. Just now you would not stop shouting, and now you can hardly breathe. You are gasping.”
“And how do you know that?” she asked him, sharply.
“My fate is to be decided today” (it ran), “you know how. This day I must give my word irrevocably. I have no right to ask your help, and I dare not allow myself to indulge in any hopes; but once you said just one word, and that word lighted up the night of my life, and became the beacon of my days. Say one more such word, and save me from utter ruin. Only tell me, ‘break off the whole thing!’ and I will do so this very day. Oh! what can it cost you to say just this one word? In doing so you will but be giving me a sign of your sympathy for me, and of your pity; only this, only this; nothing more, _nothing_. I dare not indulge in any hope, because I am unworthy of it. But if you say but this word, I will take up my cross again with joy, and return once more to my battle with poverty. I shall meet the storm and be glad of it; I shall rise up with renewed strength.
“I believe I have just written dreadful nonsense; but there’s no time for correcting, as I said before. Besides that, I have made myself a promise not to alter a single word of what I write in this paper, even though I find that I am contradicting myself every five lines. I wish to verify the working of the natural logic of my ideas tomorrow during the reading--whether I am capable of detecting logical errors, and whether all that I have meditated over during the last six months be true, or nothing but delirium.