“No, sir, Kapitoshka--not Eroshka. I mean, Kapiton Alexeyevitch--retired major--married Maria Petrovna Lu--Lu--he was my friend and companion--Lutugoff--from our earliest beginnings. I closed his eyes for him--he was killed. Kapiton Eropegoff never existed! tfu!”
“Tell me, prince, why on earth did this boy intrude himself upon you?” he asked, with such annoyance and irritation in his voice that the prince was quite surprised. “I wouldn’t mind laying odds that he is up to some mischief.”
On the first landing, which was as small as the necessary turn of the stairs allowed, there was a niche in the column, about half a yard wide, and in this niche the prince felt convinced that a man stood concealed. He thought he could distinguish a figure standing there. He would pass by quickly and not look. He took a step forward, but could bear the uncertainty no longer and turned his head.
Evgenie Pavlovitch flushed up and looked angrily at Nastasia Philipovna, then turned his back on her.
The general laughed with great satisfaction, and applied himself once more to the champagne.
“Save me!” she cried. “Take me away, anywhere you like, quick!”
“Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees--that green bench?”
“Well! naturally he came to grief: the law is not administered as it used to be, and he only got laughed at for his pains. But he was much pleased with himself in spite of that. ‘Most learned judge!’ said he, ‘picture this unhappy man, crippled by age and infirmities, who gains his living by honourable toil--picture him, I repeat, robbed of his all, of his last mouthful; remember, I entreat you, the words of that learned legislator, “Let mercy and justice alike rule the courts of law.”’ Now, would you believe it, excellency, every morning he recites this speech to us from beginning to end, exactly as he spoke it before the magistrate. To-day we have heard it for the fifth time. He was just starting again when you arrived, so much does he admire it. He is now preparing to undertake another case. I think, by the way, that you are Prince Muishkin? Colia tells me you are the cleverest man he has ever known....”
“Quite right!” agreed General Ivolgin in a loud voice.
“Yes, through an agent. My own name doesn’t appear. I have a large family, you see, and at a small percentage--”
“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?”
“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.
But on this occasion there was something more serious than usual. Everyone seemed to know something, but to be afraid to talk about it.
“Get on, quick!” shrieked Ferdishenko, rushing wildly up to Gania, and trying to drag him to the fire by the sleeve of his coat. “Get it, you dummy, it’s burning away fast! Oh--_damn_ the thing!”
“He’s not going to die at once, I should think, is he?”
“I took a droshky and drove over to the Vassili Ostroff at once. For some years I had been at enmity with this young Bachmatoff, at school. We considered him an aristocrat; at all events I called him one. He used to dress smartly, and always drove to school in a private trap. He was a good companion, and was always merry and jolly, sometimes even witty, though he was not very intellectual, in spite of the fact that he was always top of the class; I myself was never top in anything! All his companions were very fond of him, excepting myself. He had several times during those years come up to me and tried to make friends; but I had always turned sulkily away and refused to have anything to do with him. I had not seen him for a whole year now; he was at the university. When, at nine o’clock, or so, this evening, I arrived and was shown up to him with great ceremony, he first received me with astonishment, and not too affably, but he soon cheered up, and suddenly gazed intently at me and burst out laughing.
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen; please excuse me,” said the prince. “I thought absolute frankness on both sides would be best, but have it your own way. I told Tchebaroff that, as I was not in Petersburg, I would commission a friend to look into the matter without delay, and that I would let you know, Mr. Burdovsky. Gentlemen, I have no hesitation in telling you that it was the fact of Tchebaroff’s intervention that made me suspect a fraud. Oh! do not take offence at my words, gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake do not be so touchy!” cried the prince, seeing that Burdovsky was getting excited again, and that the rest were preparing to protest. “If I say I suspected a fraud, there is nothing personal in that. I had never seen any of you then; I did not even know your names; I only judged by Tchebaroff; I am speaking quite generally--if you only knew how I have been ‘done’ since I came into my fortune!”
The general watched Gania’s confusion intently, and clearly did not like it.
“Oh yes, Mr. Terentieff. Thank you prince. I heard it just now, but had forgotten it. I want to know, Mr. Terentieff, if what I have heard about you is true. It seems you are convinced that if you could speak to the people from a window for a quarter of an hour, you could make them all adopt your views and follow you?”
“Four years! and I was in the same place nearly all the time,--in one village.”
“I’ll tell you what!” cried Rogojin, and his eyes flashed fire. “I can’t understand your yielding her to me like this; I don’t understand it. Have you given up loving her altogether? At first you suffered badly--I know it--I saw it. Besides, why did you come post-haste after us? Out of pity, eh? He, he, he!” His mouth curved in a mocking smile.
Despair overmastered his soul; he would not go on, he would go back to his hotel; he even turned and went the other way; but a moment after he changed his mind again and went on in the old direction.
“No, that was another commentator, whom the papers named. He is dead, however, and I have taken his place,” said the other, much delighted.
“If that is true,” said he, “I have been deceived, grossly deceived, but not by Tchebaroff: and for a long time past, a long time. I do not wish for experts, not I, nor to go to see you. I believe you. I give it up.... But I refuse the ten thousand roubles. Good-bye.”
“Tell me, how do you intend to live now, and what are your plans?” interrupted the general.
“Well, what does it all mean? What do you make of it?” asked the general of his spouse, hurriedly.
“She looked at him, and stared and stared, and hung on every word he said,” said Lizabetha afterwards, to her husband, “and yet, tell her that she loves him, and she is furious!”
“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.”
“It is the _heart_ which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master,” said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.
“Thank God, I have got mother away, and put her to bed without another scene! Gania is worried--and ashamed--not without reason! What a spectacle! I have come to thank you once more, prince, and to ask you if you knew Nastasia Philipovna before?”
But they did not let her finish, and gathered round her eagerly. The prince immediately invited everyone to stay for tea, and apologized for not having thought of it before. The general murmured a few polite words, and asked Lizabetha Prokofievna if she did not feel cold on the terrace. He very nearly asked Hippolyte how long he had been at the University, but stopped himself in time. Evgenie Pavlovitch and Prince S. suddenly grew extremely gay and amiable. Adelaida and Alexandra had not recovered from their surprise, but it was now mingled with satisfaction; in short, everyone seemed very much relieved that Lizabetha Prokofievna had got over her paroxysm. Aglaya alone still frowned, and sat apart in silence. All the other guests stayed on as well; no one wanted to go, not even General Ivolgin, but Lebedeff said something to him in passing which did not seem to please him, for he immediately went and sulked in a corner. The prince took care to offer tea to Burdovsky and his friends as well as the rest. The invitation made them rather uncomfortable. They muttered that they would wait for Hippolyte, and went and sat by themselves in a distant corner of the verandah. Tea was served at once; Lebedeff had no doubt ordered it for himself and his family before the others arrived. It was striking eleven.
“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 outburst was so terribly violent that the prince thought it would have killed her.
In vain the girls assured her that a man who had not written for six months would not be in such a dreadful hurry, and that probably he had enough to do in town without needing to bustle down to Pavlofsk to see them. Their mother was quite angry at the very idea of such a thing, and announced her absolute conviction that he would turn up the next day at latest.
“Well, _au revoir!_ Did you observe that he ‘willed’ a copy of his confession to Aglaya Ivanovna?”
“The gentle Abbot Pafnute signed this.”
“Go nearer,” suggested Rogojin, softly.
“Once two little girls got hold of some food and took it to her, and came back and told me. They said she had burst into tears, and that they loved her very much now. Very soon after that they all became fond of Marie, and at the same time they began to develop the greatest affection for myself. They often came to me and begged me to tell them stories. I think I must have told stories well, for they did so love to hear them. At last I took to reading up interesting things on purpose to pass them on to the little ones, and this went on for all the rest of my time there, three years. Later, when everyone--even Schneider--was angry with me for hiding nothing from the children, I pointed out how foolish it was, for they always knew things, only they learnt them in a way that soiled their minds but not so from me. One has only to remember one’s own childhood to admit the truth of this. But nobody was convinced... It was two weeks before her mother died that I had kissed Marie; and when the clergyman preached that sermon the children were all on my side.
“What I am really alarmed about, though,” he said, “is Aglaya Ivanovna. Rogojin knows how you love her. Love for love. You took Nastasia Philipovna from him. He will murder Aglaya Ivanovna; for though she is not yours, of course, now, still such an act would pain you,--wouldn’t it?”
“Let me remind you once more, Evgenie,” said Prince S., “that your joke is getting a little threadbare.”
He bowed and retired without waiting for an answer.
“Evgenie Pavlovitch! Is that you?” cried a clear, sweet voice, which caused the prince, and perhaps someone else, to tremble. “Well, I _am_ glad I’ve found you at last! I’ve sent to town for you twice today myself! My messengers have been searching for you everywhere!”
“‘I think you dropped this,’ I remarked, as quietly and drily as I could. (I thought it best to treat him so.) For some while he stood before me in downright terror, and seemed unable to understand. He then suddenly grabbed at his side-pocket, opened his mouth in alarm, and beat his forehead with his hand.
“But perhaps we shall not be poor; we may be very rich, Nastasia Philipovna,” continued the prince, in the same timid, quivering tones. “I don’t know for certain, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t had an opportunity of finding out all day; but I received a letter from Moscow, while I was in Switzerland, from a Mr. Salaskin, and he acquaints me with the fact that I am entitled to a very large inheritance. This letter--”
“Twenty-seventh!” said Gania.
All surrounded the prince with exclamations of welcome, and, on hearing that it was his birthday, with cries of congratulation and delight; many of them were very noisy.
“And he won’t go away!” cried Lebedeff. “He has installed himself here, and here he remains!”
“I long sought to meet Marie alone; and at last I did meet her, on the hillside beyond the village. I gave her the eight francs and asked her to take care of the money because I could get no more; and then I kissed her and said that she was not to suppose I kissed her with any evil motives or because I was in love with her, for that I did so solely out of pity for her, and because from the first I had not accounted her as guilty so much as unfortunate. I longed to console and encourage her somehow, and to assure her that she was not the low, base thing which she and others strove to make out; but I don’t think she understood me. She stood before me, dreadfully ashamed of herself, and with downcast eyes; and when I had finished she kissed my hand. I would have kissed hers, but she drew it away. Just at this moment the whole troop of children saw us. (I found out afterwards that they had long kept a watch upon me.) They all began whistling and clapping their hands, and laughing at us. Marie ran away at once; and when I tried to talk to them, they threw stones at me. All the village heard of it the same day, and Marie’s position became worse than ever. The children would not let her pass now in the streets, but annoyed her and threw dirt at her more than before. They used to run after her--she racing away with her poor feeble lungs panting and gasping, and they pelting her and shouting abuse at her.
Suddenly Hippolyte arose. His face, shockingly pale, was that of a man overwhelmed with shame and despair. This was shown chiefly in the look of fear and hatred which he cast upon the assembled company, and in the wild smile upon his trembling lips. Then he cast down his eyes, and with the same smile, staggered towards Burdovsky and Doktorenko, who stood at the entrance to the verandah. He had decided to go with them.
“Come in please, prince!”
He was informed that Nastasia used to play with Rogojin every evening, either at “preference” or “little fool,” or “whist”; that this had been their practice since her last return from Pavlofsk; that she had taken to this amusement because she did not like to see Rogojin sitting silent and dull for whole evenings at a time; that the day after Nastasia had made a remark to this effect, Rogojin had whipped a pack of cards out of his pocket. Nastasia had laughed, but soon they began playing. The prince asked where were the cards, but was told that Rogojin used to bring a new pack every day, and always carried it away in his pocket.
“Well perhaps you’re right,” said Hippolyte, musing. “They might say--yet, devil take them! what does it matter?--prince, what can it matter what people will say of us _then_, eh? I believe I’m half asleep. I’ve had such a dreadful dream--I’ve only just remembered it. Prince, I don’t wish you such dreams as that, though sure enough, perhaps, I _don’t_ love you. Why wish a man evil, though you do not love him, eh? Give me your hand--let me press it sincerely. There--you’ve given me your hand--you must feel that I _do_ press it sincerely, don’t you? I don’t think I shall drink any more. What time is it? Never mind, I know the time. The time has come, at all events. What! they are laying supper over there, are they? Then this table is free? Capital, gentlemen! I--hem! these gentlemen are not listening. Prince, I will just read over an article I have here. Supper is more interesting, of course, but--”
“What delightful writing materials you have here, such a lot of pencils and things, and what beautiful paper! It’s a charming room altogether. I know that picture, it’s a Swiss view. I’m sure the artist painted it from nature, and that I have seen the very place--”
“You may imagine her ecstasy, her gratitude. The wretched Platon, who had almost died since yesterday of the reproaches showered upon him, wept on my shoulder. Of course poor Peter had no chance after this.
“I will not accept ten thousand roubles,” said Burdovsky.
Here the sound judgment of Totski stood him in good stead. He realized that Nastasia Philipovna must be well aware that she could do nothing by legal means to injure him, and that her flashing eyes betrayed some entirely different intention.
“Yes,” said Muishkin, with some surprise.
“I was watching for you, prince,” said the individual.
“Some dirty little thousand or so may be touched,” said Lebedeff, immensely relieved, “but there’s very little harm done, after all.”
“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
“I expect he knows all about it!” thought the prince.
“Did you see how she spat in Gania’s face! Varia is afraid of no one. But you did not follow her example, and yet I am sure it was not through cowardice. Here she comes! Speak of a wolf and you see his tail! I felt sure that she would come. She is very generous, though of course she has her faults.”
He opened his own door.
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
“How strange that criminals seldom swoon at such a moment! On the contrary, the brain is especially active, and works incessantly--probably hard, hard, hard--like an engine at full pressure. I imagine that various thoughts must beat loud and fast through his head--all unfinished ones, and strange, funny thoughts, very likely!--like this, for instance: ‘That man is looking at me, and he has a wart on his forehead! and the executioner has burst one of his buttons, and the lowest one is all rusty!’ And meanwhile he notices and remembers everything. There is one point that cannot be forgotten, round which everything else dances and turns about; and because of this point he cannot faint, and this lasts until the very final quarter of a second, when the wretched neck is on the block and the victim listens and waits and _knows_--that’s the point, he _knows_ that he is just _now_ about to die, and listens for the rasp of the iron over his head. If I lay there, I should certainly listen for that grating sound, and hear it, too! There would probably be but the tenth part of an instant left to hear it in, but one would certainly hear it. And imagine, some people declare that when the head flies off it is _conscious_ of having flown off! Just imagine what a thing to realize! Fancy if consciousness were to last for even five seconds!
Muishkin began to despair. He could not imagine how he had been so foolish as to trust this man. He only wanted one thing, and that was to get to Nastasia Philipovna’s, even at the cost of a certain amount of impropriety. But now the scandal threatened to be more than he had bargained for. By this time Ardalion Alexandrovitch was quite intoxicated, and he kept his companion listening while he discoursed eloquently and pathetically on subjects of all kinds, interspersed with torrents of recrimination against the members of his family. He insisted that all his troubles were caused by their bad conduct, and time alone would put an end to them.
“He has acknowledged himself to be in the wrong. Don’t you see that the greater his vanity, the more difficult this admission must have been on his part? Oh, what a little child you are, Lizabetha Prokofievna!”
“If you,” he said, addressing Burdovsky--“if you prefer not to speak here, I offer again to go into another room with you... and as to your waiting to see me, I repeat that I only this instant heard...”
“On the contrary, he seems to be very well brought up. His manners are excellent--but here he is himself. Here you are, prince--let me introduce you, the last of the Muishkins, a relative of your own, my dear, or at least of the same name. Receive him kindly, please. They’ll bring in lunch directly, prince; you must stop and have some, but you must excuse me. I’m in a hurry, I must be off--”
“It’s true then, Lebedeff, that you advertise to lend money on gold or silver articles?”
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.
“I quite understand. You are trying to comfort me for the naiveness with which you disagreed with me--eh? Ha! ha! ha! You are a regular child, prince! However, I cannot help seeing that you always treat me like--like a fragile china cup. Never mind, never mind, I’m not a bit angry! At all events we have had a very funny talk. Do you know, all things considered, I should like to be something better than Osterman! I wouldn’t take the trouble to rise from the dead to be an Osterman. However, I see I must make arrangements to die soon, or I myself--. Well--leave me now! _Au revoir._ Look here--before you go, just give me your opinion: how do you think I ought to die, now? I mean--the best, the most virtuous way? Tell me!”
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.
“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!”
After a formal introduction by Gania (who greeted his mother very shortly, took no notice of his sister, and immediately marched Ptitsin out of the room), Nina Alexandrovna addressed a few kind words to the prince and forthwith requested Colia, who had just appeared at the door, to show him to the “middle room.”
“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.”
“‘Never!’ I cried, indignantly.”
The prince shuddered, and gazed fixedly at Parfen. Suddenly he burst out laughing.
“Excuse me, Mr. Keller,” interposed Gavrila Ardalionovitch. “Allow me to speak. I assure you your article shall be mentioned in its proper place, and you can then explain everything, but for the moment I would rather not anticipate. Quite accidentally, with the help of my sister, Varvara Ardalionovna Ptitsin, I obtained from one of her intimate friends, Madame Zoubkoff, a letter written to her twenty-five years ago, by Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff, then abroad. After getting into communication with this lady, I went by her advice to Timofei Fedorovitch Viazovkin, a retired colonel, and one of Pavlicheff’s oldest friends. He gave me two more letters written by the latter when he was still in foreign parts. These three documents, their dates, and the facts mentioned in them, prove in the most undeniable manner, that eighteen months before your birth, Nicolai Andreevitch went abroad, where he remained for three consecutive years. Your mother, as you are well aware, has never been out of Russia.... It is too late to read the letters now; I am content to state the fact. But if you desire it, come to me tomorrow morning, bring witnesses and writing experts with you, and I will prove the absolute truth of my story. From that moment the question will be decided.”
“He’s not going to die at once, I should think, is he?”
Will it be believed that, after Aglaya’s alarming words, an ineradicable conviction had taken possession of his mind that, however he might try to avoid this vase next day, he must certainly break it? But so it was.
“My name really is Lukian Timofeyovitch,” acknowledged Lebedeff, lowering his eyes, and putting his hand on his heart.
“Go on, announce me--what’s that noise?”
“Do you know for certain that he was at home last night?”
Gania gazed after him uneasily, but said nothing.
“You are not angry with me?” he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervous hurry, although he looked them straight in the face.
“Oh, dear!” cried the prince, confused, trying to hurry his words out, and growing more and more eager every moment: “I’ve gone and said another stupid thing. I don’t know what to say. I--I didn’t mean that, you know--I--I--he really was such a splendid man, wasn’t he?”
“No, I am not lying.”
“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!”
“A donkey? How strange! Yet it is not strange. Anyone of us might fall in love with a donkey! It happened in mythological times,” said Madame Epanchin, looking wrathfully at her daughters, who had begun to laugh. “Go on, prince.”
“Quite likely, though I bought it here. Gania, give the prince some paper. Here are pens and paper; now then, take this table. What’s this?” the general continued to Gania, who had that moment taken a large photograph out of his portfolio, and shown it to his senior. “Halloa! Nastasia Philipovna! Did she send it you herself? Herself?” he inquired, with much curiosity and great animation.
“‘Escape, general! Go home!--’
“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!”
“How can I? How can I?” cried Hippolyte, looking at him in amazement. “Gentlemen! I was a fool! I won’t break off again. Listen, everyone who wants to!”
Colia was occupied with his father at this time. The old man died during a second stroke, which took place just eight days after the first. The prince showed great sympathy in the grief of the family, and during the first days of their mourning he was at the house a great deal with Nina Alexandrovna. He went to the funeral, and it was observable that the public assembled in church greeted his arrival and departure with whisperings, and watched him closely.
“I was much surprised, and looked at him expectantly.
“What about Evgenie’s uncle?”
The servant, though of course he could not have expressed all this as the prince did, still clearly entered into it and was greatly conciliated, as was evident from the increased amiability of his expression. “If you are really very anxious for a smoke,” he remarked, “I think it might possibly be managed, if you are very quick about it. You see they might come out and inquire for you, and you wouldn’t be on the spot. You see that door there? Go in there and you’ll find a little room on the right; you can smoke there, only open the window, because I ought not to allow it really, and--.” But there was no time, after all.