“Brought whom?” cried Muishkin.
“The face was depicted as though still suffering; as though the body, only just dead, was still almost quivering with agony. The picture was one of pure nature, for the face was not beautified by the artist, but was left as it would naturally be, whosoever the sufferer, after such anguish.
But as we said before, the fact of Adelaida’s approaching marriage was balm to the mother. For a whole month she forgot her fears and worries.
“No, no I--I--no!” said Gania, bringing out his lie with a tell-tale blush of shame. He glanced keenly at Aglaya, who was sitting some way off, and dropped his eyes immediately.
“Yes, I brought him down from town just after you had left the house.”
“You thought I should accept this good child’s invitation to ruin him, did you?” she cried. “That’s Totski’s way, not mine. He’s fond of children. Come along, Rogojin, get your money ready! We won’t talk about marrying just at this moment, but let’s see the money at all events. Come! I may not marry you, either. I don’t know. I suppose you thought you’d keep the money, if I did! Ha, ha, ha! nonsense! I have no sense of shame left. I tell you I have been Totski’s concubine. Prince, you must marry Aglaya Ivanovna, not Nastasia Philipovna, or this fellow Ferdishenko will always be pointing the finger of scorn at you. You aren’t afraid, I know; but I should always be afraid that I had ruined you, and that you would reproach me for it. As for what you say about my doing you honour by marrying you--well, Totski can tell you all about that. You had your eye on Aglaya, Gania, you know you had; and you might have married her if you had not come bargaining. You are all like this. You should choose, once for all, between disreputable women, and respectable ones, or you are sure to get mixed. Look at the general, how he’s staring at me!”
“I took no notice, because they never said a word. If they didn’t like the cigar, why couldn’t they say so? Not a word, not a hint! Suddenly, and without the very slightest suspicion of warning, ‘light blue’ seizes my cigar from between my fingers, and, wheugh! out of the window with it! Well, on flew the train, and I sat bewildered, and the young woman, tall and fair, and rather red in the face, too red, glared at me with flashing eyes.
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
Poor Lizabetha Prokofievna was most anxious to get home, and, according to Evgenie’s account, she criticized everything foreign with much hostility.
“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.”
“Good-bye!” she said at last, and rose and left him, very quickly.
“You exaggerate the matter very much,” said Ivan Petrovitch, with rather a bored air. “There are, in the foreign Churches, many representatives of their faith who are worthy of respect and esteem.”
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.
The prince replied that he saw it.
“May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?”
Muishkin frowned, and rose from his seat.
“H’m! why must you needs go up and change your coat like that?” asked the prince, banging the table with his fist, in annoyance.
“But what is the use of talking? I’m afraid all this is so commonplace that my confession will be taken for a schoolboy exercise--the work of some ambitious lad writing in the hope of his work ‘seeing the light’; or perhaps my readers will say that ‘I had perhaps something to say, but did not know how to express it.’
But all the same Gania was in haste, for his sister was waiting at Lebedeff’s to consult him on an urgent matter of business. If he had anticipated impatient questions, or impulsive confidences, he was soon undeceived. The prince was thoughtful, reserved, even a little absent-minded, and asked none of the questions--one in particular--that Gania had expected. So he imitated the prince’s demeanour, and talked fast and brilliantly upon all subjects but the one on which their thoughts were engaged. Among other things Gania told his host that Nastasia Philipovna had been only four days in Pavlofsk, and that everyone was talking about her already. She was staying with Daria Alexeyevna, in an ugly little house in Mattrossky Street, but drove about in the smartest carriage in the place. A crowd of followers had pursued her from the first, young and old. Some escorted her on horse-back when she took the air in her carriage.
The prince made no reply.
“You are not angry with me?” he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervous hurry, although he looked them straight in the face.
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
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.
“Is such a thing possible?”
It was the first time they had met since the encounter on the staircase at the hotel.
“Oh, I can’t do that, you know! I shall say something foolish out of pure ‘funk,’ and break something for the same excellent reason; I know I shall. Perhaps I shall slip and fall on the slippery floor; I’ve done that before now, you know. I shall dream of it all night now. Why did you say anything about it?”
“I am only repeating your own exclamation!” said Colia. “A month ago you were turning over the pages of your Don Quixote, and suddenly called out ‘there is nothing better than the poor knight.’ I don’t know whom you were referring to, of course, whether to Don Quixote, or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or someone else, but you certainly said these words, and afterwards there was a long conversation...”
“How? What kind of person is she?” cried the general, arrived at the limits of his patience. “Look here, Gania, don’t you go annoying her tonight. What you are to do is to be as agreeable towards her as ever you can. Well, what are you smiling at? You must understand, Gania, that I have no interest whatever in speaking like this. Whichever way the question is settled, it will be to my advantage. Nothing will move Totski from his resolution, so I run no risk. If there is anything I desire, you must know that it is your benefit only. Can’t you trust me? You are a sensible fellow, and I have been counting on you; for, in this matter, that, that--”
“Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that I have to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I am caught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brother look a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I have felt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear to you), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of men which has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is so prominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjoy paradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)--solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of ever fathering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous and conceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; of this you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on your horizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But a long and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the first place you will never gain a certain person.”
“Not a couple of hours,” said Ptitsin, looking at his watch. “What’s the good of daylight now? One can read all night in the open air without it,” said someone.
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, has she been here?” asked the prince with curiosity.
“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.”
“Prince Muishkin, I believe? The gentleman to whom I had the honour of being introduced?”
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.
Lizabetha Prokofievna stood like a stone.
He approached the table and laid a small sheet of paper before her. It looked like a little note.
“I’ve always said she was predisposed to it,” whispered Afanasy Ivanovitch slyly. “Perhaps it is a fever!”
At length he observed, to his amazement, that all had taken their seats again, and were laughing and talking as though nothing had happened. Another minute and the laughter grew louder--they were laughing at him, at his dumb stupor--laughing kindly and merrily. Several of them spoke to him, and spoke so kindly and cordially, especially Lizabetha Prokofievna--she was saying the kindest possible things to him.
“Admitted that consciousness is called into existence by the will of a Higher Power; admitted that this consciousness looks out upon the world and says ‘I am;’ and admitted that the Higher Power wills that the consciousness so called into existence, be suddenly extinguished (for so--for some unexplained reason--it is and must be)--still there comes the eternal question--why must I be humble through all this? Is it not enough that I am devoured, without my being expected to bless the power that devours me? Surely--surely I need not suppose that Somebody--there--will be offended because I do not wish to live out the fortnight allowed me? I don’t believe it.
“Oh, no; I love her with all my soul. Why, she is a child! She’s a child now--a real child. Oh! you know nothing about it at all, I see.”
Alexandra and Adelaida came in almost immediately, and looked inquiringly at the prince and their mother.
“He has been very ill,” added Varia.
“Prince,” he said, “I am just going home. If you have not changed your mind as to living with us, perhaps you would like to come with me. You don’t know the address, I believe?”
Observing the prince, whom she evidently did not expect to see there, alone in the corner, she smiled, and approached him:
How or why it came about that everyone at the Epanchins’ became imbued with one conviction--that something very important had happened to Aglaya, and that her fate was in process of settlement--it would be very difficult to explain. But no sooner had this idea taken root, than all at once declared that they had seen and observed it long ago; that they had remarked it at the time of the “poor knight” joke, and even before, though they had been unwilling to believe in such nonsense.
“Well, what, my dear girl? As if you can possibly like it yourself? The heart is the great thing, and the rest is all rubbish--though one must have sense as well. Perhaps sense is really the great thing. Don’t smile like that, Aglaya. I don’t contradict myself. A fool with a heart and no brains is just as unhappy as a fool with brains and no heart. I am one and you are the other, and therefore both of us suffer, both of us are unhappy.”
Both she and Aglaya stood and waited as though in expectation, and both looked at the prince like madwomen.
“What letter do you mean she returned unopened?”
“Nonsense! love him and torment him so! Why, by the very fact that he put the purse prominently before you, first under the chair and then in your lining, he shows that he does not wish to deceive you, but is anxious to beg your forgiveness in this artless way. Do you hear? He is asking your pardon. He confides in the delicacy of your feelings, and in your friendship for him. And you can allow yourself to humiliate so thoroughly honest a man!”
“What am I doing? What am I doing to you?” she sobbed convulsively, embracing his knees.
“I have waited for you with the greatest impatience (not that you were worth it). Every night I have drenched my pillow with tears, not for you, my friend, not for you, don’t flatter yourself! I have my own grief, always the same, always the same. But I’ll tell you why I have been awaiting you so impatiently, because I believe that Providence itself sent you to be a friend and a brother to me. I haven’t a friend in the world except Princess Bielokonski, and she is growing as stupid as a sheep from old age. Now then, tell me, yes or no? Do you know why she called out from her carriage the other night?”
“Of course! And it would be a disgrace to marry so, eh?”
It was the beginning of June, and for a whole week the weather in St. Petersburg had been magnificent. The Epanchins had a luxurious country-house at Pavlofsk, [One of the fashionable summer resorts near St. Petersburg.] and to this spot Mrs. Epanchin determined to proceed without further delay. In a couple of days all was ready, and the family had left town. A day or two after this removal to Pavlofsk, Prince Muishkin arrived in St. Petersburg by the morning train from Moscow. No one met him; but, as he stepped out of the carriage, he suddenly became aware of two strangely glowing eyes fixed upon him from among the crowd that met the train. On endeavouring to re-discover the eyes, and see to whom they belonged, he could find nothing to guide him. It must have been a hallucination. But the disagreeable impression remained, and without this, the prince was sad and thoughtful already, and seemed to be much preoccupied.
“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!”
“As to the article,” said Hippolyte in his croaking voice, “I have told you already that we none of us approve of it! There is the writer,” he added, pointing to the boxer, who sat beside him. “I quite admit that he has written it in his old regimental manner, with an equal disregard for style and decency. I know he is a cross between a fool and an adventurer; I make no bones about telling him so to his face every day. But after all he is half justified; publicity is the lawful right of every man; consequently, Burdovsky is not excepted. Let him answer for his own blunders. As to the objection which I made just now in the name of all, to the presence of your friends, I think I ought to explain, gentlemen, that I only did so to assert our rights, though we really wished to have witnesses; we had agreed unanimously upon the point before we came in. We do not care who your witnesses may be, or whether they are your friends or not. As they cannot fail to recognize Burdovsky’s right (seeing that it is mathematically demonstrable), it is just as well that the witnesses should be your friends. The truth will only be more plainly evident.”
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
“Then why did--”
“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.
“How do you know I walked in the park and didn’t sleep at home?”
She was as capricious as ever in the choice of her acquaintances, and admitted few into her narrow circle. Yet she already had a numerous following and many champions on whom she could depend in time of need. One gentleman on his holiday had broken off his engagement on her account, and an old general had quarrelled with his only son for the same reason.
General Epanchin lived in his own house near the Litaynaya. Besides this large residence--five-sixths of which was let in flats and lodgings--the general was owner of another enormous house in the Sadovaya bringing in even more rent than the first. Besides these houses he had a delightful little estate just out of town, and some sort of factory in another part of the city. General Epanchin, as everyone knew, had a good deal to do with certain government monopolies; he was also a voice, and an important one, in many rich public companies of various descriptions; in fact, he enjoyed the reputation of being a well-to-do man of busy habits, many ties, and affluent means. He had made himself indispensable in several quarters, amongst others in his department of the government; and yet it was a known fact that Fedor Ivanovitch Epanchin was a man of no education whatever, and had absolutely risen from the ranks.
Rogojin was not smiling now; he sat and listened with folded arms, and lips tight compressed.
Before them stood Lizabetha Prokofievna.
Gania was right when he told his sister that Hippolyte was getting better; that he was better was clear at the first glance. He entered the room now last of all, deliberately, and with a disagreeable smile on his lips.
“And Hippolyte has come down here to stay,” said Colia, suddenly.
Such were her words--very likely she did not give her real reason for this eccentric conduct; but, at all events, that was all the explanation she deigned to offer.
Excepting Ivan Fedorovitch, who had not as yet returned from town, the whole family was present. Prince S. was there; and they all intended to go out to hear the band very soon.
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.”
“The owner was now some forty yards ahead of me, and was very soon lost in the crowd. I ran after him, and began calling out; but as I knew nothing to say excepting ‘hey!’ he did not turn round. Suddenly he turned into the gate of a house to the left; and when I darted in after him, the gateway was so dark that I could see nothing whatever. It was one of those large houses built in small tenements, of which there must have been at least a hundred.
Mrs. Epanchin was just wondering whether she would not forbid the performance after all, when, at the very moment that Aglaya commenced her declamation, two new guests, both talking loudly, entered from the street. The new arrivals were General Epanchin and a young man.
“Really?” asked the prince, gleefully, and he laughed in delight.
At all events when, after many hours, the door was opened and people thronged in, they found the murderer unconscious and in a raging fever. The prince was sitting by him, motionless, and each time that the sick man gave a laugh, or a shout, he hastened to pass his own trembling hand over his companion’s hair and cheeks, as though trying to soothe and quiet him. But alas! he understood nothing of what was said to him, and recognized none of those who surrounded him.
The prince was beside himself.
“Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I’m sorry to say I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, _can_ any man have a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I think that is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of time before him, and life is rich; besides--besides...” the prince hesitated. “As to being undermined, I don’t know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!”
“Just about that time, that is, the middle of March, I suddenly felt very much better; this continued for a couple of weeks. I used to go out at dusk. I like the dusk, especially in March, when the night frost begins to harden the day’s puddles, and the gas is burning.
A shudder seemed to sweep over his whole body at the recollection.
“Do you forgive me all--_all_, besides the vase, I mean?” said the prince, rising from his seat once more, but the old gentleman caught his hand and drew him down again--he seemed unwilling to let him go.
“Wouldn’t it be better, esteemed prince, wouldn’t it be better--to--don’t you know--”
He jumped up and hurried off, remembering suddenly that he was wanted at his father’s bedside; but before he went out of the room he inquired hastily after the prince’s health, and receiving the latter’s reply, added:
“Judging from the fact that the prince blushed at this innocent joke, like a young girl, I should think that he must, as an honourable man, harbour the noblest intentions,” said the old toothless schoolmaster, most unexpectedly; he had not so much as opened his mouth before. This remark provoked general mirth, and the old fellow himself laughed loudest of the lot, but ended with a stupendous fit of coughing.
“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.
“Better not read it now,” said the prince, putting his hand on the packet.
“I know you asked. I told them that she had called in for ten minutes, and then gone straight back to Pavlofsk. No one knows she slept here. Last night we came in just as carefully as you and I did today. I thought as I came along with her that she would not like to creep in so secretly, but I was quite wrong. She whispered, and walked on tip-toe; she carried her skirt over her arm, so that it shouldn’t rustle, and she held up her finger at me on the stairs, so that I shouldn’t make a noise--it was you she was afraid of. She was mad with terror in the train, and she begged me to bring her to this house. I thought of taking her to her rooms at the Ismailofsky barracks first; but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said, ‘No--not there; he’ll find me out at once there. Take me to your own house, where you can hide me, and tomorrow we’ll set off for Moscow.’ Thence she would go to Orel, she said. When she went to bed, she was still talking about going to Orel.”
“But, my dear fellow, what are you doing, what do you mean?”
“Be quiet, do be quiet!”
Ungovernable rage and madness took entire possession of Gania, and his fury burst out without the least attempt at restraint.
“As for you, sir,” he cried, “you should at least remember that you are in a strange house and--receiving hospitality; you should not take the opportunity of tormenting an old man, sir, who is too evidently out of his mind.”
“Whoever is afraid of wolves had better not go into the wood,” said Nastasia, smiling.
“Had we not better end this game?” asked Totski.
“I will wait here,” he stammered. “I should like to surprise her. ....”
“Who was he?”
“Oh, nothing more, nothing more! I was saying to myself but now... ‘I am quite unworthy of friendly relations with him,’ say I; ‘but perhaps as landlord of this house I may, at some future date, in his good time, receive information as to certain imminent and much to be desired changes--’”
The incredulous amazement with which all regarded the prince did not last long, for Nastasia herself appeared at the door and passed in, pushing by the prince again.
“He is a strange boy, thoughtless, and inclined to be indiscreet.”
“Wheugh! my goodness!” The black-haired young fellow whistled, and then laughed.