“‘And to think that you are to be cut off from life!’ remarked Bachmatoff, in a tone of reproach, as though he would like to find someone to pitch into on my account.
“P.S.--I trust that you will not show this note to anyone. Though I am ashamed of giving you such instructions, I feel that I must do so, considering what you are. I therefore write the words, and blush for your simple character.
He seized her hands, and pressed them so hard that Adelaida nearly cried out; he then gazed with delight into her eyes, and raising her right hand to his lips with enthusiasm, kissed it three times.
Not only was there no trace of her former irony, of her old hatred and enmity, and of that dreadful laughter, the very recollection of which sent a cold chill down Totski’s back to this very day; but she seemed charmed and really glad to have the opportunity of talking seriously with him for once in a way. She confessed that she had long wished to have a frank and free conversation and to ask for friendly advice, but that pride had hitherto prevented her; now, however, that the ice was broken, nothing could be more welcome to her than this opportunity.
“I have had that idea.”
“You are at least logical. I would only point out that from the right of might, to the right of tigers and crocodiles, or even Daniloff and Gorsky, is but a step.”
The prince actually felt glad that he had been interrupted,--and might return the letters to his pocket. He was glad of the respite.
“Oh no! not at all--I--”
“Yes, I got it,” said the prince, blushing.
Totski immediately made some amiable remark. All seemed to brighten up at once, and the conversation became general. Nastasia made the prince sit down next to herself.
However, he made up his mind that he would himself take the note and deliver it. Indeed, he went so far as to leave the house and walk up the road, but changed his mind when he had nearly reached Ptitsin’s door. However, he there luckily met Colia, and commissioned him to deliver the letter to his brother as if direct from Aglaya. Colia asked no questions but simply delivered it, and Gania consequently had no suspicion that it had passed through so many hands.
“They are Nihilists, are they not?”
“Napoleon was walking up and down with folded arms. I could not take my eyes off his face--my heart beat loudly and painfully.
“Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn’t know however I should manage to support life--you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. There was a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread but white and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and it was half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen to it at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went and climbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alone in the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer--and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison.”
“Not a bit of it! You are much too good to him; you shouldn’t care a hang about what he thinks. I have heard of such things before, but never came across, till tonight, a man who would actually shoot himself in order to gain a vulgar notoriety, or blow out his brains for spite, if he finds that people don’t care to pat him on the back for his sanguinary intentions. But what astonishes me more than anything is the fellow’s candid confession of weakness. You’d better get rid of him tomorrow, in any case.”
“What simplifies the duty before me considerably, in my opinion,” he began, “is that I am bound to recall and relate the very worst action of my life. In such circumstances there can, of course, be no doubt. One’s conscience very soon informs one what is the proper narrative to tell. I admit, that among the many silly and thoughtless actions of my life, the memory of one comes prominently forward and reminds me that it lay long like a stone on my heart. Some twenty years since, I paid a visit to Platon Ordintzeff at his country-house. He had just been elected marshal of the nobility, and had come there with his young wife for the winter holidays. Anfisa Alexeyevna’s birthday came off just then, too, and there were two balls arranged. At that time Dumas-fils’ beautiful work, _La Dame aux Camélias_--a novel which I consider imperishable--had just come into fashion. In the provinces all the ladies were in raptures over it, those who had read it, at least. Camellias were all the fashion. Everyone inquired for them, everybody wanted them; and a grand lot of camellias are to be got in a country town--as you all know--and two balls to provide for!
“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
“There, I’ve forgotten that too!”
“I shall certainly go mad, if I stay here!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“Tomorrow morning, I shall be at the green bench in the park at seven, and shall wait there for you. I have made up my mind to speak to you about a most important matter which closely concerns yourself.
“I shall just say two words to him, that’s all,” said her mother, silencing all objection by her manner; she was evidently seriously put out. “You see, prince, it is all secrets with us, just now--all secrets. It seems to be the etiquette of the house, for some reason or other. Stupid nonsense, and in a matter which ought to be approached with all candour and open-heartedness. There is a marriage being talked of, and I don’t like this marriage--”
“What do you think about it, prince?” asked Evgenie, taking no notice of the last remark, and observing Muishkin’s serious eyes fixed upon his face. “What do you think--was it a special or a usual case--the rule, or an exception? I confess I put the question especially for you.”
However, all these rumours soon died down, to which circumstance certain facts largely contributed. For instance, the whole of the Rogojin troop had departed, with him at their head, for Moscow. This was exactly a week after a dreadful orgy at the Ekaterinhof gardens, where Nastasia Philipovna had been present. It became known that after this orgy Nastasia Philipovna had entirely disappeared, and that she had since been traced to Moscow; so that the exodus of the Rogojin band was found consistent with this report.
“Silence!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “You are about as fit to understand me as the housemaid here, who bore witness against her lover in court the other day. She would understand me better than you do.”
“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!”
“And you! You are nothing more than a fool, if you’ll excuse me! Well! well! you know that yourself, I expect,” said the lady indignantly.
At this idea, he burst out laughing all at once, in quite unaffected mirth, and without giving any explanation.
“I don’t torment him, prince, I don’t indeed!” cried Lebedeff, hotly. “I love him, my dear sir, I esteem him; and believe it or not, I love him all the better for this business, yes--and value him more.”
“Whose fault is it that they are all miserable, that they don’t know how to live, though they have fifty or sixty years of life before them? Why did that fool allow himself to die of hunger with sixty years of unlived life before him?
Around him all was quiet; only the flutter and whisper of the leaves broke the silence, but broke it only to cause it to appear yet more deep and still.
Nastasia Philipovna, observing his woe-begone expression, suddenly burst out laughing.
“How can she be mad,” Rogojin interrupted, “when she is sane enough for other people and only mad for you? How can she write letters to _her_, if she’s mad? If she were insane they would observe it in her letters.”
But gradually the consciousness crept back into the minds of each one present that the prince had just made her an offer of marriage. The situation had, therefore, become three times as fantastic as before.
Now and then he looked at Aglaya for five minutes at a time, without taking his eyes off her face; but his expression was very strange; he would gaze at her as though she were an object a couple of miles distant, or as though he were looking at her portrait and not at herself at all.
Nastasia must have overheard both question and reply, but her vivacity was not in the least damped. On the contrary, it seemed to increase. She immediately overwhelmed the general once more with questions, and within five minutes that gentleman was as happy as a king, and holding forth at the top of his voice, amid the laughter of almost all who heard him.
“N-no!--I don’t think so. A coward is a man who is afraid and runs away; the man who is frightened but does not run away, is not quite a coward,” said the prince with a smile, after a moment’s thought.
The prince followed quietly, making no further objection for fear of irritating the old man. At the same time he fervently hoped that General Sokolovitch and his family would fade away like a mirage in the desert, so that the visitors could escape, by merely returning downstairs. But to his horror he saw that General Ivolgin was quite familiar with the house, and really seemed to have friends there. At every step he named some topographical or biographical detail that left nothing to be desired on the score of accuracy. When they arrived at last, on the first floor, and the general turned to ring the bell to the right, the prince decided to run away, but a curious incident stopped him momentarily.
Four persons entered, led by General Ivolgin, in a state of great excitement, and talking eloquently.
“Well, it’s lucky she has happened upon an idiot, then, that’s all I can say!” whispered Lizabetha Prokofievna, who was somewhat comforted, however, by her daughter’s remark.
“I assure you, prince, that Lebedeff is intriguing against you. He wants to put you under control. Imagine that! To take ‘from you the use of your free-will and your money’--that is to say, the two things that distinguish us from the animals! I have heard it said positively. It is the sober truth.”
He was particularly anxious that this one day should be passed--especially the evening--without unpleasantness between himself and his family; and just at the right moment the prince turned up--“as though Heaven had sent him on purpose,” said the general to himself, as he left the study to seek out the wife of his bosom.
“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
A violent fit of coughing, which lasted a full minute, prevented him from finishing his sentence.
At the beginning of the evening, when the prince first came into the room, he had sat down as far as possible from the Chinese vase which Aglaya had spoken of the day before.
“Yes, I have,” said Rogojin.
“Observe,” he gasped, through his coughing, “what a fellow Gania is! He talks about Nastasia’s ‘leavings,’ but what does he want to take himself?”
The chief object in his mind at this moment was to get as quickly as he could to Nastasia Philipovna’s lodging. He remembered that, not long since, when she had left Pavlofsk at his request, he had begged her to put up in town at the house of a respectable widow, who had well-furnished rooms to let, near the Ismailofsky barracks. Probably Nastasia had kept the rooms when she came down to Pavlofsk this last time; and most likely she would have spent the night in them, Rogojin having taken her straight there from the station.
“Oh, silence isn’t the word! Softly, softly!”
Nina Alexandrovna started, and examined the photograph intently, gazing at it long and sadly. At last she looked up inquiringly at Varia.
His cab took him to a small and bad hotel near the Litaynaya. Here he engaged a couple of rooms, dark and badly furnished. He washed and changed, and hurriedly left the hotel again, as though anxious to waste no time. Anyone who now saw him for the first time since he left Petersburg would judge that he had improved vastly so far as his exterior was concerned. His clothes certainly were very different; they were more fashionable, perhaps even too much so, and anyone inclined to mockery might have found something to smile at in his appearance. But what is there that people will not smile at?
All the Rogojin company were now collected in the drawing-room; some were drinking, some laughed and talked: all were in the highest and wildest spirits. Ferdishenko was doing his best to unite himself to them; the general and Totski again made an attempt to go. Gania, too stood hat in hand ready to go; but seemed to be unable to tear his eyes away from the scene before him.
“You have so many sources of trouble here, Colia,” said the prince.
Nastasia listened to all this with great interest; but the conversation soon turned to Rogojin and his visit, and this theme proved of the greatest attraction to both Totski and the general.
“You have indeed!” said Gania.
“Why, it’s true that I am going to marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope with him tomorrow,” cried Aglaya, turning upon her mother. “Do you hear? Is your curiosity satisfied? Are you pleased with what you have heard?”
“Wasn’t it you,” he said, suddenly turning to the old gentleman, “who saved the student Porkunoff and a clerk called Shoabrin from being sent to Siberia, two or three months since?”
“My darling, my little idol,” cried the general, kissing and fondling her hands (Aglaya did not draw them away); “so you love this young man, do you?”
“You are innocent--and in your innocence lies all your perfection--oh, remember that! What is my passion to you?--you are mine now; I shall be near you all my life--I shall not live long!”
The prince did not notice that others were talking and making themselves agreeable to Aglaya; in fact, at moments, he almost forgot that he was sitting by her himself. At other moments he felt a longing to go away somewhere and be alone with his thoughts, and to feel that no one knew where he was.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I haven’t slept, that’s all, and I’m rather tired. I--we certainly did talk about you, Aglaya.”
When day dawned, two passengers in one of the third-class carriages found themselves opposite each other. Both were young fellows, both were rather poorly dressed, both had remarkable faces, and both were evidently anxious to start a conversation. If they had but known why, at this particular moment, they were both remarkable persons, they would undoubtedly have wondered at the strange chance which had set them down opposite to one another in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw Railway Company.
“They are coming, they are coming; and the general as well. I will open all the doors; I will call all my daughters, all of them, this very minute,” said Lebedeff in a low voice, thoroughly frightened, and waving his hands as he ran from door to door.
“Excuse me--two words! I am Varvara Ardalionovna’s guest, not yours; _you_ have extended no hospitality to me. On the contrary, if I am not mistaken, I believe you are yourself indebted to Mr. Ptitsin’s hospitality. Four days ago I begged my mother to come down here and find lodgings, because I certainly do feel better here, though I am not fat, nor have I ceased to cough. I am today informed that my room is ready for me; therefore, having thanked your sister and mother for their kindness to me, I intend to leave the house this evening. I beg your pardon--I interrupted you--I think you were about to add something?”
The poor general had merely made the remark about having carried Aglaya in his arms because he always did so begin a conversation with young people. But it happened that this time he had really hit upon the truth, though he had himself entirely forgotten the fact. But when Adelaida and Aglaya recalled the episode of the pigeon, his mind became filled with memories, and it is impossible to describe how this poor old man, usually half drunk, was moved by the recollection.
“Well, I went homewards, and near the hotel I came across a poor woman, carrying a child--a baby of some six weeks old. The mother was quite a girl herself. The baby was smiling up at her, for the first time in its life, just at that moment; and while I watched the woman she suddenly crossed herself, oh, so devoutly! ‘What is it, my good woman?’ I asked her. (I was never but asking questions then!) ‘Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of His children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart!’ This is what that poor woman said to me, almost word for word; and such a deep, refined, truly religious thought it was--a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity was expressed in one flash--that is, the recognition of God as our Father, and of God’s joy in men as His own children, which is the chief idea of Christ. She was a simple country-woman--a mother, it’s true--and perhaps, who knows, she may have been the wife of the drunken soldier!
“Don’t deceive me now, prince--tell the truth. All these people persecute me with astounding questions--about you. Is there any ground for all these questions, or not? Come!”
A torrent of voices greeted her appearance at the front door. The crowd whistled, clapped its hands, and laughed and shouted; but in a moment or two isolated voices were distinguishable.
“Well, at all events it is a good thing that there’s no pain when the poor fellow’s head flies off,” he remarked.
“Your soup’ll be cold; do come.”
“I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we came in for that.”
“There is much that might be improved in him,” said the prince, moderately, “but he has some qualities which--though amid them one cannot but discern a cunning nature--reveal what is often a diverting intellect.”
Painfully surprised as he was at this sudden apparition of Rogojin, the prince, for some little while, was unable to collect his thoughts. Rogojin, evidently, saw and understood the impression he had made; and though he seemed more or less confused at first, yet he began talking with what looked like assumed ease and freedom. However, the prince soon changed his mind on this score, and thought that there was not only no affectation of indifference, but that Rogojin was not even particularly agitated. If there were a little apparent awkwardness, it was only in his words and gestures. The man could not change his heart.
“Nothing--of course! That’s the best answer. Is it the case that you are going to live in his house?”
“Nonsense!” said the prince, angrily, turning round upon him.
“Well, what do you think of the arrangement, prince?”
“Oh no! I know she only laughs at him; she has made a fool of him all along.”
“Well, as you like, just as you like,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, irritably. “Only you are such a plucky fellow, take care you don’t get included among the ten victims!”
“I want to explain all to you--everything--everything! I know you think me Utopian, don’t you--an idealist? Oh, no! I’m not, indeed--my ideas are all so simple. You don’t believe me? You are smiling. Do you know, I am sometimes very wicked--for I lose my faith? This evening as I came here, I thought to myself, ‘What shall I talk about? How am I to begin, so that they may be able to understand partially, at all events?’ How afraid I was--dreadfully afraid! And yet, how _could_ I be afraid--was it not shameful of me? Was I afraid of finding a bottomless abyss of empty selfishness? Ah! that’s why I am so happy at this moment, because I find there is no bottomless abyss at all--but good, healthy material, full of life.
This time they neither opened the door at Rogojin’s flat nor at the one opposite. The prince found the porter with difficulty, but when found, the man would hardly look at him or answer his questions, pretending to be busy. Eventually, however, he was persuaded to reply so far as to state that Rogojin had left the house early in the morning and gone to Pavlofsk, and that he would not return today at all.
Evgenie himself was very likely going abroad also; so were Prince S. and his wife, if affairs allowed of it; the general was to stay at home. They were all at their estate of Colmina now, about twenty miles or so from St. Petersburg. Princess Bielokonski had not returned to Moscow yet, and was apparently staying on for reasons of her own. Lizabetha Prokofievna had insisted that it was quite impossible to remain in Pavlofsk after what had happened. Evgenie had told her of all the rumours current in town about the affair; so that there could be no talk of their going to their house on the Yelagin as yet.
“But let me resume.”
“Where’s the letter now?”
“Because he _didn’t_ exist--never could and never did--there! You’d better drop the subject, I warn you!”
“Impossible!” cried the prince, aghast.
“Oh, my dear sir, I esteem and understand your kindness in putting the question. No; at present I have no means whatever, and no employment either, but I hope to find some. I was living on other people abroad. Schneider, the professor who treated me and taught me, too, in Switzerland, gave me just enough money for my journey, so that now I have but a few copecks left. There certainly is one question upon which I am anxious to have advice, but--”
“‘I believe,’ indeed! Did that mischievous urchin give it to her?”
In the hall the servants were waiting, and handed her her fur cloak. Martha, the cook, ran in from the kitchen. Nastasia kissed them all round.
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.
“I only see that Aglaya Ivanovna is laughing at me,” said the poor prince, sadly.
“I am, of course, quite ready to add my efforts to yours in such a case,” said the prince, rising; “but I confess, Lebedeff, that I am terribly perplexed. Tell me, do you still think... plainly, you say yourself that you suspect Mr. Ferdishenko?”
“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.’
“I don’t know--perhaps you are right in much that you have said, Evgenie Pavlovitch. You are very wise, Evgenie Pavlovitch--oh! how my head is beginning to ache again! Come to her, quick--for God’s sake, come!”
The prince recollected that somebody had told him something of the kind before, and he had, of course, scoffed at it. He only laughed now, and forgot the hint at once.
“I, like everyone else,” began the general, “have committed certain not altogether graceful actions, so to speak, during the course of my life. But the strangest thing of all in my case is, that I should consider the little anecdote which I am now about to give you as a confession of the worst of my ‘bad actions.’ It is thirty-five years since it all happened, and yet I cannot to this very day recall the circumstances without, as it were, a sudden pang at the heart.
“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.”
Lebedeff could restrain himself no longer; he made his way through the row of chairs.
“But I’m forbidden your house as it is, without your added threats!” cried the prince after her.
“GAVRILA ARDOLIONOVITCH,--persuaded of your kindness of heart, I have determined to ask your advice on a matter of great importance to myself. I should like to meet you tomorrow morning at seven o’clock by the green bench in the park. It is not far from our house. Varvara Ardalionovna, who must accompany you, knows the place well.
“I thought he would cut my throat at first, and went about armed ready to meet him. But he took it differently; he fainted, and had brain fever and convulsions. A month after, when he had hardly recovered, he went off to the Crimea, and there he was shot.
“It is not my intrigue!” cried Lebedeff, waving his hand.