“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.
His attack of yesterday had been a slight one. Excepting some little heaviness in the head and pain in the limbs, he did not feel any particular effects. His brain worked all right, though his soul was heavy within him.
“Oh, I heard that much, my dear fellow! But the thing is so impossibly absurd! A man of property like Evgenie to give IOU’s to a money-lender, and to be worried about them! It is ridiculous. Besides, he cannot possibly be on such intimate terms with Nastasia Philipovna as she gave us to understand; that’s the principal part of the mystery! He has given me his word that he knows nothing whatever about the matter, and of course I believe him. Well, the question is, my dear prince, do you know anything about it? Has any sort of suspicion of the meaning of it come across you?”
The prince was startled, and reflected for a moment.
“Oh no! Never.”
“How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you so struck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?”
“Gentlemen, I supposed from this that poor Mr. Burdovsky must be a simple-minded man, quite defenceless, and an easy tool in the hands of rogues. That is why I thought it my duty to try and help him as ‘Pavlicheff’s son’; in the first place by rescuing him from the influence of Tchebaroff, and secondly by making myself his friend. I have resolved to give him ten thousand roubles; that is about the sum which I calculate that Pavlicheff must have spent on me.”
“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.”
Had he been more careful to observe his companion, he would have seen that for the last quarter of an hour Aglaya had also been glancing around in apparent anxiety, as though she expected to see someone, or something particular, among the crowd of people. Now, at the moment when his own anxiety became so marked, her excitement also increased visibly, and when he looked about him, she did the same.
“Oh, I dare say one can; but you had better be calm and lie down, Hippolyte--that’s much more important.”
“Sometimes it was very painful to me, and once he caught me with tears in my eyes. He looked at me kindly. ‘You are sorry for me,’ he said, ‘you, my child, and perhaps one other child--my son, the King of Rome--may grieve for me. All the rest hate me; and my brothers are the first to betray me in misfortune.’ I sobbed and threw myself into his arms. He could not resist me--he burst into tears, and our tears mingled as we folded each other in a close embrace.
But the young officer had recovered himself, and was no longer listening. At this moment Rogojin appeared, elbowing through the crowd; he took Nastasia’s hand, drew it through his arm, and quickly led her away. He appeared to be terribly excited; he was trembling all over, and was as pale as a corpse. As he carried Nastasia off, he turned and grinned horribly in the officer’s face, and with low malice observed:
“This gentleman declares, Gavrila Ardalionovitch,” began the man, confidentially and almost familiarly, “that he is Prince Muishkin and a relative of Madame Epanchin’s. He has just arrived from abroad, with nothing but a bundle by way of luggage--.”
Alexandra, who had seemed to wish to put in her word when the prince began, now sat silent, as though some sudden thought had caused her to change her mind about speaking.
“Have you always lived at home, Aglaya Ivanovna?” he asked. “I mean, have you never been to school, or college, or anything?”
“She writes to _her_--and the girl reads the letters. Haven’t you heard?--You are sure to hear; she’s sure to show you the letters herself.”
The prince took a paper from his pocket-book, and handed it to Lizabetha Prokofievna. It ran as follows:
“Then, you don’t know how, for it is a matter that needs practice. Now listen and learn; in the first place buy good powder, not damp (they say it mustn’t be at all damp, but very dry), some fine kind it is--you must ask for _pistol_ powder, not the stuff they load cannons with. They say one makes the bullets oneself, somehow or other. Have you got a pistol?”
On reaching the gate of Daria Alexeyevna’s house, Keller found a far denser crowd than he had encountered at the prince’s. The remarks and exclamations of the spectators here were of so irritating a nature that Keller was very near making them a speech on the impropriety of their conduct, but was luckily caught by Burdovsky, in the act of turning to address them, and hurried indoors.
“I have had that idea.”
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
Even if there seems something strange about the match, the general and his wife said to each other, the “world” will accept Aglaya’s fiance without any question if he is under the patronage of the princess. In any case, the prince would have to be “shown” sooner or later; that is, introduced into society, of which he had, so far, not the least idea. Moreover, it was only a question of a small gathering of a few intimate friends. Besides Princess Bielokonski, only one other lady was expected, the wife of a high dignitary. Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was to escort the princess, was the only young man.
“He discovered everything, the monster... himself......”
“On the table, as in the other room, burned a tallow candle-end in an iron candlestick; and on the bed there whined a baby of scarcely three weeks old. A pale-looking woman was dressing the child, probably the mother; she looked as though she had not as yet got over the trouble of childbirth, she seemed so weak and was so carelessly dressed. Another child, a little girl of about three years old, lay on the sofa, covered over with what looked like a man’s old dress-coat.
“What brutes they all are!” he whispered to the prince. Whenever he addressed him he lowered his voice.
“How did you come here?” she asked, at last.
But why recall all this? There was insanity on both sides. For him, the prince, to love this woman with passion, was unthinkable. It would be cruel and inhuman. Yes. Rogojin is not fair to himself; he has a large heart; he has aptitude for sympathy. When he learns the truth, and finds what a pitiable being is this injured, broken, half-insane creature, he will forgive her all the torment she has caused him. He will become her slave, her brother, her friend. Compassion will teach even Rogojin, it will show him how to reason. Compassion is the chief law of human existence. Oh, how guilty he felt towards Rogojin! And, for a few warm, hasty words spoken in Moscow, Parfen had called him “brother,” while he--but no, this was delirium! It would all come right! That gloomy Parfen had implied that his faith was waning; he must suffer dreadfully. He said he liked to look at that picture; it was not that he liked it, but he felt the need of looking at it. Rogojin was not merely a passionate soul; he was a fighter. He was fighting for the restoration of his dying faith. He must have something to hold on to and believe, and someone to believe in. What a strange picture that of Holbein’s is! Why, this is the street, and here’s the house, No. 16.
“Lef Nicolaievitch,” said Rogojin, after a pause, during which the two walked along a little further, “I have long wished to ask you, do you believe in God?”
“I have said above that the determination needed by me for the accomplishment of my final resolve, came to hand not through any sequence of causes, but thanks to a certain strange circumstance which had perhaps no connection whatever with the matter at issue. Ten days ago Rogojin called upon me about certain business of his own with which I have nothing to do at present. I had never seen Rogojin before, but had often heard about him.
“Sometimes, thinking over this, I became quite numb with the terror of it; and I might well have deduced from this fact, that my ‘last conviction’ was eating into my being too fast and too seriously, and would undoubtedly come to its climax before long. And for the climax I needed greater determination than I yet possessed.
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
“Dishonesty--it is, it is! That’s the very word!”
The good ladies recommended the prince to try knocking at Rogojin’s once more--not at once, but in the evening. Meanwhile, the mother would go to Pavlofsk to inquire at Dana Alexeyevna’s whether anything had been heard of Nastasia there. The prince was to come back at ten o’clock and meet her, to hear her news and arrange plans for the morrow.
“Oh, sit down, sit down, why are you standing?”
“Proletarians and scions of nobility! An episode of the brigandage of today and every day! Progress! Reform! Justice!”
“The gentle Abbot Pafnute signed this.”
“It’s loaded all right,” said Keller, examining the pistol, “but--”
Gania gazed after him uneasily, but said nothing.
“Four of us, including myself, in two rooms. The general, myself, Keller, and Ferdishenko. One of us four it must have been. I don’t suspect myself, though such cases have been known.”
The flat occupied by Gania and his family was on the third floor of the house. It was reached by a clean light staircase, and consisted of seven rooms, a nice enough lodging, and one would have thought a little too good for a clerk on two thousand roubles a year. But it was designed to accommodate a few lodgers on board terms, and had been taken a few months since, much to the disgust of Gania, at the urgent request of his mother and his sister, Varvara Ardalionovna, who longed to do something to increase the family income a little, and fixed their hopes upon letting lodgings. Gania frowned upon the idea. He thought it _infra dig_, and did not quite like appearing in society afterwards--that society in which he had been accustomed to pose up to now as a young man of rather brilliant prospects. All these concessions and rebuffs of fortune, of late, had wounded his spirit severely, and his temper had become extremely irritable, his wrath being generally quite out of proportion to the cause. But if he had made up his mind to put up with this sort of life for a while, it was only on the plain understanding with his inner self that he would very soon change it all, and have things as he chose again. Yet the very means by which he hoped to make this change threatened to involve him in even greater difficulties than he had had before.
Aglaya raised her head haughtily.
“Never more--from that sweet moment-- Gazéd he on womankind; He was dumb to love and wooing And to all their graces blind.
“Yes, the one who waits in the entrance hall, a greyish, red-faced man--”
“At last!” murmured Lizabetha Prokofievna indignantly.
At length, however, just as the visitors were on the point of departing, Prince S. seemed suddenly to recollect himself. “Oh yes, by-the-by,” he said, “do you happen to know, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, who that lady was who called out to Evgenie Pavlovitch last night, from the carriage?”
“Is Nastasia Philipovna at your house?”
Suddenly, a quarter of an hour after the prince’s departure, Aglaya had rushed out of her room in such a hurry that she had not even wiped her eyes, which were full of tears. She came back because Colia had brought a hedgehog. Everybody came in to see the hedgehog. In answer to their questions Colia explained that the hedgehog was not his, and that he had left another boy, Kostia Lebedeff, waiting for him outside. Kostia was too shy to come in, because he was carrying a hatchet; they had bought the hedgehog and the hatchet from a peasant whom they had met on the road. He had offered to sell them the hedgehog, and they had paid fifty copecks for it; and the hatchet had so taken their fancy that they had made up their minds to buy it of their own accord. On hearing this, Aglaya urged Colia to sell her the hedgehog; she even called him “dear Colia,” in trying to coax him. He refused for a long time, but at last he could hold out no more, and went to fetch Kostia Lebedeff. The latter appeared, carrying his hatchet, and covered with confusion. Then it came out that the hedgehog was not theirs, but the property of a schoolmate, one Petroff, who had given them some money to buy Schlosser’s History for him, from another schoolfellow who at that moment was driven to raising money by the sale of his books. Colia and Kostia were about to make this purchase for their friend when chance brought the hedgehog to their notice, and they had succumbed to the temptation of buying it. They were now taking Petroff the hedgehog and hatchet which they had bought with his money, instead of Schlosser’s History. But Aglaya so entreated them that at last they consented to sell her the hedgehog. As soon as she had got possession of it, she put it in a wicker basket with Colia’s help, and covered it with a napkin. Then she said to Colia: “Go and take this hedgehog to the prince from me, and ask him to accept it as a token of my profound respect.” Colia joyfully promised to do the errand, but he demanded explanations. “What does the hedgehog mean? What is the meaning of such a present?” Aglaya replied that it was none of his business. “I am sure that there is some allegory about it,” Colia persisted. Aglaya grew angry, and called him “a silly boy.” “If I did not respect all women in your person,” replied Colia, “and if my own principles would permit it, I would soon prove to you, that I know how to answer such an insult!” But, in the end, Colia went off with the hedgehog in great delight, followed by Kostia Lebedeff. Aglaya’s annoyance was soon over, and seeing that Colia was swinging the hedgehog’s basket violently to and fro, she called out to him from the verandah, as if they had never quarrelled: “Colia, dear, please take care not to drop him!” Colia appeared to have no grudge against her, either, for he stopped, and answered most cordially: “No, I will not drop him! Don’t be afraid, Aglaya Ivanovna!” After which he went on his way. Aglaya burst out laughing and ran up to her room, highly delighted. Her good spirits lasted the whole day.
“Prince,” said Nastasia Philipovna, unexpectedly turning to Muishkin, “here are my old friends, Totski and General Epanchin, who wish to marry me off. Tell me what you think. Shall I marry or not? As you decide, so shall it be.”
“Oh, but I should like to see it!” said Adelaida; “and I don’t know _when_ we shall ever go abroad. I’ve been two years looking out for a good subject for a picture. I’ve done all I know. ‘The North and South I know by heart,’ as our poet observes. Do help me to a subject, prince.”
“The gentleman before me gazed at me for some seconds in amazement, and his wife in terror; as though there was something alarmingly extraordinary in the fact that anyone could come to see them. But suddenly he fell upon me almost with fury; I had had no time to mutter more than a couple of words; but he had doubtless observed that I was decently dressed and, therefore, took deep offence because I had dared enter his den so unceremoniously, and spy out the squalor and untidiness of it.
“You seem to be a little feverish tonight,” said the actress.
“Of course it is a lunatic asylum!” repeated Aglaya sharply, but her words were overpowered by other voices. Everybody was talking loudly, making remarks and comments; some discussed the affair gravely, others laughed. Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was extremely indignant. He stood waiting for his wife with an air of offended dignity. Lebedeff’s nephew took up the word again.
“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.”
“And you allowed it?”
It was seven in the evening, and the prince was just preparing to go out for a walk in the park, when suddenly Mrs. Epanchin appeared on the terrace.
“Well, it is troublesome, rather,” said the latter; “but I suppose it will ‘pay’ pretty well. We have only just begun, however--”
Lebedeff had not returned, so towards evening Keller managed to penetrate into the prince’s apartments. He was not drunk, but in a confidential and talkative mood. He announced that he had come to tell the story of his life to Muishkin, and had only remained at Pavlofsk for that purpose. There was no means of turning him out; nothing short of an earthquake would have removed him.
“Please don’t be angry with me,” continued the prince. “I know very well that I have seen less of life than other people, and have less knowledge of it. I must appear to speak strangely sometimes...”
“As for your face, Lizabetha Prokofievna, I not only think, but am perfectly _sure_, that you are an absolute child--in all, in all, mind, both good and bad--and in spite of your years. Don’t be angry with me for saying so; you know what my feelings for children are. And do not suppose that I am so candid out of pure simplicity of soul. Oh dear no, it is by no means the case! Perhaps I have my own very profound object in view.”
“Ah!” said the visitor, passing his fingers through his hair and sighing. He then looked over to the other side of the room and around it. “Got any money?” he asked, suddenly.
Little by little a sort of inspiration, however, began to stir within him, ready to spring into life at the right moment. When he did begin to speak, it was accidentally, in response to a question, and apparently without any special object.
“That same evening I stopped at a small provincial hotel, and it so happened that a dreadful murder had been committed there the night before, and everybody was talking about it. Two peasants--elderly men and old friends--had had tea together there the night before, and were to occupy the same bedroom. They were not drunk but one of them had noticed for the first time that his friend possessed a silver watch which he was wearing on a chain. He was by no means a thief, and was, as peasants go, a rich man; but this watch so fascinated him that he could not restrain himself. He took a knife, and when his friend turned his back, he came up softly behind, raised his eyes to heaven, crossed himself, and saying earnestly--‘God forgive me, for Christ’s sake!’ he cut his friend’s throat like a sheep, and took the watch.”
On meeting Colia the prince determined to accompany the general, though he made up his mind to stay as short a time as possible. He wanted Colia, but firmly resolved to leave the general behind. He could not forgive himself for being so simple as to imagine that Ivolgin would be of any use. The three climbed up the long staircase until they reached the fourth floor where Madame Terentieff lived.
“Oh, that he possesses good traits, I was the first to show, when I very nearly made him a present of my friendship. I am not dependent upon his hospitality, and upon his house; I have my own family. I do not attempt to justify my own weakness. I have drunk with this man, and perhaps I deplore the fact now, but I did not take him up for the sake of drink alone (excuse the crudeness of the expression, prince); I did not make friends with him for that alone. I was attracted by his good qualities; but when the fellow declares that he was a child in 1812, and had his left leg cut off, and buried in the Vagarkoff cemetery, in Moscow, such a cock-and-bull story amounts to disrespect, my dear sir, to--to impudent exaggeration.”
For some time the prince wandered about without aim or object. He did not know the town well. He stopped to look about him on bridges, at street corners. He entered a confectioner’s shop to rest, once. He was in a state of nervous excitement and perturbation; he noticed nothing and no one; and he felt a craving for solitude, to be alone with his thoughts and his emotions, and to give himself up to them passively. He loathed the idea of trying to answer the questions that would rise up in his heart and mind. “I am not to blame for all this,” he thought to himself, half unconsciously.
“How did he strike you, prince?” asked Gania, suddenly. “Did he seem to be a serious sort of a man, or just a common rowdy fellow? What was your own opinion about the matter?”
How often during the day he had thought of this hotel with loathing--its corridor, its rooms, its stairs. How he had dreaded coming back to it, for some reason.
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
“They say that they have come on business, and they are the kind of men, who, if you do not see them here, will follow you about the street. It would be better to receive them, and then you will get rid of them. Gavrila Ardalionovitch and Ptitsin are both there, trying to make them hear reason.”
“Only because I seem to be giving you a lecture, all the time!”
“Oh, Mr. Lebedeff, I am told you lecture on the Apocalypse. Is it true?” asked Aglaya.
“Such advice, and at such a moment, you must allow, prince, was--”
“‘Surely not to throw yourself into the river?’ cried Bachmatoff in alarm. Perhaps he read my thought in my face.
“‘In the flashing eyes of this patriotic child I read and accept the fiat of the Russian people. Enough, Davoust, it is mere phantasy on our part. Come, let’s hear your other project.’”
The prince made after him, but it so happened that at this moment Evgenie Pavlovitch stretched out his hand to say good-night. The next instant there was a general outcry, and then followed a few moments of indescribable excitement.
“The thought steps in, whether one likes it or no, that death is so terrible and so powerful, that even He who conquered it in His miracles during life was unable to triumph over it at the last. He who called to Lazarus, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and the dead man lived--He was now Himself a prey to nature and death. Nature appears to one, looking at this picture, as some huge, implacable, dumb monster; or still better--a stranger simile--some enormous mechanical engine of modern days which has seized and crushed and swallowed up a great and invaluable Being, a Being worth nature and all her laws, worth the whole earth, which was perhaps created merely for the sake of the advent of that Being.
One of these women so despised the other, and so longed to express her contempt for her (perhaps she had only come for that very purpose, as Rogojin said next day), that howsoever fantastical was the other woman, howsoever afflicted her spirit and disturbed her understanding, no preconceived idea of hers could possibly stand up against that deadly feminine contempt of her rival. The prince felt sure that Nastasia would say nothing about the letters herself; but he could judge by her flashing eyes and the expression of her face what the thought of those letters must be costing her at this moment. He would have given half his life to prevent Aglaya from speaking of them. But Aglaya suddenly braced herself up, and seemed to master herself fully, all in an instant.
Little by little, the rumours spread about town became lost in a maze of uncertainty. It was said that some foolish young prince, name unknown, had suddenly come into possession of a gigantic fortune, and had married a French ballet dancer. This was contradicted, and the rumour circulated that it was a young merchant who had come into the enormous fortune and married the great ballet dancer, and that at the wedding the drunken young fool had burned seventy thousand roubles at a candle out of pure bravado.
All this news was received by the company with somewhat gloomy interest. Nastasia was silent, and would not say what she thought about it. Gania was equally uncommunicative. The general seemed the most anxious of all, and decidedly uneasy. The present of pearls which he had prepared with so much joy in the morning had been accepted but coldly, and Nastasia had smiled rather disagreeably as she took it from him. Ferdishenko was the only person present in good spirits.
“You were prevented by Aglaya Ivanovna. I think I am not mistaken? That is your daughter, Aglaya Ivanovna? She is so beautiful that I recognized her directly, although I had never seen her before. Let me, at least, look on beauty for the last time in my life,” he said with a wry smile. “You are here with the prince, and your husband, and a large company. Why should you refuse to gratify my last wish?”
“Oh, that’s nothing,” replied Lizabetha; “I’m not sorry for the vase, I’m sorry for you. H’m! so you can see that there was a ‘scene,’ can you? Well, it doesn’t matter much, for everyone must realize now that it is impossible to be hard on you. Well, _au revoir_. I advise you to have a walk, and then go to sleep again if you can. Come in as usual, if you feel inclined; and be assured, once for all, whatever happens, and whatever may have happened, you shall always remain the friend of the family--mine, at all events. I can answer for myself.”
“Is it today, Gania?” asked Nina Alexandrovna, at last.
“I dare say it is; but that’s no affair of mine. Now then, assure me truly as before Heaven, are you lying to me or not?”
“Yes, that’s better,” said Adelaida; “the prince _learned to see_ abroad.”
“I’ll tell you why I draw the conclusion,” explained the prince, evidently desirous of clearing up the matter a little. “Because, though I often think over the men of those times, I cannot for the life of me imagine them to be like ourselves. It really appears to me that they were of another race altogether than ourselves of today. At that time people seemed to stick so to one idea; now, they are more nervous, more sensitive, more enlightened--people of two or three ideas at once--as it were. The man of today is a broader man, so to speak--and I declare I believe that is what prevents him from being so self-contained and independent a being as his brother of those earlier days. Of course my remark was only made under this impression, and not in the least--”
The note was written and folded anyhow, evidently in a great hurry, and probably just before Aglaya had come down to the verandah.
“Perhaps you are right,” said the prince, smiling. “I think I am a philosopher, perhaps, and who knows, perhaps I do wish to teach my views of things to those I meet with?”
He broke off abruptly, and could not add another word. This was his one attempt to stop the mad child, and, after he had made it, he followed her as though he had no will of his own. Confused as his thoughts were, he was, nevertheless, capable of realizing the fact that if he did not go with her, she would go alone, and so he must go with her at all hazards. He guessed the strength of her determination; it was beyond him to check it.
“Oh, my goodness! Just listen to that! ‘Better not come,’ when the party is on purpose for him! Good Lord! What a delightful thing it is to have to do with such a--such a stupid as you are!”
“Oh, quite so, of course. But how was it in your case?--I don’t quite understand,” said the bewildered prince. “You say it wasn’t there at first, and that you searched the place thoroughly, and yet it turned up on that very spot!”
There was evidently, he concluded, something at work here; some storm of the mind, some paroxysm of romantic anger, goodness knows against whom or what, some insatiable contempt--in a word, something altogether absurd and impossible, but at the same time most dangerous to be met with by any respectable person with a position in society to keep up.
“Don’t give it to him if he does. Fancy, he was a decent, respectable man once! He was received in the best society; he was not always the liar he is now. Of course, wine is at the bottom of it all; but he is a good deal worse than an innocent liar now. Do you know that he keeps a mistress? I can’t understand how mother is so long-suffering. Did he tell you the story of the siege of Kars? Or perhaps the one about his grey horse that talked? He loves to enlarge on these absurd histories.” And Gania burst into a fit of laughter. Suddenly he turned to the prince and asked: “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Even the porter does not know that I have come home now. I told him, and told them at my mother’s too, that I was off to Pavlofsk,” said Rogojin, with a cunning and almost satisfied smile. “We’ll go in quietly and nobody will hear us.”
“I hardly knew him; he is much changed, and for the better!”
“He may not be home for a week.”
There were a few seconds of dead silence.