“Once I had to interfere by force; and after that I took to speaking to them every day and whenever I could. Occasionally they stopped and listened; but they teased Marie all the same.
“Well, it was clear enough all along,” he said, after a moment’s reflection. “So that’s the end,” he added, with a disagreeable smile, continuing to walk up and down the room, but much slower than before, and glancing slyly into his sister’s face.
“But, pardon me, Mr. Ferdishenko, is it possible to make a game out of this kind of thing?” persisted Totski, growing more and more uneasy. “I assure you it can’t be a success.”
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.
“Well then, have you come here for _her?_ Are you in love with _her?_ With _that_ creature?”
“What do you think about it?” said the general in a low voice to Totski. “Is she mad? I mean mad in the medical sense of the word .... eh?”
“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?”
“I... you,” he began joyfully. “You cannot tell how I... he always spoke so enthusiastically of you, Colia here; I liked his enthusiasm. I was not corrupting him! But I must leave him, too--I wanted to leave them all--there was not one of them--not one! I wanted to be a man of action--I had a right to be. Oh! what a lot of things I wanted! Now I want nothing; I renounce all my wants; I swore to myself that I would want nothing; let them seek the truth without me! Yes, nature is full of mockery! Why”--he continued with sudden warmth--“does she create the choicest beings only to mock at them? The only human being who is recognized as perfect, when nature showed him to mankind, was given the mission to say things which have caused the shedding of so much blood that it would have drowned mankind if it had all been shed at once! Oh! it is better for me to die! I should tell some dreadful lie too; nature would so contrive it! I have corrupted nobody. I wanted to live for the happiness of all men, to find and spread the truth. I used to look out of my window at the wall of Meyer’s house, and say to myself that if I could speak for a quarter of an hour I would convince the whole world, and now for once in my life I have come into contact with... you--if not with the others! And what is the result? Nothing! The sole result is that you despise me! Therefore I must be a fool, I am useless, it is time I disappeared! And I shall leave not even a memory! Not a sound, not a trace, not a single deed! I have not spread a single truth!... Do not laugh at the fool! Forget him! Forget him forever! I beseech you, do not be so cruel as to remember! Do you know that if I were not consumptive, I would kill myself?”
“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 believe it is the absolute truth.”
“I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we came in for that.”
Muttering these disconnected words, Rogojin began to make up the beds. It was clear that he had devised these beds long before; last night he slept on the sofa. But there was no room for two on the sofa, and he seemed anxious that he and the prince should be close to one another; therefore, he now dragged cushions of all sizes and shapes from the sofas, and made a sort of bed of them close by the curtain. He then approached the prince, and gently helped him to rise, and led him towards the bed. But the prince could now walk by himself, so that his fear must have passed; for all that, however, he continued to shudder.
“Rogojin and his hundred thousand roubles, no doubt of it,” muttered Ptitsin to himself.
“You wouldn’t believe,” he concluded, “how irritating they all are there. They are such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, _commonplace_ people! Would you believe it, they invited me there under the express condition that I should die quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having died yet, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn’t it a comedy? I don’t mind betting that you don’t believe me!”
“What have you got there?” asked the prince, with some anxiety.
“We demand, we demand, we demand, we do not beseech,” spluttered Burdovsky, red as a lobster.
Evgenie Pavlovitch flushed up and looked angrily at Nastasia Philipovna, then turned his back on her.
“There, come along, Lef Nicolaievitch; that’s all I brought you here for,” said Rogojin.
“In half an hour or so the loss was discovered, and the servants were being put under examination. Daria, the housemaid was suspected. I exhibited the greatest interest and sympathy, and I remember that poor Daria quite lost her head, and that I began assuring her, before everyone, that I would guarantee her forgiveness on the part of her mistress, if she would confess her guilt. They all stared at the girl, and I remember a wonderful attraction in the reflection that here was I sermonizing away, with the money in my own pocket all the while. I went and spent the three roubles that very evening at a restaurant. I went in and asked for a bottle of Lafite, and drank it up; I wanted to be rid of the money.
“We have just used the expression ‘accidental case.’ This is a significant phrase; we often hear it. Well, not long since everyone was talking and reading about that terrible murder of six people on the part of a--young fellow, and of the extraordinary speech of the counsel for the defence, who observed that in the poverty-stricken condition of the criminal it must have come _naturally_ into his head to kill these six people. I do not quote his words, but that is the sense of them, or something very like it. Now, in my opinion, the barrister who put forward this extraordinary plea was probably absolutely convinced that he was stating the most liberal, the most humane, the most enlightened view of the case that could possibly be brought forward in these days. Now, was this distortion, this capacity for a perverted way of viewing things, a special or accidental case, or is such a general rule?”
Ptitsin listened and smiled, then turned as if to get his hat; but if he had intended to leave, he changed his mind. Before the others had risen from the table, Gania had suddenly left off drinking, and pushed away his glass, a dark shadow seemed to come over his face. When they all rose, he went and sat down by Rogojin. It might have been believed that quite friendly relations existed between them. Rogojin, who had also seemed on the point of going away now sat motionless, his head bent, seeming to have forgotten his intention. He had drunk no wine, and appeared absorbed in reflection. From time to time he raised his eyes, and examined everyone present; one might have imagined that he was expecting something very important to himself, and that he had decided to wait for it. The prince had taken two or three glasses of champagne, and seemed cheerful. As he rose he noticed Evgenie Pavlovitch, and, remembering the appointment he had made with him, smiled pleasantly. Evgenie Pavlovitch made a sign with his head towards Hippolyte, whom he was attentively watching. The invalid was fast asleep, stretched out on the sofa.
“How do you know it’s Nastasia Philipovna?” asked the general; “you surely don’t know her already, do you?”
“Yesterday morning,” he replied, “we had an interview which we all gave our word of honour to keep secret.”
For a man of Totski’s wealth and standing, it would, of course, have been the simplest possible matter to take steps which would rid him at once from all annoyance; while it was obviously impossible for Nastasia Philipovna to harm him in any way, either legally or by stirring up a scandal, for, in case of the latter danger, he could so easily remove her to a sphere of safety. However, these arguments would only hold good in case of Nastasia acting as others might in such an emergency. She was much more likely to overstep the bounds of reasonable conduct by some extraordinary eccentricity.
“You are laughing, I think? Why do you keep laughing at me?” said Hippolyte irritably to Evgenie Pavlovitch, who certainly was laughing.
“Be quiet, Ivan Fedorovitch! Leave me alone!” cried Mrs. Epanchin. “Why do you offer me your arm now? You had not sense enough to take me away before. You are my husband, you are a father, it was your duty to drag me away by force, if in my folly I refused to obey you and go quietly. You might at least have thought of your daughters. We can find our way out now without your help. Here is shame enough for a year! Wait a moment ‘till I thank the prince! Thank you, prince, for the entertainment you have given us! It was most amusing to hear these young men... It is vile, vile! A chaos, a scandal, worse than a nightmare! Is it possible that there can be many such people on earth? Be quiet, Aglaya! Be quiet, Alexandra! It is none of your business! Don’t fuss round me like that, Evgenie Pavlovitch; you exasperate me! So, my dear,” she cried, addressing the prince, “you go so far as to beg their pardon! He says, ‘Forgive me for offering you a fortune.’ And you, you mountebank, what are you laughing at?” she cried, turning suddenly on Lebedeff’s nephew. “‘We refuse ten thousand roubles; we do not beseech, we demand!’ As if he did not know that this idiot will call on them tomorrow to renew his offers of money and friendship. You will, won’t you? You will? Come, will you, or won’t you?”
“‘Perhaps you are exaggerating--if you were to take proper measures perhaps--”
He bowed and retired without waiting for an answer.
Having placed this before her, he stood with drooped arms and head, as though awaiting his sentence.
“How long do you remain here, prince?” asked Madame Epanchin.
“Mamma, what are you saying?” said Alexandra again, hurriedly.
“You shall hear all this directly, gentlemen. I--I--listen!”
Aglaya had simply frightened him; yet he did not give up all thoughts of her--though he never seriously hoped that she would condescend to him. At the time of his “adventure” with Nastasia Philipovna he had come to the conclusion that money was his only hope--money should do all for him.
“Very well, what next?” said the latter, almost laughing in his face.
“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.”
The prince expressed his thanks once more, and eating heartily the while, recommenced the narrative of his life in Switzerland, all of which we have heard before. Mrs. Epanchin became more and more pleased with her guest; the girls, too, listened with considerable attention. In talking over the question of relationship it turned out that the prince was very well up in the matter and knew his pedigree off by heart. It was found that scarcely any connection existed between himself and Mrs. Epanchin, but the talk, and the opportunity of conversing about her family tree, gratified the latter exceedingly, and she rose from the table in great good humour.
“That is all he thinks of!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.
A row of orange and lemon trees and jasmines, planted in green tubs, stood on the fairly wide terrace. According to Lebedeff, these trees gave the house a most delightful aspect. Some were there when he bought it, and he was so charmed with the effect that he promptly added to their number. When the tubs containing these plants arrived at the villa and were set in their places, Lebedeff kept running into the street to enjoy the view of the house, and every time he did so the rent to be demanded from the future tenant went up with a bound.
“If that is the case, why did you begin by making such a fuss about it?” asked the astonished prince.
“What? Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Oh no; he belongs to one of the companies. Look here, at all events put your bundle down, here.”
“You will not deny, I am sure,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch, turning to Burdovsky, who sat looking at him with wide-open eyes, perplexed and astonished. “You will not deny, seriously, that you were born just two years after your mother’s legal marriage to Mr. Burdovsky, your father. Nothing would be easier than to prove the date of your birth from well-known facts; we can only look on Mr. Keller’s version as a work of imagination, and one, moreover, extremely offensive both to you and your mother. Of course he distorted the truth in order to strengthen your claim, and to serve your interests. Mr. Keller said that he previously consulted you about his article in the paper, but did not read it to you as a whole. Certainly he could not have read that passage. ....”
However, I hope I shall not interfere with the proper sequence of my narrative too much, if I diverge for a moment at this point, in order to explain the mutual relations between General Epanchin’s family and others acting a part in this history, at the time when we take up the thread of their destiny. I have already stated that the general, though he was a man of lowly origin, and of poor education, was, for all that, an experienced and talented husband and father. Among other things, he considered it undesirable to hurry his daughters to the matrimonial altar and to worry them too much with assurances of his paternal wishes for their happiness, as is the custom among parents of many grown-up daughters. He even succeeded in ranging his wife on his side on this question, though he found the feat very difficult to accomplish, because unnatural; but the general’s arguments were conclusive, and founded upon obvious facts. The general considered that the girls’ taste and good sense should be allowed to develop and mature deliberately, and that the parents’ duty should merely be to keep watch, in order that no strange or undesirable choice be made; but that the selection once effected, both father and mother were bound from that moment to enter heart and soul into the cause, and to see that the matter progressed without hindrance until the altar should be happily reached.
“How?” cried Aglaya--and her lower lip trembled violently. “You were _afraid_ that I--you dared to think that I--good gracious! you suspected, perhaps, that I sent for you to come here in order to catch you in a trap, so that they should find us here together, and make you marry me--”
Whether she were a woman who had read too many poems, as Evgenie Pavlovitch supposed, or whether she were mad, as the prince had assured Aglaya, at all events, this was a woman who, in spite of her occasionally cynical and audacious manner, was far more refined and trustful and sensitive than appeared. There was a certain amount of romantic dreaminess and caprice in her, but with the fantastic was mingled much that was strong and deep.
Her dress was modest and simple to a degree, dark and elderly in style; but both her face and appearance gave evidence that she had seen better days.
“Dreadful crimes? But I can assure you that crimes just as dreadful, and probably more horrible, have occurred before our times, and at all times, and not only here in Russia, but everywhere else as well. And in my opinion it is not at all likely that such murders will cease to occur for a very long time to come. The only difference is that in former times there was less publicity, while now everyone talks and writes freely about such things--which fact gives the impression that such crimes have only now sprung into existence. That is where your mistake lies--an extremely natural mistake, I assure you, my dear fellow!” said Prince S.
“I was so sorry to have forgotten to ask you to come, when I saw you,” she said, “and I am delighted to be able to thank you personally now, and to express my pleasure at your resolution.”
“Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way,” said she to the man who answered.
Although the impudence of this attack, this public proclamation of intimacy, as it were, was doubtless premeditated, and had its special object, yet Evgenie Pavlovitch at first seemed to intend to make no show of observing either his tormentor or her words. But Nastasia’s communication struck him with the force of a thunderclap. On hearing of his uncle’s death he suddenly grew as white as a sheet, and turned towards his informant.
“She spoke of some bills of Evgenie Pavlovitch’s,” said the prince, simply, “which Rogojin had bought up from someone; and implied that Rogojin would not press him.”
“There was no cap in it,” Keller announced.
Rogojin seized her in his arms and almost carried her to the carriage. Then, in a flash, he tore a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket and held it to the coachman.
“Hurrah!” cried a number of voices. A rush was made for the wine by Rogojin’s followers, though, even among them, there seemed some sort of realization that the situation had changed. Rogojin stood and looked on, with an incredulous smile, screwing up one side of his mouth.
“Well, you have no right, you have no right, no right at all!... Your friends indeed!”... gabbled Burdovsky, defiantly examining the faces round him, and becoming more and more excited. “You have no right!...” As he ended thus abruptly, he leant forward, staring at the prince with his short-sighted, bloodshot eyes. The latter was so astonished, that he did not reply, but looked steadily at him in return.
“Besides, though you are a prince and a millionaire, and even though you may really be simple and good-hearted, you can hardly be outside the general law,” Hippolyte declared loudly.
“You don’t seem to want to tell us,” said Aglaya, with a mocking air.
“Yes, directly; I’ll go away directly. I’ll--”
“You have forgotten, mother,” said Aglaya, suddenly. “He really did carry me about,--in Tver, you know. I was six years old, I remember. He made me a bow and arrow, and I shot a pigeon. Don’t you remember shooting a pigeon, you and I, one day?”
“What?” said the prince, much astonished.
“Without Aglaya--I--I _must_ see Aglaya!--I shall die in my sleep very soon--I thought I was dying in my sleep last night. Oh! if Aglaya only knew all--I mean really, _really_ all! Because she must know _all_--that’s the first condition towards understanding. Why cannot we ever know all about another, especially when that other has been guilty? But I don’t know what I’m talking about--I’m so confused. You pained me so dreadfully. Surely--surely Aglaya has not the same expression now as she had at the moment when she ran away? Oh, yes! I am guilty and I know it--I know it! Probably I am in fault all round--I don’t quite know how--but I am in fault, no doubt. There is something else, but I cannot explain it to you, Evgenie Pavlovitch. I have no words; but Aglaya will understand. I have always believed Aglaya will understand--I am assured she will.”
“The devil knows what it means,” growled Ivan Fedorovitch, under his breath; “it must have taken the united wits of fifty footmen to write it.”
“No--no--my dear girl,” began the general. “You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that’s how the matter stands. It’s impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but--Lizabetha Prokofievna!”--he appealed to his spouse for help--“you must really--”
“It is not true,” he repeated, decidedly; “you have just invented it!”
The rest of the company followed her example.
“No, Aglaya. No, I’m not crying.” The prince looked at her.
The individual who corresponds thus with Evgenie Pavlovitch, and who engages so much of his attention and respect, is Vera Lebedeff. We have never been able to discover clearly how such relations sprang up. Of course the root of them was in the events which we have already recorded, and which so filled Vera with grief on the prince’s account that she fell seriously ill. But exactly how the acquaintance and friendship came about, we cannot say.
About seven in the evening, soon after dinner, he arrived. At the first glance it struck the prince that he, at any rate, must know all the details of last night’s affair. Indeed, it would have been impossible for him to remain in ignorance considering the intimate relationship between him, Varvara Ardalionovna, and Ptitsin. But although he and the prince were intimate, in a sense, and although the latter had placed the Burdovsky affair in his hands--and this was not the only mark of confidence he had received--it seemed curious how many matters there were that were tacitly avoided in their conversations. Muishkin thought that Gania at times appeared to desire more cordiality and frankness. It was apparent now, when he entered, that he was convinced that the moment for breaking the ice between them had come at last.
“H’m! well, _you_ are not going away just yet, my friend, at all events,” said Lizabetha, stopping the prince. “Kindly step home with me, and let me have a little explanation of the mystery. Nice goings on, these! I haven’t slept a wink all night as it is.”
Aglaya observed it, and trembled with anger.
“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. You wish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once--he will be free in a minute; but you--you had better wait in the ante-chamber,--hadn’t you? Why is he here?” he added, severely, to the man.
“Excuse him? Oh no, I have wished to see him too long for that. Why, what business can he have? He has retired, hasn’t he? You won’t leave me, general, will you?”
The news of what had happened reached the church with extraordinary rapidity. When Keller arrived, a host of people whom he did not know thronged around to ask him questions. There was much excited talking, and shaking of heads, even some laughter; but no one left the church, all being anxious to observe how the now celebrated bridegroom would take the news. He grew very pale upon hearing it, but took it quite quietly.
“Very well, I believe you. I have my own ideas about it. Up to yesterday morning I thought it was really Evgenie Pavlovitch who was to blame; now I cannot help agreeing with the others. But why he was made such a fool of I cannot understand. However, he is not going to marry Aglaya, I can tell you that. He may be a very excellent fellow, but--so it shall be. I was not at all sure of accepting him before, but now I have quite made up my mind that I won’t have him. ‘Put me in my coffin first and then into my grave, and then you may marry my daughter to whomsoever you please,’ so I said to the general this very morning. You see how I trust you, my boy.”
She became so excited and agitated during all these explanations and confessions that General Epanchin was highly gratified, and considered the matter satisfactorily arranged once for all. But the once bitten Totski was twice shy, and looked for hidden snakes among the flowers. However, the special point to which the two friends particularly trusted to bring about their object (namely, Gania’s attractiveness for Nastasia Philipovna), stood out more and more prominently; the pourparlers had commenced, and gradually even Totski began to believe in the possibility of success.
“Why, don’t you, aren’t you--” began the general, in alarm.
“H’m--well, at all events, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep here, in your place. It wasn’t nice of you, that. I suppose you fall asleep wherever you sit down?”
It appeared that neither the prince, nor the doctor with whom he lived in Switzerland, had thought of waiting for further communications; but the prince had started straight away with Salaskin’s letter in his pocket.
Alas Aglaya still did not come--and the prince was quite lost. He had the greatest difficulty in expressing his opinion that railways were most useful institutions,--and in the middle of his speech Adelaida laughed, which threw him into a still worse state of confusion.
“Listen, Lebedeff,” began the prince, quite overwhelmed; “_do_ act quietly--don’t make a scandal, Lebedeff, I ask you--I entreat you! No one must know--_no one_, mind! In that case only, I will help you.”
“Oh! no, no!” said Lebedeff, hurriedly.
Burdovsky alone sat silent and motionless.
“Then about executions.”
“Nastasia Philipovna!” cried Totski, in a quaking voice.
“At the first glimpse of the rising sun, prince, I will go to bed. I told you I would, word of honour! You shall see!” cried Hippolyte. “You think I’m not capable of opening this packet, do you?” He glared defiantly round at the audience in general.
“Stop a minute! When will he come back?”
“Take fifty roubles for your cloak?” he shouted, holding the money out to the girl. Before the astonished young woman could collect her scattered senses, he pushed the money into her hand, seized the mantle, and threw it and the handkerchief over Nastasia’s head and shoulders. The latter’s wedding-array would have attracted too much attention, and it was not until some time later that the girl understood why her old cloak and kerchief had been bought at such a price.
A couple of days later, however, Hippolyte’s mother came with tears in her eyes, and begged the prince to come back, “or _he_ would eat her up bodily.” She added that Hippolyte had a great secret to disclose. Of course the prince went. There was no secret, however, unless we reckon certain pantings and agitated glances around (probably all put on) as the invalid begged his visitor to “beware of Rogojin.”
“Water or the knife?” said the latter, at last. “Ha, ha--that’s exactly why she is going to marry me, because she knows for certain that the knife awaits her. Prince, can it be that you don’t even yet see what’s at the root of it all?”
“It’s better so, you know, Gania--especially as, from one point of view, the matter may be considered as settled,” said Ptitsin; and sitting down a little way from the table he began to study a paper covered with pencil writing.
“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise! I suppose you don’t believe that you have a rival in that quarter?”
“So that if I cannot now impart all that has tormented me for the last six months, at all events you will understand that, having reached my ‘last convictions,’ I must have paid a very dear price for them. That is what I wished, for reasons of my own, to make a point of in this my ‘Explanation.’
“Oughtn’t-oughtn’t we to secure her?” asked the general of Ptitsin, in a whisper; “or shall we send for the authorities? Why, she’s mad, isn’t she--isn’t she, eh?”
“Stop a minute; where are you off to? Who is this abbot?” cried Mrs. Epanchin to her retreating husband in a tone of excited annoyance.
“Then how do you come to be going there?” cried Colia, so much astonished that he stopped short in the middle of the pavement. “And... and are you going to her ‘At Home’ in that costume?”
“Well, I will take it then.”
“Yes. Can’t one cut pages with a garden knife?”
“I’ll turn him out!” shouted Gania, glad of the opportunity of venting his vexation. “I shall just turn him out--we can’t have this.”