“Parfen Semionovitch is not at home,” she announced from the doorway. “Whom do you want?”

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.

“‘Child,’ he addressed me suddenly, ‘what do you think of our plan?’ Of course he only applied to me as a sort of toss-up, you know. I turned to Davoust and addressed my reply to him. I said, as though inspired:

“What do _you_ know about our faces?” exclaimed the other two, in chorus.

No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.

A few moments later, the prince was seated by Nastasia on the sofa, gazing into her eyes and stroking her face and hair, as he would a little child’s. He laughed when she laughed, and was ready to cry when she cried. He did not speak, but listened to her excited, disconnected chatter, hardly understanding a word of it the while. No sooner did he detect the slightest appearance of complaining, or weeping, or reproaching, than he would smile at her kindly, and begin stroking her hair and her cheeks, soothing and consoling her once more, as if she were a child.

“Only, of course that’s not nearly your worst action,” said the actress, with evident dislike in her face.

He soon heard that a messenger from the Epanchins’ had already been to inquire after him. At half-past eleven another arrived; and this pleased him.

“Perhaps you have one like it here?”

“Ye-yes.”

“Oh, of course, of course; and you quite understand that I--”

Just then another person belonging to the household was seen at the back of the hall. It was a woman of some forty years, dressed in sombre colours, probably a housekeeper or a governess. Hearing the names she came forward with a look of suspicion on her face.

If the prince had been in a condition to pay more attention to what the general was saying, he would have discovered that the latter was desirous of drawing some information out of him, or indeed of asking him some question outright; but that he could not make up his mind to come to the point.

“Had we not better allow our hostess to retire?” asked Totski of the general.

“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”

“She postponed the pleasure--I see--I quite understand!” said Hippolyte, hurriedly, as though he wished to banish the subject. “I hear--they tell me--that you read her all that nonsense aloud? Stupid bosh it was--written in delirium. And I can’t understand how anyone can be so--I won’t say _cruel_, because the word would be humiliating to myself, but we’ll say childishly vain and revengeful, as to _reproach_ me with this confession, and use it as a weapon against me. Don’t be afraid, I’m not referring to yourself.”

Lizabetha Prokofievna was about to rise, when she saw Hippolyte laughing, and turned upon him with irritation.

With trembling fingers he broke the seal and drew out several sheets of paper, smoothed them out before him, and began sorting them.

“By all means! I assure you I am delighted--you need not have entered into all these explanations. As for your remarks about friendship with me--thanks, very much indeed. You must excuse my being a little absent this evening. Do you know, I cannot somehow be attentive to anything just now?”

“No,--the thing is, I was telling all about the execution a little while ago, and--”

When Colia had finished reading, he handed the paper to the prince, and retired silently to a corner of the room, hiding his face in his hands. He was overcome by a feeling of inexpressible shame; his boyish sensitiveness was wounded beyond endurance. It seemed to him that something extraordinary, some sudden catastrophe had occurred, and that he was almost the cause of it, because he had read the article aloud.

“‘Thank your friend Mr. Rogojin for his kind attention,’ says she, and bowed and went off. Why didn’t I die there on the spot? The worst of it all was, though, that the beast Zaleshoff got all the credit of it! I was short and abominably dressed, and stood and stared in her face and never said a word, because I was shy, like an ass! And there was he all in the fashion, pomaded and dressed out, with a smart tie on, bowing and scraping; and I bet anything she took him for me all the while!

She gazed thirstily at him and clutched his hands.

This new woman gave him further to understand that though it was absolutely the same to her whom he married, yet she had decided to prevent this marriage--for no particular reason, but that she _chose_ to do so, and because she wished to amuse herself at his expense for that it was “quite her turn to laugh a little now!”

“And how do _you_ know that he left two million and a half of roubles?” asked Rogojin, disdainfully, and not deigning so much as to look at the other. “However, it’s true enough that my father died a month ago, and that here am I returning from Pskoff, a month after, with hardly a boot to my foot. They’ve treated me like a dog! I’ve been ill of fever at Pskoff the whole time, and not a line, nor farthing of money, have I received from my mother or my confounded brother!”

“And where have you come to?”

“Bravo! That’s frank, at any rate!” shouted Ferdishenko, and there was general laughter.

“How, nothing that they have done is Russian?” asked Prince S.

He had the key in his hand. Mounting the staircase he turned and signalled to the prince to go more softly; he opened the door very quietly, let the prince in, followed him, locked the door behind him, and put the key in his pocket.

But it was Hippolyte’s last idea which upset him.

“Yes, it was I,” whispered Rogojin, looking down.

“Le roi de Rome,” whispered the general, trembling all over.

“Be assured, most honourable, most worthy of princes--be assured that the whole matter shall be buried within my heart!” cried Lebedeff, in a paroxysm of exaltation. “I’d give every drop of my blood... Illustrious prince, I am a poor wretch in soul and spirit, but ask the veriest scoundrel whether he would prefer to deal with one like himself, or with a noble-hearted man like you, and there is no doubt as to his choice! He’ll answer that he prefers the noble-hearted man--and there you have the triumph of virtue! _Au revoir_, honoured prince! You and I together--softly! softly!”

When recalling all this afterwards the prince could not for the life of him understand how to reconcile the beautiful, sincere, pure nature of the girl with the irony of this jest. That it was a jest there was no doubt whatever; he knew that well enough, and had good reason, too, for his conviction; for during her recitation of the ballad Aglaya had deliberately changed the letters A. N. B. into N. P. B. He was quite sure she had not done this by accident, and that his ears had not deceived him. At all events her performance--which was a joke, of course, if rather a crude one,--was premeditated. They had evidently talked (and laughed) over the ‘poor knight’ for more than a month.

“What is this ‘star’?” asked another.

Hippolyte walked towards the door, but the prince called him back and he stopped.

“Certainly it is a fraud! Since Mr. Burdovsky is not Pavlicheff’s son, his claim is neither more nor less than attempted fraud (supposing, of course, that he had known the truth), but the fact is that he has been deceived. I insist on this point in order to justify him; I repeat that his simple-mindedness makes him worthy of pity, and that he cannot stand alone; otherwise he would have behaved like a scoundrel in this matter. But I feel certain that he does not understand it! I was just the same myself before I went to Switzerland; I stammered incoherently; one tries to express oneself and cannot. I understand that. I am all the better able to pity Mr. Burdovsky, because I know from experience what it is to be like that, and so I have a right to speak. Well, though there is no such person as ‘Pavlicheff’s son,’ and it is all nothing but a humbug, yet I will keep to my decision, and I am prepared to give up ten thousand roubles in memory of Pavlicheff. Before Mr. Burdovsky made this claim, I proposed to found a school with this money, in memory of my benefactor, but I shall honour his memory quite as well by giving the ten thousand roubles to Mr. Burdovsky, because, though he was not Pavlicheff’s son, he was treated almost as though he were. That is what gave a rogue the opportunity of deceiving him; he really did think himself Pavlicheff’s son. Listen, gentlemen; this matter must be settled; keep calm; do not get angry; and sit down! Gavrila Ardalionovitch will explain everything to you at once, and I confess that I am very anxious to hear all the details myself. He says that he has even been to Pskoff to see your mother, Mr. Burdovsky; she is not dead, as the article which was just read to us makes out. Sit down, gentlemen, sit down!”

Lebedeff had his desire. He went off with the noisy group of Rogojin’s friends towards the Voznesensky, while the prince’s route lay towards the Litaynaya. It was damp and wet. The prince asked his way of passers-by, and finding that he was a couple of miles or so from his destination, he determined to take a droshky.

“Under the chair? Impossible! Why, you told me yourself that you had searched every corner of the room? How could you not have looked in the most likely place of all?”

“In a word, you are a wretched little scandal-monger,” cried Gania, “and you cannot go away without a scandal!”

“What, he doesn’t know me!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth disagreeably. “He doesn’t recognize Rogojin!” He did not move an inch, however.

“I didn’t come here for that purpose, Parfen. That was not in my mind--”

“He’s sitting there over his bottle--and how they can give him credit, I cannot understand. Don’t tell mother I brought you the note, prince; I have sworn not to do it a thousand times, but I’m always so sorry for him. Don’t stand on ceremony, give him some trifle, and let that end it.”

Nastasia introduced the prince to her guests, to most of whom he was already known.

“You too, Alexandra Ivanovna, have a very lovely face; but I think you may have some secret sorrow. Your heart is undoubtedly a kind, good one, but you are not merry. There is a certain suspicion of ‘shadow’ in your face, like in that of Holbein’s Madonna in Dresden. So much for your face. Have I guessed right?

“The noble and intelligent word of an intelligent and most noble man, at last!” exclaimed the boxer.

“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?”

“And supposing I do know something?” observed the other, triumphantly.

The prince made one step forward, and then turned round.

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.

He stopped for a moment at the door; a great flush of shame came over him. “I am a coward, a wretched coward,” he said, and moved forward again; but once more he paused.

Of course, after this, Aglaya went with the rest. In fact, she had never had the slightest intention of doing otherwise.

He remembered seeing something in the window marked at sixty copecks. Therefore, if the shop existed and if this object were really in the window, it would prove that he had been able to concentrate his attention on this article at a moment when, as a general rule, his absence of mind would have been too great to admit of any such concentration; in fact, very shortly after he had left the railway station in such a state of agitation.

Both she and Aglaya stood and waited as though in expectation, and both looked at the prince like madwomen.

“Hurrah!” cried Lebedeff, in a drunken voice. “Hurrah for the last of the Muishkins!”

“No, he...”

“Look here, prince,” said the general, with a cordial smile, “if you really are the sort of man you appear to be, it may be a source of great pleasure to us to make your better acquaintance; but, you see, I am a very busy man, and have to be perpetually sitting here and signing papers, or off to see his excellency, or to my department, or somewhere; so that though I should be glad to see more of people, nice people--you see, I--however, I am sure you are so well brought up that you will see at once, and--but how old are you, prince?”

The next day Keller came to visit the prince. He was in a high state of delight with the post of honour assigned to him at the wedding.

“It is not such a very dreadful circumstance that we are odd people, is it? For we really are odd, you know--careless, reckless, easily wearied of anything. We don’t look thoroughly into matters--don’t care to understand things. We are all like this--you and I, and all of them! Why, here are you, now--you are not a bit angry with me for calling you ‘odd,’ are you? And, if so, surely there is good material in you? Do you know, I sometimes think it is a good thing to be odd. We can forgive one another more easily, and be more humble. No one can begin by being perfect--there is much one cannot understand in life at first. In order to attain to perfection, one must begin by failing to understand much. And if we take in knowledge too quickly, we very likely are not taking it in at all. I say all this to you--you who by this time understand so much--and doubtless have failed to understand so much, also. I am not afraid of you any longer. You are not angry that a mere boy should say such words to you, are you? Of course not! You know how to forget and to forgive. You are laughing, Ivan Petrovitch? You think I am a champion of other classes of people--that I am _their_ advocate, a democrat, and an orator of Equality?” The prince laughed hysterically; he had several times burst into these little, short nervous laughs. “Oh, no--it is for you, for myself, and for all of us together, that I am alarmed. I am a prince of an old family myself, and I am sitting among my peers; and I am talking like this in the hope of saving us all; in the hope that our class will not disappear altogether--into the darkness--unguessing its danger--blaming everything around it, and losing ground every day. Why should we disappear and give place to others, when we may still, if we choose, remain in the front rank and lead the battle? Let us be servants, that we may become lords in due season!”

“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I--”

“There, look at her now--Ivan Fedorovitch! Here she is--all of her! This is our _real_ Aglaya at last!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna.

“Oh! then you did come ‘to fight,’ I may conclude? Dear me!--and I thought you were cleverer--”

At that moment Vera, carrying the baby in her arms as usual, came out of the house, on to the terrace. Lebedeff kept fidgeting among the chairs, and did not seem to know what to do with himself, though he had no intention of going away. He no sooner caught sight of his daughter, than he rushed in her direction, waving his arms to keep her away; he even forgot himself so far as to stamp his foot.

“By all means! I assure you I am delighted--you need not have entered into all these explanations. As for your remarks about friendship with me--thanks, very much indeed. You must excuse my being a little absent this evening. Do you know, I cannot somehow be attentive to anything just now?”

The prince, however, immediately began, with some show of annoyance, to question Lebedeff categorically, as to the general’s present condition, and his opinion thereon. He described the morning’s interview in a few words.

“I don’t believe it!” said the prince abruptly, after a short pause. “Had it been so I should have known long ago.”

But he had hardly become conscious of this curious phenomenon, when another recollection suddenly swam through his brain, interesting him for the moment, exceedingly. He remembered that the last time he had been engaged in looking around him for the unknown something, he was standing before a cutler’s shop, in the window of which were exposed certain goods for sale. He was extremely anxious now to discover whether this shop and these goods really existed, or whether the whole thing had been a hallucination.

“Yes, I have,” replied the prince, quite unsuspicious of any irony in the remark.

“There now, that’s what we may call _scent!_” said Lebedeff, rubbing his hands and laughing silently. “I thought it must be so, you see. The general interrupted his innocent slumbers, at six o’clock, in order to go and wake his beloved son, and warn him of the dreadful danger of companionship with Ferdishenko. Dear me! what a dreadfully dangerous man Ferdishenko must be, and what touching paternal solicitude, on the part of his excellency, ha! ha! ha!”

At last, about half-past ten, the prince was left alone. His head ached. Colia was the last to go, after having helped him to change his wedding clothes. They parted on affectionate terms, and, without speaking of what had happened, Colia promised to come very early the next day. He said later that the prince had given no hint of his intentions when they said good-bye, but had hidden them even from him. Soon there was hardly anyone left in the house. Burdovsky had gone to see Hippolyte; Keller and Lebedeff had wandered off together somewhere.

“Well, that’s a comfort, at all events. You don’t suppose she could take any interest in you, do you? Why, she called you an ‘idiot’ herself.”

“Ah, yes. Well, did you read it, general? It’s curious, isn’t it?” said the prince, delighted to be able to open up conversation upon an outside subject.

“In the other wing.”

On this particular evening the weather was lovely, and there were a large number of people present. All the places anywhere near the orchestra were occupied.

“Aglaya, don’t! This is unfair,” cried the prince, deeply distressed.

“But wait,” said Nastasia. “How is it that, five or six days since, I read exactly the same story in the paper, as happening between a Frenchman and an English girl? The cigar was snatched away exactly as you describe, and the poodle was chucked out of the window after it. The slapping came off, too, as in your case; and the girl’s dress was light blue!”

“Oh, why not?” the prince insisted, with some warmth. “When I was in Basle I saw a picture very much in that style--I should like to tell you about it; I will some time or other; it struck me very forcibly.”

“Wait a bit--I’ll make the bed, and you can lie down. I’ll lie down, too, and we’ll listen and watch, for I don’t know yet what I shall do... I tell you beforehand, so that you may be ready in case I--”

“Very well then, stay at home,” said Mrs. Epanchin, “and a good thing too, for Evgenie Pavlovitch is coming down and there will be no one at home to receive him.”

“Never.”

Keller also advised, in anticipation of the crowd making a rush after the ceremony, that a fire-hose should be placed at the entrance to the house; but Lebedeff was opposed to this measure, which he said might result in the place being pulled down.

“As soon as I finished writing in her album for her, and when she asked me to come out of the room with her (you heard?), we went into the dining-room, and she gave me your letter to read, and then told me to return it.”

So saying, the prince approached Aglaya.

“Impossible!” cried the prince.

Nastasia seemed to Totski to have divined all this, and to be preparing something on her own account, which frightened him to such an extent that he did not dare communicate his views even to the general. But at times he would pluck up his courage and be full of hope and good spirits again, acting, in fact, as weak men do act in such circumstances.

Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the seventh heaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience and ill-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, and nothing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya’s frowns never lasted long; they disappeared of themselves.

The general rose.

The prince’s conversation was artless and confiding to a degree, and the servant could not help feeling that as from visitor to common serving-man this state of things was highly improper. His conclusion was that one of two things must be the explanation--either that this was a begging impostor, or that the prince, if prince he were, was simply a fool, without the slightest ambition; for a sensible prince with any ambition would certainly not wait about in ante-rooms with servants, and talk of his own private affairs like this. In either case, how was he to announce this singular visitor?

“That same husband of your sister, the usurer--”

This evening there were no strangers present--no one but the immediate members of the family. Prince S. was still in town, occupied with the affairs of Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle.

“Yes, unless she has gone to Pavlofsk: the fine weather may have tempted her, perhaps, into the country, with Daria Alexeyevna. ‘I am quite free,’ she says. Only yesterday she boasted of her freedom to Nicolai Ardalionovitch--a bad sign,” added Lebedeff, smiling.

“Ye-yes.”

“But is that all your evidence? It is not enough!”

Varvara Ardalionovna was not like her brother. She too, had passionate desires, but they were persistent rather than impetuous. Her plans were as wise as her methods of carrying them out. No doubt she also belonged to the category of ordinary people who dream of being original, but she soon discovered that she had not a grain of true originality, and she did not let it trouble her too much. Perhaps a certain kind of pride came to her help. She made her first concession to the demands of practical life with great resolution when she consented to marry Ptitsin. However, when she married she did not say to herself, “Never mind a mean action if it leads to the end in view,” as her brother would certainly have said in such a case; it is quite probable that he may have said it when he expressed his elder-brotherly satisfaction at her decision. Far from this; Varvara Ardalionovna did not marry until she felt convinced that her future husband was unassuming, agreeable, almost cultured, and that nothing on earth would tempt him to a really dishonourable deed. As to small meannesses, such trifles did not trouble her. Indeed, who is free from them? It is absurd to expect the ideal! Besides, she knew that her marriage would provide a refuge for all her family. Seeing Gania unhappy, she was anxious to help him, in spite of their former disputes and misunderstandings. Ptitsin, in a friendly way, would press his brother-in-law to enter the army. “You know,” he said sometimes, jokingly, “you despise generals and generaldom, but you will see that ‘they’ will all end by being generals in their turn. You will see it if you live long enough!”

It was said that there were other reasons for his hurried departure; but as to this, and as to his movements in Moscow, and as to his prolonged absence from St. Petersburg, we are able to give very little information.

This sort of character is met with pretty frequently in a certain class. They are people who know everyone--that is, they know where a man is employed, what his salary is, whom he knows, whom he married, what money his wife had, who are his cousins, and second cousins, etc., etc. These men generally have about a hundred pounds a year to live on, and they spend their whole time and talents in the amassing of this style of knowledge, which they reduce--or raise--to the standard of a science.

“Oh, you needn’t fear! He’ll live another six weeks all right. Very likely he will recover altogether; but I strongly advise you to pack him off tomorrow.”

“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.

“Yes, quite so; very remarkable.”

“Well, hardly at all. I wish I were, if only for the sake of justifying myself in her eyes. Nina Alexandrovna has a grudge against me for, as she thinks, encouraging her husband in drinking; whereas in reality I not only do not encourage him, but I actually keep him out of harm’s way, and out of bad company. Besides, he’s my friend, prince, so that I shall not lose sight of him, again. Where he goes, I go. He’s quite given up visiting the captain’s widow, though sometimes he thinks sadly of her, especially in the morning, when he’s putting on his boots. I don’t know why it’s at that time. But he has no money, and it’s no use his going to see her without. Has he borrowed any money from you, prince?”