“Here on my paper, I make a note of all the figures and dates that come into my explanation. Of course, it is all the same to me, but just now--and perhaps only at this moment--I desire that all those who are to judge of my action should see clearly out of how logical a sequence of deductions has at length proceeded my ‘last conviction.’
The prince knew that if he called at the Epanchins’ now he would only find the general, and that the latter might probably carry him straight off to Pavlofsk with him; whereas there was one visit he was most anxious to make without delay.
“You exaggerate the matter very much,” said Ivan Petrovitch, with rather a bored air. “There are, in the foreign Churches, many representatives of their faith who are worthy of respect and esteem.”
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.
“What? I have emeralds? Oh, prince! with what simplicity, with what almost pastoral simplicity, you look upon life!”
The fact that the prince confirmed her idea, about Hippolyte shooting himself that she might read his confession, surprised her greatly.
“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.
“Here,” laughed Lebedeff, at last, rising to his full height and looking pleasantly at the prince, “here, in the lining of my coat. Look, you can feel it for yourself, if you like!”
“Everyone has his worries, prince, especially in these strange and troublous times of ours,” Lebedeff replied, drily, and with the air of a man disappointed of his reasonable expectations.
“Yes, and he made me a cardboard helmet, and a little wooden sword--I remember!” said Adelaida.
Aglaya looked blackly at him.
“Yes,” said Ferdishenko; “it’s a good idea--come along--the men begin. Of course no one need tell a story if he prefers to be disobliging. We must draw lots! Throw your slips of paper, gentlemen, into this hat, and the prince shall draw for turns. It’s a very simple game; all you have to do is to tell the story of the worst action of your life. It’s as simple as anything. I’ll prompt anyone who forgets the rules!”
Towards six o’clock he found himself at the station of the Tsarsko-Selski railway.
“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.”
“No, certainly not, no more than yourself, though at first I thought I was.”
“Oh, but I do know, as it happens,” said the clerk in an aggravating manner. “Lebedeff knows all about her. You are pleased to reproach me, your excellency, but what if I prove that I am right after all? Nastasia Phillpovna’s family name is Barashkoff--I know, you see--and she is a very well known lady, indeed, and comes of a good family, too. She is connected with one Totski, Afanasy Ivanovitch, a man of considerable property, a director of companies, and so on, and a great friend of General Epanchin, who is interested in the same matters as he is.”
“You know quite well that I am telling the truth, because I have always been frank with you. I have never concealed my own opinion from you. I have always told you that I consider a marriage between you and her would be ruin to her. You would also be ruined, and perhaps even more hopelessly. If this marriage were to be broken off again, I admit I should be greatly pleased; but at the same time I have not the slightest intention of trying to part you. You may be quite easy in your mind, and you need not suspect me. You know yourself whether I was ever really your rival or not, even when she ran away and came to me.
“An old peasant woman opened the door; she was busy lighting the ‘samovar’ in a tiny kitchen. She listened silently to my questions, did not understand a word, of course, and opened another door leading into a little bit of a room, low and scarcely furnished at all, but with a large, wide bed in it, hung with curtains. On this bed lay one Terentich, as the woman called him, drunk, it appeared to me. On the table was an end of candle in an iron candlestick, and a half-bottle of vodka, nearly finished. Terentich muttered something to me, and signed towards the next room. The old woman had disappeared, so there was nothing for me to do but to open the door indicated. I did so, and entered the next room.
To make an end, we may say that there were many changes in the Epanchin household in the spring, so that it was not difficult to forget the prince, who sent no news of himself.
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.
“Dear me! How you have gone into all the refinements and details of the question! Why, my dear fellow, you are not a caligraphist, you are an artist! Eh, Gania?”
“Yes. Is it really so? However, it’s all the same to us, of course.”
“But believe me, believe me, my simple-hearted friends, that in this highly moral verse, in this academical blessing to the world in general in the French language, is hidden the intensest gall and bitterness; but so well concealed is the venom, that I dare say the poet actually persuaded himself that his words were full of the tears of pardon and peace, instead of the bitterness of disappointment and malice, and so died in the delusion.
This was the note:
“Tomorrow ‘there will be no more time!’” laughed Hippolyte, hysterically. “You needn’t be afraid; I shall get through the whole thing in forty minutes, at most an hour! Look how interested everybody is! Everybody has drawn near. Look! look at them all staring at my sealed packet! If I hadn’t sealed it up it wouldn’t have been half so effective! Ha, ha! that’s mystery, that is! Now then, gentlemen, shall I break the seal or not? Say the word; it’s a mystery, I tell you--a secret! Prince, you know who said there would be ‘no more time’? It was the great and powerful angel in the Apocalypse.”
Hearing these words from her husband, Lizabetha Prokofievna was driven beside herself.
“Yes, me, of course! Of course you were afraid of me, or you would not have decided to come. You cannot despise one you fear. And to think that I have actually esteemed you up to this very moment! Do you know why you are afraid of me, and what is your object now? You wished to satisfy yourself with your own eyes as to which he loves best, myself or you, because you are fearfully jealous.”
“Oho! we’ll make Nastasia Philipovna sing another song now!” giggled Lebedeff, rubbing his hands with glee. “Hey, my boy, we’ll get her some proper earrings now! We’ll get her such earrings that--”
It was true that she was lonely in her present life; Totski had judged her thoughts aright. She longed to rise, if not to love, at least to family life and new hopes and objects, but as to Gavrila Ardalionovitch, she could not as yet say much. She thought it must be the case that he loved her; she felt that she too might learn to love him, if she could be sure of the firmness of his attachment to herself; but he was very young, and it was a difficult question to decide. What she specially liked about him was that he worked, and supported his family by his toil.
To serve her brother’s interests, Varvara Ardalionovna was constantly at the Epanchins’ house, helped by the fact that in childhood she and Gania had played with General Ivan Fedorovitch’s daughters. It would have been inconsistent with her character if in these visits she had been pursuing a chimera; her project was not chimerical at all; she was building on a firm basis--on her knowledge of the character of the Epanchin family, especially Aglaya, whom she studied closely. All Varvara’s efforts were directed towards bringing Aglaya and Gania together. Perhaps she achieved some result; perhaps, also, she made the mistake of depending too much upon her brother, and expecting more from him than he would ever be capable of giving. However this may be, her manoeuvres were skilful enough. For weeks at a time she would never mention Gania. Her attitude was modest but dignified, and she was always extremely truthful and sincere. Examining the depths of her conscience, she found nothing to reproach herself with, and this still further strengthened her in her designs. But Varvara Ardalionovna sometimes remarked that she felt spiteful; that there was a good deal of vanity in her, perhaps even of wounded vanity. She noticed this at certain times more than at others, and especially after her visits to the Epanchins.
In the first place he began about some letter; the name of Aglaya Ivanovna came in. Then suddenly he broke off and began to accuse the prince of something; he was apparently offended with him. At first he declared that the prince had trusted him with his confidences as to “a certain person” (Nastasia Philipovna), but that of late his friendship had been thrust back into his bosom, and his innocent question as to “approaching family changes” had been curtly put aside, which Lebedeff declared, with tipsy tears, he could not bear; especially as he knew so much already both from Rogojin and Nastasia Philipovna and her friend, and from Varvara Ardalionovna, and even from Aglaya Ivanovna, through his daughter Vera. “And who told Lizabetha Prokofievna something in secret, by letter? Who told her all about the movements of a certain person called Nastasia Philipovna? Who was the anonymous person, eh? Tell me!”
Or if that were impossible he would like to be alone at home, on the terrace--without either Lebedeff or his children, or anyone else about him, and to lie there and think--a day and night and another day again! He thought of the mountains--and especially of a certain spot which he used to frequent, whence he would look down upon the distant valleys and fields, and see the waterfall, far off, like a little silver thread, and the old ruined castle in the distance. Oh! how he longed to be there now--alone with his thoughts--to think of one thing all his life--one thing! A thousand years would not be too much time! And let everyone here forget him--forget him utterly! How much better it would have been if they had never known him--if all this could but prove to be a dream. Perhaps it was a dream!
Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the house together.
“Then for a day and a half I neither slept, nor ate, nor drank, and would not leave her. I knelt at her feet: ‘I shall die here,’ I said, ‘if you don’t forgive me; and if you have me turned out, I shall drown myself; because, what should I be without you now?’ She was like a madwoman all that day; now she would cry; now she would threaten me with a knife; now she would abuse me. She called in Zaleshoff and Keller, and showed me to them, shamed me in their presence. ‘Let’s all go to the theatre,’ she says, ‘and leave him here if he won’t go--it’s not my business. They’ll give you some tea, Parfen Semeonovitch, while I am away, for you must be hungry.’ She came back from the theatre alone. ‘Those cowards wouldn’t come,’ she said. ‘They are afraid of you, and tried to frighten me, too. “He won’t go away as he came,” they said, “he’ll cut your throat--see if he doesn’t.” Now, I shall go to my bedroom, and I shall not even lock my door, just to show you how much I am afraid of you. You must be shown that once for all. Did you have tea?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘and I don’t intend to.’ ‘Ha, ha! you are playing off your pride against your stomach! That sort of heroism doesn’t sit well on you,’ she said.
At the door they met Gania coming in.
Colia and Vera Lebedeff were very anxious on the prince’s account, but they were so busy over the arrangements for receiving the guests after the wedding, that they had not much time for the indulgence of personal feelings.
The prince crossed the road, and disappeared into the park, leaving the astonished Keller in a state of ludicrous wonder. He had never before seen the prince in such a strange condition of mind, and could not have imagined the possibility of it.
At last he rose and declared that he would wait no longer. The general rose too, drank the last drops that he could squeeze out of the bottle, and staggered into the street.
“Do you hear, prince?” said Nastasia Philipovna. “Do you hear how this moujik of a fellow goes on bargaining for your bride?”
“You are mad!” he cried, indignantly.
“What is this ‘star’?” asked another.
“I expect he knows all about it!” thought the prince.
“I think I have served you faithfully. I never even asked you what happiness you expected to find with Aglaya.”
The fire, choked between a couple of smouldering pieces of wood, had died down for the first few moments after the packet was thrown upon it. But a little tongue of fire now began to lick the paper from below, and soon, gathering courage, mounted the sides of the parcel, and crept around it. In another moment, the whole of it burst into flames, and the exclamations of woe and horror were redoubled.
“‘Like Napoleon going to England, eh?’ cried he, laughing. ‘I’ll do it though--of course, and at once, if I can!’ he added, seeing that I rose seriously from my chair at this point.
He fell asleep on the bench; but his mental disquiet continued through his slumbers.
“Come along, then. I don’t wish to meet my new year without you--my new life, I should say, for a new life is beginning for me. Did you know, Parfen, that a new life had begun for me?”
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:
“The very time when he was cringing before you and making protestations of devotion! Oh, the mean wretches! I will have nothing to do with your Pushkin, and your daughter shall not set foot in my house!”
“Well, Lukian Timofeyovitch, have you brought the little cupboard that you had at the head of your bed with you here?”
He had spoken in a whisper all the way. In spite of his apparent outward composure, he was evidently in a state of great mental agitation. Arrived in a large salon, next to the study, he went to the window and cautiously beckoned the prince up to him.
“Then you must see that he is not responsible. What does it matter to you now, in any case? What are you hoping for still? If you _have_ a hope left, it is that your suffering air may soften her heart towards you.”
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.
“I give you my word of honour that I had nothing to do with the matter and know nothing about it.”
“I’ll go and get your bundle.”
The doctor stated that there was no danger to be apprehended from the wound on the head, and as soon as the prince could understand what was going on around him, Colia hired a carriage and took him away to Lebedeff’s. There he was received with much cordiality, and the departure to the country was hastened on his account. Three days later they were all at Pavlofsk.
“Surely there must be someone among all of you here who will turn this shameless creature out of the room?” cried Varia, suddenly. She was shaking and trembling with rage.
“Why, what an idiot it is!” cried Nastasia, stamping her foot with irritation. “Go on, do! Whom are you going to announce?”
Above his head some little bird sang out, of a sudden; he began to peer about for it among the leaves. Suddenly the bird darted out of the tree and away, and instantly he thought of the “fly buzzing about in the sun’s rays” that Hippolyte had talked of; how that it knew its place and was a participator in the universal life, while he alone was an “outcast.” This picture had impressed him at the time, and he meditated upon it now. An old, forgotten memory awoke in his brain, and suddenly burst into clearness and light. It was a recollection of Switzerland, during the first year of his cure, the very first months. At that time he had been pretty nearly an idiot still; he could not speak properly, and had difficulty in understanding when others spoke to him. He climbed the mountain-side, one sunny morning, and wandered long and aimlessly with a certain thought in his brain, which would not become clear. Above him was the blazing sky, below, the lake; all around was the horizon, clear and infinite. He looked out upon this, long and anxiously. He remembered how he had stretched out his arms towards the beautiful, boundless blue of the horizon, and wept, and wept. What had so tormented him was the idea that he was a stranger to all this, that he was outside this glorious festival.
“No, I’m not; I’m not a bit ashamed!” she murmured. “And how do you know my heart is innocent? And how dared you send me a love-letter that time?”
“I cannot tell you on the instant whether I agree with you or not,” said the latter, suddenly stopping his laughter, and starting like a schoolboy caught at mischief. “But, I assure you, I am listening to you with extreme gratification.”
“What an extraordinary idea!” said the general.
As Nastasia Philipovna had not said a word about having met Rogojin since “that day,” the prince concluded that the latter had his own reasons for wishing to keep out of sight. All the day of the funeral our hero was in a deeply thoughtful state, while Nastasia Philipovna was particularly merry, both in the daytime and in the evening.
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.
“The visit to Rogojin exhausted me terribly. Besides, I had felt ill since the morning; and by evening I was so weak that I took to my bed, and was in high fever at intervals, and even delirious. Colia sat with me until eleven o’clock.
“No, I have never shot in my life.”
“Good God!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna involuntarily.
Lebedeff said this so seriously that the prince quite lost his temper with him.
“However, I bear you no grudge,” said Hippolyte suddenly, and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, he held out his hand with a smile. The gesture took Evgenie Pavlovitch by surprise, but with the utmost gravity he touched the hand that was offered him in token of forgiveness.
The prince who, up to yesterday, would not have believed that he could even dream of such an impossible scene as this, stood and listened and looked on, and felt as though he had long foreseen it all. The most fantastic dream seemed suddenly to have been metamorphosed into the most vivid reality.
“Marie lay in a state of uncomfortable delirium the whole while; she coughed dreadfully. The old women would not let the children stay in the room; but they all collected outside the window each morning, if only for a moment, and shouted ‘_Bon jour, notre bonne Marie!_’ and Marie no sooner caught sight of, or heard them, and she became quite animated at once, and, in spite of the old women, would try to sit up and nod her head and smile at them, and thank them. The little ones used to bring her nice things and sweets to eat, but she could hardly touch anything. Thanks to them, I assure you, the girl died almost perfectly happy. She almost forgot her misery, and seemed to accept their love as a sort of symbol of pardon for her offence, though she never ceased to consider herself a dreadful sinner. They used to flutter at her window just like little birds, calling out: ‘_Nous t’aimons, Marie!_’
“What did you suppose, then? Why did you think I invited you out here? I suppose you think me a ‘little fool,’ as they all call me at home?”
“Marfa Borisovna! Marfa Borisovna! Here is... the Prince Muishkin! General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin,” stammered the disconcerted old man.
“What, been abroad, I suppose?”
“Pafnute, yes. And who was he?”
“Ah, very angry all day, sir; all yesterday and all today. He shows decided bacchanalian predilections at one time, and at another is tearful and sensitive, but at any moment he is liable to paroxysms of such rage that I assure you, prince, I am quite alarmed. I am not a military man, you know. Yesterday we were sitting together in the tavern, and the lining of my coat was--quite accidentally, of course--sticking out right in front. The general squinted at it, and flew into a rage. He never looks me quite in the face now, unless he is very drunk or maudlin; but yesterday he looked at me in such a way that a shiver went all down my back. I intend to find the purse tomorrow; but till then I am going to have another night of it with him.”
At first Muishkin had not cared to make any reply to his sundry questions, and only smiled in response to Hippolyte’s advice to “run for his life--abroad, if necessary. There are Russian priests everywhere, and one can get married all over the world.”
The prince blushed. He thought, as so many in his position do, that nobody had seen, heard, noticed, or understood anything.
“Ah, yes--you were going away just now, and I thought to myself: ‘I shall never see these people again--never again! This is the last time I shall see the trees, too. I shall see nothing after this but the red brick wall of Meyer’s house opposite my window. Tell them about it--try to tell them,’ I thought. ‘Here is a beautiful young girl--you are a dead man; make them understand that. Tell them that a dead man may say anything--and Mrs. Grundy will not be angry--ha-ha! You are not laughing?” He looked anxiously around. “But you know I get so many queer ideas, lying there in bed. I have grown convinced that nature is full of mockery--you called me an atheist just now, but you know this nature... why are you laughing again? You are very cruel!” he added suddenly, regarding them all with mournful reproach. “I have not corrupted Colia,” he concluded in a different and very serious tone, as if remembering something again.
Gania stood at his table in the far corner of the room, turning over papers.
The prince rose from his seat, and Lebedeff, surprised to see his guest preparing to go so soon, remarked: “You are not interested?” in a respectful tone.
“Certainly. Anything is possible when one is intoxicated, as you neatly express it, prince. But consider--if I, intoxicated or not, dropped an object out of my pocket on to the ground, that object ought to remain on the ground. Where is the object, then?”
“Oh, my dear fellow,” cried Evgenie, warmly, with real sorrow in his voice, “how could you permit all that to come about as it has? Of course, of course, I know it was all so unexpected. I admit that you, only naturally, lost your head, and--and could not stop the foolish girl; that was not in your power. I quite see so much; but you really should have understood how seriously she cared for you. She could not bear to share you with another; and you could bring yourself to throw away and shatter such a treasure! Oh, prince, prince!”
Ivan Fedorovitch held out his hand to Muishkin, but ran after his wife, who was leaving with every sign of violent indignation, before he had time to shake it. Adelaida, her fiance, and Alexandra, said good-bye to their host with sincere friendliness. Evgenie Pavlovitch did the same, and he alone seemed in good spirits.
“Is that true?” she asked.
The prince jumped up in alarm at Aglaya’s sudden wrath, and a mist seemed to come before his eyes.
“What did I want? Well, to begin with, it is good to meet a man like you. It is a pleasure to talk over my faults with you. I know you for one of the best of men... and then... then...”
“I told them how unhappy Marie was, and after a while they stopped their abuse of her, and let her go by silently. Little by little we got into the way of conversing together, the children and I. I concealed nothing from them, I told them all. They listened very attentively and soon began to be sorry for Marie. At last some of them took to saying ‘Good-morning’ to her, kindly, when they met her. It is the custom there to salute anyone you meet with ‘Good-morning’ whether acquainted or not. I can imagine how astonished Marie was at these first greetings from the children.
“I’ll tell you what, my friend,” cried Mrs. Epanchin, of a sudden, “here are we all sitting here and imagining we are very clever, and perhaps laughing at the prince, some of us, and meanwhile he has received a letter this very day in which that same claimant renounces his claim, and begs the prince’s pardon. There! _we_ don’t often get that sort of letter; and yet we are not ashamed to walk with our noses in the air before him.”
“He entered, and shut the door behind him. Then he silently gazed at me and went quickly to the corner of the room where the lamp was burning and sat down underneath it.
“And how do you know that?” she asked him, sharply.
“Yes, I’ve been looking for you. I waited for you at the Epanchins’ house, but of course I could not come in. I dogged you from behind as you walked along with the general. Well, prince, here is Keller, absolutely at your service--command him!--ready to sacrifice himself--even to die in case of need.”
“He is a nice fellow, but a little too simple,” said Adelaida, as the prince left the room.
But the old lady, before Parfen had time to touch her, raised her right hand, and, with three fingers held up, devoutly made the sign of the cross three times over the prince. She then nodded her head kindly at him once more.
“I did not come to marry at all,” replied the prince.
“But I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I walked and walked about, and went to where the music was--”
“May I ask why? and also why you walk about on tiptoe and always seem as if you were going to whisper a secret in my ear whenever you come near me?”
“Not railways, properly speaking, presumptuous youth, but the general tendency of which railways may be considered as the outward expression and symbol. We hurry and push and hustle, for the good of humanity! ‘The world is becoming too noisy, too commercial!’ groans some solitary thinker. ‘Undoubtedly it is, but the noise of waggons bearing bread to starving humanity is of more value than tranquillity of soul,’ replies another triumphantly, and passes on with an air of pride. As for me, I don’t believe in these waggons bringing bread to humanity. For, founded on no moral principle, these may well, even in the act of carrying bread to humanity, coldly exclude a considerable portion of humanity from enjoying it; that has been seen more than once.”
“Rogojin? No, no, my good fellow. I should strongly recommend you, paternally,--or, if you prefer it, as a friend,--to forget all about Rogojin, and, in fact, to stick to the family into which you are about to enter.”