“Schneider said that I did the children great harm by my pernicious ‘system’; what nonsense that was! And what did he mean by my system? He said afterwards that he believed I was a child myself--just before I came away. ‘You have the form and face of an adult’ he said, ‘but as regards soul, and character, and perhaps even intelligence, you are a child in the completest sense of the word, and always will be, if you live to be sixty.’ I laughed very much, for of course that is nonsense. But it is a fact that I do not care to be among grown-up people and much prefer the society of children. However kind people may be to me, I never feel quite at home with them, and am always glad to get back to my little companions. Now my companions have always been children, not because I was a child myself once, but because young things attract me. On one of the first days of my stay in Switzerland, I was strolling about alone and miserable, when I came upon the children rushing noisily out of school, with their slates and bags, and books, their games, their laughter and shouts--and my soul went out to them. I stopped and laughed happily as I watched their little feet moving so quickly. Girls and boys, laughing and crying; for as they went home many of them found time to fight and make peace, to weep and play. I forgot my troubles in looking at them. And then, all those three years, I tried to understand why men should be for ever tormenting themselves. I lived the life of a child there, and thought I should never leave the little village; indeed, I was far from thinking that I should ever return to Russia. But at last I recognized the fact that Schneider could not keep me any longer. And then something so important happened, that Schneider himself urged me to depart. I am going to see now if can get good advice about it. Perhaps my lot in life will be changed; but that is not the principal thing. The principal thing is the entire change that has already come over me. I left many things behind me--too many. They have gone. On the journey I said to myself, ‘I am going into the world of men. I don’t know much, perhaps, but a new life has begun for me.’ I made up my mind to be honest, and steadfast in accomplishing my task. Perhaps I shall meet with troubles and many disappointments, but I have made up my mind to be polite and sincere to everyone; more cannot be asked of me. People may consider me a child if they like. I am often called an idiot, and at one time I certainly was so ill that I was nearly as bad as an idiot; but I am not an idiot now. How can I possibly be so when I know myself that I am considered one?
Every time that Aglaya showed temper (and this was very often), there was so much childish pouting, such “school-girlishness,” as it were, in her apparent wrath, that it was impossible to avoid smiling at her, to her own unutterable indignation. On these occasions she would say, “How can they, how _dare_ they laugh at me?”
“In the first place, my dear prince, don’t be angry with me. I would have come to see you yesterday, but I didn’t know how Lizabetha Prokofievna would take it. My dear fellow, my house is simply a hell just now, a sort of sphinx has taken up its abode there. We live in an atmosphere of riddles; I can’t make head or tail of anything. As for you, I feel sure you are the least to blame of any of us, though you certainly have been the cause of a good deal of trouble. You see, it’s all very pleasant to be a philanthropist; but it can be carried too far. Of course I admire kind-heartedness, and I esteem my wife, but--”
“I don’t understand why people in my position do not oftener indulge in such ideas--if only for a joke! Perhaps they do! Who knows! There are plenty of merry souls among us!
“I quite understand you. You mean that an innocent lie for the sake of a good joke is harmless, and does not offend the human heart. Some people lie, if you like to put it so, out of pure friendship, in order to amuse their fellows; but when a man makes use of extravagance in order to show his disrespect and to make clear how the intimacy bores him, it is time for a man of honour to break off the said intimacy, and to teach the offender his place.”
“If you had cared to be an honest woman, you would have gone out as a laundress.”
There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters--one of them was very long.
“What on earth do you mean? Oh I if only I knew where Colia was at this moment!” cried the prince, standing up, as if to go.
He gazed at Totski and the general with no apparent confusion, and with very little curiosity. But when he observed that the prince was seated beside Nastasia Philipovna, he could not take his eyes off him for a long while, and was clearly amazed. He could not account for the prince’s presence there. It was not in the least surprising that Rogojin should be, at this time, in a more or less delirious condition; for not to speak of the excitements of the day, he had spent the night before in the train, and had not slept more than a wink for forty-eight hours.
She was astonished and vexed, and her disappointment pleased Colia immensely. Of course he could have undeceived her before she started, but the mischievous boy had been careful not to do that, foreseeing the probably laughable disgust that she would experience when she found her dear friend, the prince, in good health. Colia was indelicate enough to voice the delight he felt at his success in managing to annoy Lizabetha Prokofievna, with whom, in spite of their really amicable relations, he was constantly sparring.
“Screw!” laughed Hippolyte.
“At last!” murmured Lizabetha Prokofievna indignantly.
“Thanks; very well. Then I suppose it’s Ferdishenko; that is, I mean, you suspect Ferdishenko?”
Besides, they could not help thinking that their sister Aglaya probably knew more about the whole matter than both they and their mother put together.
The prince was instantly covered with confusion; for it appeared to be plain that everyone expected something of him--that everyone looked at him as though anxious to congratulate him, and greeted him with hints, and smiles, and knowing looks.
The young fellow accompanying the general was about twenty-eight, tall, and well built, with a handsome and clever face, and bright black eyes, full of fun and intelligence.
“Sit down,” said Rogojin; “let’s rest a bit.” There was silence for a moment.
Lebedeff really had been busy for some little while; but, as usual, his plans had become too complex to succeed, through sheer excess of ardour. When he came to the prince--the very day before the wedding--to confess (for he always confessed to the persons against whom he intrigued, especially when the plan failed), he informed our hero that he himself was a born Talleyrand, but for some unknown reason had become simple Lebedeff. He then proceeded to explain his whole game to the prince, interesting the latter exceedingly.
“It undoubtedly has already!” observed Gania.
“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.
“Well, anyone who does not interest himself in questions such as this is, in my opinion, a mere fashionable dummy.”
“I defy you to find another beauty like that,” said a fourth.
“I don’t understand your thoughts, Lizabetha Prokofievna; but I can see that the fact of my having written is for some reason repugnant to you. You must admit that I have a perfect right to refuse to answer your questions; but, in order to show you that I am neither ashamed of the letter, nor sorry that I wrote it, and that I am not in the least inclined to blush about it” (here the prince’s blushes redoubled), “I will repeat the substance of my letter, for I think I know it almost by heart.”
“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!”
Murmurs arose in the neighbourhood of Burdovsky and his companions; Lebedeff’s nephew protested under his breath.
“Oh, but think how delightful to hear how one’s friends lie! Besides you needn’t be afraid, Gania; everybody knows what your worst action is without the need of any lying on your part. Only think, gentlemen,”--and Ferdishenko here grew quite enthusiastic, “only think with what eyes we shall observe one another tomorrow, after our tales have been told!”
“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--”
“Unpleasant! Indeed it is. You have found a very appropriate expression,” said Lebedeff, politely, but with sarcasm.
“Your love is mingled with hatred, and therefore, when your love passes, there will be the greater misery,” said the prince. “I tell you this, Parfen--”
“Not at all, gentlemen, not at all! Your presence is absolutely necessary to me tonight,” said Nastasia, significantly.
“‘O, puissent voir longtemps votre beauté sacrée Tant d’amis, sourds à mes adieux! Qu’ils meurent pleins de jours, que leur mort soit pleurée, Qu’un ami leur ferme les yeux!’
He read the note in the uncertain rays that fell from the window. It was as follows:
“Capital! How beautifully you have written it! Thanks so much. _Au revoir_, prince. Wait a minute,” she added, “I want to give you something for a keepsake. Come with me this way, will you?”
“I am not laughing, Nastasia Philipovna; I am only listening with all my attention,” said Totski, with dignity.
“Prince!” said he. “Excellency! You won’t let me tell you the whole truth; I have tried to explain; more than once I have begun, but you have not allowed me to go on...”
“But this is intolerable!” cried the visitors, some of them starting to their feet.
The prince certainly was beside himself.
Nastasia Philipovna burst out laughing and jumped up from the sofa.
We may add that to a business man like General Epanchin the present position of affairs was most unsatisfactory. He hated the uncertainty in which they had been, perforce, left. However, he decided to say no more about it, and merely to look on, and take his time and tune from Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“_She_ is insane,” muttered the prince, suddenly recollecting all that had passed, with a spasm of pain at his heart.
“Mamma!” said Alexandra, shocked at her rudeness.
There was nothing premeditated, there was not even any conscious purpose in it all, and yet, in spite of everything, the family, although highly respected, was not quite what every highly respected family ought to be. For a long time now Lizabetha Prokofievna had had it in her mind that all the trouble was owing to her “unfortunate character,” and this added to her distress. She blamed her own stupid unconventional “eccentricity.” Always restless, always on the go, she constantly seemed to lose her way, and to get into trouble over the simplest and more ordinary affairs of life.
“Oh, but it’s only the simple tale of an old soldier who saw the French enter Moscow. Some of his remarks were wonderfully interesting. Remarks of an eye-witness are always valuable, whoever he be, don’t you think so?”
“Yes--yes--yes! Run away from home!” she repeated, in a transport of rage. “I won’t, I won’t be made to blush every minute by them all! I don’t want to blush before Prince S. or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or anyone, and therefore I have chosen you. I shall tell you everything, _everything_, even the most important things of all, whenever I like, and you are to hide nothing from me on your side. I want to speak to at least one person, as I would to myself. They have suddenly begun to say that I am waiting for you, and in love with you. They began this before you arrived here, and so I didn’t show them the letter, and now they all say it, every one of them. I want to be brave, and be afraid of nobody. I don’t want to go to their balls and things--I want to do good. I have long desired to run away, for I have been kept shut up for twenty years, and they are always trying to marry me off. I wanted to run away when I was fourteen years old--I was a little fool then, I know--but now I have worked it all out, and I have waited for you to tell me about foreign countries. I have never seen a single Gothic cathedral. I must go to Rome; I must see all the museums; I must study in Paris. All this last year I have been preparing and reading forbidden books. Alexandra and Adelaida are allowed to read anything they like, but I mayn’t. I don’t want to quarrel with my sisters, but I told my parents long ago that I wish to change my social position. I have decided to take up teaching, and I count on you because you said you loved children. Can we go in for education together--if not at once, then afterwards? We could do good together. I won’t be a general’s daughter any more! Tell me, are you a very learned man?”
“What on earth is the matter with the boy? What phenomenal feeble-mindedness!” exclaimed Ferdishenko.
“Upon my word, I didn’t! To this moment I don’t know how it all happened. I--I ran after Aglaya Ivanovna, but Nastasia Philipovna fell down in a faint; and since that day they won’t let me see Aglaya--that’s all I know.”
It was generally agreed, afterwards, in recalling that evening, that from this moment Nastasia Philipovna seemed entirely to lose her senses. She continued to sit still in her place, looking around at her guests with a strange, bewildered expression, as though she were trying to collect her thoughts, and could not. Then she suddenly turned to the prince, and glared at him with frowning brows; but this only lasted one moment. Perhaps it suddenly struck her that all this was a jest, but his face seemed to reassure her. She reflected, and smiled again, vaguely.
The prince held out the letter silently, but with a shaking hand.
“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.”
Both the listeners laughed again.
The effect of this sudden action upon the company was instantaneous. Evgenie Pavlovitch almost bounded off his chair in excitement. Rogojin drew nearer to the table with a look on his face as if he knew what was coming. Gania came nearer too; so did Lebedeff and the others--the paper seemed to be an object of great interest to the company in general.
“Oh, no, it is not the point, not a bit. It makes no difference, my marrying her--it means nothing.”
“Prince,” he said, “I am just going home. If you have not changed your mind as to living with us, perhaps you would like to come with me. You don’t know the address, I believe?”
“And you preached her sermons there, did you?”
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
The prince gazed at it for a minute or two, then glanced around him, and hurriedly raised the portrait to his lips. When, a minute after, he reached the drawing-room door, his face was quite composed. But just as he reached the door he met Aglaya coming out alone.
“You are convinced? You don’t really mean to say you think that honestly?” asked Aglaya, extremely surprised.
He leaped into the carriage after Nastasia and banged the door. The coachman did not hesitate a moment; he whipped up the horses, and they were off.
“Oh, you were raving, you were in a fever; you are still half delirious.”
“Do you hear, prince?” said Nastasia Philipovna. “Do you hear how this moujik of a fellow goes on bargaining for your bride?”
“H’m! then Colia has spoken to you already?”
“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.
“Oh yes, Mr. Terentieff. Thank you prince. I heard it just now, but had forgotten it. I want to know, Mr. Terentieff, if what I have heard about you is true. It seems you are convinced that if you could speak to the people from a window for a quarter of an hour, you could make them all adopt your views and follow you?”
“But he interested me too much, and all that day I was under the influence of strange thoughts connected with him, and I determined to return his visit the next day.
Some of the passengers by this particular train were returning from abroad; but the third-class carriages were the best filled, chiefly with insignificant persons of various occupations and degrees, picked up at the different stations nearer town. All of them seemed weary, and most of them had sleepy eyes and a shivering expression, while their complexions generally appeared to have taken on the colour of the fog outside.
“The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, ‘What should I do if I were not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!’ He said that this thought weighed so upon him and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.”
But there was another question, which terrified him considerably, and that was: what was he going to do when he _did_ get in? And to this question he could fashion no satisfactory reply.
“Thank you,” began the prince; “and since you are so very kind there is just one matter which I--”
He was sitting in the Summer Garden on a seat under a tree, and his mind dwelt on the matter. It was about seven o’clock, and the place was empty. The stifling atmosphere foretold a storm, and the prince felt a certain charm in the contemplative mood which possessed him. He found pleasure, too, in gazing at the exterior objects around him. All the time he was trying to forget some thing, to escape from some idea that haunted him; but melancholy thoughts came back, though he would so willingly have escaped from them. He remembered suddenly how he had been talking to the waiter, while he dined, about a recently committed murder which the whole town was discussing, and as he thought of it something strange came over him. He was seized all at once by a violent desire, almost a temptation, against which he strove in vain.
There was a moment, during this long, wretched walk back from the Petersburg Side, when the prince felt an irresistible desire to go straight to Rogojin’s, wait for him, embrace him with tears of shame and contrition, and tell him of his distrust, and finish with it--once for all.
“If you say,” she began in shaky tones, “if you say that this woman of yours is mad--at all events I have nothing to do with her insane fancies. Kindly take these three letters, Lef Nicolaievitch, and throw them back to her, from me. And if she dares,” cried Aglaya suddenly, much louder than before, “if she dares so much as write me one word again, tell her I shall tell my father, and that she shall be taken to a lunatic asylum.”
It was “heads.”
“Yes, I’m at home. Where else should I go to?”
“Besides,” said Burdovsky, “the prince would not like it, would he?” So they gave up the pursuit.
“Well--he’s a good match--and a bad one; and if you want my opinion, more bad than good. You can see for yourself the man is an invalid.”
“Shall you pay here?”
“But excuse me, excuse me;” cried Ivan Petrovitch considerably disturbed, and looking around uneasily. “Your ideas are, of course, most praiseworthy, and in the highest degree patriotic; but you exaggerate the matter terribly. It would be better if we dropped the subject.”
“What you say is quite true,” observed General Epanchin; then, clasping his hands behind his back, he returned to his place on the terrace steps, where he yawned with an air of boredom.
“What’s the matter?” asked Aglaya, in a whisper, giving his sleeve a little tug.
“Not a bit of it; it was a duel to the death, and he was killed.”
“You will reach that with nothing to help you but credit? Without recourse to any moral principle, having for your foundation only individual selfishness, and the satisfaction of material desires? Universal peace, and the happiness of mankind as a whole, being the result! Is it really so that I may understand you, sir?”
Then he went up to the prince, seized both his hands, shook them warmly, and declared that he had at first felt hostile towards the project of this marriage, and had openly said so in the billiard-rooms, but that the reason simply was that, with the impatience of a friend, he had hoped to see the prince marry at least a Princess de Rohan or de Chabot; but that now he saw that the prince’s way of thinking was ten times more noble than that of “all the rest put together.” For he desired neither pomp nor wealth nor honour, but only the truth! The sympathies of exalted personages were well known, and the prince was too highly placed by his education, and so on, not to be in some sense an exalted personage!
“I believe it is the absolute truth.”
Aglaya was silent a moment and then began again with evident dislike of her subject:
“Perhaps you do not wish to accept my proposition?” she asked, gazing haughtily at the prince.
Five seconds after the disappearance of the last actor in this scene, the police arrived. The whole episode had not lasted more than a couple of minutes. Some of the spectators had risen from their places, and departed altogether; some merely exchanged their seats for others a little further off; some were delighted with the occurrence, and talked and laughed over it for a long time.
“What, receive him! Now, at once?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, gazing vaguely at her husband as he stood fidgeting before her.
“Yes, he would!” said Rogojin, quietly, but with an air of absolute conviction.
He spoke so seriously in addressing Lebedeff, that his tone contrasted quite comically with that of the others. They were very nearly laughing at him, too, but he did not notice it.
“Bend down--bend down your ear. I’ll tell you all--disgrace--bend down, I’ll tell you in your ear.”
Arrived at the church, Muishkin, under Keller’s guidance, passed through the crowd of spectators, amid continuous whispering and excited exclamations. The prince stayed near the altar, while Keller made off once more to fetch the bride.
This must be thought out; it was clear that there had been no hallucination at the station then, either; something had actually happened to him, on both occasions; there was no doubt of it. But again a loathing for all mental exertion overmastered him; he would not think it out now, he would put it off and think of something else. He remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he had always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart, and mind, and body seemed to wake up to vigour and light; when he became filled with joy and hope, and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away for ever; these moments were but presentiments, as it were, of the one final second (it was never more than a second) in which the fit came upon him. That second, of course, was inexpressible. When his attack was over, and the prince reflected on his symptoms, he used to say to himself: “These moments, short as they are, when I feel such extreme consciousness of myself, and consequently more of life than at other times, are due only to the disease--to the sudden rupture of normal conditions. Therefore they are not really a higher kind of life, but a lower.” This reasoning, however, seemed to end in a paradox, and lead to the further consideration:--“What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree--an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” Vague though this sounds, it was perfectly comprehensible to Muishkin, though he knew that it was but a feeble expression of his sensations.
“Look here; this is what I called you here for. I wish to make you a--to ask you to be my friend. What do you stare at me like that for?” she added, almost angrily.
“This--this is going beyond all limits!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, suddenly alarmed.
“Affectation!” remarked someone else.
Lizabetha Prokofievna suddenly flared up.
Colia had no choice but to obey. With crimson cheeks he read on unsteadily:
“You mean, no doubt, that you do not deny that might is right?”