“Is that true?” said the prince impatiently.
“Bravo!” said Ferdishenko. Ptitsin laughed too, though he had been very sorry to see the general appear. Even Colia laughed and said, “Bravo!”
“Come, come, Lebedeff, no sarcasm! It’s a serious--”
Could not something be made of this man under good influences? asked the prince of himself, for he began to feel a kind of pity for his visitor. He thought little of the value of his own personal influence, not from a sense of humility, but from his peculiar way of looking at things in general. Imperceptibly the conversation grew more animated and more interesting, so that neither of the two felt anxious to bring it to a close. Keller confessed, with apparent sincerity, to having been guilty of many acts of such a nature that it astonished the prince that he could mention them, even to him. At every fresh avowal he professed the deepest repentance, and described himself as being “bathed in tears”; but this did not prevent him from putting on a boastful air at times, and some of his stories were so absurdly comical that both he and the prince laughed like madmen.
“Forgiving me! why so? What have I done to need his forgiveness?”
“But you seem to be on the best of terms with him?”
The prince gazed and gazed, and felt that the more he gazed the more death-like became the silence. Suddenly a fly awoke somewhere, buzzed across the room, and settled on the pillow. The prince shuddered.
“Wait for me here, my boy--will you? Just wait and think it all over, and I’ll come back directly,” he said hurriedly, and made off with what looked like the rapidity of alarm in response to Alexandra’s call.
“What is that?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, gazing intently at Rogojin, and indicating the paper packet.
Aglaya brought out these thronging words with great satisfaction. They came from her lips hurriedly and impetuously, and had been prepared and thought out long ago, even before she had ever dreamed of the present meeting. She watched with eagerness the effect of her speech as shown in Nastasia’s face, which was distorted with agitation.
“Oh, but I learned very little, you know!” added the prince, as though excusing himself. “They could not teach me very much on account of my illness.”
But Lizabetha Prokofievna felt somewhat consoled when she could say that one of her girls, Adelaida, was settled at last. “It will be one off our hands!” she declared aloud, though in private she expressed herself with greater tenderness. The engagement was both happy and suitable, and was therefore approved in society. Prince S. was a distinguished man, he had money, and his future wife was devoted to him; what more could be desired? Lizabetha Prokofievna had felt less anxious about this daughter, however, although she considered her artistic tastes suspicious. But to make up for them she was, as her mother expressed it, “merry,” and had plenty of “common-sense.” It was Aglaya’s future which disturbed her most. With regard to her eldest daughter, Alexandra, the mother never quite knew whether there was cause for anxiety or not. Sometimes she felt as if there was nothing to be expected from her. She was twenty-five now, and must be fated to be an old maid, and “with such beauty, too!” The mother spent whole nights in weeping and lamenting, while all the time the cause of her grief slumbered peacefully. “What is the matter with her? Is she a Nihilist, or simply a fool?”
“No, oh no!” cried Lebedeff, waving his arms; “if she is afraid, it is not for the reason you think. By the way, do you know that the monster comes every day to inquire after your health?”
And he handed the prince the very letter from Aglaya to Gania, which the latter showed with so much triumph to his sister at a later hour.
“May I ask your reason for such an insulting supposition, sir?” said Hippolyte, trembling with rage.
“Naturally, all this--”
“Who indeed?” exclaimed Prince S.
“Oh, undoubtedly, this person wished somehow, and for some reason, to do Evgenie Pavlovitch a bad turn, by attributing to him--before witnesses--qualities which he neither has nor can have,” replied Prince S. drily enough.
“Ah! now you begin to moralize! I know that I am only a child, very well,” replied Gania impatiently. “That is proved by my having this conversation with you. It is not for money only, prince, that I am rushing into this affair,” he continued, hardly master of his words, so closely had his vanity been touched. “If I reckoned on that I should certainly be deceived, for I am still too weak in mind and character. I am obeying a passion, an impulse perhaps, because I have but one aim, one that overmasters all else. You imagine that once I am in possession of these seventy-five thousand roubles, I shall rush to buy a carriage... No, I shall go on wearing the old overcoat I have worn for three years, and I shall give up my club. I shall follow the example of men who have made their fortunes. When Ptitsin was seventeen he slept in the street, he sold pen-knives, and began with a copeck; now he has sixty thousand roubles, but to get them, what has he not done? Well, I shall be spared such a hard beginning, and shall start with a little capital. In fifteen years people will say, ‘Look, that’s Ivolgin, the king of the Jews!’ You say that I have no originality. Now mark this, prince--there is nothing so offensive to a man of our time and race than to be told that he is wanting in originality, that he is weak in character, has no particular talent, and is, in short, an ordinary person. You have not even done me the honour of looking upon me as a rogue. Do you know, I could have knocked you down for that just now! You wounded me more cruelly than Epanchin, who thinks me capable of selling him my wife! Observe, it was a perfectly gratuitous idea on his part, seeing there has never been any discussion of it between us! This has exasperated me, and I am determined to make a fortune! I will do it! Once I am rich, I shall be a genius, an extremely original man. One of the vilest and most hateful things connected with money is that it can buy even talent; and will do so as long as the world lasts. You will say that this is childish--or romantic. Well, that will be all the better for me, but the thing shall be done. I will carry it through. He laughs most, who laughs last. Why does Epanchin insult me? Simply because, socially, I am a nobody. However, enough for the present. Colia has put his nose in to tell us dinner is ready, twice. I’m dining out. I shall come and talk to you now and then; you shall be comfortable enough with us. They are sure to make you one of the family. I think you and I will either be great friends or enemies. Look here now, supposing I had kissed your hand just now, as I offered to do in all sincerity, should I have hated you for it afterwards?”
“_I_ for one shall never think you a blackguard again,” said the prince. “I confess I had a poor opinion of you at first, but I have been so joyfully surprised about you just now; it’s a good lesson for me. I shall never judge again without a thorough trial. I see now that you are not only not a blackguard, but are not even quite spoiled. I see that you are quite an ordinary man, not original in the least degree, but rather weak.”
“You are inclined to go a little too far, my good boy, with your guesses,” said Mrs. Epanchin, with some show of annoyance.
“Why, you wished to have a talk with me when the others left?” he said.
“What do you say, sir?” growled the general, taking a step towards him.
“Fever, probably,” he said to himself, “for the man is all nerves, and this business has been a little too much for him. He is not _afraid_, that’s clear; that sort never funks! H’m! champagne! That was an interesting item of news, at all events!--Twelve bottles! Dear me, that’s a very respectable little stock indeed! I bet anything Lebedeff lent somebody money on deposit of this dozen of champagne. Hum! he’s a nice fellow, is this prince! I like this sort of man. Well, I needn’t be wasting time here, and if it’s a case of champagne, why--there’s no time like the present!”
“Yes--I dare say it is all as you say; I dare say you are quite right,” muttered the prince once more. “She is very sensitive and easily put out, of course; but still, she...”
“That’s all madness. What you say about me, Parfen, never can and never will be. Tomorrow, I shall come and see you--”
The sisters, who also appeared to be in high spirits, never tired of glancing at Aglaya and the prince, who were walking in front. It was evident that their younger sister was a thorough puzzle to them both.
Undoubtedly the fact that he might now come and see Aglaya as much as he pleased again was quite enough to make him perfectly happy; that he might come and speak to her, and see her, and sit by her, and walk with her--who knows, but that all this was quite enough to satisfy him for the whole of his life, and that he would desire no more to the end of time?
“We haven’t met for some time. Meanwhile I have heard things about you which I should not have believed to be possible.”
The prince took it from her hand, but gazed at her in bewilderment.
“I seemed to imagine you exactly as you are--I seemed to have seen you somewhere.”
“Gavrila Ardalionovitch begged me to give you this,” he said, handing her the note.
“Well, only for the sake of a lady,” said Hippolyte, laughing. “I am ready to put off the reckoning, but only put it off, Varvara Ardalionovna, because an explanation between your brother and myself has become an absolute necessity, and I could not think of leaving the house without clearing up all misunderstandings first.”
“In spite of his lack of amiability, I could not help seeing, in Rogojin a man of intellect and sense; and although, perhaps, there was little in the outside world which was of interest to him, still he was clearly a man with eyes to see.
“Oh no, I remember all right, and I shall go, of course. I should think so! She’s twenty-five years old today! And, you know, Gania, you must be ready for great things; she has promised both myself and Afanasy Ivanovitch that she will give a decided answer tonight, yes or no. So be prepared!”
“You are _afraid_ of it?”
“Did you never take your knife to Pavlofsk with you?” “No. As to the knife,” he added, “this is all I can tell you about it.” He was silent for a moment, and then said, “I took it out of the locked drawer this morning about three, for it was in the early morning all this--happened. It has been inside the book ever since--and--and--this is what is such a marvel to me, the knife only went in a couple of inches at most, just under her left breast, and there wasn’t more than half a tablespoonful of blood altogether, not more.”
“Prince, be so kind as to come to me for a moment in the drawing-room,” said Nina Alexandrovna herself, appearing at the door.
“You may imagine her ecstasy, her gratitude. The wretched Platon, who had almost died since yesterday of the reproaches showered upon him, wept on my shoulder. Of course poor Peter had no chance after this.
In inexpressible agitation, amounting almost to fear, the prince slipped quickly away from the window, away from the light, like a frightened thief, but as he did so he collided violently with some gentleman who seemed to spring from the earth at his feet.
“May I ask when this article was revised?” said Evgenie Pavlovitch to Keller.
“Is father in?” he asked. Colia whispered something in his ear and went out.
“But do you know what I have been thinking out during this last week, Parfen? I’ll tell you. What if she loves you now better than anyone? And what if she torments you _because_ she loves you, and in proportion to her love for you, so she torments you the more? She won’t tell you this, of course; you must have eyes to see. Why do you suppose she consents to marry you? She must have a reason, and that reason she will tell you some day. Some women desire the kind of love you give her, and she is probably one of these. Your love and your wild nature impress her. Do you know that a woman is capable of driving a man crazy almost, with her cruelties and mockeries, and feels not one single pang of regret, because she looks at him and says to herself, ‘There! I’ll torment this man nearly into his grave, and then, oh! how I’ll compensate him for it all with my love!’”
Our friends took chairs near the side exit. The crowd and the music cheered Mrs. Epanchin a little, and amused the girls; they bowed and shook hands with some of their friends and nodded at a distance to others; they examined the ladies’ dresses, noticed comicalities and eccentricities among the people, and laughed and talked among themselves. Evgenie Pavlovitch, too, found plenty of friends to bow to. Several people noticed Aglaya and the prince, who were still together.
Everyone in the room began to laugh.
In the first place there were present Totski, and General Epanchin. They were both highly amiable, but both appeared to be labouring under a half-hidden feeling of anxiety as to the result of Nastasia’s deliberations with regard to Gania, which result was to be made public this evening.
“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.
Ptitsin bowed his head and looked at the ground, overcome by a mixture of feelings. Totski muttered to himself: “He may be an idiot, but he knows that flattery is the best road to success here.”
“My goodness, Lef Nicolaievitch, why, you can’t have heard a single word I said! Look at me, I’m still trembling all over with the dreadful shock! It is that that kept me in town so late. Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle--”
“Oh! I didn’t say it because I _doubt_ the fact, you know. (Ha, ha.) How could I doubt such a thing? (Ha, ha, ha.) I made the remark because--because Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff was such a splendid man, don’t you see! Such a high-souled man, he really was, I assure you.”
“I read that last most praiseworthy thought in my manual, when I was twelve years old,” said Aglaya.
“You knew Pavlicheff then?”
Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the house together.
“Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way,” said she to the man who answered.
Ptitsin had tactfully retreated to Lebedeff’s wing; and Gania soon followed him.
“Undoubtedly, at ten years old you would not have felt the sense of fear, as you say,” blurted out the prince, horribly uncomfortable in the sensation that he was just about to blush.
So saying, she reseated herself; a strange smile played on her lips. She sat quite still, but watched the door in a fever of impatience.
“Well, let me get my hat, at least.”
“As much as usual, prince--why?”
“Oh, don’t misunderstand--”
“Yes, I see and understand.”
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I should stay even if they were to invite me. I’ve simply come to make their acquaintance, and nothing more.”
“Hallo, Gania, you blackguard! You didn’t expect Rogojin, eh?” said the latter, entering the drawing-room, and stopping before Gania.
“Oh--h--h! You mean the four hundred roubles!” said Lebedeff, dragging the words out, just as though it had only just dawned upon him what the prince was talking about. “Thanks very much, prince, for your kind interest--you do me too much honour. I found the money, long ago!”
“She said, ‘I wouldn’t even have you for a footman now, much less for a husband.’ ‘I shan’t leave the house,’ I said, ‘so it doesn’t matter.’ ‘Then I shall call somebody and have you kicked out,’ she cried. So then I rushed at her, and beat her till she was bruised all over.”
“‘Never!’ I cried, indignantly.”
“In a word, you are a wretched little scandal-monger,” cried Gania, “and you cannot go away without a scandal!”
“I do desire it,” murmured Gania, softly but firmly, lowering his eyes; and he relapsed into gloomy silence.
“Why? Was there no one else to pay for you?” asked the black-haired one.
“And, pray, who are you yourself?”
Lebedeff, who was slightly intoxicated, answered with a sigh:
“It is the _heart_ which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master,” said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.
“I beg your pardon,” said the prince, going up to Burdovsky. “I have done you a great wrong, but I did not send you that money as a charity, believe me. And now I am again to blame. I offended you just now.” (The prince was much distressed; he seemed worn out with fatigue, and spoke almost incoherently.) “I spoke of swindling... but I did not apply that to you. I was deceived .... I said you were... afflicted... like me... But you are not like me... you give lessons... you support your mother. I said you had dishonoured your mother, but you love her. She says so herself... I did not know... Gavrila Ardalionovitch did not tell me that... Forgive me! I dared to offer you ten thousand roubles, but I was wrong. I ought to have done it differently, and now... there is no way of doing it, for you despise me...”
“And everyone of them shows his rags, his toil-worn hands, and yells in his wrath: ‘Here are we, working like cattle all our lives, and always as hungry as dogs, and there are others who do not work, and are fat and rich!’ The eternal refrain! And side by side with them trots along some wretched fellow who has known better days, doing light porter’s work from morn to night for a living, always blubbering and saying that ‘his wife died because he had no money to buy medicine with,’ and his children dying of cold and hunger, and his eldest daughter gone to the bad, and so on. Oh! I have no pity and no patience for these fools of people. Why can’t they be Rothschilds? Whose fault is it that a man has not got millions of money like Rothschild? If he has life, all this must be in his power! Whose fault is it that he does not know how to live his life?
Mrs. Epanchin flushed up; some accumulation of spleen in her suddenly needed an outlet. She could not bear this General Ivolgin whom she had once known, long ago--in society.
“Yes, believe it or not! It’s all the same to me!”
“And I was right, truly right,” cried the general, with warmth and solemnity, “for if cigars are forbidden in railway carriages, poodles are much more so.”
“Those are the two hundred and fifty roubles you dared to send him as a charity, by the hands of Tchebaroff,” explained Doktorenko.
“Thank goodness, we’ve just managed to finish it before you came in!” said Vera, joyfully.
“The gentleman before me gazed at me for some seconds in amazement, and his wife in terror; as though there was something alarmingly extraordinary in the fact that anyone could come to see them. But suddenly he fell upon me almost with fury; I had had no time to mutter more than a couple of words; but he had doubtless observed that I was decently dressed and, therefore, took deep offence because I had dared enter his den so unceremoniously, and spy out the squalor and untidiness of it.
“Do you wish me to beg pardon of this creature because she has come here to insult our mother and disgrace the whole household, you low, base wretch?” cried Varia, looking back at her brother with proud defiance.
“Well, what conclusion have you reached?”
“Excellency, I have the honour of inviting you to my funeral; that is, if you will deign to honour it with your presence. I invite you all, gentlemen, as well as the general.”
A week had elapsed since the rendezvous of our two friends on the green bench in the park, when, one fine morning at about half-past ten o’clock, Varvara Ardalionovna, otherwise Mrs. Ptitsin, who had been out to visit a friend, returned home in a state of considerable mental depression.
One of them was a young fellow of about twenty-seven, not tall, with black curling hair, and small, grey, fiery eyes. His nose was broad and flat, and he had high cheek bones; his thin lips were constantly compressed into an impudent, ironical--it might almost be called a malicious--smile; but his forehead was high and well formed, and atoned for a good deal of the ugliness of the lower part of his face. A special feature of this physiognomy was its death-like pallor, which gave to the whole man an indescribably emaciated appearance in spite of his hard look, and at the same time a sort of passionate and suffering expression which did not harmonize with his impudent, sarcastic smile and keen, self-satisfied bearing. He wore a large fur--or rather astrachan--overcoat, which had kept him warm all night, while his neighbour had been obliged to bear the full severity of a Russian November night entirely unprepared. His wide sleeveless mantle with a large cape to it--the sort of cloak one sees upon travellers during the winter months in Switzerland or North Italy--was by no means adapted to the long cold journey through Russia, from Eydkuhnen to St. Petersburg.
The incredulous amazement with which all regarded the prince did not last long, for Nastasia herself appeared at the door and passed in, pushing by the prince again.
“What if he were to come out of that corner as I go by and--and stop me?” thought the prince, as he approached the familiar spot. But no one came out.
I cannot say, either, whether she showed the letter to her sisters.
Prince S. looked as black as night, and was silent and moody. Mrs. Epanchin did not say a word to him all the way home, and he did not seem to observe the fact. Adelaida tried to pump him a little by asking, “who was the uncle they were talking about, and what was it that had happened in Petersburg?” But he had merely muttered something disconnected about “making inquiries,” and that “of course it was all nonsense.” “Oh, of course,” replied Adelaida, and asked no more questions. Aglaya, too, was very quiet; and the only remark she made on the way home was that they were “walking much too fast to be pleasant.”
On meeting Colia the prince determined to accompany the general, though he made up his mind to stay as short a time as possible. He wanted Colia, but firmly resolved to leave the general behind. He could not forgive himself for being so simple as to imagine that Ivolgin would be of any use. The three climbed up the long staircase until they reached the fourth floor where Madame Terentieff lived.
His first impression was one of fascination. Somehow or other he felt that all these people must have been born on purpose to be together! It seemed to him that the Epanchins were not having a party at all; that these people must have been here always, and that he himself was one of them--returned among them after a long absence, but one of them, naturally and indisputably.
“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
“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?”
“I’ll just get my parcel and we’ll go,” said the prince to Gania, as he re-entered the drawing-room. Gania stamped his foot with impatience. His face looked dark and gloomy with rage.
“No; a bundle--your brother has just gone to the hall for it.”
“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin; he knows me well.”
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.
“We have evidence. In the first place, his mysterious disappearance at seven o’clock, or even earlier.”