“I have not seen all kinds of liberals, and cannot, therefore, set myself up as a judge,” said Alexandra, “but I have heard all you have said with indignation. You have taken some accidental case and twisted it into a universal law, which is unjust.”
“Well--he did sleep here, yes.”
“I hinted nothing to him about my ‘final conviction,’ but it appeared to me that he had guessed it from my words. He remained silent--he is a terribly silent man. I remarked to him, as I rose to depart, that, in spite of the contrast and the wide differences between us two, les extremites se touchent [‘extremes meet,’ as I explained to him in Russian); so that maybe he was not so far from my final conviction as appeared.
“What? Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Oh no; he belongs to one of the companies. Look here, at all events put your bundle down, here.”
“Better read on without any more beating about the bush,” said Gania.
“Nastasia Philipovna!” began the general, reproachfully. He was beginning to put his own interpretation on the affair.
“Curious enough, yes, but crude, and of course dreadful nonsense; probably the man lies in every other sentence.”
All this filled poor Lizabetha’s mind with chaotic confusion. What on earth did it all mean? The most disturbing feature was the hedgehog. What was the symbolic signification of a hedgehog? What did they understand by it? What underlay it? Was it a cryptic message?
“The noble and intelligent word of an intelligent and most noble man, at last!” exclaimed the boxer.
“Do you mean to say,” cried Gania, from the other corner, “do you mean to say that railways are accursed inventions, that they are a source of ruin to humanity, a poison poured upon the earth to corrupt the springs of life?”
“No one ever thought of such a thing! There has never been a word said about it!” cried Alexandra.
“Oh! nonsense!” cried Varia, angrily. “That was nothing but a drunkard’s tale. Nonsense! Why, who invented the whole thing--Lebedeff and the prince--a pretty pair! Both were probably drunk.”
“That is all thanks to our lassitude, I think,” replied the old man, with authority. “And then their way of preaching; they have a skilful manner of doing it! And they know how to startle one, too. I got quite a fright myself in ’32, in Vienna, I assure you; but I didn’t cave in to them, I ran away instead, ha, ha!”
“He is not at home.”
“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?”
“Enough,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna abruptly, trembling with anger, “we have had enough of this balderdash!”
“Yes, that wall of Meyer’s could tell a tale if it liked. There was no spot on its dirty surface that I did not know by heart. Accursed wall! and yet it is dearer to me than all the Pavlofsk trees!--That is--it _would_ be dearer if it were not all the same to me, now!
“I know nothing about that; what else?”
“Do you know what, I had better not come at all tomorrow! I’ll plead sick-list and stay away,” said the prince, with decision.
“There is no silliness about it at all--only the profoundest respect,” said Aglaya, very seriously. She had quite recovered her temper; in fact, from certain signs, it was fair to conclude that she was delighted to see this joke going so far; and a careful observer might have remarked that her satisfaction dated from the moment when the fact of the prince’s confusion became apparent to all.
“Speak!” said the general, beside himself with rage and excitement; “speak--under the penalty of a father’s curse!”
“Second proof. The scent turns out to be false, and the address given is a sham. An hour after--that is at about eight, I went to Wilkin’s myself, and there was no trace of Ferdishenko. The maid did tell me, certainly, that an hour or so since someone had been hammering at the door, and had smashed the bell; she said she would not open the door because she didn’t want to wake her master; probably she was too lazy to get up herself. Such phenomena are met with occasionally!”
But just now all the gloom and darkness had fled, his heart felt full of joy and hope, there was no such thing as doubt. And yes, he hadn’t seen her for so long; he really must see her. He wished he could meet Rogojin; he would take his hand, and they would go to her together. His heart was pure, he was no rival of Parfen’s. Tomorrow, he would go and tell him that he had seen her. Why, he had only come for the sole purpose of seeing her, all the way from Moscow! Perhaps she might be here still, who knows? She might not have gone away to Pavlofsk yet.
“Listen, Parfen; you put a question to me just now. This is my reply. The essence of religious feeling has nothing to do with reason, or atheism, or crime, or acts of any kind--it has nothing to do with these things--and never had. There is something besides all this, something which the arguments of the atheists can never touch. But the principal thing, and the conclusion of my argument, is that this is most clearly seen in the heart of a Russian. This is a conviction which I have gained while I have been in this Russia of ours. Yes, Parfen! there is work to be done; there is work to be done in this Russian world! Remember what talks we used to have in Moscow! And I never wished to come here at all; and I never thought to meet you like this, Parfen! Well, well--good-bye--good-bye! God be with you!”
This last item of news, which disturbed Lizabetha Prokofievna more than anything else, was perfectly true. On leaving Nastasia’s, Aglaya had felt that she would rather die than face her people, and had therefore gone straight to Nina Alexandrovna’s. On receiving the news, Lizabetha and her daughters and the general all rushed off to Aglaya, followed by Prince Lef Nicolaievitch--undeterred by his recent dismissal; but through Varia he was refused a sight of Aglaya here also. The end of the episode was that when Aglaya saw her mother and sisters crying over her and not uttering a word of reproach, she had flung herself into their arms and gone straight home with them.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! I am about to break the seal,” he continued, with determination. “I--I--of course I don’t insist upon anyone listening if they do not wish to.”
“Make their acquaintance?” asked the man, in amazement, and with redoubled suspicion. “Then why did you say you had business with the general?”
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.
But this intercession seemed to rekindle the general.
“I _do_ know all!” she cried, with another burst of indignation. “You were living in the same house as that horrible woman with whom you ran away.” She did not blush as she said this; on the contrary, she grew pale, and started from her seat, apparently oblivious of what she did, and immediately sat down again. Her lip continued to tremble for a long time.
Ivan Fedorovitch turned from the boxer with a gesture of despair.
“Oh, there is no reason, of course, and I suppose there is nothing in common between us, or very little; for if I am Prince Muishkin, and your wife happens to be a member of my house, that can hardly be called a ‘reason.’ I quite understand that. And yet that was my whole motive for coming. You see I have not been in Russia for four years, and knew very little about anything when I left. I had been very ill for a long time, and I feel now the need of a few good friends. In fact, I have a certain question upon which I much need advice, and do not know whom to go to for it. I thought of your family when I was passing through Berlin. ‘They are almost relations,’ I said to myself, ‘so I’ll begin with them; perhaps we may get on with each other, I with them and they with me, if they are kind people;’ and I have heard that you are very kind people!”
“Poor orphans,” began Lebedeff, his face assuming a mournful air, but he stopped short, for the other looked at him inattentively, as if he had already forgotten his own remark. They waited a few minutes in silence, while Lebedeff sat with his eyes fixed mournfully on the young man’s face.
“Only on condition that he has a napkin under his chin at lunch, then,” said Mrs. Epanchin, “and let Fedor, or Mavra, stand behind him while he eats. Is he quiet when he has these fits? He doesn’t show violence, does he?”
He paused again, he was trying to make up his mind to something, and was turning the matter over. The prince waited quietly. Once more Gania fixed him with intent and questioning eyes.
“Yes, a candle! What’s there improbable about that?”
“What, Hippolyte? He found it out himself, of course. Why, you have no idea what a cunning little animal he is; dirty little gossip! He has the most extraordinary nose for smelling out other people’s secrets, or anything approaching to scandal. Believe it or not, but I’m pretty sure he has got round Aglaya. If he hasn’t, he soon will. Rogojin is intimate with him, too. How the prince doesn’t notice it, I can’t understand. The little wretch considers me his enemy now and does his best to catch me tripping. What on earth does it matter to him, when he’s dying? However, you’ll see; I shall catch _him_ tripping yet, and not he me.”
Nastasia turned to him. Her eyes flashed; she rushed up to a young man standing near, whom she did not know in the least, but who happened to have in his hand a thin cane. Seizing this from him, she brought it with all her force across the face of her insulter.
“I assure you,” said the general, “that exactly the same thing happened to myself!”
The prince noticed that Rogojin had suddenly appeared at her side, and had taken her arm and was leading her away.
At length, however, just as the visitors were on the point of departing, Prince S. seemed suddenly to recollect himself. “Oh yes, by-the-by,” he said, “do you happen to know, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, who that lady was who called out to Evgenie Pavlovitch last night, from the carriage?”
The prince was a whole hour soothing and comforting her, and left her, at length, pacified and composed. He sent another messenger during the night to inquire after her, and two more next morning. The last brought back a message that Nastasia was surrounded by a whole army of dressmakers and maids, and was as happy and as busy as such a beauty should be on her wedding morning, and that there was not a vestige of yesterday’s agitation remaining. The message concluded with the news that at the moment of the bearer’s departure there was a great confabulation in progress as to which diamonds were to be worn, and how.
“Yes, it was a beautiful turn-out, certainly!”
It appeared that it was indeed as they had surmised. The young fellow hastened to admit the fact with wonderful readiness.
It was now Totski’s turn, and his story was awaited with great curiosity--while all eyes turned on Nastasia Philipovna, as though anticipating that his revelation must be connected somehow with her. Nastasia, during the whole of his story, pulled at the lace trimming of her sleeve, and never once glanced at the speaker. Totski was a handsome man, rather stout, with a very polite and dignified manner. He was always well dressed, and his linen was exquisite. He had plump white hands, and wore a magnificent diamond ring on one finger.
“I was glad for the poor fellow, and went home. But an idea got hold of me somehow. I don’t know how. It was nearly two in the morning. I rang the bell and ordered the coachman to be waked up and sent to me. He came. I gave him a tip of fifteen roubles, and told him to get the carriage ready at once. In half an hour it was at the door. I got in and off we went.
“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.
Rogojin asked his question like a lost soul appealing to some divinity, with the reckless daring of one appointed to die, who has nothing to lose.
“Wait in the next room, please; and leave your bundle here,” said the door-keeper, as he sat down comfortably in his own easy-chair in the ante-chamber. He looked at the prince in severe surprise as the latter settled himself in another chair alongside, with his bundle on his knees.
“‘Peter Matveyevitch Bachmatoff!’ he cried, trembling all over with excitement. ‘Why, nearly everything depends on that very man!’
“I cannot, I assure you. I confess I do not understand how anyone can play this game.”
“Never mind, never mind,” said the prince, signing to him to keep quiet.
An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
“He is not at home.”
“Then you have no one, absolutely _no_ one in Russia?” he asked.
Prince S. was now no longer smiling; he gazed at the prince in bewilderment.
Vera came in three minutes after the Epanchins had left. “Lef Nicolaievitch,” she said, “Aglaya Ivanovna has just given me a message for you.”
“It’s going to be atrociously hot again all day,” said Gania, with an air of annoyance, taking his hat. “A month of this... Are you coming home, Ptitsin?” Hippolyte listened to this in amazement, almost amounting to stupefaction. Suddenly he became deadly pale and shuddered.
“Poor Peter Volhofskoi was desperately in love with Anfisa Alexeyevna. I don’t know whether there was anything--I mean I don’t know whether he could possibly have indulged in any hope. The poor fellow was beside himself to get her a bouquet of camellias. Countess Sotski and Sophia Bespalova, as everyone knew, were coming with white camellia bouquets. Anfisa wished for red ones, for effect. Well, her husband Platon was driven desperate to find some. And the day before the ball, Anfisa’s rival snapped up the only red camellias to be had in the place, from under Platon’s nose, and Platon--wretched man--was done for. Now if Peter had only been able to step in at this moment with a red bouquet, his little hopes might have made gigantic strides. A woman’s gratitude under such circumstances would have been boundless--but it was practically an impossibility.
“He burned his hand!”
“Well, and what did the lady do?” asked Nastasia, impatiently.
The prince did not die before his wedding--either by day or night, as he had foretold that he might. Very probably he passed disturbed nights, and was afflicted with bad dreams; but, during the daytime, among his fellow-men, he seemed as kind as ever, and even contented; only a little thoughtful when alone.
“Don’t excite yourself; you seem very ill, and I am sorry for that. I am almost done, but there are a few facts to which I must briefly refer, as I am convinced that they ought to be clearly explained once for all....” A movement of impatience was noticed in his audience as he resumed: “I merely wish to state, for the information of all concerned, that the reason for Mr. Pavlicheff’s interest in your mother, Mr. Burdovsky, was simply that she was the sister of a serf-girl with whom he was deeply in love in his youth, and whom most certainly he would have married but for her sudden death. I have proofs that this circumstance is almost, if not quite, forgotten. I may add that when your mother was about ten years old, Pavlicheff took her under his care, gave her a good education, and later, a considerable dowry. His relations were alarmed, and feared he might go so far as to marry her, but she gave her hand to a young land-surveyor named Burdovsky when she reached the age of twenty. I can even say definitely that it was a marriage of affection. After his wedding your father gave up his occupation as land-surveyor, and with his wife’s dowry of fifteen thousand roubles went in for commercial speculations. As he had had no experience, he was cheated on all sides, and took to drink in order to forget his troubles. He shortened his life by his excesses, and eight years after his marriage he died. Your mother says herself that she was left in the direst poverty, and would have died of starvation had it not been for Pavlicheff, who generously allowed her a yearly pension of six hundred roubles. Many people recall his extreme fondness for you as a little boy. Your mother confirms this, and agrees with others in thinking that he loved you the more because you were a sickly child, stammering in your speech, and almost deformed--for it is known that all his life Nicolai Andreevitch had a partiality for unfortunates of every kind, especially children. In my opinion this is most important. I may add that I discovered yet another fact, the last on which I employed my detective powers. Seeing how fond Pavlicheff was of you,--it was thanks to him you went to school, and also had the advantage of special teachers--his relations and servants grew to believe that you were his son, and that your father had been betrayed by his wife. I may point out that this idea was only accredited generally during the last years of Pavlicheff’s life, when his next-of-kin were trembling about the succession, when the earlier story was quite forgotten, and when all opportunity for discovering the truth had seemingly passed away. No doubt you, Mr. Burdovsky, heard this conjecture, and did not hesitate to accept it as true. I have had the honour of making your mother’s acquaintance, and I find that she knows all about these reports. What she does not know is that you, her son, should have listened to them so complaisantly. I found your respected mother at Pskoff, ill and in deep poverty, as she has been ever since the death of your benefactor. She told me with tears of gratitude how you had supported her; she expects much of you, and believes fervently in your future success...”
“Lef Nicolaievitch!” cried Parfen, before he had reached the next landing. “Have you got that cross you bought from the soldier with you?”
“I don’t understand you. How could he have me in view, and not be aware of it himself? And yet, I don’t know--perhaps I do. Do you know I have intended to poison myself at least thirty times--ever since I was thirteen or so--and to write to my parents before I did it? I used to think how nice it would be to lie in my coffin, and have them all weeping over me and saying it was all their fault for being so cruel, and all that--what are you smiling at?” she added, knitting her brow. “What do _you_ think of when you go mooning about alone? I suppose you imagine yourself a field-marshal, and think you have conquered Napoleon?”
“Once before I had the honour of stating them to the company. I will repeat the explanation to-day for your excellency’s benefit. You see, excellency, all the world is witty and clever except myself. I am neither. As a kind of compensation I am allowed to tell the truth, for it is a well-known fact that only stupid people tell ‘the truth.’ Added to this, I am a spiteful man, just because I am not clever. If I am offended or injured I bear it quite patiently until the man injuring me meets with some misfortune. Then I remember, and take my revenge. I return the injury sevenfold, as Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsin says. (Of course he never does so himself.) Excellency, no doubt you recollect Kryloff’s fable, ‘The Lion and the Ass’? Well now, that’s you and I. That fable was written precisely for us.”
“Do you know I am specially glad that today is your birthday!” cried Hippolyte.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, I’m sure,” replied the general, considerably taken aback. “May I ask where you have taken up your quarters?”
“Constant?” said the prince, suddenly, and quite involuntarily.
“Why did they tell me he was not at home, then?”
The conversation had been on the subject of land, and the present disorders, and there must have been something amusing said, for the old man had begun to laugh at his companion’s heated expressions.
“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
He had been turned out in disgrace, eventually, and this was the cause of his bad night and quarrelsome day, which ended in his sudden departure into the street in a condition approaching insanity, as recorded before.
“Why, what do you mean? You said you knew, and now suddenly you know nothing! You say ‘very well; let’s leave it so.’ But I say, don’t be so confiding, especially as you know nothing. You are confiding simply _because_ you know nothing. But do you know what these good people have in their minds’ eye--Gania and his sister? Perhaps you are suspicious? Well, well, I’ll drop the subject!” he added, hastily, observing the prince’s impatient gesture. “But I’ve come to you on my own business; I wish to make you a clear explanation. What a nuisance it is that one cannot die without explanations! I have made such a quantity of them already. Do you wish to hear what I have to say?”
Aglaya had simply frightened him; yet he did not give up all thoughts of her--though he never seriously hoped that she would condescend to him. At the time of his “adventure” with Nastasia Philipovna he had come to the conclusion that money was his only hope--money should do all for him.
“You are not very modest!” said she.
“You are alone, aren’t you,--not married?”
“As much as usual, prince--why?”
“Rogojin!” announced Ferdishenko.
“Look to the right!”
“What, has she been here?” asked the prince with curiosity.
“I’ve always said she was predisposed to it,” whispered Afanasy Ivanovitch slyly. “Perhaps it is a fever!”
“We have just used the expression ‘accidental case.’ This is a significant phrase; we often hear it. Well, not long since everyone was talking and reading about that terrible murder of six people on the part of a--young fellow, and of the extraordinary speech of the counsel for the defence, who observed that in the poverty-stricken condition of the criminal it must have come _naturally_ into his head to kill these six people. I do not quote his words, but that is the sense of them, or something very like it. Now, in my opinion, the barrister who put forward this extraordinary plea was probably absolutely convinced that he was stating the most liberal, the most humane, the most enlightened view of the case that could possibly be brought forward in these days. Now, was this distortion, this capacity for a perverted way of viewing things, a special or accidental case, or is such a general rule?”
“Wasn’t it you,” he said, suddenly turning to the old gentleman, “who saved the student Porkunoff and a clerk called Shoabrin from being sent to Siberia, two or three months since?”
“It’s a most improbable story.”
“It was Gogol, in Dead Souls, father,” cried Colia, glancing at him in some alarm.
“‘Gracious Heaven!’ he cried, ‘all our papers are in it! My dear sir, you little know what you have done for us. I should have been lost--lost!’
However, let us take one more example. Thus, we know for a fact that during the whole of this fortnight the prince spent all his days and evenings with Nastasia; he walked with her, drove with her; he began to be restless whenever he passed an hour without seeing her--in fact, to all appearances, he sincerely loved her. He would listen to her for hours at a time with a quiet smile on his face, scarcely saying a word himself. And yet we know, equally certainly, that during this period he several times set off, suddenly, to the Epanchins’, not concealing the fact from Nastasia Philipovna, and driving the latter to absolute despair. We know also that he was not received at the Epanchins’ so long as they remained at Pavlofsk, and that he was not allowed an interview with Aglaya;--but next day he would set off once more on the same errand, apparently quite oblivious of the fact of yesterday’s visit having been a failure,--and, of course, meeting with another refusal. We know, too, that exactly an hour after Aglaya had fled from Nastasia Philipovna’s house on that fateful evening, the prince was at the Epanchins’,--and that his appearance there had been the cause of the greatest consternation and dismay; for Aglaya had not been home, and the family only discovered then, for the first time, that the two of them had been to Nastasia’s house together.
“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.
“Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that I have to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I am caught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brother look a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I have felt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear to you), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of men which has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is so prominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjoy paradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)--solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of ever fathering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous and conceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; of this you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on your horizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But a long and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the first place you will never gain a certain person.”
“So would I,” said another, from behind, “with pleasure. Devil take the thing!” he added, in a tempest of despair, “it will all be burnt up in a minute--It’s burning, it’s burning!”
“How can it be foreign? You _are_ going to be married, are you not? Very well, then you are persisting in your course. _Are_ you going to marry her or not?”
Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class--to the “much cleverer” persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the “clever commonplace” person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair. (As a rule, however, nothing tragic happens;--his liver becomes a little damaged in the course of time, nothing more serious. Such men do not give up their aspirations after originality without a severe struggle,--and there have been men who, though good fellows in themselves, and even benefactors to humanity, have sunk to the level of base criminals for the sake of originality).
“How did he strike you, prince?” asked Gania, suddenly. “Did he seem to be a serious sort of a man, or just a common rowdy fellow? What was your own opinion about the matter?”
He left the room quickly, covering his face with his hands.
The two maid-servants were both peeping in, frightened and amazed at this unusual and disorderly scene.
“Lebedeff, you seem to be angry for some reason!” said the prince.
General Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was standing in the middle of the room, and gazed with great curiosity at the prince as he entered. He even advanced a couple of steps to meet him.