“No, A. N. D.,” corrected Colia.
“No--I will not sit down,--I am keeping you, I see,--another time!--I think I may be permitted to congratulate you upon the realization of your heart’s best wishes, is it not so?”
“Capital, that’s much better!” cried Lebedeff, and seizing the key he made off in haste.
“Yes, of course; he had written letters to the latter with proposals of peace, had he not?” put in the prince.
“Do you know anything about Gavrila Ardalionovitch?” she asked at last.
“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--”
He seemed to pause for a reply, for some verdict, as it were, and looked humbly around him.
“Sit down,” said Rogojin; “let’s rest a bit.” There was silence for a moment.
“Bosh! there are plenty of Nastasia Philipovnas. And what an impertinent beast you are!” he added angrily. “I thought some creature like you would hang on to me as soon as I got hold of my money.”
“Your exclamation proves the generous sympathy of your nature, prince; for four hundred roubles--to a struggling family man like myself--is no small matter!”
“At last her rags became so tattered and torn that she was ashamed of appearing in the village any longer. The children used to pelt her with mud; so she begged to be taken on as assistant cowherd, but the cowherd would not have her. Then she took to helping him without leave; and he saw how valuable her assistance was to him, and did not drive her away again; on the contrary, he occasionally gave her the remnants of his dinner, bread and cheese. He considered that he was being very kind. When the mother died, the village parson was not ashamed to hold Marie up to public derision and shame. Marie was standing at the coffin’s head, in all her rags, crying.
The prince took a step forward--then another--and paused. He stood and stared for a minute or two.
“They are coming, they are coming; and the general as well. I will open all the doors; I will call all my daughters, all of them, this very minute,” said Lebedeff in a low voice, thoroughly frightened, and waving his hands as he ran from door to door.
“I was strict, but just by nature. At that time we were stationed in a small town. I was quartered at an old widow’s house, a lieutenant’s widow of eighty years of age. She lived in a wretched little wooden house, and had not even a servant, so poor was she.
“How--what do you mean you didn’t allow?”
That there was, indeed, beauty and harmony in those abnormal moments, that they really contained the highest synthesis of life, he could not doubt, nor even admit the possibility of doubt. He felt that they were not analogous to the fantastic and unreal dreams due to intoxication by hashish, opium or wine. Of that he could judge, when the attack was over. These instants were characterized--to define it in a word--by an intense quickening of the sense of personality. Since, in the last conscious moment preceding the attack, he could say to himself, with full understanding of his words: “I would give my whole life for this one instant,” then doubtless to him it really was worth a lifetime. For the rest, he thought the dialectical part of his argument of little worth; he saw only too clearly that the result of these ecstatic moments was stupefaction, mental darkness, idiocy. No argument was possible on that point. His conclusion, his estimate of the “moment,” doubtless contained some error, yet the reality of the sensation troubled him. What’s more unanswerable than a fact? And this fact had occurred. The prince had confessed unreservedly to himself that the feeling of intense beatitude in that crowded moment made the moment worth a lifetime. “I feel then,” he said one day to Rogojin in Moscow, “I feel then as if I understood those amazing words--‘There shall be no more time.’” And he added with a smile: “No doubt the epileptic Mahomet refers to that same moment when he says that he visited all the dwellings of Allah, in less time than was needed to empty his pitcher of water.” Yes, he had often met Rogojin in Moscow, and many were the subjects they discussed. “He told me I had been a brother to him,” thought the prince. “He said so today, for the first time.”
These letters, too, were like a dream. We sometimes have strange, impossible dreams, contrary to all the laws of nature. When we awake we remember them and wonder at their strangeness. You remember, perhaps, that you were in full possession of your reason during this succession of fantastic images; even that you acted with extraordinary logic and cunning while surrounded by murderers who hid their intentions and made great demonstrations of friendship, while waiting for an opportunity to cut your throat. You remember how you escaped them by some ingenious stratagem; then you doubted if they were really deceived, or whether they were only pretending not to know your hiding-place; then you thought of another plan and hoodwinked them once again. You remember all this quite clearly, but how is it that your reason calmly accepted all the manifest absurdities and impossibilities that crowded into your dream? One of the murderers suddenly changed into a woman before your very eyes; then the woman was transformed into a hideous, cunning little dwarf; and you believed it, and accepted it all almost as a matter of course--while at the same time your intelligence seemed unusually keen, and accomplished miracles of cunning, sagacity, and logic! Why is it that when you awake to the world of realities you nearly always feel, sometimes very vividly, that the vanished dream has carried with it some enigma which you have failed to solve? You smile at the extravagance of your dream, and yet you feel that this tissue of absurdity contained some real idea, something that belongs to your true life,--something that exists, and has always existed, in your heart. You search your dream for some prophecy that you were expecting. It has left a deep impression upon you, joyful or cruel, but what it means, or what has been predicted to you in it, you can neither understand nor remember.
“Nowhere, as yet.”
“It’s better so, you know, Gania--especially as, from one point of view, the matter may be considered as settled,” said Ptitsin; and sitting down a little way from the table he began to study a paper covered with pencil writing.
“Prince, prince!” he cried, seizing hold of his arm, “recollect yourself! Drop her, prince! You see what sort of a woman she is. I am speaking to you like a father.”
The explanation was finished; Hippolyte paused at last.
The prince made his bows and retired at once. Alexandra and Adelaida smiled and whispered to each other, while Lizabetha Prokofievna glared severely at them. “We are only laughing at the prince’s beautiful bows, mamma,” said Adelaida. “Sometimes he bows just like a meal-sack, but to-day he was like--like Evgenie Pavlovitch!”
“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.
The prince shuddered, and gazed fixedly at Parfen. Suddenly he burst out laughing.
“From the portrait!”
“The owner was now some forty yards ahead of me, and was very soon lost in the crowd. I ran after him, and began calling out; but as I knew nothing to say excepting ‘hey!’ he did not turn round. Suddenly he turned into the gate of a house to the left; and when I darted in after him, the gateway was so dark that I could see nothing whatever. It was one of those large houses built in small tenements, of which there must have been at least a hundred.
“Yes! She looked long at the portrait and asked all about my father. ‘You’d be just such another,’ she said at last, and laughed. ‘You have such strong passions, Parfen,’ she said, ‘that they’d have taken you to Siberia in no time if you had not, luckily, intelligence as well. For you have a good deal of intelligence.’ (She said this--believe it or not. The first time I ever heard anything of that sort from her.) ‘You’d soon have thrown up all this rowdyism that you indulge in now, and you’d have settled down to quiet, steady money-making, because you have little education; and here you’d have stayed just like your father before you. And you’d have loved your money so that you’d amass not two million, like him, but ten million; and you’d have died of hunger on your money bags to finish up with, for you carry everything to extremes.’ There, that’s exactly word for word as she said it to me. She never talked to me like that before. She always talks nonsense and laughs when she’s with me. We went all over this old house together. ‘I shall change all this,’ I said, ‘or else I’ll buy a new house for the wedding.’ ‘No, no!’ she said, ‘don’t touch anything; leave it all as it is; I shall live with your mother when I marry you.’
“From whom? To whom?”
“I only want to know, Mr. Hippolyte--excuse me, I forget your surname.”
“How strange everyone, yourself included, has become of late,” said he. “I was telling you that I cannot in the least understand Lizabetha Prokofievna’s ideas and agitations. She is in hysterics up there, and moans and says that we have been ‘shamed and disgraced.’ How? Why? When? By whom? I confess that I am very much to blame myself; I do not conceal the fact; but the conduct, the outrageous behaviour of this woman, must really be kept within limits, by the police if necessary, and I am just on my way now to talk the question over and make some arrangements. It can all be managed quietly and gently, even kindly, and without the slightest fuss or scandal. I foresee that the future is pregnant with events, and that there is much that needs explanation. There is intrigue in the wind; but if on one side nothing is known, on the other side nothing will be explained. If I have heard nothing about it, nor have _you_, nor _he_, nor _she_--who _has_ heard about it, I should like to know? How _can_ all this be explained except by the fact that half of it is mirage or moonshine, or some hallucination of that sort?”
“This, gentlemen, is a hundred thousand roubles,” said Nastasia Philipovna, addressing the company in general, “here, in this dirty parcel. This afternoon Rogojin yelled, like a madman, that he would bring me a hundred thousand in the evening, and I have been waiting for him all the while. He was bargaining for me, you know; first he offered me eighteen thousand; then he rose to forty, and then to a hundred thousand. And he has kept his word, see! My goodness, how white he is! All this happened this afternoon, at Gania’s. I had gone to pay his mother a visit--my future family, you know! And his sister said to my very face, surely somebody will turn this shameless creature out. After which she spat in her brother Gania’s face--a girl of character, that!”
“Do you know what time it is?”
The prince reflected a little, but very soon he replied, with absolute conviction in his tone, though he still spoke somewhat shyly and timidly:
At last he was wide awake.
The prince certainly was very pale. He sat at the table and seemed to be feeling, by turns, sensations of alarm and rapture.
“Tell me, how was she when you left her?”
“I angrily turned round in bed and made up my mind that I would not say a word unless he did; so I rested silently on my pillow determined to remain dumb, if it were to last till morning. I felt resolved that he should speak first. Probably twenty minutes or so passed in this way. Suddenly the idea struck me--what if this is an apparition and not Rogojin himself?
“In the other wing.”
“Why should I be offended?”
“Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees--that green bench?”
The prince had not seen _her_ for more than three months. All these days since his arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but some mysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himself what impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had often tried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, and that was that the meeting would be painful.
“Yes _all_, Katia, all--every one of them. Let them in, or they’ll come in whether you like or no. Listen! what a noise they are making! Perhaps you are offended, gentlemen, that I should receive such guests in your presence? I am very sorry, and ask your forgiveness, but it cannot be helped--and I should be very grateful if you could all stay and witness this climax. However, just as you please, of course.”
So saying, and in a state of violent agitation, Varia left the room.
“When you are not with me I hate you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I have loathed you every day of these three months since I last saw you. By heaven I have!” said Rogojin. “I could have poisoned you at any minute. Now, you have been with me but a quarter of an hour, and all my malice seems to have melted away, and you are as dear to me as ever. Stay here a little longer.”
Her eyes were aglow with inspiration, and a slight tremor of rapture passed over her lovely features once or twice. She continued to recite:
“Oh, I don’t know what this means” cried Ivan Fedorovitch, transported with indignation.
Nina Alexandrovna’s question betrayed intense annoyance. Gania waited a moment and then said, without taking the trouble to conceal the irony of his tone:
“Here’s your miserable hat. He couldn’t even choose a respectable shape for his hat! Come on! She did that because I took your part and said you ought to have come--little vixen!--else she would never have sent you that silly note. It’s a most improper note, I call it; most improper for such an intelligent, well-brought-up girl to write. H’m! I dare say she was annoyed that you didn’t come; but she ought to have known that one can’t write like that to an idiot like you, for you’d be sure to take it literally.” Mrs. Epanchin was dragging the prince along with her all the time, and never let go of his hand for an instant. “What are you listening for?” she added, seeing that she had committed herself a little. “She wants a clown like you--she hasn’t seen one for some time--to play with. That’s why she is anxious for you to come to the house. And right glad I am that she’ll make a thorough good fool of you. You deserve it; and she can do it--oh! she can, indeed!--as well as most people.”
“Very simply indeed! I found it under the chair upon which my coat had hung; so that it is clear the purse simply fell out of the pocket and on to the floor!”
“Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! But what’s the matter?... what?... How is Marfa Borisovna?”
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
Prince S. tried hard to get up a conversation with Mrs. Epanchin upon outside subjects, probably with the good intention of distracting and amusing her; but he bored her dreadfully. She was absent-minded to a degree, and answered at cross purposes, and sometimes not at all.
The prince paused and all waited, expecting him to go on again and finish the story.
But he, perhaps, did not understand the full force of this challenge; in fact, it is certain he did not. All he could see was the poor despairing face which, as he had said to Aglaya, “had pierced his heart for ever.”
At length, in the last letter of all, he found:
“Pavlicheff?--Pavlicheff turned Roman Catholic? Impossible!” he cried, in horror.
“Well, prince, whom are we to suspect, then? Consider!” said Lebedeff with almost servile amiability, smiling at the prince. There was a look of cunning in his eyes, however.
We have observed before that even some of the prince’s nearest neighbours had begun to oppose him. Vera Lebedeff’s passive disagreement was limited to the shedding of a few solitary tears; to more frequent sitting alone at home, and to a diminished frequency in her visits to the prince’s apartments.
The general dropped his eyes, and elevated his brows; shrugged his shoulders, tightened his lips, spread his hands, and remained silent. At last he blurted out:
The prince brought out his “copy-book sentence” in the firm belief that it would produce a good effect. He felt instinctively that some such well-sounding humbug, brought out at the proper moment, would soothe the old man’s feelings, and would be specially acceptable to such a man in such a position. At all hazards, his guest must be despatched with heart relieved and spirit comforted; that was the problem before the prince at this moment.
“Good God!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna involuntarily.
“Not at all. I am only proving that you are glad about the letter. Why conceal your real feelings? You always like to do it.”
“Certainly, but not always. You would not have been able to keep it up, and would have ended by forgiving me,” said the prince, after a pause for reflection, and with a pleasant smile.
“You may add that I have surely enough to think of, on my own account, without him; and therefore it is all the more surprising that I cannot tear my eyes and thoughts away from his detestable physiognomy.”
Aglaya was the only one of the family whose good graces he could not gain, and who always spoke to him haughtily, but it so happened that the boy one day succeeded in giving the proud maiden a surprise.
“Well, go on.”
He caught sight of something flashing in Hippolyte’s right hand, and saw that it was a pistol. He rushed at him, but at that very instant Hippolyte raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. There followed a sharp metallic click, but no report.
But in spite of this conclusion to the episode, the prince remained as puzzled as ever, if not more so. He awaited next morning’s interview with the general most impatiently.
“My dear, ‘_se trompe_’ is easily said. Do you remember any case at all like it? Everybody was at their wits’ end. I should be the first to say ‘_qu’on se trompe_,’ but unfortunately I was an eye-witness, and was also on the commission of inquiry. Everything proved that it was really he, the very same soldier Kolpakoff who had been given the usual military funeral to the sound of the drum. It is of course a most curious case--nearly an impossible one. I recognize that... but--”
“Oh, _she_ told me all about it long ago, and tonight I saw for myself. I saw you at the music, you know, and whom you were sitting with. She swore to me yesterday, and again today, that you are madly in love with Aglaya Ivanovna. But that’s all the same to me, prince, and it’s not my affair at all; for if you have ceased to love _her_, _she_ has not ceased to love _you_. You know, of course, that she wants to marry you to that girl? She’s sworn to it! Ha, ha! She says to me, ‘Until then I won’t marry you. When they go to church, we’ll go too--and not before.’ What on earth does she mean by it? I don’t know, and I never did. Either she loves you without limits or--yet, if she loves you, why does she wish to marry you to another girl? She says, ‘I want to see him happy,’ which is to say--she loves you.”
“Then why did--”
“You astonish me,” said the lady, gazing as before. “Fits, and hungry too! What sort of fits?”
“And what time of day does the lady receive?” the latter asked, reseating himself in his old place.
“Enough!” he concluded at last, “you understand me, and that is the great thing. A heart like yours cannot help understanding the sufferings of another. Prince, you are the ideal of generosity; what are other men beside yourself? But you are young--accept my blessing! My principal object is to beg you to fix an hour for a most important conversation--that is my great hope, prince. My heart needs but a little friendship and sympathy, and yet I cannot always find means to satisfy it.”
“You wouldn’t believe,” he concluded, “how irritating they all are there. They are such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, _commonplace_ people! Would you believe it, they invited me there under the express condition that I should die quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having died yet, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn’t it a comedy? I don’t mind betting that you don’t believe me!”
The prince blushed, but this time he said nothing. Colia burst out laughing and clapped his hands. A minute later the prince laughed too, and from this moment until the evening he looked at his watch every other minute to see how much time he had to wait before evening came.
Little by little he became very happy indeed. All his late anxieties and apprehensions (after his conversation with Lebedeff) now appeared like so many bad dreams--impossible, and even laughable.
Neither spoke for five minutes.
“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.
“Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his money, and considered I was quite justified.
“When I do go to bed I shall never get up again,” said Hippolyte, with a smile. “I meant to take to my bed yesterday and stay there till I died, but as my legs can still carry me, I put it off for two days, so as to come here with them to-day--but I am very tired.”
He was extremely excited; his lips trembled, and the resentment of an embittered soul was in his voice. But he spoke so indistinctly that hardly a dozen words could be gathered.
“H’m!--no, I’m not afraid of that, you see; I have to announce you, that’s all. The secretary will be out directly--that is, unless you--yes, that’s the rub--unless you--come, you must allow me to ask you--you’ve not come to beg, have you?”
No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.
Lebedeff ran up promptly to explain the arrival of all these gentlemen. He was himself somewhat intoxicated, but the prince gathered from his long-winded periods that the party had assembled quite naturally, and accidentally.
On the third day there was no talk of him at all, until Aglaya remarked at dinner: “Mamma is cross because the prince hasn’t turned up,” to which the general replied that it was not his fault.
“Oh, of course! Naturally the sight impressed him, and proved to him that not _all_ the aristocracy had left Moscow; that at least some nobles and their children had remained behind.”
“But at the same time you would be very glad to know how I happened to meet Aglaya Ivanovna this morning?” The prince finished her speech for her with the utmost composure.
“Oh, but I’m quite well now, thank you, and very glad to make your acquaintance. Prince S. has often spoken to me about you,” said Muishkin, and for an instant the two men looked intently into one another’s eyes.
“And how do you know that?” she asked him, sharply.
“Listen, prince,” said Gania, as though an idea had just struck him, “I wish to ask you a great favour, and yet I really don’t know--”
Rogojin had dropped the subject of the picture and walked on. Of course his strange frame of mind was sufficient to account for his conduct; but, still, it seemed queer to the prince that he should so abruptly drop a conversation commenced by himself. Rogojin did not take any notice of his question.
“The children of the nineteenth century, and their parents--” began the general, again.
“Prince,” said Nastasia Philipovna, unexpectedly turning to Muishkin, “here are my old friends, Totski and General Epanchin, who wish to marry me off. Tell me what you think. Shall I marry or not? As you decide, so shall it be.”