“Then at all events he knows her!” remarked the prince, after a moment’s silence.
“It _is_ true, it _is_ true,” cried Aglaya, almost beside herself with rage.
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”
“Yes, he will be ashamed!” cried Rogojin. “You will be properly ashamed of yourself for having injured such a--such a sheep” (he could not find a better word). “Prince, my dear fellow, leave this and come away with me. I’ll show you how Rogojin shows his affection for his friends.”
“Who may that be? a clerk?”
“Will you let me ask the prince for a cup of tea?... I am exhausted. Do you know what you might do, Lizabetha Prokofievna? I think you wanted to take the prince home with you for tea. Stay here, and let us spend the evening together. I am sure the prince will give us all some tea. Forgive me for being so free and easy--but I know you are kind, and the prince is kind, too. In fact, we are all good-natured people--it is really quite comical.”
He had spoken in a whisper all the way. In spite of his apparent outward composure, he was evidently in a state of great mental agitation. Arrived in a large salon, next to the study, he went to the window and cautiously beckoned the prince up to him.
“Would you believe it, I had some thoughts of marrying Totski, four years ago! I meant mischief, I confess--but I could have had him, I give you my word; he asked me himself. But I thought, no! it’s not worthwhile to take such advantage of him. No! I had better go on to the streets, or accept Rogojin, or become a washerwoman or something--for I have nothing of my own, you know. I shall go away and leave everything behind, to the last rag--he shall have it all back. And who would take me without anything? Ask Gania, there, whether he would. Why, even Ferdishenko wouldn’t have me!”
“It grieves me to see you so, Hippolyte. Why didn’t you send me a message? I would have come up and saved you this trouble.”
“Yes, of course it is the chief thing!” he cried, looking sharply at Gania. “What a very curious man you are, Gania! You actually seem to be _glad_ to hear of this millionaire fellow’s arrival--just as though you wished for an excuse to get out of the whole thing. This is an affair in which you ought to act honestly with both sides, and give due warning, to avoid compromising others. But, even now, there is still time. Do you understand me? I wish to know whether you desire this arrangement or whether you do not? If not, say so,--and--and welcome! No one is trying to force you into the snare, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, if you see a snare in the matter, at least.”
“You spoke of a meeting with Nastasia Philipovna,” he said at last, in a low voice.
“Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?” cried Muishkin.
“Just a couple of words!” whispered another voice in the prince’s other ear, and another hand took his other arm. Muishkin turned, and to his great surprise observed a red, flushed face and a droll-looking figure which he recognized at once as that of Ferdishenko. Goodness knows where he had turned up from!
They passed through the same rooms which the prince had traversed on his arrival. In the largest there were pictures on the walls, portraits and landscapes of little interest. Over the door, however, there was one of strange and rather striking shape; it was six or seven feet in length, and not more than a foot in height. It represented the Saviour just taken from the cross.
“That’s a kind-hearted man, if you like,” said Daria Alexeyevna, whose wrath was quickly evaporating.
Colia arrived presently and joined the circle. “So he is received as usual, after all,” thought the prince.
“He beat me, he thrashed me unmercifully!” replied Lebedeff vehemently. “He set a dog on me in Moscow, a bloodhound, a terrible beast that chased me all down the street.”
“What do you know of my position, that you dare to judge me?” cried Nastasia, quivering with rage, and growing terribly white.
But on this occasion there was something more serious than usual. Everyone seemed to know something, but to be afraid to talk about it.
“My dear young friend, you have hit on my very idea. It was not for this rubbish I asked you to come over here” (he pocketed the money, however, at this point), “it was to invite your alliance in the campaign against Nastasia Philipovna tonight. How well it sounds, ‘General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin.’ That’ll fetch her, I think, eh? Capital! We’ll go at nine; there’s time yet.”
“What do you mean, though,” asked Muishkin, “‘by such a business’? I don’t see any particular ‘business’ about it at all!”
“I can tell you all about Colia,” said the young man
So saying Lebedeff fixed the prince with his sharp little eyes, still in hope that he would get his curiosity satisfied.
He had risen, and was speaking standing up. The old gentleman was looking at him now in unconcealed alarm. Lizabetha Prokofievna wrung her hands. “Oh, my God!” she cried. She had guessed the state of the case before anyone else.
“This is not the place for you,” said she. “Go to father. Is he plaguing you, prince?”
“How did you come here?” she asked, at last.
“Whoever is afraid of wolves had better not go into the wood,” said Nastasia, smiling.
A minute afterwards, Evgenie Pavlovitch reappeared on the terrace, in great agitation.
How or why it came about that everyone at the Epanchins’ became imbued with one conviction--that something very important had happened to Aglaya, and that her fate was in process of settlement--it would be very difficult to explain. But no sooner had this idea taken root, than all at once declared that they had seen and observed it long ago; that they had remarked it at the time of the “poor knight” joke, and even before, though they had been unwilling to believe in such nonsense.
“This is Pushkin,” replied the girl. “Papa told me to offer it to you.”
The guests exchanged glances; they were annoyed and bewildered by the episode; but it was clear enough that all this had been pre-arranged and expected by Nastasia Philipovna, and that there was no use in trying to stop her now--for she was little short of insane.
“Who was by him at night?”
“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?”
“Let me remind you once more, Evgenie,” said Prince S., “that your joke is getting a little threadbare.”
“Yes. We came to Lucerne, and I was taken out in a boat. I felt how lovely it was, but the loveliness weighed upon me somehow or other, and made me feel melancholy.”
Nastasia occupied a medium-sized, but distinctly tasteful, flat, beautifully furnished and arranged. At one period of these five years of Petersburg life, Totski had certainly not spared his expenditure upon her. He had calculated upon her eventual love, and tried to tempt her with a lavish outlay upon comforts and luxuries, knowing too well how easily the heart accustoms itself to comforts, and how difficult it is to tear one’s self away from luxuries which have become habitual and, little by little, indispensable.
“I thought he must have come for this purpose.
“What did you mean, sir, that he didn’t exist? Explain yourself,” he repeated, angrily.
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
“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?”
“What should I be afraid of?”
But here he was back at his hotel.
“Yesterday! Morning or evening? Before the music or after?”
“Yes, it’s a droll situation; I really don’t know what advice to give you,” replied Evgenie, laughing. Hippolyte gazed steadfastly at him, but said nothing. To look at him one might have supposed that he was unconscious at intervals.
“Prince, be so kind as to come to me for a moment in the drawing-room,” said Nina Alexandrovna herself, appearing at the door.
“She is there at this moment?”
About fifty yards from the hotel, at the first cross-road, as he passed through the crowd of foot-passengers sauntering along, someone touched his shoulder, and said in a whisper into his ear:
“The woman’s mad!” cried Evgenie, at last, crimson with anger, and looking confusedly around. “I don’t know what she’s talking about! What IOU’s? Who is she?” Mrs. Epanchin continued to watch his face for a couple of seconds; then she marched briskly and haughtily away towards her own house, the rest following her.
“I knew it was all a joke!” cried Adelaida. “I felt it ever since--since the hedgehog.”
Gania stood at the door like a block and looked on in silence, putting no obstacle in the way of their entrance, and ten or a dozen men marched in behind Parfen Rogojin. They were a decidedly mixed-looking collection, and some of them came in in their furs and caps. None of them were quite drunk, but all appeared to be considerably excited.
“Pfu! what a wretched room this is--dark, and the window looking into the yard. Your coming to our house is, in no respect, opportune. However, it’s not _my_ affair. I don’t keep the lodgings.”
“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.
The room had a blue wall-paper, and was well, almost pretentiously, furnished, with its round table, its divan, and its bronze clock under a glass shade. There was a narrow pier-glass against the wall, and a chandelier adorned with lustres hung by a bronze chain from the ceiling.
“Yes,” said Lebedeff, “you certainly think a great deal too much about yourself.”
“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. You wish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once--he will be free in a minute; but you--you had better wait in the ante-chamber,--hadn’t you? Why is he here?” he added, severely, to the man.
When the prince ceased speaking all were gazing merrily at him--even Aglaya; but Lizabetha Prokofievna looked the jolliest of all.
“What do you mean? What are you convinced of?” they demanded angrily.
“Just as though you didn’t know! Why, she ran away from me, and went to you. You admitted it yourself, just now.”
“Do you know,” Aglaya said to him once, interrupting the reading, “I’ve remarked that you are dreadfully badly educated. You never know anything thoroughly, if one asks you; neither anyone’s name, nor dates, nor about treaties and so on. It’s a great pity, you know!”
“I’ve looked everywhere, and turned out everything.”
“Is that all?” asked Aglaya.
“Insinuation? Oh! I assure you, I take your word for it.” And the prince continued laughing merrily.
“You are quite ready, I observe,” she said, with absolute composure, “dressed, and your hat in your hand. I see somebody has thought fit to warn you, and I know who. Hippolyte?”
The prince reddened slightly.
“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.’
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
“Quite so, quite so, of course!” murmured the poor prince, who didn’t know where to look. “Your memoirs would be most interesting.”
“Just as before, sir, just as before! To a certain person, and from a certain hand. The individual’s name who wrote the letter is to be represented by the letter A.--”
“Had I been the publisher I should not have printed it. As to the evidence of eye-witnesses, in these days people prefer impudent lies to the stories of men of worth and long service. I know of some notes of the year 1812, which--I have determined, prince, to leave this house, Mr. Lebedeff’s house.”
“Koulakoff... Koulakoff means nothing. This is Sokolovitch’s flat, and I am ringing at his door.... What do I care for Koulakoff?... Here comes someone to open.”
“From the portrait!”
“Oh, yes--a wonderful fellow; but I was present myself. I gave him my blessing.”
Such were, for instance, Varvara Ardalionovna Ptitsin, her husband, and her brother, Gania.
“You are unjust; I found him sincerely repentant,” observed the prince, after listening for a time.
The staircase led to the first and second corridors of the hotel, along which lay the guests’ bedrooms. As is often the case in Petersburg houses, it was narrow and very dark, and turned around a massive stone column.
“Just now, I confess,” began the prince, with more animation, “when you asked me for a subject for a picture, I confess I had serious thoughts of giving you one. I thought of asking you to draw the face of a criminal, one minute before the fall of the guillotine, while the wretched man is still standing on the scaffold, preparatory to placing his neck on the block.”
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
“That is probably when they fire from a long distance.”
“Oh, yes--I know what count you’re going to see!” remarked his wife in a cutting manner, as she turned her angry eyes on the prince. “Now then, what’s all this about?--What abbot--Who’s Pafnute?” she added, brusquely.
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
The prince’s further fate was more or less decided by Colia, who selected, out of all the persons he had met during the last six or seven months, Evgenie Pavlovitch, as friend and confidant. To him he made over all that he knew as to the events above recorded, and as to the present condition of the prince. He was not far wrong in his choice. Evgenie Pavlovitch took the deepest interest in the fate of the unfortunate “idiot,” and, thanks to his influence, the prince found himself once more with Dr. Schneider, in Switzerland.
“Very,” said his neighbour, readily, “and this is a thaw, too. Fancy if it had been a hard frost! I never thought it would be so cold in the old country. I’ve grown quite out of the way of it.”
“When you rang the bell this morning I thought it must be you. I went to the door on tip-toe and heard you talking to the servant opposite. I had told her before that if anyone came and rang--especially you, and I gave her your name--she was not to tell about me. Then I thought, what if he goes and stands opposite and looks up, or waits about to watch the house? So I came to this very window, looked out, and there you were staring straight at me. That’s how it came about.”
A violent fit of coughing, which lasted a full minute, prevented him from finishing his sentence.
Hippolyte was very ill, and looked as though he could not long survive. He was tearful at first, but grew more and more sarcastic and malicious as the interview proceeded.
She was silent a moment to get breath, and to recover her composure.
“Why so?” asked the prince uneasily.
“I have no wit, Nastasia Philipovna,” began Ferdishenko, “and therefore I talk too much, perhaps. Were I as witty, now, as Mr. Totski or the general, I should probably have sat silent all the evening, as they have. Now, prince, what do you think?--are there not far more thieves than honest men in this world? Don’t you think we may say there does not exist a single person so honest that he has never stolen anything whatever in his life?”
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.
“Oh, nothing more, nothing more! I was saying to myself but now... ‘I am quite unworthy of friendly relations with him,’ say I; ‘but perhaps as landlord of this house I may, at some future date, in his good time, receive information as to certain imminent and much to be desired changes--’”
But it was a hysterical laugh; he was feeling terribly oppressed. He remembered clearly that just here, standing before this window, he had suddenly turned round, just as earlier in the day he had turned and found the dreadful eyes of Rogojin fixed upon him. Convinced, therefore, that in this respect at all events he had been under no delusion, he left the shop and went on.
Suddenly Hippolyte arose. His face, shockingly pale, was that of a man overwhelmed with shame and despair. This was shown chiefly in the look of fear and hatred which he cast upon the assembled company, and in the wild smile upon his trembling lips. Then he cast down his eyes, and with the same smile, staggered towards Burdovsky and Doktorenko, who stood at the entrance to the verandah. He had decided to go with them.
Gania lost his head. Forgetful of everything he aimed a blow at Varia, which would inevitably have laid her low, but suddenly another hand caught his. Between him and Varia stood the prince.
“Oh, but he didn’t kill himself; the pistol didn’t go off.” Aglaya insisted on hearing the whole story. She hurried the prince along, but interrupted him with all sorts of questions, nearly all of which were irrelevant. Among other things, she seemed greatly interested in every word that Evgenie Pavlovitch had said, and made the prince repeat that part of the story over and over again.
“Most wonderfully so,” said the latter, warmly, gazing at Aglaya with admiration. “Almost as lovely as Nastasia Philipovna, but quite a different type.”
The prince did not exactly pant for breath, but he “seemed almost to _choke_ out of pure simplicity and goodness of heart,” as Adelaida expressed it, on talking the party over with her fiance, the Prince S., next morning.
“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”