“I knew it was bound to be so.” Then he added quickly:
“There was no cap in it,” Keller announced.
“I haven’t seen him once--since that day!” the prince murmured.
“I have told you all now, and of course you understand what I wish of you.”
What then must have been her condition, when, among all the imaginary anxieties and calamities which so constantly beset her, she now saw looming ahead a serious cause for annoyance--something really likely to arouse doubts and suspicions!
“Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn’t know however I should manage to support life--you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. There was a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread but white and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and it was half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen to it at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went and climbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alone in the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer--and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison.”
The prince did not hear the rest, because at this point the servant continued his communication in a whisper.
“Don’t be angry; she is a wilful, mad, spoilt girl. If she likes a person she will pitch into him, and chaff him. I used to be just such another. But for all that you needn’t flatter yourself, my boy; she is not for you. I don’t believe it, and it is not to be. I tell you so at once, so that you may take proper precautions. Now, I want to hear you swear that you are not married to that woman?”
It was “heads.”
“No--oh no, fresher--more the correct card. I only became this like after the humiliation I suffered there.”
“Oh! what on earth are we to do with him?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna. She hastened to him and pressed his head against her bosom, while he sobbed convulsively.
The prince bent forward to listen, putting all the strain he could muster upon his understanding in order to take in what Rogojin said, and continuing to gaze at the latter’s face.
“You should go into the country,” said Lebedeff timidly.
She now rose solemnly from her seat, walked to the centre of the terrace, and stood in front of the prince’s chair. All looked on with some surprise, and Prince S. and her sisters with feelings of decided alarm, to see what new frolic she was up to; it had gone quite far enough already, they thought. But Aglaya evidently thoroughly enjoyed the affectation and ceremony with which she was introducing her recitation of the poem.
“I remember now with what hungry interest I began to watch the lives of other people--interest that I had never felt before! I used to wait for Colia’s arrival impatiently, for I was so ill myself, then, that I could not leave the house. I so threw myself into every little detail of news, and took so much interest in every report and rumour, that I believe I became a regular gossip! I could not understand, among other things, how all these people--with so much life in and before them--do not become _rich_--and I don’t understand it now. I remember being told of a poor wretch I once knew, who had died of hunger. I was almost beside myself with rage! I believe if I could have resuscitated him I would have done so for the sole purpose of murdering him!
“Well, hardly at all. I wish I were, if only for the sake of justifying myself in her eyes. Nina Alexandrovna has a grudge against me for, as she thinks, encouraging her husband in drinking; whereas in reality I not only do not encourage him, but I actually keep him out of harm’s way, and out of bad company. Besides, he’s my friend, prince, so that I shall not lose sight of him, again. Where he goes, I go. He’s quite given up visiting the captain’s widow, though sometimes he thinks sadly of her, especially in the morning, when he’s putting on his boots. I don’t know why it’s at that time. But he has no money, and it’s no use his going to see her without. Has he borrowed any money from you, prince?”
“Well, take her! It’s Fate! She’s yours. I surrender her.... Remember Rogojin!” And pushing the prince from him, without looking back at him, he hurriedly entered his own flat, and banged the door.
“Be silent! At once!” interrupted the prince, red with indignation, and perhaps with shame, too. “It is impossible and absurd! All that has been invented by you, or fools like you! Let me never hear you say a word again on that subject!”
“Perhaps you are right,” said the prince, smiling. “I think I am a philosopher, perhaps, and who knows, perhaps I do wish to teach my views of things to those I meet with?”
“No, he has not.”
“As soon as I had finished reading it, she told me that you were fishing for her; that you wished to compromise her so far as to receive some hopes from her, trusting to which hopes you might break with the prospect of receiving a hundred thousand roubles. She said that if you had done this without bargaining with her, if you had broken with the money prospects without trying to force a guarantee out of her first, she might have been your friend. That’s all, I think. Oh no, when I asked her what I was to say, as I took the letter, she replied that ‘no answer is the best answer.’ I think that was it. Forgive me if I do not use her exact expressions. I tell you the sense as I understood it myself.”
“Quite so, quite so, of course!” murmured the poor prince, who didn’t know where to look. “Your memoirs would be most interesting.”
Nastasia Philipovna looked keenly round at the prince.
He was so happy that “it made one feel happy to look at him,” as Aglaya’s sisters expressed it afterwards. He talked, and told stories just as he had done once before, and never since, namely on the very first morning of his acquaintance with the Epanchins, six months ago. Since his return to Petersburg from Moscow, he had been remarkably silent, and had told Prince S. on one occasion, before everyone, that he did not think himself justified in degrading any thought by his unworthy words.
Hippolyte looked around at the laughing guests. The prince observed that his teeth were chattering as though in a violent attack of ague.
“I don’t torment him, prince, I don’t indeed!” cried Lebedeff, hotly. “I love him, my dear sir, I esteem him; and believe it or not, I love him all the better for this business, yes--and value him more.”
The prince gazed at it for a minute or two, then glanced around him, and hurriedly raised the portrait to his lips. When, a minute after, he reached the drawing-room door, his face was quite composed. But just as he reached the door he met Aglaya coming out alone.
“I will wait here,” he stammered. “I should like to surprise her. ....”
The prince actually felt glad that he had been interrupted,--and might return the letters to his pocket. He was glad of the respite.
To the amazement of the prince, who overheard the remark, Aglaya looked haughtily and inquiringly at the questioner, as though she would give him to know, once for all, that there could be no talk between them about the ‘poor knight,’ and that she did not understand his question.
“Look here, prince,” said the general, with a cordial smile, “if you really are the sort of man you appear to be, it may be a source of great pleasure to us to make your better acquaintance; but, you see, I am a very busy man, and have to be perpetually sitting here and signing papers, or off to see his excellency, or to my department, or somewhere; so that though I should be glad to see more of people, nice people--you see, I--however, I am sure you are so well brought up that you will see at once, and--but how old are you, prince?”
“I thought someone led me by the hand and showed me, by the light of a candle, a huge, loathsome insect, which he assured me was that very force, that very almighty, dumb, irresistible Power, and laughed at the indignation with which I received this information. In my room they always light the little lamp before my icon for the night; it gives a feeble flicker of light, but it is strong enough to see by dimly, and if you sit just under it you can even read by it. I think it was about twelve or a little past that night. I had not slept a wink, and was lying with my eyes wide open, when suddenly the door opened, and in came Rogojin.
“Prince,” asked Nina Alexandrovna, “I wanted to inquire whether you have known my son long? I think he said that you had only arrived today from somewhere.”
How often during the day he had thought of this hotel with loathing--its corridor, its rooms, its stairs. How he had dreaded coming back to it, for some reason.
“Especially as he asked himself,” said Ferdishenko.
“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.
“Did not you ask me the question seriously” inquired the prince, in amazement.
The prince was much interested in the young man who had just entered. He easily concluded that this was Evgenie Pavlovitch Radomski, of whom he had already heard mention several times. He was puzzled, however, by the young man’s plain clothes, for he had always heard of Evgenie Pavlovitch as a military man. An ironical smile played on Evgenie’s lips all the while the recitation was proceeding, which showed that he, too, was probably in the secret of the ‘poor knight’ joke. But it had become quite a different matter with Aglaya. All the affectation of manner which she had displayed at the beginning disappeared as the ballad proceeded. She spoke the lines in so serious and exalted a manner, and with so much taste, that she even seemed to justify the exaggerated solemnity with which she had stepped forward. It was impossible to discern in her now anything but a deep feeling for the spirit of the poem which she had undertaken to interpret.
“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!
“No! Oh no! Not at all!” said Evgenie. “But--how is it, prince, that you--(excuse the question, will you?)--if you are capable of observing and seeing things as you evidently do, how is it that you saw nothing distorted or perverted in that claim upon your property, which you acknowledged a day or two since; and which was full of arguments founded upon the most distorted views of right and wrong?”
“But while our young millionaire dwelt as it were in the Empyrean, something new occurred. One fine morning a man called upon him, calm and severe of aspect, distinguished, but plainly dressed. Politely, but in dignified terms, as befitted his errand, he briefly explained the motive for his visit. He was a lawyer of enlightened views; his client was a young man who had consulted him in confidence. This young man was no other than the son of P----, though he bears another name. In his youth P----, the sensualist, had seduced a young girl, poor but respectable. She was a serf, but had received a European education. Finding that a child was expected, he hastened her marriage with a man of noble character who had loved her for a long time. He helped the young couple for a time, but he was soon obliged to give up, for the high-minded husband refused to accept anything from him. Soon the careless nobleman forgot all about his former mistress and the child she had borne him; then, as we know, he died intestate. P----’s son, born after his mother’s marriage, found a true father in the generous man whose name he bore. But when he also died, the orphan was left to provide for himself, his mother now being an invalid who had lost the use of her limbs. Leaving her in a distant province, he came to the capital in search of pupils. By dint of daily toil he earned enough to enable him to follow the college courses, and at last to enter the university. But what can one earn by teaching the children of Russian merchants at ten copecks a lesson, especially with an invalid mother to keep? Even her death did not much diminish the hardships of the young man’s struggle for existence. Now this is the question: how, in the name of justice, should our scion have argued the case? Our readers will think, no doubt, that he would say to himself: ‘P---- showered benefits upon me all my life; he spent tens of thousands of roubles to educate me, to provide me with governesses, and to keep me under treatment in Switzerland. Now I am a millionaire, and P----’s son, a noble young man who is not responsible for the faults of his careless and forgetful father, is wearing himself out giving ill-paid lessons. According to justice, all that was done for me ought to have been done for him. The enormous sums spent upon me were not really mine; they came to me by an error of blind Fortune, when they ought to have gone to P----’s son. They should have gone to benefit him, not me, in whom P---- interested himself by a mere caprice, instead of doing his duty as a father. If I wished to behave nobly, justly, and with delicacy, I ought to bestow half my fortune upon the son of my benefactor; but as economy is my favourite virtue, and I know this is not a case in which the law can intervene, I will not give up half my millions. But it would be too openly vile, too flagrantly infamous, if I did not at least restore to P----’s son the tens of thousands of roubles spent in curing my idiocy. This is simply a case of conscience and of strict justice. Whatever would have become of me if P---- had not looked after my education, and had taken care of his own son instead of me?’
“She--ah, that’s where all the mischief of it lies!” replied Ivolgin, frowning. “Without a word, as it were, of warning, she slapped me on the cheek! An extraordinary woman!”
“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!”
“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.
“Oh, but I do know, as it happens,” said the clerk in an aggravating manner. “Lebedeff knows all about her. You are pleased to reproach me, your excellency, but what if I prove that I am right after all? Nastasia Phillpovna’s family name is Barashkoff--I know, you see--and she is a very well known lady, indeed, and comes of a good family, too. She is connected with one Totski, Afanasy Ivanovitch, a man of considerable property, a director of companies, and so on, and a great friend of General Epanchin, who is interested in the same matters as he is.”
“And, pray, who are you yourself?”
“Nastasia Philipovna, will you excuse the general for a moment? Someone is inquiring for him,” said Nina Alexandrovna in a loud voice, interrupting the conversation.
“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.
“He is a traitor! a conspirator!” shouted Lebedeff, who seemed to have lost all control over himself. “A monster! a slanderer! Ought I to treat him as a nephew, the son of my sister Anisia?”
“Yes, they’ll be awfully annoyed if they don’t see it.”
“No humbug at all.”
“Oh, I like that! That beats anything!” he cried convulsively, panting for breath. “One is an absolute unbeliever; the other is such a thorough-going believer that he murders his friend to the tune of a prayer! Oh, prince, prince, that’s too good for anything! You can’t have invented it. It’s the best thing I’ve heard!”
“I have never seen you before!”
Nastasia Philipovna, who loved originality and drollery of all kinds, was apparently very fond of this old man, and rang the bell for more tea to stop his coughing. It was now half-past ten o’clock.
Nastasia Philipovna was ready. She rose from her seat, looked into the glass and remarked, as Keller told the tale afterwards, that she was “as pale as a corpse.” She then bent her head reverently, before the ikon in the corner, and left the room.
“Met me somewhere, pfu! Why, it’s only three months since I lost two hundred roubles of my father’s money to you, at cards. The old fellow died before he found out. Ptitsin knows all about it. Why, I’ve only to pull out a three-rouble note and show it to you, and you’d crawl on your hands and knees to the other end of the town for it; that’s the sort of man you are. Why, I’ve come now, at this moment, to buy you up! Oh, you needn’t think that because I wear these boots I have no money. I have lots of money, my beauty,--enough to buy up you and all yours together. So I shall, if I like to! I’ll buy you up! I will!” he yelled, apparently growing more and more intoxicated and excited. “Oh, Nastasia Philipovna! don’t turn me out! Say one word, do! Are you going to marry this man, or not?”
Next day the prince had to go to town, on business. Returning in the afternoon, he happened upon General Epanchin at the station. The latter seized his hand, glancing around nervously, as if he were afraid of being caught in wrong-doing, and dragged him into a first-class compartment. He was burning to speak about something of importance.
“That could only have been on your invitation. I confess, however, that I should not have stayed here even if you had invited me, not for any particular reason, but because it is--well, contrary to my practice and nature, somehow.”
Left alone, he lay down on the sofa, and began to think.
There was evidently, he concluded, something at work here; some storm of the mind, some paroxysm of romantic anger, goodness knows against whom or what, some insatiable contempt--in a word, something altogether absurd and impossible, but at the same time most dangerous to be met with by any respectable person with a position in society to keep up.
“And I also wish for justice to be done, once for all,” cried Madame Epanchin, “about this impudent claim. Deal with them promptly, prince, and don’t spare them! I am sick of hearing about the affair, and many a quarrel I have had in your cause. But I confess I am anxious to see what happens, so do make them come out here, and we will remain. You have heard people talking about it, no doubt?” she added, turning to Prince S.
But all the same Gania was in haste, for his sister was waiting at Lebedeff’s to consult him on an urgent matter of business. If he had anticipated impatient questions, or impulsive confidences, he was soon undeceived. The prince was thoughtful, reserved, even a little absent-minded, and asked none of the questions--one in particular--that Gania had expected. So he imitated the prince’s demeanour, and talked fast and brilliantly upon all subjects but the one on which their thoughts were engaged. Among other things Gania told his host that Nastasia Philipovna had been only four days in Pavlofsk, and that everyone was talking about her already. She was staying with Daria Alexeyevna, in an ugly little house in Mattrossky Street, but drove about in the smartest carriage in the place. A crowd of followers had pursued her from the first, young and old. Some escorted her on horse-back when she took the air in her carriage.
“You intend to introduce the prince?” asked Colia, as they went up.
“Yesterday morning the prince came to see me. Among other things he asked me to come down to his villa. I knew he would come and persuade me to this step, and that he would adduce the argument that it would be easier for me to die ‘among people and green trees,’--as he expressed it. But today he did not say ‘die,’ he said ‘live.’ It is pretty much the same to me, in my position, which he says. When I asked him why he made such a point of his ‘green trees,’ he told me, to my astonishment, that he had heard that last time I was in Pavlofsk I had said that I had come ‘to have a last look at the trees.’
“What--shame you? I?--what do you mean, you young calf? I shame you? I can only do you honour, sir; I cannot shame you.”
“Look here,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, turning round suddenly; “we are passing his house. Whatever Aglaya may think, and in spite of anything that may happen, he is not a stranger to us; besides which, he is ill and in misfortune. I, for one, shall call in and see him. Let anyone follow me who cares to.”
“I think you are wandering a little, prince,” Mrs. Epanchin decided, after a lengthened survey of his face; and she tossed the portrait on to the table, haughtily.
“Impossible!” cried the prince, aghast.
“I will not accept ten thousand roubles,” said Burdovsky.
According to Lebedeff’s account, he had first tried what he could do with General Epanchin. The latter informed him that he wished well to the unfortunate young man, and would gladly do what he could to “save him,” but that he did not think it would be seemly for him to interfere in this matter. Lizabetha Prokofievna would neither hear nor see him. Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch only shrugged their shoulders, and implied that it was no business of theirs. However, Lebedeff had not lost heart, and went off to a clever lawyer,--a worthy and respectable man, whom he knew well. This old gentleman informed him that the thing was perfectly feasible if he could get hold of competent witnesses as to Muishkin’s mental incapacity. Then, with the assistance of a few influential persons, he would soon see the matter arranged.
“No humbug at all.”
“Ha! and whose eyes may they have been?” said Rogojin, suspiciously. It seemed to the prince that he was trembling.
“H’m! well--here, you fellow--you can come along with me now if you like!” cried Rogojin to Lebedeff, and so they all left the carriage.
“Of course she did!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth; “and I saw for myself what I knew before. You’ve read her letters, I suppose?”
There was no reason for the prince to set anyone to watch, even if he had been capable of such a thing. Aglaya’s command that he should stay at home all day seemed almost explained now. Perhaps she meant to call for him, herself, or it might be, of course, that she was anxious to make sure of his not coming there, and therefore bade him remain at home. His head whirled; the whole room seemed to be turning round. He lay down on the sofa, and closed his eyes.
“What I am really alarmed about, though,” he said, “is Aglaya Ivanovna. Rogojin knows how you love her. Love for love. You took Nastasia Philipovna from him. He will murder Aglaya Ivanovna; for though she is not yours, of course, now, still such an act would pain you,--wouldn’t it?”
“If you say,” she began in shaky tones, “if you say that this woman of yours is mad--at all events I have nothing to do with her insane fancies. Kindly take these three letters, Lef Nicolaievitch, and throw them back to her, from me. And if she dares,” cried Aglaya suddenly, much louder than before, “if she dares so much as write me one word again, tell her I shall tell my father, and that she shall be taken to a lunatic asylum.”
“Oh, let her alone, I entreat you!” cried the prince. “What can you do in this dark, gloomy mystery? Let her alone, and I’ll use all my power to prevent her writing you any more letters.”
All these days Colia had been in a state of great mental preoccupation. Muishkin was usually out all day, and only came home late at night. On his return he was invariably informed that Colia had been looking for him. However, when they did meet, Colia never had anything particular to tell him, excepting that he was highly dissatisfied with the general and his present condition of mind and behaviour.
“Goodness knows what it means, ma’am,” she said. “There is a whole collection of men come--all tipsy--and want to see you. They say that ‘it’s Rogojin, and she knows all about it.’”
Totski sat and shrugged his shoulders, bewildered. He was the only guest left sitting at this time; the others had thronged round the table in disorder, and were all talking at once.
Hippolyte clutched his manuscript, and gazing at the last speaker with glittering eyes, said: “You don’t like me at all!” A few laughed at this, but not all.
“I can just see there’s a bed--”
“Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin,” said Nastasia, firmly and evenly.
“He is, indeed,” said Alexandra; “almost laughably so at times.”
“Very well, we’ll drop it for a while. You can’t look at anything but in your exalted, generous way. You must put out your finger and touch a thing before you’ll believe it, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I suppose you despise me dreadfully, prince, eh? What do you think?”
“It is difficult to explain, but certainly not the hopes you have in your mind. Hopes--well, in a word, hopes for the future, and a feeling of joy that _there_, at all events, I was not entirely a stranger and a foreigner. I felt an ecstasy in being in my native land once more; and one sunny morning I took up a pen and wrote her that letter, but why to _her_, I don’t quite know. Sometimes one longs to have a friend near, and I evidently felt the need of one then,” added the prince, and paused.
“You there, Gania?” cried a voice from the study, “come in here, will you?”
“You hear him! You count upon it, too,” she continued, turning upon Doktorenko. “You are as sure of him now as if you had the money in your pocket. And there you are playing the swaggerer to throw dust in our eyes! No, my dear sir, you may take other people in! I can see through all your airs and graces, I see your game!”
“Excuse him? Oh no, I have wished to see him too long for that. Why, what business can he have? He has retired, hasn’t he? You won’t leave me, general, will you?”
“Whoever _can_ suffer is worthy to suffer, I should think. Aglaya Ivanovna wished to see you, after she had read your confession, but--”
“Do you know anything about Gavrila Ardalionovitch?” she asked at last.
A tear glistened on her cheek. At the sight of it Hippolyte seemed amazed. He lifted his hand timidly and, touched the tear with his finger, smiling like a child.
“You are very like Lizabetha Prokofievna.”
“No, they are not Nihilists,” explained Lebedeff, who seemed much excited. “This is another lot--a special group. According to my nephew they are more advanced even than the Nihilists. You are quite wrong, excellency, if you think that your presence will intimidate them; nothing intimidates them. Educated men, learned men even, are to be found among Nihilists; these go further, in that they are men of action. The movement is, properly speaking, a derivative from Nihilism--though they are only known indirectly, and by hearsay, for they never advertise their doings in the papers. They go straight to the point. For them, it is not a question of showing that Pushkin is stupid, or that Russia must be torn in pieces. No; but if they have a great desire for anything, they believe they have a right to get it even at the cost of the lives, say, of eight persons. They are checked by no obstacles. In fact, prince, I should not advise you...”
“Very good. That would increase our income nicely. Have you any intention of being a Kammer-junker?”
“Where did they tell you so,--at his door?”