Nastasia came out of the house looking as white as any handkerchief; but her large dark eyes shone upon the vulgar crowd like blazing coals. The spectators’ cries were redoubled, and became more exultant and triumphant every moment. The door of the carriage was open, and Keller had given his hand to the bride to help her in, when suddenly with a loud cry she rushed from him, straight into the surging crowd. Her friends about her were stupefied with amazement; the crowd parted as she rushed through it, and suddenly, at a distance of five or six yards from the carriage, appeared Rogojin. It was his look that had caught her eyes.
“Are you Prince Muishkin?” he asked, with the greatest courtesy and amiability.
The prince followed her. Arrived at the dining-room, she stopped.
“I came into this room with anguish in my heart,” continued the prince, with ever-growing agitation, speaking quicker and quicker, and with increasing strangeness. “I--I was afraid of you all, and afraid of myself. I was most afraid of myself. When I returned to Petersburg, I promised myself to make a point of seeing our greatest men, and members of our oldest families--the old families like my own. I am now among princes like myself, am I not? I wished to know you, and it was necessary, very, very necessary. I had always heard so much that was evil said of you all--more evil than good; as to how small and petty were your interests, how absurd your habits, how shallow your education, and so on. There is so much written and said about you! I came here today with anxious curiosity; I wished to see for myself and form my own convictions as to whether it were true that the whole of this upper stratum of Russian society is _worthless_, has outlived its time, has existed too long, and is only fit to die--and yet is dying with petty, spiteful warring against that which is destined to supersede it and take its place--hindering the Coming Men, and knowing not that itself is in a dying condition. I did not fully believe in this view even before, for there never was such a class among us--excepting perhaps at court, by accident--or by uniform; but now there is not even that, is there? It has vanished, has it not?”
However, she had not reached the outer hall when she turned round, walked quickly up to Nina Alexandrovna, seized her hand and lifted it to her lips.
“I crossed to that corner and found a dirty dark staircase. I heard a man mounting up above me, some way higher than I was, and thinking I should catch him before his door would be opened to him, I rushed after him. I heard a door open and shut on the fifth storey, as I panted along; the stairs were narrow, and the steps innumerable, but at last I reached the door I thought the right one. Some moments passed before I found the bell and got it to ring.
The officer, tearing himself from the prince’s grasp, pushed him so violently backwards that he staggered a few steps and then subsided into a chair.
Here Evgenie Pavlovitch quite let himself go, and gave the reins to his indignation.
“Well, what do you think? The old fellow went straight off to Nastasia Philipovna, touched the floor with his forehead, and began blubbering and beseeching her on his knees to give him back the diamonds. So after awhile she brought the box and flew out at him. ‘There,’ she says, ‘take your earrings, you wretched old miser; although they are ten times dearer than their value to me now that I know what it must have cost Parfen to get them! Give Parfen my compliments,’ she says, ‘and thank him very much!’ Well, I meanwhile had borrowed twenty-five roubles from a friend, and off I went to Pskoff to my aunt’s. The old woman there lectured me so that I left the house and went on a drinking tour round the public-houses of the place. I was in a high fever when I got to Pskoff, and by nightfall I was lying delirious in the streets somewhere or other!”
“Vladimir Doktorenko,” said Lebedeff’s nephew briskly, and with a certain pride, as if he boasted of his name.
“Do you see those brightly-lighted windows?” said the general. “Many of my old comrades-in-arms live about here, and I, who served longer, and suffered more than any of them, am walking on foot to the house of a woman of rather questionable reputation! A man, look you, who has thirteen bullets on his breast!... You don’t believe it? Well, I can assure you it was entirely on my account that Pirogoff telegraphed to Paris, and left Sebastopol at the greatest risk during the siege. Nelaton, the Tuileries surgeon, demanded a safe conduct, in the name of science, into the besieged city in order to attend my wounds. The government knows all about it. ‘That’s the Ivolgin with thirteen bullets in him!’ That’s how they speak of me.... Do you see that house, prince? One of my old friends lives on the first floor, with his large family. In this and five other houses, three overlooking Nevsky, two in the Morskaya, are all that remain of my personal friends. Nina Alexandrovna gave them up long ago, but I keep in touch with them still... I may say I find refreshment in this little coterie, in thus meeting my old acquaintances and subordinates, who worship me still, in spite of all. General Sokolovitch (by the way, I have not called on him lately, or seen Anna Fedorovna)... You know, my dear prince, when a person does not receive company himself, he gives up going to other people’s houses involuntarily. And yet... well... you look as if you didn’t believe me.... Well now, why should I not present the son of my old friend and companion to this delightful family--General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin? You will see a lovely girl--what am I saying--a lovely girl? No, indeed, two, three! Ornaments of this city and of society: beauty, education, culture--the woman question--poetry--everything! Added to which is the fact that each one will have a dot of at least eighty thousand roubles. No bad thing, eh?... In a word I absolutely must introduce you to them: it is a duty, an obligation. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin. Tableau!”
“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.”
“I don’t know.”
Or if that were impossible he would like to be alone at home, on the terrace--without either Lebedeff or his children, or anyone else about him, and to lie there and think--a day and night and another day again! He thought of the mountains--and especially of a certain spot which he used to frequent, whence he would look down upon the distant valleys and fields, and see the waterfall, far off, like a little silver thread, and the old ruined castle in the distance. Oh! how he longed to be there now--alone with his thoughts--to think of one thing all his life--one thing! A thousand years would not be too much time! And let everyone here forget him--forget him utterly! How much better it would have been if they had never known him--if all this could but prove to be a dream. Perhaps it was a dream!
One of them was a young fellow of about twenty-seven, not tall, with black curling hair, and small, grey, fiery eyes. His nose was broad and flat, and he had high cheek bones; his thin lips were constantly compressed into an impudent, ironical--it might almost be called a malicious--smile; but his forehead was high and well formed, and atoned for a good deal of the ugliness of the lower part of his face. A special feature of this physiognomy was its death-like pallor, which gave to the whole man an indescribably emaciated appearance in spite of his hard look, and at the same time a sort of passionate and suffering expression which did not harmonize with his impudent, sarcastic smile and keen, self-satisfied bearing. He wore a large fur--or rather astrachan--overcoat, which had kept him warm all night, while his neighbour had been obliged to bear the full severity of a Russian November night entirely unprepared. His wide sleeveless mantle with a large cape to it--the sort of cloak one sees upon travellers during the winter months in Switzerland or North Italy--was by no means adapted to the long cold journey through Russia, from Eydkuhnen to St. Petersburg.
“Hippolyte, probably. He would think it the most delightful amusement in the world to tell her of it the instant he moved over here; I haven’t a doubt of it.”
He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him--he could not tell why.
But on this occasion there was something more serious than usual. Everyone seemed to know something, but to be afraid to talk about it.
“Are you about to take a wife? I ask,--if you prefer that expression.”
“Oh! it’s not a great matter to guess who told her. A thief! A thief in our family, and the head of the family, too!”
“It was Nastasia Philipovna,” said the prince; “didn’t you know that? I cannot tell you who her companion was.”
“We were not asked, you see. We were made different, with different tastes and feelings, without being consulted. You say you love her with pity. I have no pity for her. She hates me--that’s the plain truth of the matter. I dream of her every night, and always that she is laughing at me with another man. And so she does laugh at me. She thinks no more of marrying me than if she were changing her shoe. Would you believe it, I haven’t seen her for five days, and I daren’t go near her. She asks me what I come for, as if she were not content with having disgraced me--”
Muishkin was told of the princess’s visit three days beforehand, but nothing was said to him about the party until the night before it was to take place.
“Is that all, really?” said Aglaya, candidly, without the slightest show of confusion. “However, it’s not so bad, especially if managed with economy. Do you intend to serve?”
“You ought to be whipped, Colia, you silly boy. If you want anything” (to the prince) “please apply to the servant. We dine at half-past four. You can take your dinner with us, or have it in your room, just as you please. Come along, Colia, don’t disturb the prince.”
“I have not much time for making acquaintances, as a rule,” said the general, “but as, of course, you have your object in coming, I--”
“Look here, Mr. Muishkin,” shouted Hippolyte, “please understand that we are not fools, nor idiots, as your guests seem to imagine; these ladies who look upon us with such scorn, and especially this fine gentleman” (pointing to Evgenie Pavlovitch) “whom I have not the honour of knowing, though I think I have heard some talk about him--”
“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”
“Varia does it from pride, and likes showing off, and giving herself airs. As to my mother, I really do admire her--yes, and honour her. Hippolyte, hardened as he is, feels it. He laughed at first, and thought it vulgar of her--but now, he is sometimes quite touched and overcome by her kindness. H’m! You call that being strong and good? I will remember that! Gania knows nothing about it. He would say that it was encouraging vice.”
“He has been very ill,” added Varia.
Prince S. paused, as though unwilling to continue talking about Nastasia Philipovna.
“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.
The time appointed was twelve o’clock, and the prince, returning home unexpectedly late, found the general waiting for him. At the first glance, he saw that the latter was displeased, perhaps because he had been kept waiting. The prince apologized, and quickly took a seat. He seemed strangely timid before the general this morning, for some reason, and felt as though his visitor were some piece of china which he was afraid of breaking.
Sure enough, the train was just steaming in as he spoke.
Rogojin’s troop, who were only waiting for an excuse, set up a howl at this. Lebedeff stepped forward and whispered something in Parfen’s ear.
There was a question to be decided--most important, but most difficult; so much so, that Mrs. Epanchin did not even see how to put it into words. Would the prince do or not? Was all this good or bad? If good (which might be the case, of course), _why_ good? If bad (which was hardly doubtful), _wherein_, especially, bad? Even the general, the paterfamilias, though astonished at first, suddenly declared that, “upon his honour, he really believed he had fancied something of the kind, after all. At first, it seemed a new idea, and then, somehow, it looked as familiar as possible.” His wife frowned him down there. This was in the morning; but in the evening, alone with his wife, he had given tongue again.
“Well, well! I won’t again,” said the master of the house, his anxiety getting the better of his temper. He went up to his daughter, and looked at the child in her arms, anxiously making the sign of the cross over her three times. “God bless her! God bless her!” he cried with emotion. “This little creature is my daughter Luboff,” addressing the prince. “My wife, Helena, died--at her birth; and this is my big daughter Vera, in mourning, as you see; and this, this, oh, this,” pointing to the young man on the divan...
Gavrila Ardalionovitch nodded to the prince and entered the room hastily.
“You shall hear all this directly, gentlemen. I--I--listen!”
That the prince was almost in a fever was no more than the truth. He wandered about the park for a long while, and at last came to himself in a lonely avenue. He was vaguely conscious that he had already paced this particular walk--from that large, dark tree to the bench at the other end--about a hundred yards altogether--at least thirty times backwards and forwards.
“What? Surrender her to _you?_” cried Daria Alexeyevna. “To a fellow who comes and bargains for a wife like a moujik! The prince wishes to marry her, and you--”
“It is not in the least beyond all limits, mamma!” said her daughter, firmly. “I sent the prince a hedgehog this morning, and I wish to hear his opinion of it. Go on, prince.”
“Just about that time, that is, the middle of March, I suddenly felt very much better; this continued for a couple of weeks. I used to go out at dusk. I like the dusk, especially in March, when the night frost begins to harden the day’s puddles, and the gas is burning.
“Oh no; not at all.”
“It was only out of generosity, madame,” he said in a resonant voice, “and because I would not betray a friend in an awkward position, that I did not mention this revision before; though you heard him yourself threatening to kick us down the steps. To clear the matter up, I declare now that I did have recourse to his assistance, and that I paid him six roubles for it. But I did not ask him to correct my style; I simply went to him for information concerning the facts, of which I was ignorant to a great extent, and which he was competent to give. The story of the gaiters, the appetite in the Swiss professor’s house, the substitution of fifty roubles for two hundred and fifty--all such details, in fact, were got from him. I paid him six roubles for them; but he did not correct the style.”
“He has the right--the right--” murmured Burdovsky. “Excuse me, prince, but what are your arrangements?” asked Lebedeff, tipsy and exasperated, going up to Muishkin.
“Listen to me, Keller,” returned the prince. “If I were in your place, I should not acknowledge that unless it were absolutely necessary for some reason. But perhaps you are making yourself out to be worse than you are, purposely?”
“Disgraced you! How?”
“Oh! so he kept his word--there’s a man for you! Well, sit down, please--take that chair. I shall have something to say to you presently. Who are all these with you? The same party? Let them come in and sit down. There’s room on that sofa, there are some chairs and there’s another sofa! Well, why don’t they sit down?”
“That is probably when they fire from a long distance.”
Rogojin was not smiling now; he sat and listened with folded arms, and lips tight compressed.
So saying, she scornfully rose from her seat as though to depart.
“Well, _au revoir!_ Did you observe that he ‘willed’ a copy of his confession to Aglaya Ivanovna?”
“He entered, and shut the door behind him. Then he silently gazed at me and went quickly to the corner of the room where the lamp was burning and sat down underneath it.
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.
“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.”
“Suddenly, just before the whistle, in came two ladies with a little poodle, and sat down opposite to me; not bad-looking women; one was in light blue, the other in black silk. The poodle, a beauty with a silver collar, lay on light blue’s knee. They looked haughtily about, and talked English together. I took no notice, just went on smoking. I observed that the ladies were getting angry--over my cigar, doubtless. One looked at me through her tortoise-shell eyeglass.
“Especially as you know all, eh?”
“All this is very strange and interesting,” said Mrs. Epanchin. “Now let’s leave the donkey and go on to other matters. What are you laughing at, Aglaya? and you too, Adelaida? The prince told us his experiences very cleverly; he saw the donkey himself, and what have you ever seen? _you_ have never been abroad.”
“Why, who else could I possibly suspect? Who else, most outspoken prince?” he replied, with an unctuous smile.
“Now and then I was able to persuade her almost to see light around her again; but she would soon fall, once more, into her old tormenting delusions, and would go so far as to reproach me for placing myself on a pedestal above her (I never had an idea of such a thing!), and informed me, in reply to my proposal of marriage, that she ‘did not want condescending sympathy or help from anybody.’ You saw her last night. You don’t suppose she can be happy among such people as those--you cannot suppose that such society is fit for her? You have no idea how well-educated she is, and what an intellect she has! She astonished me sometimes.”
“Nastasia Philipovna!” lamented Lebedeff again, straining towards the fireplace; but Rogojin dragged him away, and pushed him to the rear once more.
“But could anyone possibly eat sixty monks?” objected the scoffing listeners.
“Quite so; I understand. I understand quite well. You are very--Well, how did she appear to you? What did she look like? No, I don’t want to know anything about her,” said Aglaya, angrily; “don’t interrupt me--”
“At any rate, your uncle has a kind heart,” remarked the prince, who really had to force himself to speak to the nephew, so much did he dislike him.
Prince S. looked as black as night, and was silent and moody. Mrs. Epanchin did not say a word to him all the way home, and he did not seem to observe the fact. Adelaida tried to pump him a little by asking, “who was the uncle they were talking about, and what was it that had happened in Petersburg?” But he had merely muttered something disconnected about “making inquiries,” and that “of course it was all nonsense.” “Oh, of course,” replied Adelaida, and asked no more questions. Aglaya, too, was very quiet; and the only remark she made on the way home was that they were “walking much too fast to be pleasant.”
The prince rose and took off his mantle, revealing a neat enough morning costume--a little worn, but well made. He wore a steel watch chain and from this chain there hung a silver Geneva watch. Fool the prince might be, still, the general’s servant felt that it was not correct for him to continue to converse thus with a visitor, in spite of the fact that the prince pleased him somehow.
“We’re all ready,” said several of his friends. “The troikas [Sledges drawn by three horses abreast.] are at the door, bells and all.”
“What letters?” said the prince, alarmed.
“And what did he mean by that _face_--a face which he so fears, and yet so loves? And meanwhile he really may die, as he says, without seeing Aglaya, and she will never know how devotedly he loves her! Ha, ha, ha! How does the fellow manage to love two of them? Two different kinds of love, I suppose! This is very interesting--poor idiot! What on earth will become of him now?”
The girls generally rose at about nine in the morning in the country; Aglaya, of late, had been in the habit of getting up rather earlier and having a walk in the garden, but not at seven o’clock; about eight or a little later was her usual time.
She went on talking and chatting without a pause, with occasional little bursts of laughter between.
At this they laughed heartily.
By this time some of the visitors had disappeared.
The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna’s consisted of none but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.
“And she gave it you to read herself--_herself?_”
“Don’t deceive me now, prince--tell the truth. All these people persecute me with astounding questions--about you. Is there any ground for all these questions, or not? Come!”
But the mother’s great and continual anxiety was Aglaya. “She is exactly like me--my image in everything,” said Mrs. Epanchin to herself. “A tyrant! A real little demon! A Nihilist! Eccentric, senseless and mischievous! Good Lord, how unhappy she will be!”
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.
“My father’s name was Nicolai Lvovitch.”
“What is that?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, gazing intently at Rogojin, and indicating the paper packet.
A row of orange and lemon trees and jasmines, planted in green tubs, stood on the fairly wide terrace. According to Lebedeff, these trees gave the house a most delightful aspect. Some were there when he bought it, and he was so charmed with the effect that he promptly added to their number. When the tubs containing these plants arrived at the villa and were set in their places, Lebedeff kept running into the street to enjoy the view of the house, and every time he did so the rent to be demanded from the future tenant went up with a bound.
“Not a bit of it; it was a duel to the death, and he was killed.”
There was nothing premeditated, there was not even any conscious purpose in it all, and yet, in spite of everything, the family, although highly respected, was not quite what every highly respected family ought to be. For a long time now Lizabetha Prokofievna had had it in her mind that all the trouble was owing to her “unfortunate character,” and this added to her distress. She blamed her own stupid unconventional “eccentricity.” Always restless, always on the go, she constantly seemed to lose her way, and to get into trouble over the simplest and more ordinary affairs of life.
The prince turned and came back, more confused than ever. When she burst out laughing, he smiled, but his tongue could not form a word as yet. At first, when he had opened the door and saw her standing before him, he had become as pale as death; but now the red blood had rushed back to his cheeks in a torrent.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, he’s in church.”
“If you didn’t mean that, then she has only to go down the steps and walk off, and she need never come back unless she chooses: Ships are burned behind one sometimes, and one doesn’t care to return whence one came. Life need not consist only of lunches, and dinners, and Prince S’s. It strikes me you take Aglaya Ivanovna for some conventional boarding-school girl. I said so to her, and she quite agreed with me. Wait till seven or eight o’clock. In your place I would send someone there to keep watch, so as to seize the exact moment when she steps out of the house. Send Colia. He’ll play the spy with pleasure--for you at least. Ha, ha, ha!”
“Listen to me, Lebedeff,” said the prince in a decided voice, turning his back on the young man. “I know by experience that when you choose, you can be business-like... I have very little time to spare, and if you... By the way--excuse me--what is your Christian name? I have forgotten it.”
And as to her face, could it inspire nothing but passion? Could her face inspire passion at all now? Oh, it inspired suffering, grief, overwhelming grief of the soul! A poignant, agonizing memory swept over the prince’s heart.
“However, within three weeks my determination was taken, owing to a very strange circumstance.
“The thought steps in, whether one likes it or no, that death is so terrible and so powerful, that even He who conquered it in His miracles during life was unable to triumph over it at the last. He who called to Lazarus, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and the dead man lived--He was now Himself a prey to nature and death. Nature appears to one, looking at this picture, as some huge, implacable, dumb monster; or still better--a stranger simile--some enormous mechanical engine of modern days which has seized and crushed and swallowed up a great and invaluable Being, a Being worth nature and all her laws, worth the whole earth, which was perhaps created merely for the sake of the advent of that Being.
“Seriously? Then are you a coward?”
Gania--confused, annoyed, furious--took up his portrait, and turned to the prince with a nasty smile on his face.
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”