“My father’s name was Nicolai Lvovitch.”
“Agreed that all this may be true; but we need not discuss a subject which belongs to the domain of theology.”
“I am assuredly noble-minded, and chivalrous to a degree!” said Keller, much softened. “But, do you know, this nobility of mind exists in a dream, if one may put it so? It never appears in practice or deed. Now, why is that? I can never understand.”
“With that she did as she had said she would; she went to bed, and did not lock her door. In the morning she came out. ‘Are you quite mad?’ she said, sharply. ‘Why, you’ll die of hunger like this.’ ‘Forgive me,’ I said. ‘No, I won’t, and I won’t marry you. I’ve said it. Surely you haven’t sat in this chair all night without sleeping?’ ‘I didn’t sleep,’ I said. ‘H’m! how sensible of you. And are you going to have no breakfast or dinner today?’ ‘I told you I wouldn’t. Forgive me!’ ‘You’ve no idea how unbecoming this sort of thing is to you,’ she said, ‘it’s like putting a saddle on a cow’s back. Do you think you are frightening me? My word, what a dreadful thing that you should sit here and eat no food! How terribly frightened I am!’ She wasn’t angry long, and didn’t seem to remember my offence at all. I was surprised, for she is a vindictive, resentful woman--but then I thought that perhaps she despised me too much to feel any resentment against me. And that’s the truth.
“I see what you are driving at,” said Nastasia Philipovna. “You imply that the prince is after the seventy-five thousand roubles--I quite understand you. Mr. Totski, I forgot to say, ‘Take your seventy-five thousand roubles’--I don’t want them. I let you go free for nothing--take your freedom! You must need it. Nine years and three months’ captivity is enough for anybody. Tomorrow I shall start afresh--today I am a free agent for the first time in my life.
“She’s mad surely, isn’t she?” the general appealed to Totski.
“You must observe,” insisted the general, “that my experience was two years earlier.”
“Has anyone a coin about them? Give me a twenty-copeck piece, somebody!” And Hippolyte leapt from his chair.
“Just so, prince, just so. How well you bring out that fact! Because your own heart is good!” cried the ecstatic old gentleman, and, strangely enough, real tears glistened in his eyes. “Yes, prince, it was a wonderful spectacle. And, do you know, I all but went off to Paris, and should assuredly have shared his solitary exile with him; but, alas, our destinies were otherwise ordered! We parted, he to his island, where I am sure he thought of the weeping child who had embraced him so affectionately at parting in Moscow; and I was sent off to the cadet corps, where I found nothing but roughness and harsh discipline. Alas, my happy days were done!”
“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”
“Ferdishenko--either tell us your story, or be quiet, and mind your own business. You exhaust all patience,” cuttingly and irritably remarked Nastasia Philipovna.
“I have long sought the honour and opportunity of meeting you--much-esteemed Lef Nicolaievitch,” he murmured, pressing the prince’s hand very hard, almost painfully so; “long--very long.”
“Not those very words. She only just had time to whisper as she went by; but by the way she looked at me I knew it was important. She looked at me in a way that made my heart stop beating.”
“You see, Lebedeff, a mistake here would be a dreadful thing. This Ferdishenko, I would not say a word against him, of course; but, who knows? Perhaps it really was he? I mean he really does seem to be a more likely man than... than any other.”
“If so, you are a heartless man!” cried Aglaya. “As if you can’t see that it is not myself she loves, but you, you, and only you! Surely you have not remarked everything else in her, and only not _this?_ Do you know what these letters mean? They mean jealousy, sir--nothing but pure jealousy! She--do you think she will ever really marry this Rogojin, as she says here she will? She would take her own life the day after you and I were married.”
“You are wonderfully polite. You know he is greatly improved. He loves me better than his life. He let his hand burn before my very eyes in order to prove to me that he loved me better than his life!”
“Oh, be calm--be calm! Get up!” he entreated, in despair.
“Do you forgive me all--_all_, besides the vase, I mean?” said the prince, rising from his seat once more, but the old gentleman caught his hand and drew him down again--he seemed unwilling to let him go.
“Oh, I was told. Of course I don’t altogether believe it. I am very sorry that I should have had to say this, because I assure you I don’t believe it myself; it is all nonsense, of course. It was stupid of me to say anything about it.”
“And did you learn science and all that, with your professor over there?” asked the black-haired passenger.
“How annoying!” exclaimed the prince. “I thought... Tell me, is he...”
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.
The evidence of the porter went further than anything else towards the success of Lebedeff in gaining the assistance of the police. He declared that he had seen Rogojin return to the house last night, accompanied by a friend, and that both had gone upstairs very secretly and cautiously. After this there was no hesitation about breaking open the door, since it could not be got open in any other way.
“What do you say, sir?” growled the general, taking a step towards him.
“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.”
“It was just a minute before the execution,” began the prince, readily, carried away by the recollection and evidently forgetting everything else in a moment; “just at the instant when he stepped off the ladder on to the scaffold. He happened to look in my direction: I saw his eyes and understood all, at once--but how am I to describe it? I do so wish you or somebody else could draw it, you, if possible. I thought at the time what a picture it would make. You must imagine all that went before, of course, all--all. He had lived in the prison for some time and had not expected that the execution would take place for at least a week yet--he had counted on all the formalities and so on taking time; but it so happened that his papers had been got ready quickly. At five o’clock in the morning he was asleep--it was October, and at five in the morning it was cold and dark. The governor of the prison comes in on tip-toe and touches the sleeping man’s shoulder gently. He starts up. ‘What is it?’ he says. ‘The execution is fixed for ten o’clock.’ He was only just awake, and would not believe at first, but began to argue that his papers would not be out for a week, and so on. When he was wide awake and realized the truth, he became very silent and argued no more--so they say; but after a bit he said: ‘It comes very hard on one so suddenly’ and then he was silent again and said nothing.
“Whom did you hear it from?” asked Aglaya, alarmed. “Rogojin said something about it yesterday, but nothing definite.”
“Ferdishenko--either tell us your story, or be quiet, and mind your own business. You exhaust all patience,” cuttingly and irritably remarked Nastasia Philipovna.
“She died very soon; I had thought she would live much longer. The day before her death I went to see her for the last time, just before sunset. I think she recognized me, for she pressed my hand.
The prince sat down on a chair, and watched him in alarm. Half an hour went by.
“‘Why, what on earth can have possessed you to come and see _me_, Terentieff?’ he cried, with his usual pleasant, sometimes audacious, but never offensive familiarity, which I liked in reality, but for which I also detested him. ‘Why what’s the matter?’ he cried in alarm. ‘Are you ill?’
The prince observed that he was trembling all over.
“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.
“I have told you all now, and of course you understand what I wish of you.”
He opened his own door.
“Come along,” he whispered.
“Dear me, there’s nothing so very curious about the prince dropping in, after all,” remarked Ferdishenko.
“Prince, mother begs you to come to her,” said Colia, appearing at the door.
“The prince is formally engaged to her--that’s settled. The elder sisters told me about it. Aglaya has agreed. They don’t attempt to conceal it any longer; you know how mysterious and secret they have all been up to now. Adelaida’s wedding is put off again, so that both can be married on one day. Isn’t that delightfully romantic? Somebody ought to write a poem on it. Sit down and write an ode instead of tearing up and down like that. This evening Princess Bielokonski is to arrive; she comes just in time--they have a party tonight. He is to be presented to old Bielokonski, though I believe he knows her already; probably the engagement will be openly announced. They are only afraid that he may knock something down, or trip over something when he comes into the room. It would be just like him.”
We have seen, however, that the general paid a visit to Lizabetha Prokofievna and caused trouble there, the final upshot being that he frightened Mrs. Epanchin, and angered her by bitter hints as to his son Gania.
“That you are rushing madly into the undertaking, and that you would do well to think it over again. It is more than possible that Varvara Ardalionovna is right.”
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
The amiable and undoubtedly witty Prince N. could not but feel that he was as a sun, risen for one night only to shine upon the Epanchin drawing-room. He accounted them immeasurably his inferiors, and it was this feeling which caused his special amiability and delightful ease and grace towards them. He knew very well that he must tell some story this evening for the edification of the company, and led up to it with the inspiration of anticipatory triumph.
“Why? Because you have suffered more than we have?”
“H’m! Well, you may be a good reader of riddles but you are wrong _there_, at all events. I’ll remind you of this, tonight.”
“What are you looking so surprised about, my friend?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, suddenly. “Did you suppose he was stupider than yourself, and was incapable of forming his own opinions, or what?”
“Then it must be one of the guests.”
“‘I’ll do it--I’ll do it, of course!’ he said. ‘I shall attack my uncle about it tomorrow morning, and I’m very glad you told me the story. But how was it that you thought of coming to me about it, Terentieff?’
“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.
“Do you know for certain that he was at home last night?”
Ivan Fedorovitch held out his hand to Muishkin, but ran after his wife, who was leaving with every sign of violent indignation, before he had time to shake it. Adelaida, her fiance, and Alexandra, said good-bye to their host with sincere friendliness. Evgenie Pavlovitch did the same, and he alone seemed in good spirits.
“Gentlemen, I did not know you were there; I have only just been informed, I assure you,” repeated Muishkin.
“What, after yesterday? Wasn’t I honest with you?”
“Yes,” said the prince, squeezing the word out with difficulty owing to the dreadful beating of his heart.
“I don’t think they often kill each other at duels.”
“I am not laughing, Nastasia Philipovna; I am only listening with all my attention,” said Totski, with dignity.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” said the prince, joyfully. “I was so afraid.”
“Well, good-bye,” said Rogojin. “I’m off tomorrow too, you know. Remember me kindly! By-the-by,” he added, turning round sharply again, “did you answer her question just now? Are you happy, or not?”
“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?
“Hurrah!” cried a number of voices. A rush was made for the wine by Rogojin’s followers, though, even among them, there seemed some sort of realization that the situation had changed. Rogojin stood and looked on, with an incredulous smile, screwing up one side of his mouth.
“I’ll tell you what, my friend,” cried Mrs. Epanchin, of a sudden, “here are we all sitting here and imagining we are very clever, and perhaps laughing at the prince, some of us, and meanwhile he has received a letter this very day in which that same claimant renounces his claim, and begs the prince’s pardon. There! _we_ don’t often get that sort of letter; and yet we are not ashamed to walk with our noses in the air before him.”
“What would I show them?
The prince was startled, and reflected for a moment.
“Yes, unless she has gone to Pavlofsk: the fine weather may have tempted her, perhaps, into the country, with Daria Alexeyevna. ‘I am quite free,’ she says. Only yesterday she boasted of her freedom to Nicolai Ardalionovitch--a bad sign,” added Lebedeff, smiling.
It was the first time they had met since the encounter on the staircase at the hotel.
“I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we came in for that.”
“Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!” Aglaya struck in, suddenly, seizing his hand in hers, and gazing at him almost in terror.
“Who? I?--good and honest?”
By the end of the third day the incident of the eccentric lady and Evgenie Pavlovitch had attained enormous and mysterious proportions in his mind. He sorrowfully asked himself whether he had been the cause of this new “monstrosity,” or was it... but he refrained from saying who else might be in fault. As for the letters N.P.B., he looked on that as a harmless joke, a mere childish piece of mischief--so childish that he felt it would be shameful, almost dishonourable, to attach any importance to it.
First, with a sad smile, and then with a twinkle of merriment in her eyes, she admitted that such a storm as that of five years ago was now quite out of the question. She said that she had long since changed her views of things, and recognized that facts must be taken into consideration in spite of the feelings of the heart. What was done was done and ended, and she could not understand why Totski should still feel alarmed.
In the manner of one with long hours before him, he began his history; but after a few incoherent words he jumped to the conclusion, which was that “having ceased to believe in God Almighty, he had lost every vestige of morality, and had gone so far as to commit a theft.” “Could you imagine such a thing?” said he.
“Be quiet, Gania,” cried Colia. “Shut up, you fool!”
The prince thought he knew what Gania meant by “such a moment.”
“But the universal necessity of living, of drinking, of eating--in short, the whole scientific conviction that this necessity can only be satisfied by universal co-operation and the solidarity of interests--is, it seems to me, a strong enough idea to serve as a basis, so to speak, and a ‘spring of life,’ for humanity in future centuries,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch, now thoroughly roused.
“All this is pure philosophy,” said Adelaida. “You are a philosopher, prince, and have come here to instruct us in your views.”
“You know quite well, but you are pretending to be ignorant,” said Aglaya, very low, with her eyes on the ground.
“What nonsense!” Lebedeff’s nephew interrupted violently.
“Aha! do--by all means! if you tan my hide you won’t turn me away from your society. You’ll bind me to you, with your lash, for ever. Ha, ha! here we are at the station, though.”
“Better read on without any more beating about the bush,” said Gania.
“Lef Nicolaievitch, my friend, come along with me.” It was Rogojin.
“Sit down,” said Rogojin; “let’s rest a bit.” There was silence for a moment.
“None--none whatever,” agreed the prince hastily. “I admit you are right there, but it was involuntary, and I immediately said to myself that my personal feelings had nothing to do with it,--that if I thought it right to satisfy the demands of Mr. Burdovsky, out of respect for the memory of Pavlicheff, I ought to do so in any case, whether I esteemed Mr. Burdovsky or not. I only mentioned this, gentlemen, because it seemed so unnatural to me for a son to betray his mother’s secret in such a way. In short, that is what convinced me that Tchebaroff must be a rogue, and that he had induced Mr. Burdovsky to attempt this fraud.”
The sufferer was immediately taken to his room, and though he partially regained consciousness, he lay long in a semi-dazed condition.
“I hardly knew him; he is much changed, and for the better!”
“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
On the morning following the bacchanalian songs and quarrels recorded above, as the prince stepped out of the house at about eleven o’clock, the general suddenly appeared before him, much agitated.
Nastasia Philipovna was quite capable of ruining herself, and even of perpetrating something which would send her to Siberia, for the mere pleasure of injuring a man for whom she had developed so inhuman a sense of loathing and contempt. He had sufficient insight to understand that she valued nothing in the world--herself least of all--and he made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was a coward in some respects. For instance, if he had been told that he would be stabbed at the altar, or publicly insulted, he would undoubtedly have been frightened; but not so much at the idea of being murdered, or wounded, or insulted, as at the thought that if such things were to happen he would be made to look ridiculous in the eyes of society.
“Well done, prince, capital!” cried Aglaya, who entered the room at this moment. “Thank you for assuming that I would not demean myself with lies. Come, is that enough, mamma, or do you intend to put any more questions?”
“Yes, I brought him down from town just after you had left the house.”
The prince was very nervous as he reached the outer door; but he did his best to encourage himself with the reflection that the worst thing that could happen to him would be that he would not be received, or, perhaps, received, then laughed at for coming.
“I leave Lebedeff’s house, my dear prince, because I have quarrelled with this person. I broke with him last night, and am very sorry that I did not do so before. I expect respect, prince, even from those to whom I give my heart, so to speak. Prince, I have often given away my heart, and am nearly always deceived. This person was quite unworthy of the gift.”
“Napoleon was walking up and down with folded arms. I could not take my eyes off his face--my heart beat loudly and painfully.
“Oh! it’s all the same to me now--_now!_ But at that time I would soak my pillow at night with tears of mortification, and tear at my blanket in my rage and fury. Oh, how I longed at that time to be turned out--_me_, eighteen years old, poor, half-clothed, turned out into the street, quite alone, without lodging, without work, without a crust of bread, without relations, without a single acquaintance, in some large town--hungry, beaten (if you like), but in good health--and _then_ I would show them--
“Yes, a candle! What’s there improbable about that?”
“I must see it!” cried Mrs. Epanchin. “Where is the portrait? If she gave it to him, he must have it; and he is still in the study. He never leaves before four o’clock on Wednesdays. Send for Gavrila Ardalionovitch at once. No, I don’t long to see _him_ so much. Look here, dear prince, _be_ so kind, will you? Just step to the study and fetch this portrait! Say we want to look at it. Please do this for me, will you?”
“N-no! don’t marry him!” he whispered at last, drawing his breath with an effort.
The prince would never so much as suspect such a thing in the delight of his first impression.
“What an extraordinary man you are! I wonder at you!” Rogojin laughed sarcastically.
“N-no: I have not been these three last days.”