“But I did not allow it,” murmured the wretched prince.
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.
“Would you believe,” said the mistress of the house, suddenly addressing the prince, “would you believe that that man has not even spared my orphan children? He has stolen everything I possessed, sold everything, pawned everything; he has left me nothing--nothing! What am I to do with your IOU’s, you cunning, unscrupulous rogue? Answer, devourer! answer, heart of stone! How shall I feed my orphans? with what shall I nourish them? And now he has come, he is drunk! He can scarcely stand. How, oh how, have I offended the Almighty, that He should bring this curse upon me! Answer, you worthless villain, answer!”
“Get away then, all of you. I shall do as I like with my own--don’t meddle! Ferdishenko, make up the fire, quick!”
Lizabetha Prokofievna’s face brightened up, too; so did that of General Epanchin.
“Of course, of course! How was it?”
A certain strangeness and impatience in his manner impressed the prince very forcibly.
“Nastasia Philipovna.” said the prince, quietly, and with deep emotion, “I said before that I shall esteem your consent to be my wife as a great honour to myself, and shall consider that it is you who will honour me, not I you, by our marriage. You laughed at these words, and others around us laughed as well; I heard them. Very likely I expressed myself funnily, and I may have looked funny, but, for all that, I believe I understand where honour lies, and what I said was but the literal truth. You were about to ruin yourself just now, irrevocably; you would never have forgiven yourself for so doing afterwards; and yet, you are absolutely blameless. It is impossible that your life should be altogether ruined at your age. What matter that Rogojin came bargaining here, and that Gavrila Ardalionovitch would have deceived you if he could? Why do you continually remind us of these facts? I assure you once more that very few could find it in them to act as you have acted this day. As for your wish to go with Rogojin, that was simply the idea of a delirious and suffering brain. You are still quite feverish; you ought to be in bed, not here. You know quite well that if you had gone with Rogojin, you would have become a washer-woman next day, rather than stay with him. You are proud, Nastasia Philipovna, and perhaps you have really suffered so much that you imagine yourself to be a desperately guilty woman. You require a great deal of petting and looking after, Nastasia Philipovna, and I will do this. I saw your portrait this morning, and it seemed quite a familiar face to me; it seemed to me that the portrait-face was calling to me for help. I--I shall respect you all my life, Nastasia Philipovna,” concluded the prince, as though suddenly recollecting himself, and blushing to think of the sort of company before whom he had said all this.
“Nastasia Philipovna!” lamented Lebedeff again, straining towards the fireplace; but Rogojin dragged him away, and pushed him to the rear once more.
“He declares that your humbug of a landlord revised this gentleman’s article--the article that was read aloud just now--in which you got such a charming dressing-down.”
It was a fact that Lebedeff, though he was so anxious to keep everyone else from disturbing the patient, was continually in and out of the prince’s room himself. He invariably began by opening the door a crack and peering in to see if the prince was there, or if he had escaped; then he would creep softly up to the arm-chair, sometimes making Muishkin jump by his sudden appearance. He always asked if the patient wanted anything, and when the latter replied that he only wanted to be left in peace, he would turn away obediently and make for the door on tip-toe, with deprecatory gestures to imply that he had only just looked in, that he would not speak a word, and would go away and not intrude again; which did not prevent him from reappearing in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. Colia had free access to the prince, at which Lebedeff was quite disgusted and indignant. He would listen at the door for half an hour at a time while the two were talking. Colia found this out, and naturally told the prince of his discovery.
The prince observed with great surprise, as he approached his villa, accompanied by Rogojin, that a large number of people were assembled on his verandah, which was brilliantly lighted up. The company seemed merry and were noisily laughing and talking--even quarrelling, to judge from the sounds. At all events they were clearly enjoying themselves, and the prince observed further on closer investigation--that all had been drinking champagne. To judge from the lively condition of some of the party, it was to be supposed that a considerable quantity of champagne had been consumed already.
“Oh, don’t apologize. No, I don’t think I have either talents or special abilities of any kind; on the contrary. I have always been an invalid and unable to learn much. As for bread, I should think--”
The prince rose.
“Mother, this is disgraceful!” cried Aglaya.
Sure enough, the train was just steaming in as he spoke.
“Those are the two hundred and fifty roubles you dared to send him as a charity, by the hands of Tchebaroff,” explained Doktorenko.
“What are you grinning at my father’s portrait again for?” asked Rogojin, suddenly. He was carefully observing every change in the expression of the prince’s face.
“Not at all, gentlemen, not at all! Your presence is absolutely necessary to me tonight,” said Nastasia, significantly.
Nearly everyone observed the little band advancing, and all pretended not to see or notice them, except a few young fellows who exchanged glances and smiled, saying something to one another in whispers.
“How extremely stupid!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, giving back the letter abruptly. “It was not worth the trouble of reading. Why are you smiling?”
“I received your letter, Lef Nicolaievitch--what’s the good of all that?--It’s no use, you know. I’ve come to you from _her_,--she bade me tell you that she must see you, she has something to say to you. She told me to find you today.”
Here Colia handed him a chair, and he subsided into it, breathless with rage.
“Yes, she is pretty,” she said at last, “even very pretty. I have seen her twice, but only at a distance. So you admire this kind of beauty, do you?” she asked the prince, suddenly.
“As soon as we reach home give it to me to read.”
“You are going to Pavlofsk too?” asked the prince sharply. “Everybody seems to be going there. Have you a house in that neighbourhood?”
“Why are you ashamed of your stories the moment after you have told them?” asked Aglaya, suddenly.
“Better read on without any more beating about the bush,” said Gania.
“Don’t apologize,” said Nastasia, laughing; “you spoil the whole originality of the thing. I think what they say about you must be true, that you are so original.--So you think me perfection, do you?”
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“I will think about it,” said the prince dreamily, and went off.
“No, I don’t think that. I know you don’t love me.”
“From the portrait!”
The prince made one step forward, and then turned round.
But there was something in the appearance of both the ladies and their admirers which was peculiar, quite different for that of the rest of the public assembled around the orchestra.
“I believe it is the absolute truth.”
Colia did not understand the position. He tried severity with his father, as they stood in the street after the latter had cursed the household, hoping to bring him round that way.
“But what is it all about? Tell me, for Heaven’s sake! Cannot you understand how nearly it touches me? Why are they blackening Evgenie Pavlovitch’s reputation?”
“It was to be fifty if I won the case, only five if I lost,” interrupted Lebedeff, speaking in a low tone, a great contrast to his earlier manner.
“Oh--come! Surely you must know that there is to be a meeting today between Nastasia and Aglaya Ivanovna, and that Nastasia has been sent for on purpose, through Rogojin, from St. Petersburg? It has been brought about by invitation of Aglaya Ivanovna and my own efforts, and Nastasia is at this moment with Rogojin, not far from here--at Dana Alexeyevna’s--that curious friend of hers; and to this questionable house Aglaya Ivanovna is to proceed for a friendly chat with Nastasia Philipovna, and for the settlement of several problems. They are going to play at arithmetic--didn’t you know about it? Word of honour?”
They walked silently, and said scarcely a word all the way. He only noticed that she seemed to know the road very well; and once, when he thought it better to go by a certain lane, and remarked to her that it would be quieter and less public, she only said, “it’s all the same,” and went on.
“Oh, come--nonsense!” cried Gania; “if you did not go shaming us all over the town, things might be better for all parties.”
“No, no! I can’t announce a visitor like yourself without the secretary. Besides the general said he was not to be disturbed--he is with the Colonel C--. Gavrila Ardalionovitch goes in without announcing.”
There was another witness, who, though standing at the door motionless and bewildered himself, still managed to remark Gania’s death-like pallor, and the dreadful change that had come over his face. This witness was the prince, who now advanced in alarm and muttered to Gania:
With these words they all moved off towards the drawing-room, where another surprise awaited them. Aglaya had not only not laughed, as she had feared, but had gone to the prince rather timidly, and said to him:
“I will explain matters to you. Five weeks ago I received a visit from Tchebaroff, your agent, Mr. Burdovsky. You have given a very flattering description of him in your article, Mr. Keller,” he continued, turning to the boxer with a smile, “but he did not please me at all. I saw at once that Tchebaroff was the moving spirit in the matter, and, to speak frankly, I thought he might have induced you, Mr. Burdovsky, to make this claim, by taking advantage of your simplicity.”
But one very curious fact was that all the shame and vexation and mortification which he felt over the accident were less powerful than the deep impression of the almost supernatural truth of his premonition. He stood still in alarm--in almost superstitious alarm, for a moment; then all mists seemed to clear away from his eyes; he was conscious of nothing but light and joy and ecstasy; his breath came and went; but the moment passed. Thank God it was not that! He drew a long breath and looked around.
“What extraordinary people they are!” thought Prince S., for perhaps the hundredth time since he had entered into intimate relations with the family; but--he liked these “extraordinary people,” all the same. As for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch himself, Prince S. did not seem quite to like him, somehow. He was decidedly preoccupied and a little disturbed as they all started off.
Lebedeff grinned and wriggled.
An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
“Yes, I am Rogojin, Parfen Rogojin.”
“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.
She became so excited and agitated during all these explanations and confessions that General Epanchin was highly gratified, and considered the matter satisfactorily arranged once for all. But the once bitten Totski was twice shy, and looked for hidden snakes among the flowers. However, the special point to which the two friends particularly trusted to bring about their object (namely, Gania’s attractiveness for Nastasia Philipovna), stood out more and more prominently; the pourparlers had commenced, and gradually even Totski began to believe in the possibility of success.
“Yes, by-the-by,” whispered the prince, hurriedly and excitedly as before, as though he had just seized hold of an idea and was afraid of losing it again. “I--I wanted those cards! They say you played cards with her?”
“Only on condition that he has a napkin under his chin at lunch, then,” said Mrs. Epanchin, “and let Fedor, or Mavra, stand behind him while he eats. Is he quiet when he has these fits? He doesn’t show violence, does he?”
“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.
Exclamations arose on all sides.
The two old gentlemen looked quite alarmed. The old general (Epanchin’s chief) sat and glared at the prince in severe displeasure. The colonel sat immovable. Even the German poet grew a little pale, though he wore his usual artificial smile as he looked around to see what the others would do.
“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”
“The urchin, I tell you!”
“I do _not_ boast! You shall have a hundred thousand, this very day. Ptitsin, get the money, you gay usurer! Take what you like for it, but get it by the evening! I’ll show that I’m in earnest!” cried Rogojin, working himself up into a frenzy of excitement.
“‘So much depends upon your uncle,’ I said. ‘And besides we have always been enemies, Bachmatoff; and as you are a generous sort of fellow, I thought you would not refuse my request because I was your enemy!’ I added with irony.
These exclamations but feebly expressed the profound bewilderment into which the prince’s words had plunged Burdovsky’s companions.
“Perhaps, perhaps! I am not worthy of him, I know. But I think you are lying, all the same. He cannot hate me, and he cannot have said so. I am ready to forgive you, in consideration of your position; but I confess I thought better of you. I thought you were wiser, and more beautiful, too; I did, indeed! Well, take your treasure! See, he is gazing at you, he can’t recollect himself. Take him, but on one condition; go away at once, this instant!”
Nina Alexandrovna and her daughter were both seated in the drawing-room, engaged in knitting, and talking to a visitor, Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsin.
“Yes, your brother does not attract me much.”
There was no need to repeat that she was serious. The general, like all drunkards, was extremely emotional and easily touched by recollections of his better days. He rose and walked quietly to the door, so meekly that Mrs. Epanchin was instantly sorry for him.
“Speak away, I am listening.”
Her usually thoughtful, pale face, which all this while had been so little in harmony with the jests and laughter which she had seemed to put on for the occasion, was now evidently agitated by new feelings, though she tried to conceal the fact and to look as though she were as ready as ever for jesting and irony.
“I assure you, when I came in here just now and saw your kind faces (I can read faces well) my heart felt light for the first time since that moment of parting. I think I must be one of those who are born to be in luck, for one does not often meet with people whom one feels he can love from the first sight of their faces; and yet, no sooner do I step out of the railway carriage than I happen upon you!
“Oh, I’ll write you a new one in half a minute,” said the prince, “if you like!”
“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?
“But is it true that I have but a fortnight of life left to me? I know I told some of my friends that Doctor B. had informed me that this was the case; but I now confess that I lied; B. has not even seen me. However, a week ago, I called in a medical student, Kislorodoff, who is a Nationalist, an Atheist, and a Nihilist, by conviction, and that is why I had him. I needed a man who would tell me the bare truth without any humbug or ceremony--and so he did--indeed, almost with pleasure (which I thought was going a little too far).
Gania was silent and merely looked contemptuously at him.
“We shall see whether I understand or no!” said Gania, enigmatically. “But I shouldn’t like her to know all about father, all the same. I thought the prince would manage to hold his tongue about this, at least. He prevented Lebedeff spreading the news--he wouldn’t even tell me all when I asked him--”
“An old peasant woman opened the door; she was busy lighting the ‘samovar’ in a tiny kitchen. She listened silently to my questions, did not understand a word, of course, and opened another door leading into a little bit of a room, low and scarcely furnished at all, but with a large, wide bed in it, hung with curtains. On this bed lay one Terentich, as the woman called him, drunk, it appeared to me. On the table was an end of candle in an iron candlestick, and a half-bottle of vodka, nearly finished. Terentich muttered something to me, and signed towards the next room. The old woman had disappeared, so there was nothing for me to do but to open the door indicated. I did so, and entered the next room.
“Well, prince, your arithmetic is not up to much, or else you are mighty clever at it, though you affect the air of a simpleton,” said Lebedeff’s nephew.
“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?”
“What? What hopes?” cried Colia; “you surely don’t mean Aglaya?--oh, no!--”
Now this was precisely what Lebedeff had made up his mind to do in the last three minutes. Not that he had any difficulty in finding a tenant; in fact the house was occupied at present by a chance visitor, who had told Lebedeff that he would perhaps take it for the summer months. The clerk knew very well that this “_perhaps_” meant “_certainly_,” but as he thought he could make more out of a tenant like the prince, he felt justified in speaking vaguely about the present inhabitant’s intentions. “This is quite a coincidence,” thought he, and when the subject of price was mentioned, he made a gesture with his hand, as if to waive away a question of so little importance.
“Speak, Ivan Fedorovitch! What are we to do?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, irritably. “Please break your majestic silence! I tell you, if you cannot come to some decision, I will stay here all night myself. You have tyrannized over me enough, you autocrat!”
The prince gazed into his face with pleasure, but still seemed to have no power to speak. His breath failed him. The old man’s face pleased him greatly.
Vainly trying to comfort himself with these reflections, the prince reached the Ismailofsky barracks more dead than alive.
“Let him go on reading at all costs!” ordered Lizabetha Prokofievna, evidently preserving her composure by a desperate effort. “Prince, if the reading is stopped, you and I will quarrel.”
“Why, no, it is hardly the same,” remarked Gavrila Ardalionovitch, with an air of ingenuous surprise.
“I am only repeating your own exclamation!” said Colia. “A month ago you were turning over the pages of your Don Quixote, and suddenly called out ‘there is nothing better than the poor knight.’ I don’t know whom you were referring to, of course, whether to Don Quixote, or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or someone else, but you certainly said these words, and afterwards there was a long conversation...”
He only stayed at his country seat a few days on this occasion, but he had time to make his arrangements. Great changes took place in the child’s education; a good governess was engaged, a Swiss lady of experience and culture. For four years this lady resided in the house with little Nastia, and then the education was considered complete. The governess took her departure, and another lady came down to fetch Nastia, by Totski’s instructions. The child was now transported to another of Totski’s estates in a distant part of the country. Here she found a delightful little house, just built, and prepared for her reception with great care and taste; and here she took up her abode together with the lady who had accompanied her from her old home. In the house there were two experienced maids, musical instruments of all sorts, a charming “young lady’s library,” pictures, paint-boxes, a lap-dog, and everything to make life agreeable. Within a fortnight Totski himself arrived, and from that time he appeared to have taken a great fancy to this part of the world and came down each summer, staying two and three months at a time. So passed four years peacefully and happily, in charming surroundings.
“As for yesterday’s episode,” continued Gania, “of course it was pre-arranged.” Here he paused, as though expecting to be asked how he knew that. But the prince did not inquire. Concerning Evgenie Pavlovitch, Gania stated, without being asked, that he believed the former had not known Nastasia Philipovna in past years, but that he had probably been introduced to her by somebody in the park during these four days. As to the question of the IOU’s she had spoken of, there might easily be something in that; for though Evgenie was undoubtedly a man of wealth, yet certain of his affairs were equally undoubtedly in disorder. Arrived at this interesting point, Gania suddenly broke off, and said no more about Nastasia’s prank of the previous evening.
“Well, really, you know”--(silence)--“of course, you know all this is very strange, if true, which I cannot deny; but”--(silence).--“But, on the other hand, if one looks things in the face, you know--upon my honour, the prince is a rare good fellow--and--and--and--well, his name, you know--your family name--all this looks well, and perpetuates the name and title and all that--which at this moment is not standing so high as it might--from one point of view--don’t you know? The world, the world is the world, of course--and people will talk--and--and--the prince has property, you know--if it is not very large--and then he--he--” (Continued silence, and collapse of the general.)
“Tomorrow morning, I shall be at the green bench in the park at seven, and shall wait there for you. I have made up my mind to speak to you about a most important matter which closely concerns yourself.
“And you wouldn’t run away?”
It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
This is the reason why he was so unwilling to take lunch (on the morning upon which we took up this narrative) with the rest of his family. Before the prince’s arrival he had made up his mind to plead business, and “cut” the meal; which simply meant running away.
“Well, I’m going,” he said, at last, preparing to recross the road. “You go along here as before; we will keep to different sides of the road; it’s better so, you’ll see.”
And so they took their departure; but in this hasty and kindly designed visit there was hidden a fund of cruelty which Lizabetha Prokofievna never dreamed of. In the words “as usual,” and again in her added, “mine, at all events,” there seemed an ominous knell of some evil to come.
As before, Rogojin walked in advance of his troop, who followed him with mingled self-assertion and timidity. They were specially frightened of Nastasia Philipovna herself, for some reason.
“Why, of course,” replied the clerk, gesticulating with his hands.
The sisters, who also appeared to be in high spirits, never tired of glancing at Aglaya and the prince, who were walking in front. It was evident that their younger sister was a thorough puzzle to them both.