The prince immediately began to tell him, eagerly and joyfully, how he had but the moment before expected to see him in the dark passage of the hotel.
Gania was evidently much alarmed at the idea that the prince would not consent to take his note, and he looked at him now with an expression of absolute entreaty.
“This page of the album, framed in gold, hung on the wall of my sister’s drawing-room all her life, in the most conspicuous place, till the day of her death; where it is now, I really don’t know. Heavens! it’s two o’clock! _How_ I have kept you, prince! It is really most unpardonable of me.”
“My first impression was a very strong one,” repeated the prince. “When they took me away from Russia, I remember I passed through many German towns and looked out of the windows, but did not trouble so much as to ask questions about them. This was after a long series of fits. I always used to fall into a sort of torpid condition after such a series, and lost my memory almost entirely; and though I was not altogether without reason at such times, yet I had no logical power of thought. This would continue for three or four days, and then I would recover myself again. I remember my melancholy was intolerable; I felt inclined to cry; I sat and wondered and wondered uncomfortably; the consciousness that everything was strange weighed terribly upon me; I could understand that it was all foreign and strange. I recollect I awoke from this state for the first time at Basle, one evening; the bray of a donkey aroused me, a donkey in the town market. I saw the donkey and was extremely pleased with it, and from that moment my head seemed to clear.”
“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--”
“What is it all about?” asked the prince, frowning. His head ached, and he felt sure that Lebedeff was trying to cheat him in some way, and only talking to put off the explanation that he had come for.
The prince was beside 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).
At all events when, after many hours, the door was opened and people thronged in, they found the murderer unconscious and in a raging fever. The prince was sitting by him, motionless, and each time that the sick man gave a laugh, or a shout, he hastened to pass his own trembling hand over his companion’s hair and cheeks, as though trying to soothe and quiet him. But alas! he understood nothing of what was said to him, and recognized none of those who surrounded him.
“You are alone, aren’t you,--not married?”
He wished to add that he was unworthy of being asked for forgiveness by her, but paused. Perhaps he did understand Aglaya’s sentence about “absurdity which meant nothing,” and like the strange fellow that he was, rejoiced in the words.
“Oh dear no, you can be perfectly easy on that score. I have quite another matter on hand.”
Colia broke loose, seized his father by the shoulders, and stared into his eyes with frenzied gaze. The old man had grown livid--his lips were shaking, convulsions were passing over his features. Suddenly he leant over and began to sink slowly into Colia’s arms.
“Father is a drunkard and a thief; I am a beggar, and the husband of my sister is a usurer,” continued Gania, bitterly. “There was a pretty list of advantages with which to enchant the heart of Aglaya.”
“Yes--that’s a copy of a Holbein,” said the prince, looking at it again, “and a good copy, too, so far as I am able to judge. I saw the picture abroad, and could not forget it--what’s the matter?”
“Look here,” cried Rogojin, seizing him fiercely by the arm, “look here, if you so much as name Nastasia Philipovna again, I’ll tan your hide as sure as you sit there!”
“I can see it by your face! Say ‘how do you do’ to the others, and come and sit down here, quick--I’ve been waiting for you!” he added, accentuating the fact that he had waited. On the prince’s asking, “Will it not be injurious to you to sit out so late?” he replied that he could not believe that he had thought himself dying three days or so ago, for he never had felt better than this evening.
Hippolyte raised his head with an effort, saying:
“I think you disturb yourself too much.”
The girls stood apart, almost frightened; their father was positively horrified. Mrs. Epanchin’s language astonished everybody. Some who stood a little way off smiled furtively, and talked in whispers. Lebedeff wore an expression of utmost ecstasy.
The prince immediately followed the man out of the room.
The prince was silent. He sat straight up in his chair and gazed fervently at Ivan Petrovitch.
“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.”
“You’d better speak out. You’ll be sorry afterwards if you don’t.”
“Such beauty is real power,” said Adelaida. “With such beauty as that one might overthrow the world.” She returned to her easel thoughtfully.
“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.
“Pavlicheff was a man of bright intellect and a good Christian, a sincere Christian,” said the prince, suddenly. “How could he possibly embrace a faith which is unchristian? Roman Catholicism is, so to speak, simply the same thing as unchristianity,” he added with flashing eyes, which seemed to take in everybody in the room.
“Why did they tell me he was not at home, then?”
“Because he _didn’t_ exist--never could and never did--there! You’d better drop the subject, I warn you!”
“The gentle Abbot Pafnute signed this.”
But it was difficult, if not impossible, to extract anything from Lebedeff. All the prince could gather was, that the letter had been received very early, and had a request written on the outside that it might be sent on to the address given.
Gania listened attentively, but to his sister’s astonishment he was by no means so impressed by this news (which should, she thought, have been so important to him) as she had expected.
“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.”
“Well, _au revoir!_ Did you observe that he ‘willed’ a copy of his confession to Aglaya Ivanovna?”
Gania’s irritation increased with every word he uttered, as he walked up and down the room. These conversations always touched the family sores before long.
Only the prince stopped behind for a moment, as though in indecision; and Evgenie Pavlovitch lingered too, for he had not collected his scattered wits. But the Epanchins had not had time to get more than twenty paces away when a scandalous episode occurred. The young officer, Evgenie Pavlovitch’s friend who had been conversing with Aglaya, said aloud in a great state of indignation:
The prince could not doubt the sincerity of his agitation. He understood, too, that the old man had left the room intoxicated with his own success. The general belonged to that class of liars, who, in spite of their transports of lying, invariably suspect that they are not believed. On this occasion, when he recovered from his exaltation, he would probably suspect Muishkin of pitying him, and feel insulted.
“Oh! _do_ teach us,” laughed Adelaida.
At the door they met Gania coming in.
“And how do _you_ know that he left two million and a half of roubles?” asked Rogojin, disdainfully, and not deigning so much as to look at the other. “However, it’s true enough that my father died a month ago, and that here am I returning from Pskoff, a month after, with hardly a boot to my foot. They’ve treated me like a dog! I’ve been ill of fever at Pskoff the whole time, and not a line, nor farthing of money, have I received from my mother or my confounded brother!”
“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” cried Ferdishenko. “I did so hope the prince would come out first, and then the general. Well, gentlemen, I suppose I must set a good example! What vexes me much is that I am such an insignificant creature that it matters nothing to anybody whether I have done bad actions or not! Besides, which am I to choose? It’s an _embarras de richesse_. Shall I tell how I became a thief on one occasion only, to convince Afanasy Ivanovitch that it is possible to steal without being a thief?”
“Let it to me,” said the prince.
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.
“No--no--my dear girl,” began the general. “You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that’s how the matter stands. It’s impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but--Lizabetha Prokofievna!”--he appealed to his spouse for help--“you must really--”
Oh, no, he did not think of Aglaya as a boarding-school miss, or a young lady of the conventional type! He had long since feared that she might take some such step as this. But why did she wish to see Nastasia?
“Where’s the letter now?”
“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.”
She took her glass, and vowed she would empty it three times that evening. She was hysterical, and laughed aloud every other minute with no apparent reason--the next moment relapsing into gloom and thoughtfulness.
“Did she bring you with her of her own accord?”
“Suddenly I heard behind me, and about on a level with my head, a sort of rattling sound. I turned sharp round and saw that the brute had crawled up the wall as high as the level of my face, and that its horrible tail, which was moving incredibly fast from side to side, was actually touching my hair! I jumped up--and it disappeared. I did not dare lie down on my bed for fear it should creep under my pillow. My mother came into the room, and some friends of hers. They began to hunt for the reptile and were more composed than I was; they did not seem to be afraid of it. But they did not understand as I did.
“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I have heard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded to narrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of the latter’s story.
Lizabetha Prokofievna well understood that the old lady was angry at the failure of Evgenie Pavlovitch--her own recommendation. She returned home to Pavlofsk in a worse humour than when she left, and of course everybody in the house suffered. She pitched into everyone, because, she declared, they had ‘gone mad.’ Why were things always mismanaged in her house? Why had everybody been in such a frantic hurry in this matter? So far as she could see, nothing whatever had happened. Surely they had better wait and see what was to happen, instead of making mountains out of molehills.
“Oh yes--I did learn a little, but--”
“Oh, yes; I angered him--I certainly did anger him,” replied Rogojin. “But what puts me out so is my brother. Of course my mother couldn’t do anything--she’s too old--and whatever brother Senka says is law for her! But why couldn’t he let me know? He sent a telegram, they say. What’s the good of a telegram? It frightened my aunt so that she sent it back to the office unopened, and there it’s been ever since! It’s only thanks to Konief that I heard at all; he wrote me all about it. He says my brother cut off the gold tassels from my father’s coffin, at night ‘because they’re worth a lot of money!’ says he. Why, I can get him sent off to Siberia for that alone, if I like; it’s sacrilege. Here, you--scarecrow!” he added, addressing the clerk at his side, “is it sacrilege or not, by law?”
“Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?” cried Muishkin.
“You must really excuse me,” interrupted the general, “but I positively haven’t another moment now. I shall just tell Elizabetha Prokofievna about you, and if she wishes to receive you at once--as I shall advise her--I strongly recommend you to ingratiate yourself with her at the first opportunity, for my wife may be of the greatest service to you in many ways. If she cannot receive you now, you must be content to wait till another time. Meanwhile you, Gania, just look over these accounts, will you? We mustn’t forget to finish off that matter--”
Lizabetha Prokofievna, when she saw poor Muishkin, in his enfeebled and humiliated condition, had wept bitterly. Apparently all was forgiven him.
Besides this, before they had been married half a year, the count and his friend the priest managed to bring about a quarrel between Aglaya and her family, so that it was now several months since they had seen her. In a word, there was a great deal to say; but Mrs. Epanchin, and her daughters, and even Prince S., were still so much distressed by Aglaya’s latest infatuations and adventures, that they did not care to talk of them, though they must have known that Evgenie knew much of the story already.
Both the listeners laughed again.
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
We may remark here that he seemed anxious not to omit a single one of the recognized customs and traditions observed at weddings. He wished all to be done as openly as possible, and “in due order.”
“Well, bring them, with or without respect, provided always you do not drop them on the way; but on the condition,” went on the lady, looking full at him, “that you do not cross my threshold. I do not intend to receive you today. You may send your daughter Vera at once, if you like. I am much pleased with her.”
“Did you give my note? Is there an answer?” interrupted Gania, impatiently.
“Oh, I only judge by what I see. Varvara Ardalionovna said just now--”
“Nicolai Ardalionovitch!” said Lebedeff, in a most amiable tone of voice, addressing the boy. “As I have a communication to make to the prince which concerns only myself--”
Suddenly he embraced Muishkin.
“I never, never thought you were like that,” said Muishkin, drawing a deep breath. “I thought you--you weren’t capable of--”
“That confounded cough of mine had come on again; I fell into a chair, and with difficulty recovered my breath. ‘It’s all right, it’s only consumption’ I said. ‘I have come to you with a petition!’
“Well, let me get my hat, at least.”
Moved by this news, Lebedeff hurried up to the prince.
“Add to all this your nervous nature, your epilepsy, and your sudden arrival in a strange town--the day of meetings and of exciting scenes, the day of unexpected acquaintanceships, the day of sudden actions, the day of meeting with the three lovely Epanchin girls, and among them Aglaya--add your fatigue, your excitement; add Nastasia’ s evening party, and the tone of that party, and--what were you to expect of yourself at such a moment as that?”
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
“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...
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.
“What for? What was your object? Show me the letter.” Mrs. Epanchin’s eyes flashed; she was almost trembling with impatience.
“Yes, I think I can.”
“How strange that it should have browned so,” he said, reflectively. “These twenty-five rouble notes brown in a most extraordinary way, while other notes often grow paler. Take it.”
“Oh, none at all! He has behaved very well indeed. I didn’t mean to drop any sort of hint. His own fortune is intact, I believe. Lizabetha Prokofievna, of course, refuses to listen to anything. That’s the worst of it all, these family catastrophes or quarrels, or whatever you like to call them. You know, prince, you are a friend of the family, so I don’t mind telling you; it now appears that Evgenie Pavlovitch proposed to Aglaya a month ago, and was refused.”
“I am rather young-looking, I know; but I am actually older than I appear to be. I was ten or eleven in the year 1812. I don’t know my age exactly, but it has always been a weakness of mine to make it out less than it really is.”
“How?” he said. “What do you mean? I was half joking, and you took me up quite seriously! Why do you ask me whether I believe in God?”
“Can you? I’m sorry for it then, for I should have had a good laugh at you otherwise. Do break _something_ at least, in the drawing-room! Upset the Chinese vase, won’t you? It’s a valuable one; _do_ break it. Mamma values it, and she’ll go out of her mind--it was a present. She’ll cry before everyone, you’ll see! Wave your hand about, you know, as you always do, and just smash it. Sit down near it on purpose.”
He had served, at first, in one of the civil departments, had then attended to matters connected with the local government of provincial towns, and had of late been a corresponding member of several important scientific societies. He was a man of excellent family and solid means, about thirty-five years of age.
“I am not going to let him go like this,” thought Gania, glancing angrily at the prince as they walked along. “The fellow has sucked everything out of me, and now he takes off his mask--there’s something more than appears, here we shall see. It shall all be as clear as water by tonight, everything!”
“Nonsense,” cried Nastasia Philipovna, seizing the poker and raking a couple of logs together. No sooner did a tongue of flame burst out than she threw the packet of notes upon it.
“At this very moment, as though divining my thoughts, Rogojin raised his head from his arm and began to part his lips as though he were going to laugh--but he continued to stare at me as persistently as before.
“Sacrilege, certainly--certainly sacrilege,” said the latter.
“You should go into the country,” said Lebedeff timidly.
“Oh, but I should like to see it!” said Adelaida; “and I don’t know _when_ we shall ever go abroad. I’ve been two years looking out for a good subject for a picture. I’ve done all I know. ‘The North and South I know by heart,’ as our poet observes. Do help me to a subject, prince.”
“Excellency, I have the honour of inviting you to my funeral; that is, if you will deign to honour it with your presence. I invite you all, gentlemen, as well as the general.”
“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.”
This new woman gave him further to understand that though it was absolutely the same to her whom he married, yet she had decided to prevent this marriage--for no particular reason, but that she _chose_ to do so, and because she wished to amuse herself at his expense for that it was “quite her turn to laugh a little now!”
(Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that this might be the case, and she didn’t like it; though very probably she could not have put the idea into words.)
“Gania, Gania, reflect!” cried his mother, hurriedly.
He passed under the gateway and into the street. The crowds of people walking about--as is always the case at sunset in Petersburg, during the summer--surprised him, but he walked on in the direction of Rogojin’s house.
“It was a princely action!” sneered Hippolyte.