The prince took off his tin cross, Parfen his gold one, and the exchange was made.
About fifty yards from the hotel, at the first cross-road, as he passed through the crowd of foot-passengers sauntering along, someone touched his shoulder, and said in a whisper into his ear:
“Well, you’ve put me into such a fright that I shall certainly make a fool of myself, and very likely break something too. I wasn’t a bit alarmed before, but now I’m as nervous as can be.”
“The idea that it is not worth while living for a few weeks took possession of me a month ago, when I was told that I had four weeks to live, but only partially so at that time. The idea quite overmastered me three days since, that evening at Pavlofsk. The first time that I felt really impressed with this thought was on the terrace at the prince’s, at the very moment when I had taken it into my head to make a last trial of life. I wanted to see people and trees (I believe I said so myself), I got excited, I maintained Burdovsky’s rights, ‘my neighbour!’--I dreamt that one and all would open their arms, and embrace me, that there would be an indescribable exchange of forgiveness between us all! In a word, I behaved like a fool, and then, at that very same instant, I felt my ‘last conviction.’ I ask myself now how I could have waited six months for that conviction! I knew that I had a disease that spares no one, and I really had no illusions; but the more I realized my condition, the more I clung to life; I wanted to live at any price. I confess I might well have resented that blind, deaf fate, which, with no apparent reason, seemed to have decided to crush me like a fly; but why did I not stop at resentment? Why did I begin to live, knowing that it was not worthwhile to begin? Why did I attempt to do what I knew to be an impossibility? And yet I could not even read a book to the end; I had given up reading. What is the good of reading, what is the good of learning anything, for just six months? That thought has made me throw aside a book more than once.
“Ah, ah! here’s the climax at last, at half-past twelve!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Sit down, gentlemen, I beg you. Something is about to happen.”
“I’ve looked everywhere, and turned out everything.”
It was now close on twelve o’clock.
But why recall all this? There was insanity on both sides. For him, the prince, to love this woman with passion, was unthinkable. It would be cruel and inhuman. Yes. Rogojin is not fair to himself; he has a large heart; he has aptitude for sympathy. When he learns the truth, and finds what a pitiable being is this injured, broken, half-insane creature, he will forgive her all the torment she has caused him. He will become her slave, her brother, her friend. Compassion will teach even Rogojin, it will show him how to reason. Compassion is the chief law of human existence. Oh, how guilty he felt towards Rogojin! And, for a few warm, hasty words spoken in Moscow, Parfen had called him “brother,” while he--but no, this was delirium! It would all come right! That gloomy Parfen had implied that his faith was waning; he must suffer dreadfully. He said he liked to look at that picture; it was not that he liked it, but he felt the need of looking at it. Rogojin was not merely a passionate soul; he was a fighter. He was fighting for the restoration of his dying faith. He must have something to hold on to and believe, and someone to believe in. What a strange picture that of Holbein’s is! Why, this is the street, and here’s the house, No. 16.
“No, no, no!” cried the prince, with unspeakable sadness.
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.
“Yes--no--half a candle--an end, you know--no, it was a whole candle; it’s all the same. Be quiet, can’t you! He brought a box of matches too, if you like, and then lighted the candle and held his finger in it for half an hour and more!--There! Can’t that be?”
“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.”
The poor general had merely made the remark about having carried Aglaya in his arms because he always did so begin a conversation with young people. But it happened that this time he had really hit upon the truth, though he had himself entirely forgotten the fact. But when Adelaida and Aglaya recalled the episode of the pigeon, his mind became filled with memories, and it is impossible to describe how this poor old man, usually half drunk, was moved by the recollection.
“Hold your tongue, dragon-fly!” he scolded. “What a plague you are!” He stamped his foot irritably, but she only laughed, and answered:
“And pray what _is_ my position, madame? I have the greatest respect for you, personally; but--”
Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class--to the “much cleverer” persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the “clever commonplace” person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair. (As a rule, however, nothing tragic happens;--his liver becomes a little damaged in the course of time, nothing more serious. Such men do not give up their aspirations after originality without a severe struggle,--and there have been men who, though good fellows in themselves, and even benefactors to humanity, have sunk to the level of base criminals for the sake of originality).
This sort of character is met with pretty frequently in a certain class. They are people who know everyone--that is, they know where a man is employed, what his salary is, whom he knows, whom he married, what money his wife had, who are his cousins, and second cousins, etc., etc. These men generally have about a hundred pounds a year to live on, and they spend their whole time and talents in the amassing of this style of knowledge, which they reduce--or raise--to the standard of a science.
“You suspect him?”
“Your soup’ll be cold; do come.”
“Allow me to warn you,” interposed General Ivolgin, “that he is the greatest charlatan on earth.” He had taken the chair next to the girl, and was impatient to begin talking. “No doubt there are pleasures and amusements peculiar to the country,” he continued, “and to listen to a pretended student holding forth on the book of the Revelations may be as good as any other. It may even be original. But... you seem to be looking at me with some surprise--may I introduce myself--General Ivolgin--I carried you in my arms as a baby--”
One way or the other the question was to be decided at last--finally.
At that moment Colia appeared on the terrace; he announced that Lizabetha Prokofievna and her three daughters were close behind him.
He had kept but one idea before him all day, and for that he had worked in an agony of anxiety and a fever of suspense. His lieutenants had worked so hard from five o’clock until eleven, that they actually had collected a hundred thousand roubles for him, but at such terrific expense, that the rate of interest was only mentioned among them in whispers and with bated breath.
“I think you might have spared me that,” murmured the prince reproachfully, almost in a whisper.
“Of course, of course! And about your fits?”
Oh, he could not then speak these words, or express all he felt! He had been tormented dumbly; but now it appeared to him that he must have said these very words--even then--and that Hippolyte must have taken his picture of the little fly from his tears and words of that time.
At length, however, just as the visitors were on the point of departing, Prince S. seemed suddenly to recollect himself. “Oh yes, by-the-by,” he said, “do you happen to know, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, who that lady was who called out to Evgenie Pavlovitch last night, from the carriage?”
Evgenie meanwhile observed him attentively, and the rapidity of the questions, their simplicity, the prince’s candour, and at the same time, his evident perplexity and mental agitation, surprised him considerably. However, he told Muishkin all he could, kindly and in detail. The prince hardly knew anything, for this was the first informant from the household whom he had met since the estrangement.
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.
“I thought he would cut my throat at first, and went about armed ready to meet him. But he took it differently; he fainted, and had brain fever and convulsions. A month after, when he had hardly recovered, he went off to the Crimea, and there he was shot.
But Lizabetha Prokofievna felt somewhat consoled when she could say that one of her girls, Adelaida, was settled at last. “It will be one off our hands!” she declared aloud, though in private she expressed herself with greater tenderness. The engagement was both happy and suitable, and was therefore approved in society. Prince S. was a distinguished man, he had money, and his future wife was devoted to him; what more could be desired? Lizabetha Prokofievna had felt less anxious about this daughter, however, although she considered her artistic tastes suspicious. But to make up for them she was, as her mother expressed it, “merry,” and had plenty of “common-sense.” It was Aglaya’s future which disturbed her most. With regard to her eldest daughter, Alexandra, the mother never quite knew whether there was cause for anxiety or not. Sometimes she felt as if there was nothing to be expected from her. She was twenty-five now, and must be fated to be an old maid, and “with such beauty, too!” The mother spent whole nights in weeping and lamenting, while all the time the cause of her grief slumbered peacefully. “What is the matter with her? Is she a Nihilist, or simply a fool?”
“That is nothing!” said the prince, waving his hand.
“I’ve--I’ve had a reward for my meanness--I’ve had a slap in the face,” he concluded, tragically.
“All the summer, and perhaps longer.”
She had then asked him to play cards--the game called “little fools.” At this game the tables were turned completely, for the prince had shown himself a master at it. Aglaya had cheated and changed cards, and stolen others, in the most bare-faced way, but, in spite of everything the prince had beaten her hopelessly five times running, and she had been left “little fool” each time.
“That could only have been on your invitation. I confess, however, that I should not have stayed here even if you had invited me, not for any particular reason, but because it is--well, contrary to my practice and nature, somehow.”
“Yes, but how have I offended him?” repeated Hippolyte, still in the same jeering voice. “Why does he call me a screw? You all heard it. He came to me himself and began telling me about some Captain Eropegoff. I don’t wish for your company, general. I always avoided you--you know that. What have I to do with Captain Eropegoff? All I did was to express my opinion that probably Captain Eropegoff never existed at all!”
“You are at least logical. I would only point out that from the right of might, to the right of tigers and crocodiles, or even Daniloff and Gorsky, is but a step.”
“H’m! were you long away?”
Aglaya rushed away homewards with these words.
“This is intolerable,” growled the general.
“I like looking at that picture,” muttered Rogojin, not noticing, apparently, that the prince had not answered his question.
“I guessed which was your house from a hundred yards off,” said the prince at last.
He lived at Ptitsin’s, and openly showed contempt for the latter, though he always listened to his advice, and was sensible enough to ask for it when he wanted it. Gavrila Ardalionovitch was angry with Ptitsin because the latter did not care to become a Rothschild. “If you are to be a Jew,” he said, “do it properly--squeeze people right and left, show some character; be the King of the Jews while you are about it.”
But there was another question, which terrified him considerably, and that was: what was he going to do when he _did_ get in? And to this question he could fashion no satisfactory reply.
“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.”
“No, oh no!--there was a great flare-up, but I didn’t hit her! I had to struggle a little, purely to defend myself; but the very devil was in the business. It turned out that ‘light blue’ was an Englishwoman, governess or something, at Princess Bielokonski’s, and the other woman was one of the old-maid princesses Bielokonski. Well, everybody knows what great friends the princess and Mrs. Epanchin are, so there was a pretty kettle of fish. All the Bielokonskis went into mourning for the poodle. Six princesses in tears, and the Englishwoman shrieking!
“However, I bear you no grudge,” said Hippolyte suddenly, and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, he held out his hand with a smile. The gesture took Evgenie Pavlovitch by surprise, but with the utmost gravity he touched the hand that was offered him in token of forgiveness.
“Yes, he’s boasting like a drunkard,” added Nastasia, as though with the sole intention of goading him.
“Pleasant dreams then--ha, ha!”
“Then at all events he knows her!” remarked the prince, after a moment’s silence.
“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”
“Thank goodness, we’ve just managed to finish it before you came in!” said Vera, joyfully.
“Yes? Do you know that for a fact?” asked the prince, whose curiosity was aroused by the general’s words.
“But Nastasia Philipovna seems to me to be such a _sensible_ woman, and, as such, why should she run blindly into this business? That’s what puzzles me so,” said the prince.
Just then Lebedeff returned, having put on his coat.
“I will tell you all the story. I am his nephew; he did speak the truth there, although he is generally telling lies. I am at the University, and have not yet finished my course. I mean to do so, and I shall, for I have a determined character. I must, however, find something to do for the present, and therefore I have got employment on the railway at twenty-four roubles a month. I admit that my uncle has helped me once or twice before. Well, I had twenty roubles in my pocket, and I gambled them away. Can you believe that I should be so low, so base, as to lose money in that way?”
“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!”
“I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte,” said Colia. “He is the eldest son of the lady you met just now, and was in the next room. He is ill, and has been in bed all day. But he is rather strange, and extremely sensitive, and I thought he might be upset considering the circumstances in which you came... Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father, while it is _his_ mother. That, of course, makes a great difference. What is a terrible disgrace to a woman, does not disgrace a man, at least not in the same way. Perhaps public opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other. Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is really a slave to his opinions.”
“No, I am not lying.”
“How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you so struck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?”
“But, my goodness me,” laughed Ivan Petrovitch, “why can’t I be cousin to even a splendid man?”
“Yes, he will be ashamed!” cried Rogojin. “You will be properly ashamed of yourself for having injured such a--such a sheep” (he could not find a better word). “Prince, my dear fellow, leave this and come away with me. I’ll show you how Rogojin shows his affection for his friends.”
“To humble myself,” murmured Lebedeff.
“But excuse me, excuse me;” cried Ivan Petrovitch considerably disturbed, and looking around uneasily. “Your ideas are, of course, most praiseworthy, and in the highest degree patriotic; but you exaggerate the matter terribly. It would be better if we dropped the subject.”
“Well, perhaps it was a hallucination, I don’t know,” said Parfen.
“Oh! _do_ teach us,” laughed Adelaida.
“Once there came a vision glorious, Mystic, dreadful, wondrous fair; Burned itself into his spirit, And abode for ever there!
“Oh, this is unbearable!” said Lebedeff’s nephew impatiently. “What is the good of all this romancing?”
“All I’m afraid of is--mother. I’m afraid this scandal about father may come to her ears; perhaps it has already. I am dreadfully afraid.”
Hippolyte died in great agitation, and rather sooner than he expected, about a fortnight after Nastasia Philipovna’s death. Colia was much affected by these events, and drew nearer to his mother in heart and sympathy. Nina Alexandrovna is anxious, because he is “thoughtful beyond his years,” but he will, we think, make a useful and active man.
“I know, I know! He lay there fifteen hours in the hard frost, and died with the most extraordinary fortitude--I know--what of him?”
“Oh prince, prince! I never should have thought it of you;” said General Epanchin. “And I imagined you a philosopher! Oh, you silent fellows!”
Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the seventh heaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience and ill-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, and nothing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya’s frowns never lasted long; they disappeared of themselves.
“Well, take care you don’t tell him to his face that you have found the purse. Simply let him see that it is no longer in the lining of your coat, and form his own conclusions.”
“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.
“It’s all a joke, mamma; it’s just a joke like the ‘poor knight’--nothing more whatever, I assure you!” Alexandra whispered in her ear. “She is chaffing him--making a fool of him, after her own private fashion, that’s all! But she carries it just a little too far--she is a regular little actress. How she frightened us just now--didn’t she?--and all for a lark!”
Rogojin’s eyes flashed, and a smile of insanity distorted his countenance. His right hand was raised, and something glittered in it. The prince did not think of trying to stop it. All he could remember afterwards was that he seemed to have called out:
The crash, the cry, the sight of the fragments of valuable china covering the carpet, the alarm of the company--what all this meant to the poor prince it would be difficult to convey to the mind of the reader, or for him to imagine.
And again he stood like a log in the middle of the pavement; so amazed that his mouth remained open after the last word had left it.
The prince made no reply.
“You were quite right to go away!” he said. “The row will rage there worse than ever now; and it’s like this every day with us--and all through that Nastasia Philipovna.”
“If you know it so well,” said the prince a little timidly, “why do you choose all this worry for the sake of the seventy-five thousand, which, you confess, does not cover it?”
“What, receive him! Now, at once?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, gazing vaguely at her husband as he stood fidgeting before her.
As for his red-nosed neighbour, the latter--since the information as to the identity of Rogojin--hung over him, seemed to be living on the honey of his words and in the breath of his nostrils, catching at every syllable as though it were a pearl of great price.
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
The general gazed at his host disdainfully.
“A crowd of people had collected to see how she would cry. The parson, a young fellow ambitious of becoming a great preacher, began his sermon and pointed to Marie. ‘There,’ he said, ‘there is the cause of the death of this venerable woman’--(which was a lie, because she had been ill for at least two years)--‘there she stands before you, and dares not lift her eyes from the ground, because she knows that the finger of God is upon her. Look at her tatters and rags--the badge of those who lose their virtue. Who is she? her daughter!’ and so on to the end.
But Muishkin had risen, and was on his way to open the door for his visitors.
“How did you come here?” she asked, at last.
“I arrived at the old woman’s house beside myself. She was sitting in a corner all alone, leaning her face on her hand. I fell on her like a clap of thunder. ‘You old wretch!’ I yelled and all that sort of thing, in real Russian style. Well, when I began cursing at her, a strange thing happened. I looked at her, and she stared back with her eyes starting out of her head, but she did not say a word. She seemed to sway about as she sat, and looked and looked at me in the strangest way. Well, I soon stopped swearing and looked closer at her, asked her questions, but not a word could I get out of her. The flies were buzzing about the room and only this sound broke the silence; the sun was setting outside; I didn’t know what to make of it, so I went away.
“I was watching for you, prince,” said the individual.
She seemed to wish to show him something, not far off, in the park.
“God bless you, dear boy, for being respectful to a disgraced man. Yes, to a poor disgraced old fellow, your father. You shall have such a son yourself; le roi de Rome. Oh, curses on this house!”
“Oh, I’m so glad!” said the prince, joyfully. “I was so afraid.”
Hippolyte was scarcely listening. He kept saying “well?” and “what else?” mechanically, without the least curiosity, and by mere force of habit.
“No, it disappeared from under the chair in the night.”
“I have lain here now for three days,” cried the young man without noticing, “and I have seen a lot! Fancy! he suspects his daughter, that angel, that orphan, my cousin--he suspects her, and every evening he searches her room, to see if she has a lover hidden in it! He comes here too on tiptoe, creeping softly--oh, so softly--and looks under the sofa--my bed, you know. He is mad with suspicion, and sees a thief in every corner. He runs about all night long; he was up at least seven times last night, to satisfy himself that the windows and doors were barred, and to peep into the oven. That man who appears in court for scoundrels, rushes in here in the night and prays, lying prostrate, banging his head on the ground by the half-hour--and for whom do you think he prays? Who are the sinners figuring in his drunken petitions? I have heard him with my own ears praying for the repose of the soul of the Countess du Barry! Colia heard it too. He is as mad as a March hare!”
At this there was a dreadful noise; Lebedeff danced about in his excitement; Ferdishenko prepared to go for the police; Gania frantically insisted that it was all nonsense, “for nobody was going to shoot themselves.” Evgenie Pavlovitch said nothing.
“If you know it so well,” said the prince a little timidly, “why do you choose all this worry for the sake of the seventy-five thousand, which, you confess, does not cover it?”