“That I only _pitied_ her--and--and loved her no longer!”
“Wait a bit, my boy, I’ll just go--you stay here, you know. But do just explain, if you can, Lef Nicolaievitch, how in the world has all this come about? And what does it all mean? You must understand, my dear fellow; I am a father, you see, and I ought to be allowed to understand the matter--do explain, I beg you!”
“Constant?” said the prince, suddenly, and quite involuntarily.
“Well, turn him out!”
But as we said before, the fact of Adelaida’s approaching marriage was balm to the mother. For a whole month she forgot her fears and worries.
“I confess I came here with an object. I wished to persuade Nastasia to go abroad for her health; she requires it. Both mind and body need a change badly. I did not intend to take her abroad myself. I was going to arrange for her to go without me. Now I tell you honestly, Parfen, if it is true that all is made up between you, I will not so much as set eyes upon her, and I will never even come to see you again.
All we know is, that the marriage really was arranged, and that the prince had commissioned Lebedeff and Keller to look after all the necessary business connected with it; that he had requested them to spare no expense; that Nastasia herself was hurrying on the wedding; that Keller was to be the prince’s best man, at his own earnest request; and that Burdovsky was to give Nastasia away, to his great delight. The wedding was to take place before the middle of July.
“Your soup’ll be cold; do come.”
“Is he raving?” said the general. “Are we really in a mad-house?”
“I don’t know--I dreamed last night that I was being suffocated with a wet cloth by--somebody. I’ll tell you who it was--Rogojin! What do you think, can a man be suffocated with a wet cloth?”
“And was it you looked out of the window under the blind this morning?”
Hippolyte, too, was a source of some distraction to the prince at this time; he would send for him at any and every hour of the day. They lived,--Hippolyte and his mother and the children,--in a small house not far off, and the little ones were happy, if only because they were able to escape from the invalid into the garden. The prince had enough to do in keeping the peace between the irritable Hippolyte and his mother, and eventually the former became so malicious and sarcastic on the subject of the approaching wedding, that Muishkin took offence at last, and refused to continue his visits.
At this moment there was a terrific bang at the front door, almost enough to break it down. Some most unusual visitor must have arrived. Colia ran to open.
“What a silly idea,” said the actress. “Of course it is not the case. I have never stolen anything, for one.”
Hippolyte turned upon him, a prey to maniacal rage, which set all the muscles of his face quivering.
“Oh, Aglaya--perhaps you cannot understand all this. Try to realize that in the perpetual admission of guilt she probably finds some dreadful unnatural satisfaction--as though she were revenging herself upon someone.
“‘Surely not to throw yourself into the river?’ cried Bachmatoff in alarm. Perhaps he read my thought in my face.
“Aglaya, make a note of ‘Pafnute,’ or we shall forget him. H’m! and where is this signature?”
“I knew it was all a joke!” cried Adelaida. “I felt it ever since--since the hedgehog.”
“How annoying!” exclaimed the prince. “I thought... Tell me, is he...”
“Not for the world, not for the world! I merely wish to make him ashamed of himself. Oh, prince, great though this misfortune be to myself, I cannot help thinking of his morals! I have a great favour to ask of you, esteemed prince; I confess that it is the chief object of my visit. You know the Ivolgins, you have even lived in their house; so if you would lend me your help, honoured prince, in the general’s own interest and for his good.”
“‘I have jotted down your name,’ I told him, ‘and all the rest of it--the place you served at, the district, the date, and all. I have a friend, Bachmatoff, whose uncle is a councillor of state and has to do with these matters, one Peter Matveyevitch Bachmatoff.’
“Perhaps you are right,” said the prince, smiling. “I think I am a philosopher, perhaps, and who knows, perhaps I do wish to teach my views of things to those I meet with?”
“Quite so,” said Evgenie, sitting down suddenly beside him, “but I have changed my mind for the time being. I confess, I am too disturbed, and so, I think, are you; and the matter as to which I wished to consult you is too serious to tackle with one’s mind even a little disturbed; too serious both for myself and for you. You see, prince, for once in my life I wish to perform an absolutely honest action, that is, an action with no ulterior motive; and I think I am hardly in a condition to talk of it just at this moment, and--and--well, we’ll discuss it another time. Perhaps the matter may gain in clearness if we wait for two or three days--just the two or three days which I must spend in Petersburg.”
“Besides, though you are a prince and a millionaire, and even though you may really be simple and good-hearted, you can hardly be outside the general law,” Hippolyte declared loudly.
“Oh, but I do know, as it happens,” said the clerk in an aggravating manner. “Lebedeff knows all about her. You are pleased to reproach me, your excellency, but what if I prove that I am right after all? Nastasia Phillpovna’s family name is Barashkoff--I know, you see--and she is a very well known lady, indeed, and comes of a good family, too. She is connected with one Totski, Afanasy Ivanovitch, a man of considerable property, a director of companies, and so on, and a great friend of General Epanchin, who is interested in the same matters as he is.”
“Yes, _seriously_,” said the general, gravely.
Nastasia seemed to Totski to have divined all this, and to be preparing something on her own account, which frightened him to such an extent that he did not dare communicate his views even to the general. But at times he would pluck up his courage and be full of hope and good spirits again, acting, in fact, as weak men do act in such circumstances.
“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?”
At length he observed, to his amazement, that all had taken their seats again, and were laughing and talking as though nothing had happened. Another minute and the laughter grew louder--they were laughing at him, at his dumb stupor--laughing kindly and merrily. Several of them spoke to him, and spoke so kindly and cordially, especially Lizabetha Prokofievna--she was saying the kindest possible things to him.
She gazed attentively at him.
“At the table stood a man in his shirt sleeves; he had thrown off his coat; it lay upon the bed; and he was unfolding a blue paper parcel in which were a couple of pounds of bread, and some little sausages.
“I hinted nothing to him about my ‘final conviction,’ but it appeared to me that he had guessed it from my words. He remained silent--he is a terribly silent man. I remarked to him, as I rose to depart, that, in spite of the contrast and the wide differences between us two, les extremites se touchent [‘extremes meet,’ as I explained to him in Russian); so that maybe he was not so far from my final conviction as appeared.
“No, he didn’t, for I saw it all myself,” said Colia. “On the contrary, Hippolyte kissed his hand twice and thanked him; and all the prince said was that he thought Hippolyte might feel better here in the country!”
He walked to the far end of the verandah, where the sofa stood, with a table in front of it. Here he sat down and covered his face with his hands, and so remained for ten minutes. Suddenly he put his hand in his coat-pocket and hurriedly produced three letters.
Alexandra, however, found it difficult to keep absolute silence on the subject. Long since holding, as she did, the post of “confidential adviser to mamma,” she was now perpetually called in council, and asked her opinion, and especially her assistance, in order to recollect “how on earth all this happened?” Why did no one see it? Why did no one say anything about it? What did all that wretched “poor knight” joke mean? Why was she, Lizabetha Prokofievna, driven to think, and foresee, and worry for everybody, while they all sucked their thumbs, and counted the crows in the garden, and did nothing? At first, Alexandra had been very careful, and had merely replied that perhaps her father’s remark was not so far out: that, in the eyes of the world, probably the choice of the prince as a husband for one of the Epanchin girls would be considered a very wise one. Warming up, however, she added that the prince was by no means a fool, and never had been; and that as to “place in the world,” no one knew what the position of a respectable person in Russia would imply in a few years--whether it would depend on successes in the government service, on the old system, or what.
“I continued in that strain for a long while, pointing out to Bachmatoff how impossible it is to follow up the effects of any isolated good deed one may do, in all its influences and subtle workings upon the heart and after-actions of others.
But the prince only looked at the bright side; he did not turn the coat and see the shabby lining.
“But why, _why?_ Devil take it, what did you do in there? Why did they fancy you? Look here, can’t you remember exactly what you said to them, from the very beginning? Can’t you remember?”
“We have evidence. In the first place, his mysterious disappearance at seven o’clock, or even earlier.”
“But all the common herd judge differently; in the town, at the meetings, in the villas, at the band, in the inns and the billiard-rooms, the coming event has only to be mentioned and there are shouts and cries from everybody. I have even heard talk of getting up a ‘charivari’ under the windows on the wedding-night. So if ‘you have need of the pistol’ of an honest man, prince, I am ready to fire half a dozen shots even before you rise from your nuptial couch!”
“The-the general. I would not let him in; there is no need for him to visit you, prince... I have the deepest esteem for him, he is a--a great man. You don’t believe it? Well, you will see, and yet, most excellent prince, you had much better not receive him.”
Every time that Aglaya showed temper (and this was very often), there was so much childish pouting, such “school-girlishness,” as it were, in her apparent wrath, that it was impossible to avoid smiling at her, to her own unutterable indignation. On these occasions she would say, “How can they, how _dare_ they laugh at me?”
“What is it?”
“And what can I do for you, esteemed prince? Since I am told you sent for me just now,” he said, after a few moments’ silence.
“Keller,” murmured the retired officer.
“That is _not_ true,” said the prince, in an equally low voice.
“He is not at home.”
The two maid-servants were both peeping in, frightened and amazed at this unusual and disorderly scene.
“Well, good-bye,” he said abruptly. “You think it is easy for me to say good-bye to you? Ha, ha!”
“But why wear a coat in holes,” asked the girl, “when your new one is hanging behind the door? Did you not see it?”
The answer of the sisters to the communication was, if not conclusive, at least consoling and hopeful. It made known that the eldest, Alexandra, would very likely be disposed to listen to a proposal.
“Just a couple of words!” whispered another voice in the prince’s other ear, and another hand took his other arm. Muishkin turned, and to his great surprise observed a red, flushed face and a droll-looking figure which he recognized at once as that of Ferdishenko. Goodness knows where he had turned up from!
“N-no, I don’t think they are. You can judge for yourself. I think the general is pleased enough; her mother is a little uneasy. She always loathed the idea of the prince as a _husband_; everybody knows that.”
“You are not angry with me?” he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervous hurry, although he looked them straight in the face.
“Well, what then? Supposing I should like to know?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, blushing. “I’m sure I am not afraid of plain speaking. I’m not offending anyone, and I never wish to, and--”
He was not allowed to finish his sentence. Somebody pushed him back into his chair, and begged him to be calm. Nina Alexandrovna trembled, and cried quietly. Gania retired to the window in disgust.
When the prince did give the matter a little attention, he recalled the fact that during these days he had always found Lebedeff to be in radiantly good spirits, when they happened to meet; and further, that the general and Lebedeff were always together. The two friends did not seem ever to be parted for a moment.
“That same evening I stopped at a small provincial hotel, and it so happened that a dreadful murder had been committed there the night before, and everybody was talking about it. Two peasants--elderly men and old friends--had had tea together there the night before, and were to occupy the same bedroom. They were not drunk but one of them had noticed for the first time that his friend possessed a silver watch which he was wearing on a chain. He was by no means a thief, and was, as peasants go, a rich man; but this watch so fascinated him that he could not restrain himself. He took a knife, and when his friend turned his back, he came up softly behind, raised his eyes to heaven, crossed himself, and saying earnestly--‘God forgive me, for Christ’s sake!’ he cut his friend’s throat like a sheep, and took the watch.”
He satisfied their curiosity, in as few words as possible, with regard to the wedding, but their exclamations and sighs were so numerous and sincere that he was obliged to tell the whole story--in a short form, of course. The advice of all these agitated ladies was that the prince should go at once and knock at Rogojin’s until he was let in: and when let in insist upon a substantial explanation of everything. If Rogojin was really not at home, the prince was advised to go to a certain house, the address of which was given, where lived a German lady, a friend of Nastasia Philipovna’s. It was possible that she might have spent the night there in her anxiety to conceal herself.
“Oh, I supposed you were coming,” the other replied, smiling sarcastically, “and I was right in my supposition, you see; but how was I to know that you would come _today?_”
But at this moment Aglaya came back, and the prince had no time to reply.
“He began to talk at once excitedly and with trembling lips; he began complaining and telling me his story. He interested me, I confess; I sat there nearly an hour. His story was a very ordinary one. He had been a provincial doctor; he had a civil appointment, and had no sooner taken it up than intrigues began. Even his wife was dragged into these. He was proud, and flew into a passion; there was a change of local government which acted in favour of his opponents; his position was undermined, complaints were made against him; he lost his post and came up to Petersburg with his last remaining money, in order to appeal to higher authorities. Of course nobody would listen to him for a long time; he would come and tell his story one day and be refused promptly; another day he would be fed on false promises; again he would be treated harshly; then he would be told to sign some documents; then he would sign the paper and hand it in, and they would refuse to receive it, and tell him to file a formal petition. In a word he had been driven about from office to office for five months and had spent every farthing he had; his wife’s last rags had just been pawned; and meanwhile a child had been born to them and--and today I have a final refusal to my petition, and I have hardly a crumb of bread left--I have nothing left; my wife has had a baby lately--and I--I--’
“No, you fool--you don’t know whom you are dealing with--and it appears I am a fool, too!” said Parfen, trembling beneath the flashing glance of Nastasia. “Oh, curse it all! What a fool I was to listen to you!” he added, with profound melancholy.
Many of them expected to be thrown downstairs at once, without further ceremony, the elegant and irresistible Zaleshoff among them. But the party led by the athlete, without openly showing their hostile intentions, silently nursed contempt and even hatred for Nastasia Philipovna, and marched into her house as they would have marched into an enemy’s fortress. Arrived there, the luxury of the rooms seemed to inspire them with a kind of respect, not unmixed with alarm. So many things were entirely new to their experience--the choice furniture, the pictures, the great statue of Venus. They followed their chief into the salon, however, with a kind of impudent curiosity. There, the sight of General Epanchin among the guests, caused many of them to beat a hasty retreat into the adjoining room, the “boxer” and “beggar” being among the first to go. A few only, of whom Lebedeff made one, stood their ground; he had contrived to walk side by side with Rogojin, for he quite understood the importance of a man who had a fortune of a million odd roubles, and who at this moment carried a hundred thousand in his hand. It may be added that the whole company, not excepting Lebedeff, had the vaguest idea of the extent of their powers, and of how far they could safely go. At some moments Lebedeff was sure that right was on their side; at others he tried uneasily to remember various cheering and reassuring articles of the Civil Code.
Arrived at her own house, Varia heard a considerable commotion going on in the upper storey, and distinguished the voices of her father and brother. On entering the salon she found Gania pacing up and down at frantic speed, pale with rage and almost tearing his hair. She frowned, and subsided on to the sofa with a tired air, and without taking the trouble to remove her hat. She very well knew that if she kept quiet and asked her brother nothing about his reason for tearing up and down the room, his wrath would fall upon her head. So she hastened to put the question:
“Oh no, I remember all right, and I shall go, of course. I should think so! She’s twenty-five years old today! And, you know, Gania, you must be ready for great things; she has promised both myself and Afanasy Ivanovitch that she will give a decided answer tonight, yes or no. So be prepared!”
“What is the good of repentance like that? It is the same exactly as mine yesterday, when I said, ‘I am base, I am base,’--words, and nothing more!”
“If you wished to preserve your good name, why did you not give up your--your ‘guardian,’ Totski, without all that theatrical posturing?” said Aglaya, suddenly a propos of nothing.
“She was a Countess who rose from shame to reign like a Queen. An Empress wrote to her, with her own hand, as ‘_Ma chère cousine_.’ At a _lever-du-roi_ one morning (do you know what a _lever-du-roi_ was?)--a Cardinal, a Papal legate, offered to put on her stockings; a high and holy person like that looked on it as an honour! Did you know this? I see by your expression that you did not! Well, how did she die? Answer!”
“The Emperor was much struck.”
“Is that all?” asked Aglaya.
“He has astonished me,” said Ivan Fedorovitch. “I nearly fell down with surprise. I could hardly believe my eyes when I met him in Petersburg just now. Why this haste? That’s what I want to know. He has always said himself that there is no need to break windows.”
It seemed clear to the prince that Aglaya forgave him, and that he might go there again this very evening; and in his eyes that was not only the main thing, but everything in the world.
“But he has never even--”
The prince knew that if he called at the Epanchins’ now he would only find the general, and that the latter might probably carry him straight off to Pavlofsk with him; whereas there was one visit he was most anxious to make without delay.
“Then, general, it’s your turn,” continued Nastasia Philipovna, “and if you refuse, the whole game will fall through, which will disappoint me very much, for I was looking forward to relating a certain ‘page of my own life.’ I am only waiting for you and Afanasy Ivanovitch to have your turns, for I require the support of your example,” she added, smiling.
The flat was divided by a passage which led straight out of the entrance-hall. Along one side of this corridor lay the three rooms which were designed for the accommodation of the “highly recommended” lodgers. Besides these three rooms there was another small one at the end of the passage, close to the kitchen, which was allotted to General Ivolgin, the nominal master of the house, who slept on a wide sofa, and was obliged to pass into and out of his room through the kitchen, and up or down the back stairs. Colia, Gania’s young brother, a school-boy of thirteen, shared this room with his father. He, too, had to sleep on an old sofa, a narrow, uncomfortable thing with a torn rug over it; his chief duty being to look after his father, who needed to be watched more and more every day.
At last they left the house behind them, the prince carrying his bundle.
“Yes--yes--both! I do!”
Mrs. Epanchin confirmed all this. She said the princess had written to much the same effect, and added that there was no curing a fool. But it was plain, from her expression of face, how strongly she approved of this particular young fool’s doings. In conclusion, the general observed that his wife took as great an interest in the prince as though he were her own son; and that she had commenced to be especially affectionate towards Aglaya was a self-evident fact.
“Oh, but I know nothing about painting. It seems to me one only has to look, and paint what one sees.”
Of course, after this, Aglaya went with the rest. In fact, she had never had the slightest intention of doing otherwise.
“Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?” cried Muishkin.
“I know Charasse’s book! Oh! I was so angry with his work! I wrote to him and said--I forget what, at this moment. You ask whether I was very busy under the Emperor? Oh no! I was called ‘page,’ but hardly took my duty seriously. Besides, Napoleon very soon lost hope of conciliating the Russians, and he would have forgotten all about me had he not loved me--for personal reasons--I don’t mind saying so now. My heart was greatly drawn to him, too. My duties were light. I merely had to be at the palace occasionally to escort the Emperor out riding, and that was about all. I rode very fairly well. He used to have a ride before dinner, and his suite on those occasions were generally Davoust, myself, and Roustan.”
“Oh--be easy, sir, be easy! I shall not wound your tenderest feelings. I’ve been through it all myself, and I know well how unpleasant it is when an outsider sticks his nose in where he is not wanted. I experience this every morning. I came to speak to you about another matter, though, an important matter. A very important matter, prince.”
“I cannot, I assure you. I confess I do not understand how anyone can play this game.”
They certainly were put out, both of them.
“At all events, I must request you to step into the salon,” said Gania, his rage rising quite out of proportion to his words, “and then I shall inquire--”
The prince had been listening attentively to Radomski’s words, and thought his manner very pleasant. When Colia chaffed him about his waggonette he had replied with perfect equality and in a friendly fashion. This pleased Muishkin.
“It seems absurd to trust a little pepper-box like you,” said Aglaya, as she returned the note, and walked past the “pepper-box” with an expression of great contempt.
“I am very glad indeed to have met you here, Colia,” said the prince. “Can you do something for me? I must see Nastasia Philipovna, and I asked Ardalion Alexandrovitch just now to take me to her house, but he has gone to sleep, as you see. Will you show me the way, for I do not know the street? I have the address, though; it is close to the Grand Theatre.”
Heaven knows how long and upon what subjects he thought. He thought of many things--of Vera Lebedeff, and of her father; of Hippolyte; of Rogojin himself, first at the funeral, then as he had met him in the park, then, suddenly, as they had met in this very passage, outside, when Rogojin had watched in the darkness and awaited him with uplifted knife. The prince remembered his enemy’s eyes as they had glared at him in the darkness. He shuddered, as a sudden idea struck him.
“Why, Keller said the same thing to me nearly word for word a few minutes ago!” cried Muishkin. “And you both seem inclined to boast about it! You astonish me, but I think he is more sincere than you, for you make a regular trade of it. Oh, don’t put on that pathetic expression, and don’t put your hand on your heart! Have you anything to say to me? You have not come for nothing...”
“Prince, prince!” he cried, seizing hold of his arm, “recollect yourself! Drop her, prince! You see what sort of a woman she is. I am speaking to you like a father.”
“I have said above that the determination needed by me for the accomplishment of my final resolve, came to hand not through any sequence of causes, but thanks to a certain strange circumstance which had perhaps no connection whatever with the matter at issue. Ten days ago Rogojin called upon me about certain business of his own with which I have nothing to do at present. I had never seen Rogojin before, but had often heard about him.