Gania certainly did look dreadfully abashed. Colia rushed up to comfort the prince, and after him crowded Varia, Rogojin and all, even the general.
Lebedeff clasped his hands in supplication.
“Well, I must say, I cannot understand it!” said the general, shrugging his shoulders and dropping his hands. “You remember your mother, Nina Alexandrovna, that day she came and sat here and groaned--and when I asked her what was the matter, she says, ‘Oh, it’s such a _dishonour_ to us!’ dishonour! Stuff and nonsense! I should like to know who can reproach Nastasia Philipovna, or who can say a word of any kind against her. Did she mean because Nastasia had been living with Totski? What nonsense it is! You would not let her come near your daughters, says Nina Alexandrovna. What next, I wonder? I don’t see how she can fail to--to understand--”
“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.
On hurrying back he found his bride locked up in her own room and could hear her hysterical cries and sobs. It was some time before she could be made to hear that the prince had come, and then she opened the door only just sufficiently to let him in, and immediately locked it behind him. She then fell on her knees at his feet. (So at least Dana Alexeyevna reported.)
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”
“He does not know of it; I have kept it a secret. Very well, Ferdishenko went off to Wilkin’s. That is not so curious in itself, but here the evidence opens out further. He left his address, you see, when he went. Now prince, consider, why did he leave his address? Why do you suppose he went out of his way to tell Colia that he had gone to Wilkin’s? Who cared to know that he was going to Wilkin’s? No, no! prince, this is finesse, thieves’ finesse! This is as good as saying, ‘There, how can I be a thief when I leave my address? I’m not concealing my movements as a thief would.’ Do you understand, prince?”
“I suppose you have felt that in your own case,” said Aglaya.
Tears were trembling on her white cheek. She beckoned him, but placed her finger on her lip as though to warn him that he must follow her very quietly. His heart froze within him. He wouldn’t, he _couldn’t_ confess her to be a criminal, and yet he felt that something dreadful would happen the next moment, something which would blast his whole life.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” replied Lizabetha; “I’m not sorry for the vase, I’m sorry for you. H’m! so you can see that there was a ‘scene,’ can you? Well, it doesn’t matter much, for everyone must realize now that it is impossible to be hard on you. Well, _au revoir_. I advise you to have a walk, and then go to sleep again if you can. Come in as usual, if you feel inclined; and be assured, once for all, whatever happens, and whatever may have happened, you shall always remain the friend of the family--mine, at all events. I can answer for myself.”
“Too much talk,” said Rogojin, breaking the silence for the first time.
It so happened that Prince S---- introduced a distant relation of his own into the Epanchin family--one Evgenie Pavlovitch, a young officer of about twenty-eight years of age, whose conquests among the ladies in Moscow had been proverbial. This young gentleman no sooner set eyes on Aglaya than he became a frequent visitor at the house. He was witty, well-educated, and extremely wealthy, as the general very soon discovered. His past reputation was the only thing against him.
“I did not expect that of you, Aglaya,” she said. “He is an impossible husband for you,--I know it; and thank God that we agree upon that point; but I did not expect to hear such words from you. I thought I should hear a very different tone from you. I would have turned out everyone who was in the room last night and kept him,--that’s the sort of man he is, in my opinion!”
“Restrain your tongue!” she said. “I did not come here to fight you with your own weapons.
“Yes, I will if I may; and--can I take off my cloak”
Ivan Petrovitch grunted and twisted round in his chair. General Epanchin moved nervously. The latter’s chief had started a conversation with the wife of the dignitary, and took no notice whatever of the prince, but the old lady very often glanced at him, and listened to what he was saying.
“Heaven forbid!” he answered, with a forced smile. “But I am more than ever struck by your eccentricity, Lizabetha Prokofievna. I admit that I told you of Lebedeff’s duplicity, on purpose. I knew the effect it would have on you,--on you alone, for the prince will forgive him. He has probably forgiven him already, and is racking his brains to find some excuse for him--is not that the truth, prince?”
“Honour, indeed!” said the latter, with contempt.
“Look here, my dear prince, no one jumps out of the window if they can help it; but when there’s a fire, the dandiest gentleman or the finest lady in the world will skip out! When the moment comes, and there’s nothing else to be done--our young lady will go to Nastasia Philipovna’s! Don’t they let the young ladies out of the house alone, then?”
“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.”
“Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his money, and considered I was quite justified.
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.
“Well,” murmured the prince, with his eyes still fixed on Lebedeff, “I can see now that he did.”
Up to this moment jealousy had not been one of his torments; now it suddenly gnawed at his heart.
“It hid itself under the cupboard and under the chest of drawers, and crawled into the corners. I sat on a chair and kept my legs tucked under me. Then the beast crawled quietly across the room and disappeared somewhere near my chair. I looked about for it in terror, but I still hoped that as my feet were safely tucked away it would not be able to touch me.
Gania seized his head with both hands and tottered to the window; Varia sat down at the other window.
“Yes, of course, she did say something!”
“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.”
“Father, your dinner is ready,” said Varvara at this point, putting her head in at the door.
“No. I was only going to say that what surprises me most of all is your extraordinary confidence.”
Could not something be made of this man under good influences? asked the prince of himself, for he began to feel a kind of pity for his visitor. He thought little of the value of his own personal influence, not from a sense of humility, but from his peculiar way of looking at things in general. Imperceptibly the conversation grew more animated and more interesting, so that neither of the two felt anxious to bring it to a close. Keller confessed, with apparent sincerity, to having been guilty of many acts of such a nature that it astonished the prince that he could mention them, even to him. At every fresh avowal he professed the deepest repentance, and described himself as being “bathed in tears”; but this did not prevent him from putting on a boastful air at times, and some of his stories were so absurdly comical that both he and the prince laughed like madmen.
“I am off,” he said, hoarsely, and with difficulty.
“Come, come, I’ve always heard that you ran away with the beautiful Countess Levitsky that time--throwing up everything in order to do it--and not from the Jesuits at all,” said Princess Bielokonski, suddenly.
“I came here to warn you,” he said. “In the first place, don’t lend me any money, for I shall certainly ask you to.”
“I never thought of doing any such thing. I have not seen him, and he is not a rogue, in my opinion. I have had a letter from him.”
“Well, go on.”
“I... you,” he began joyfully. “You cannot tell how I... he always spoke so enthusiastically of you, Colia here; I liked his enthusiasm. I was not corrupting him! But I must leave him, too--I wanted to leave them all--there was not one of them--not one! I wanted to be a man of action--I had a right to be. Oh! what a lot of things I wanted! Now I want nothing; I renounce all my wants; I swore to myself that I would want nothing; let them seek the truth without me! Yes, nature is full of mockery! Why”--he continued with sudden warmth--“does she create the choicest beings only to mock at them? The only human being who is recognized as perfect, when nature showed him to mankind, was given the mission to say things which have caused the shedding of so much blood that it would have drowned mankind if it had all been shed at once! Oh! it is better for me to die! I should tell some dreadful lie too; nature would so contrive it! I have corrupted nobody. I wanted to live for the happiness of all men, to find and spread the truth. I used to look out of my window at the wall of Meyer’s house, and say to myself that if I could speak for a quarter of an hour I would convince the whole world, and now for once in my life I have come into contact with... you--if not with the others! And what is the result? Nothing! The sole result is that you despise me! Therefore I must be a fool, I am useless, it is time I disappeared! And I shall leave not even a memory! Not a sound, not a trace, not a single deed! I have not spread a single truth!... Do not laugh at the fool! Forget him! Forget him forever! I beseech you, do not be so cruel as to remember! Do you know that if I were not consumptive, I would kill myself?”
“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.
“Of course I wrote an apology, and called, but they would not receive either me or my apology, and the Epanchins cut me, too!”
“I hardly dare say,” said Lizabetha, as hurriedly, “but I think it’s as plain as anything can be.”
“And you have it still?”
As to age, General Epanchin was in the very prime of life; that is, about fifty-five years of age,--the flowering time of existence, when real enjoyment of life begins. His healthy appearance, good colour, sound, though discoloured teeth, sturdy figure, preoccupied air during business hours, and jolly good humour during his game at cards in the evening, all bore witness to his success in life, and combined to make existence a bed of roses to his excellency. The general was lord of a flourishing family, consisting of his wife and three grown-up daughters. He had married young, while still a lieutenant, his wife being a girl of about his own age, who possessed neither beauty nor education, and who brought him no more than fifty souls of landed property, which little estate served, however, as a nest-egg for far more important accumulations. The general never regretted his early marriage, or regarded it as a foolish youthful escapade; and he so respected and feared his wife that he was very near loving her. Mrs. Epanchin came of the princely stock of Muishkin, which if not a brilliant, was, at all events, a decidedly ancient family; and she was extremely proud of her descent.
“Under the chair? Impossible! Why, you told me yourself that you had searched every corner of the room? How could you not have looked in the most likely place of all?”
“That’s what comes of telling the truth for once in one’s life!” said Lebedeff. “It reduced him to tears.”
That the prince was almost in a fever was no more than the truth. He wandered about the park for a long while, and at last came to himself in a lonely avenue. He was vaguely conscious that he had already paced this particular walk--from that large, dark tree to the bench at the other end--about a hundred yards altogether--at least thirty times backwards and forwards.
“His only reply to this was a sour grimace. He rose and looked for my cap, and placed it in my hand, and led me out of the house--that dreadful gloomy house of his--to all appearances, of course, as though I were leaving of my own accord, and he were simply seeing me to the door out of politeness. His house impressed me much; it is like a burial-ground, he seems to like it, which is, however, quite natural. Such a full life as he leads is so overflowing with absorbing interests that he has little need of assistance from his surroundings.
However, when he did master the fact, it acted upon him as a tonic by completely distracting his attention. He went at once to Nina Alexandrovna’s, whither the general had been carried, and stayed there until the evening. He could do no good, but there are people whom to have near one is a blessing at such times. Colia was in an almost hysterical state; he cried continuously, but was running about all day, all the same; fetching doctors, of whom he collected three; going to the chemist’s, and so on.
“And do you not live in idleness?”
He looked at the address on the letter once more. Oh, he was not in the least degree alarmed about Aglaya writing such a letter; he could trust her. What he did not like about it was that he could not trust Gania.
“Yes, and look what you have come to now!” interrupted Mrs. Epanchin. “However, I see you have not quite drunk your better feelings away. But you’ve broken your wife’s heart, sir--and instead of looking after your children, you have spent your time in public-houses and debtors’ prisons! Go away, my friend, stand in some corner and weep, and bemoan your fallen dignity, and perhaps God will forgive you yet! Go, go! I’m serious! There’s nothing so favourable for repentance as to think of the past with feelings of remorse!”
“Eighteen thousand roubles, for me? Why, you declare yourself a fool at once,” she said, with impudent familiarity, as she rose from the sofa and prepared to go. Gania watched the whole scene with a sinking of the heart.
“If she hinted to you who told her you must know best, of course; but I never said a word about it.”
“Oh, but it’s only the simple tale of an old soldier who saw the French enter Moscow. Some of his remarks were wonderfully interesting. Remarks of an eye-witness are always valuable, whoever he be, don’t you think so?”
Rogojin took the chair offered him, but he did not sit long; he soon stood up again, and did not reseat himself. Little by little he began to look around him and discern the other guests. Seeing Gania, he smiled venomously and muttered to himself, “Look at that!”
“Yes, quite so. I wished to ask you whether you could show me the way to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight. I must go; I have business with her; I was not invited but I was introduced. Anyhow I am ready to trespass the laws of propriety if only I can get in somehow or other.”
The prince looked at him, but said nothing. He had suddenly relapsed into musing, and had probably not heard the question at all. Rogojin did not insist upon an answer, and there was silence for a few moments.
“Then you came for her sake?” Aglaya’s voice trembled.
This last fact could, of course, reflect nothing but credit upon the general; and yet, though unquestionably a sagacious man, he had his own little weaknesses--very excusable ones,--one of which was a dislike to any allusion to the above circumstance. He was undoubtedly clever. For instance, he made a point of never asserting himself when he would gain more by keeping in the background; and in consequence many exalted personages valued him principally for his humility and simplicity, and because “he knew his place.” And yet if these good people could only have had a peep into the mind of this excellent fellow who “knew his place” so well! The fact is that, in spite of his knowledge of the world and his really remarkable abilities, he always liked to appear to be carrying out other people’s ideas rather than his own. And also, his luck seldom failed him, even at cards, for which he had a passion that he did not attempt to conceal. He played for high stakes, and moved, altogether, in very varied society.
“Screw!” laughed Hippolyte.
“To _read?_” cried Gania, almost at the top of his voice; “to _read_, and you read it?”
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.
“Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I’m sorry to say I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, _can_ any man have a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I think that is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of time before him, and life is rich; besides--besides...” the prince hesitated. “As to being undermined, I don’t know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!”
“Pfu! what a wretched room this is--dark, and the window looking into the yard. Your coming to our house is, in no respect, opportune. However, it’s not _my_ affair. I don’t keep the lodgings.”
Then the sky cleared in a moment. The prince seemed to arise from the dead; he asked Colia all about it, made him repeat the story over and over again, and laughed and shook hands with the boys in his delight.
It so happened, however, that on this particular evening all these good people were in excellent humour and highly pleased with themselves. Every one of them felt that they were doing the Epanchins the greatest possible honour by their presence. But alas! the prince never suspected any such subtleties! For instance, he had no suspicion of the fact that the Epanchins, having in their mind so important a step as the marriage of their daughter, would never think of presuming to take it without having previously “shown off” the proposed husband to the dignitary--the recognized patron of the family. The latter, too, though he would probably have received news of a great disaster to the Epanchin family with perfect composure, would nevertheless have considered it a personal offence if they had dared to marry their daughter without his advice, or we might almost say, his leave.
“What did I want? Well, to begin with, it is good to meet a man like you. It is a pleasure to talk over my faults with you. I know you for one of the best of men... and then... then...”
“Come along, let’s go out for a walk!” cried Adelaida. “We’ll all go together, and the prince must absolutely go with us. You needn’t go away, you dear good fellow! _Isn’t_ he a dear, Aglaya? Isn’t he, mother? I must really give him a kiss for--for his explanation to Aglaya just now. Mother, dear, I may kiss him, mayn’t I? Aglaya, may I kiss _your_ prince?” cried the young rogue, and sure enough she skipped up to the prince and kissed his forehead.
“Here’s a pretty business!” cried the general. “However, it might have been expected of him.”
At Pavlofsk, on weekdays, the public is more select than it is on Sundays and Saturdays, when the townsfolk come down to walk about and enjoy the park.
“Who has been annoying her? Who has been tormenting the child? Who could have said such a thing to her? Is she raving?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, trembling with rage, to the company in general.
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:
“My dear good Prince Lef Nicolaievitch,” began the general again, suddenly, “both I and Lizabetha Prokofievna--(who has begun to respect you once more, and me through you, goodness knows why!)--we both love you very sincerely, and esteem you, in spite of any appearances to the contrary. But you’ll admit what a riddle it must have been for us when that calm, cold, little spitfire, Aglaya--(for she stood up to her mother and answered her questions with inexpressible contempt, and mine still more so, because, like a fool, I thought it my duty to assert myself as head of the family)--when Aglaya stood up of a sudden and informed us that ‘that madwoman’ (strangely enough, she used exactly the same expression as you did) ‘has taken it into her head to marry me to Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, and therefore is doing her best to choke Evgenie Pavlovitch off, and rid the house of him.’ That’s what she said. She would not give the slightest explanation; she burst out laughing, banged the door, and went away. We all stood there with our mouths open. Well, I was told afterwards of your little passage with Aglaya this afternoon, and--and--dear prince--you are a good, sensible fellow, don’t be angry if I speak out--she is laughing at you, my boy! She is enjoying herself like a child, at your expense, and therefore, since she is a child, don’t be angry with her, and don’t think anything of it. I assure you, she is simply making a fool of you, just as she does with one and all of us out of pure lack of something better to do. Well--good-bye! You know our feelings, don’t you--our sincere feelings for yourself? They are unalterable, you know, dear boy, under all circumstances, but--Well, here we part; I must go down to the right. Rarely have I sat so uncomfortably in my saddle, as they say, as I now sit. And people talk of the charms of a country holiday!”
“Did no one awake me besides yourself? Was there no one else here? I thought there was another woman.”
“Quite so--parties--you are very right,” said the prince. “I was reading a book about Napoleon and the Waterloo campaign only the other day, by Charasse, in which the author does not attempt to conceal his joy at Napoleon’s discomfiture at every page. Well now, I don’t like that; it smells of ‘party,’ you know. You are quite right. And were you much occupied with your service under Napoleon?”
“If I hadn’t seized that bouquet from under his nose he might have been alive now, and a happy man. He might have been successful in life, and never have gone to fight the Turks.”
Arrived on the opposite pavement, he looked back to see whether the prince were moving, waved his hand in the direction of the Gorohovaya, and strode on, looking across every moment to see whether Muishkin understood his instructions. The prince supposed that Rogojin desired to look out for someone whom he was afraid to miss; but if so, why had he not told _him_ whom to look out for? So the two proceeded for half a mile or so. Suddenly the prince began to tremble from some unknown cause. He could not bear it, and signalled to Rogojin across the road.
She appeared to be in the last stages of wrath and irritation; her eyes flashed. The prince stood dumbly and blindly before her, and suddenly grew pale.
Next day the prince had to go to town, on business. Returning in the afternoon, he happened upon General Epanchin at the station. The latter seized his hand, glancing around nervously, as if he were afraid of being caught in wrong-doing, and dragged him into a first-class compartment. He was burning to speak about something of importance.
“From the portrait!”
“Well, it’s lucky she has happened upon an idiot, then, that’s all I can say!” whispered Lizabetha Prokofievna, who was somewhat comforted, however, by her daughter’s remark.
“I am very glad, too, because she is often laughed at by people. But listen to the chief point. I have long thought over the matter, and at last I have chosen you. I don’t wish people to laugh at me; I don’t wish people to think me a ‘little fool.’ I don’t want to be chaffed. I felt all this of a sudden, and I refused Evgenie Pavlovitch flatly, because I am not going to be forever thrown at people’s heads to be married. I want--I want--well, I’ll tell you, I wish to run away from home, and I have chosen you to help me.”
“Just so, prince, just so. How well you bring out that fact! Because your own heart is good!” cried the ecstatic old gentleman, and, strangely enough, real tears glistened in his eyes. “Yes, prince, it was a wonderful spectacle. And, do you know, I all but went off to Paris, and should assuredly have shared his solitary exile with him; but, alas, our destinies were otherwise ordered! We parted, he to his island, where I am sure he thought of the weeping child who had embraced him so affectionately at parting in Moscow; and I was sent off to the cadet corps, where I found nothing but roughness and harsh discipline. Alas, my happy days were done!”
“Yes--yes, quite so; you are quite right. I wished to see Aglaya Ivanovna, you know!” said the prince, nodding his head.
“Oh, prince, how strange you have become! I assure you, I hardly know you for your old self. How can you suppose that I ever suggested you could have had a finger in such a business? But you are not quite yourself today, I can see.” He embraced the prince, and kissed him.
There he lay on the carpet, and someone quickly placed a cushion under his head.
“Surrender her, for God’s sake!” he said to the prince.
“Oh, good heavens! I mean, what did the general say when the purse turned up under the chair? You and he had searched for it together there, hadn’t you?”
“My memoirs!” he began, with redoubled pride and dignity. “Write my memoirs? The idea has not tempted me. And yet, if you please, my memoirs have long been written, but they shall not see the light until dust returns to dust. Then, I doubt not, they will be translated into all languages, not of course on account of their actual literary merit, but because of the great events of which I was the actual witness, though but a child at the time. As a child, I was able to penetrate into the secrecy of the great man’s private room. At nights I have heard the groans and wailings of this ‘giant in distress.’ He could feel no shame in weeping before such a mere child as I was, though I understood even then that the reason for his suffering was the silence of the Emperor Alexander.”
“Are you off?” said Gania, suddenly, remarking that she had risen and was about to leave the room. “Wait a moment--look at this.”
“I’ll pull it out with my teeth for one thousand,” said Ferdishenko.
“Don’t be angry; she is a wilful, mad, spoilt girl. If she likes a person she will pitch into him, and chaff him. I used to be just such another. But for all that you needn’t flatter yourself, my boy; she is not for you. I don’t believe it, and it is not to be. I tell you so at once, so that you may take proper precautions. Now, I want to hear you swear that you are not married to that woman?”
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
So at the risk of missing General Epanchin altogether, and thus postponing his visit to Pavlofsk for a day, at least, the prince decided to go and look for the house he desired to find.
“You shall hear all this directly, gentlemen. I--I--listen!”
“But I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I walked and walked about, and went to where the music was--”
“‘I’ll do it--I’ll do it, of course!’ he said. ‘I shall attack my uncle about it tomorrow morning, and I’m very glad you told me the story. But how was it that you thought of coming to me about it, Terentieff?’