“It seems to me,” interrupted the prince, “that I was foolish to trouble you just now. However, at present you... Good-bye!”
“I--I intended to try for a certificate as private tutor.”
“Forgiving me! why so? What have I done to need his forgiveness?”
The prince hastened to apologize, very properly, for yesterday’s mishap with the vase, and for the scene generally.
The general promptly made his escape, and Lizabetha Prokofievna after a while grew calm again. That evening, of course, she would be unusually attentive, gentle, and respectful to her “gross and churlish” husband, her “dear, kind Ivan Fedorovitch,” for she had never left off loving him. She was even still “in love” with him. He knew it well, and for his part held her in the greatest esteem.
The prince looked him sternly up and down.
“You will admit yourself, general, that for an honourable man, if the author is an honourable man, that is an--an insult,” growled the boxer suddenly, with convulsive jerkings of his shoulders.
But the door opened again, and out came Colia.
“I was not going to express myself so. But how could you so blind her?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been half an hour here with him, and he--”
“So, so--the son of my old, I may say my childhood’s friend, Nicolai Petrovitch.”
“Aglaya Ivanovna, it’s absurd.”
“It is very painful to me to answer these questions, Lizabetha Prokofievna.”
“Is it long since you saw her?”
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.)
“This man assures me,” said Aglaya, scornfully, when the prince had finished reading the letter, “that the words ‘break off everything’ do not commit me to anything whatever; and himself gives me a written guarantee to that effect, in this letter. Observe how ingenuously he underlines certain words, and how crudely he glosses over his hidden thoughts. He must know that if he ‘broke off everything,’ _first_, by himself, and without telling me a word about it or having the slightest hope on my account, that in that case I should perhaps be able to change my opinion of him, and even accept his--friendship. He must know that, but his soul is such a wretched thing. He knows it and cannot make up his mind; he knows it and yet asks for guarantees. He cannot bring himself to _trust_, he wants me to give him hopes of myself before he lets go of his hundred thousand roubles. As to the ‘former word’ which he declares ‘lighted up the night of his life,’ he is simply an impudent liar; I merely pitied him once. But he is audacious and shameless. He immediately began to hope, at that very moment. I saw it. He has tried to catch me ever since; he is still fishing for me. Well, enough of this. Take the letter and give it back to him, as soon as you have left our house; not before, of course.”
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
“He is the sort of man,” he continued, “who won’t give up his object, you know; he is not like you and me, prince--he belongs to quite a different order of beings. If he sets his heart on a thing he won’t be afraid of anything--” and so on.
Gania having once descended to abuse, and receiving no check, very soon knew no bounds or limit to his licence, as is often the way in such cases. His rage so blinded him that he had not even been able to detect that this “idiot,” whom he was abusing to such an extent, was very far from being slow of comprehension, and had a way of taking in an impression, and afterwards giving it out again, which was very un-idiotic indeed. But something a little unforeseen now occurred.
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.
“Well--just for one second, then. The fact is, I came for advice. Of course I live now without any very practical objects in life; but, being full of self-respect, in which quality the ordinary Russian is so deficient as a rule, and of activity, I am desirous, in a word, prince, of placing myself and my wife and children in a position of--in fact, I want advice.”
“I don’t love you, Lef Nicolaievitch, and, therefore, what would be the use of my coming to see you? You are just like a child--you want a plaything, and it must be taken out and given you--and then you don’t know how to work it. You are simply repeating all you said in your letter, and what’s the use? Of course I believe every word you say, and I know perfectly well that you neither did or ever can deceive me in any way, and yet, I don’t love you. You write that you’ve forgotten everything, and only remember your brother Parfen, with whom you exchanged crosses, and that you don’t remember anything about the Rogojin who aimed a knife at your throat. What do you know about my feelings, eh?” (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) “Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree. I did not think of it again all that evening; all my thoughts were centred on something else--”
“You seem to be very religious,” he continued, kindly, addressing the prince, “which is a thing one meets so seldom nowadays among young people.”
“Of course it is a lunatic asylum!” repeated Aglaya sharply, but her words were overpowered by other voices. Everybody was talking loudly, making remarks and comments; some discussed the affair gravely, others laughed. Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was extremely indignant. He stood waiting for his wife with an air of offended dignity. Lebedeff’s nephew took up the word again.
However, she turned and ran down to the prince as fast as her feet could carry her.
“To judge from your words, you came straight to my house with the intention of staying there.”
“How do you make out that the Roman Catholic religion is _unchristian?_ What is it, then?” asked Ivan Petrovitch, turning to the prince.
“I can’t understand why you always fly into a temper,” said Mrs. Epanchin, who had been listening to the conversation and examining the faces of the speakers in turn. “I do not understand what you mean. What has your little finger to do with it? The prince talks well, though he is not amusing. He began all right, but now he seems sad.”
“I bet anything it is!” exclaimed the red-nosed passenger, with extreme satisfaction, “and that he has precious little in the luggage van!--though of course poverty is no crime--we must remember that!”
“Our Russian intensity not only astonishes ourselves; all Europe wonders at our conduct in such cases! For, if one of us goes over to Roman Catholicism, he is sure to become a Jesuit at once, and a rabid one into the bargain. If one of us becomes an Atheist, he must needs begin to insist on the prohibition of faith in God by force, that is, by the sword. Why is this? Why does he then exceed all bounds at once? Because he has found land at last, the fatherland that he sought in vain before; and, because his soul is rejoiced to find it, he throws himself upon it and kisses it! Oh, it is not from vanity alone, it is not from feelings of vanity that Russians become Atheists and Jesuits! But from spiritual thirst, from anguish of longing for higher things, for dry firm land, for foothold on a fatherland which they never believed in because they never knew it. It is easier for a Russian to become an Atheist, than for any other nationality in the world. And not only does a Russian ‘become an Atheist,’ but he actually _believes in_ Atheism, just as though he had found a new faith, not perceiving that he has pinned his faith to a negation. Such is our anguish of thirst! ‘Whoso has no country has no God.’ That is not my own expression; it is the expression of a merchant, one of the Old Believers, whom I once met while travelling. He did not say exactly these words. I think his expression was:
“I cannot say anything at present. I’ll tell you afterwards.”
“How beautiful that is!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, with sincere admiration. “Whose is it?”
He crossed the salon and the entrance-hall, so as to pass down the corridor into his own room. As he came near the front door he heard someone outside vainly endeavouring to ring the bell, which was evidently broken, and only shook a little, without emitting any sound.
“Well, this matter is important. We are not children--we must look into it thoroughly. Now then, kindly tell me--what does your fortune consist of?”
“I know that the earliest Christian faith taught that the Saviour suffered actually and not figuratively, and that nature was allowed her own way even while His body was on the cross.
With a few exceptions, the worthy couple had lived through their long union very happily. While still young the wife had been able to make important friends among the aristocracy, partly by virtue of her family descent, and partly by her own exertions; while, in after life, thanks to their wealth and to the position of her husband in the service, she took her place among the higher circles as by right.
Poor Lizabetha Prokofievna was most anxious to get home, and, according to Evgenie’s account, she criticized everything foreign with much hostility.
“Yes, I do--this kind.”
“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.
“Come, that’s a little _too_ strong, isn’t it?” murmured the old man, glancing at General Epanchin in surprise.
“What if he were to come out of that corner as I go by and--and stop me?” thought the prince, as he approached the familiar spot. But no one came out.
“This produced a great effect upon me. I used to dream of the poor old woman at nights. I really am not superstitious, but two days after, I went to her funeral, and as time went on I thought more and more about her. I said to myself, ‘This woman, this human being, lived to a great age. She had children, a husband and family, friends and relations; her household was busy and cheerful; she was surrounded by smiling faces; and then suddenly they are gone, and she is left alone like a solitary fly... like a fly, cursed with the burden of her age. At last, God calls her to Himself. At sunset, on a lovely summer’s evening, my little old woman passes away--a thought, you will notice, which offers much food for reflection--and behold! instead of tears and prayers to start her on her last journey, she has insults and jeers from a young ensign, who stands before her with his hands in his pockets, making a terrible row about a soup tureen!’ Of course I was to blame, and even now that I have time to look back at it calmly, I pity the poor old thing no less. I repeat that I wonder at myself, for after all I was not really responsible. Why did she take it into her head to die at that moment? But the more I thought of it, the more I felt the weight of it upon my mind; and I never got quite rid of the impression until I put a couple of old women into an almshouse and kept them there at my own expense. There, that’s all. I repeat I dare say I have committed many a grievous sin in my day; but I cannot help always looking back upon this as the worst action I have ever perpetrated.”
“The night before the ball I met Peter, looking radiant. ‘What is it?’ I ask. ‘I’ve found them, Eureka!’ ‘No! where, where?’ ‘At Ekshaisk (a little town fifteen miles off) there’s a rich old merchant, who keeps a lot of canaries, has no children, and he and his wife are devoted to flowers. He’s got some camellias.’ ‘And what if he won’t let you have them?’ ‘I’ll go on my knees and implore till I get them. I won’t go away.’ ‘When shall you start?’ ‘Tomorrow morning at five o’clock.’ ‘Go on,’ I said, ‘and good luck to you.’
“P.S.--The two hundred roubles I owe you shall certainly be repaid in time.”
“I have not seen all kinds of liberals, and cannot, therefore, set myself up as a judge,” said Alexandra, “but I have heard all you have said with indignation. You have taken some accidental case and twisted it into a universal law, which is unjust.”
“Why, it would be a game to cry over--not to laugh at!” said the actress.
Lizabetha Prokofievna was about to rise, when she saw Hippolyte laughing, and turned upon him with irritation.
Varia had risen from her place and had started to go upstairs to her mother; but at this observation of Gania’s she turned and gazed at him attentively.
“What are you looking so surprised about, my friend?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, suddenly. “Did you suppose he was stupider than yourself, and was incapable of forming his own opinions, or what?”
“Well, hardly so. If you stretch a point, we are relations, of course, but so distant that one cannot really take cognizance of it. I once wrote to your mistress from abroad, but she did not reply. However, I have thought it right to make acquaintance with her on my arrival. I am telling you all this in order to ease your mind, for I see you are still far from comfortable on my account. All you have to do is to announce me as Prince Muishkin, and the object of my visit will be plain enough. If I am received--very good; if not, well, very good again. But they are sure to receive me, I should think; Madame Epanchin will naturally be curious to see the only remaining representative of her family. She values her Muishkin descent very highly, if I am rightly informed.”
“I say A. N. B., and so it shall be!” cried Aglaya, irritably. “Anyway, the ‘poor knight’ did not care what his lady was, or what she did. He had chosen his ideal, and he was bound to serve her, and break lances for her, and acknowledge her as the ideal of pure Beauty, whatever she might say or do afterwards. If she had taken to stealing, he would have championed her just the same. I think the poet desired to embody in this one picture the whole spirit of medieval chivalry and the platonic love of a pure and high-souled knight. Of course it’s all an ideal, and in the ‘poor knight’ that spirit reached the utmost limit of asceticism. He is a Don Quixote, only serious and not comical. I used not to understand him, and laughed at him, but now I love the ‘poor knight,’ and respect his actions.”
“When I entered the yard I thought I saw a man going along on the far side of it; but it was so dark I could not make out his figure.
In another corner was the general, holding forth to a group of hearers, among them Ptitsin, whom he had buttonholed. “I have known,” said he, “a real interpreter of the Apocalypse, the late Gregory Semeonovitch Burmistroff, and he--he pierced the heart like a fiery flash! He began by putting on his spectacles, then he opened a large black book; his white beard, and his two medals on his breast, recalling acts of charity, all added to his impressiveness. He began in a stern voice, and before him generals, hard men of the world, bowed down, and ladies fell to the ground fainting. But this one here--he ends by announcing a banquet! That is not the real thing!”
“Go nearer,” suggested Rogojin, softly.
“I don’t follow you, Afanasy Ivanovitch; you are losing your head. In the first place, what do you mean by ‘before company’? Isn’t the company good enough for you? And what’s all that about ‘a game’? I wished to tell my little story, and I told it! Don’t you like it? You heard what I said to the prince? ‘As you decide, so it shall be!’ If he had said ‘yes,’ I should have given my consent! But he said ‘no,’ so I refused. Here was my whole life hanging on his one word! Surely I was serious enough?”
Her dress was modest and simple to a degree, dark and elderly in style; but both her face and appearance gave evidence that she had seen better days.
The general now appeared on the verandah, coming from upstairs. He was on his way out, with an expression of determination on his face, and of preoccupation and worry also.
“How long do you remain here, prince?” asked Madame Epanchin.
“Who was he?”
However, she had not reached the outer hall when she turned round, walked quickly up to Nina Alexandrovna, seized her hand and lifted it to her lips.
“God knows, Aglaya, that to restore her peace of mind and make her happy I would willingly give up my life. But I cannot love her, and she knows that.”
“I have heard that my son--” began Ardalion Alexandrovitch.
“So, so--the son of my old, I may say my childhood’s friend, Nicolai Petrovitch.”
“Ready--keep your distance, all of you!”
“The vase certainly was a very beautiful one. I remember it here for fifteen years--yes, quite that!” remarked Ivan Petrovitch.
“My God! Who would ever have believed this?” cried Mrs. Epanchin, wringing her hands.
“Yes, it was,” said the prince.
“How did you come here?” she asked, at last.
“Enough!” he concluded at last, “you understand me, and that is the great thing. A heart like yours cannot help understanding the sufferings of another. Prince, you are the ideal of generosity; what are other men beside yourself? But you are young--accept my blessing! My principal object is to beg you to fix an hour for a most important conversation--that is my great hope, prince. My heart needs but a little friendship and sympathy, and yet I cannot always find means to satisfy it.”
“‘In the flashing eyes of this patriotic child I read and accept the fiat of the Russian people. Enough, Davoust, it is mere phantasy on our part. Come, let’s hear your other project.’”
“That’s impossible!” said he in an aggrieved tone. “I am often discussing subjects of this nature with him, gentlemen, but for the most part he talks nonsense enough to make one deaf: this story has no pretence of being true.”
The prince did not die before his wedding--either by day or night, as he had foretold that he might. Very probably he passed disturbed nights, and was afflicted with bad dreams; but, during the daytime, among his fellow-men, he seemed as kind as ever, and even contented; only a little thoughtful when alone.
The actress was a kind-hearted woman, and highly impressionable. She was very angry now.
Now, since Totski had, of late, been upon terms of great cordiality with Epanchin, which excellent relations were intensified by the fact that they were, so to speak, partners in several financial enterprises, it so happened that the former now put in a friendly request to the general for counsel with regard to the important step he meditated. Might he suggest, for instance, such a thing as a marriage between himself and one of the general’s daughters?
“Who are these people?” said the prince.
“But though I do not recognize any jurisdiction over myself, still I know that I shall be judged, when I am nothing but a voiceless lump of clay; therefore I do not wish to go before I have left a word of reply--the reply of a free man--not one forced to justify himself--oh no! I have no need to ask forgiveness of anyone. I wish to say a word merely because I happen to desire it of my own free will.
“Well, well! Enough! You’ve pitied me, and that’s all that good manners exact. I forgot, how are you?”
Aglaya had made for the door in terror, but she stopped at the threshold, and listened. “Shall I turn Rogojin off? Ha! ha! you thought I would marry him for your benefit, did you? Why, I’ll call out _now_, if you like, in your presence, ‘Rogojin, get out!’ and say to the prince, ‘Do you remember what you promised me?’ Heavens! what a fool I have been to humiliate myself before them! Why, prince, you yourself gave me your word that you would marry me whatever happened, and would never abandon me. You said you loved me and would forgive me all, and--and resp--yes, you even said that! I only ran away from you in order to set you free, and now I don’t care to let you go again. Why does she treat me so--so shamefully? I am not a loose woman--ask Rogojin there! He’ll tell you. Will you go again now that she has insulted me, before your eyes, too; turn away from me and lead her away, arm-in-arm? May you be accursed too, for you were the only one I trusted among them all! Go away, Rogojin, I don’t want you,” she continued, blind with fury, and forcing the words out with dry lips and distorted features, evidently not believing a single word of her own tirade, but, at the same time, doing her utmost to prolong the moment of self-deception.
The general was just in time to see the prince take the first sledge he could get, and, giving the order to Ekaterinhof, start off in pursuit of the troikas. Then the general’s fine grey horse dragged that worthy home, with some new thoughts, and some new hopes and calculations developing in his brain, and with the pearls in his pocket, for he had not forgotten to bring them along with him, being a man of business. Amid his new thoughts and ideas there came, once or twice, the image of Nastasia Philipovna. The general sighed.
“I quite understand. You are trying to comfort me for the naiveness with which you disagreed with me--eh? Ha! ha! ha! You are a regular child, prince! However, I cannot help seeing that you always treat me like--like a fragile china cup. Never mind, never mind, I’m not a bit angry! At all events we have had a very funny talk. Do you know, all things considered, I should like to be something better than Osterman! I wouldn’t take the trouble to rise from the dead to be an Osterman. However, I see I must make arrangements to die soon, or I myself--. Well--leave me now! _Au revoir._ Look here--before you go, just give me your opinion: how do you think I ought to die, now? I mean--the best, the most virtuous way? Tell me!”
“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.
“Aglaya, don’t! This is unfair,” cried the prince, deeply distressed.
“Aglaya Ivanovna told me--”
“Yet I remember all he talked about, and every word we said, though whenever my eyes closed for a moment I could picture nothing but the image of Surikoff just in the act of finding a million roubles. He could not make up his mind what to do with the money, and tore his hair over it. He trembled with fear that somebody would rob him, and at last he decided to bury it in the ground. I persuaded him that, instead of putting it all away uselessly underground, he had better melt it down and make a golden coffin out of it for his starved child, and then dig up the little one and put her into the golden coffin. Surikoff accepted this suggestion, I thought, with tears of gratitude, and immediately commenced to carry out my design.
“Lvovitch,” repeated the general without the slightest haste, and with perfect confidence, just as though he had not committed himself the least in the world, but merely made a little slip of the tongue. He sat down, and taking the prince’s hand, drew him to a seat next to himself.
General Epanchin took up his part and spoke in the character of father of a family; he spoke sensibly, and without wasting words over any attempt at sentimentality, he merely recorded his full admission of her right to be the arbiter of Totski’s destiny at this moment. He then pointed out that the fate of his daughter, and very likely of both his other daughters, now hung upon her reply.
She rose at their entrance, but did not smile or give her hand, even to the prince. Her anxious eyes were fixed upon Aglaya. Both sat down, at a little distance from one another--Aglaya on the sofa, in the corner of the room, Nastasia by the window. The prince and Rogojin remained standing, and were not invited to sit.
“He gets most of his conversation in that way,” laughed Evgenie Pavlovitch. “He borrows whole phrases from the reviews. I have long had the pleasure of knowing both Nicholai Ardalionovitch and his conversational methods, but this time he was not repeating something he had read; he was alluding, no doubt, to my yellow waggonette, which has, or had, red wheels. But I have exchanged it, so you are rather behind the times, Colia.”
“You must have forgotten Russia, hadn’t you?”
“Gania and Varia and Ptitsin are a worthless lot! I shall not quarrel with them; but from this moment our feet shall not travel the same road. Oh, prince, I have felt much that is quite new to me since yesterday! It is a lesson for me. I shall now consider my mother as entirely my responsibility; though she may be safe enough with Varia. Still, meat and drink is not everything.”
“What? What _do_ you mean? What roi de Rome?”
The servant left the room. Vera was about to follow her, but returned and approached the prince with a preoccupied air.
“Ah, he’s ashamed to! He _meant_ to ask you, I know, for he said so. I suppose he thinks that as you gave him some once (you remember), you would probably refuse if he asked you again.”
“Oh, very well, let’s sit down, at all events, for I don’t intend to stand up all day. And remember, if you say, one word about ‘mischievous urchins,’ I shall go away and break with you altogether. Now then, did you, or did you not, send a letter to Aglaya, a couple of months or so ago, about Easter-tide?”
“I never, never thought you were like that,” said Muishkin, drawing a deep breath. “I thought you--you weren’t capable of--”
“I have only retired for a time,” said he, laughing. “For a few months; at most for a year.”
“Papa, how can you?” cried Adelaida, walking quickly up to the prince and holding out her hand.