“Yes, very much. Is he one of your school-fellows?”

Nastasia Philipovna laughed hysterically.

“H’m! were you long away?”

“What a beauty!” cried one.

Arrived at the gate, the prince looked up at the legend over it, which ran:

“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.

“No, I have really an object in going... That is, I am going on business it is difficult to explain, but...”

“What Moloftsoff?”

“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”

Gania, left alone, clutched his head with his hands.

“Bend down--bend down your ear. I’ll tell you all--disgrace--bend down, I’ll tell you in your ear.”

“Pavlicheff’s son! It is not worth while!” cried Lebedeff. “There is no necessity to see them, and it would be most unpleasant for your excellency. They do not deserve...”

“Where is Nastasia Philipovna?” asked the prince, breathlessly.

“Here’s your miserable hat. He couldn’t even choose a respectable shape for his hat! Come on! She did that because I took your part and said you ought to have come--little vixen!--else she would never have sent you that silly note. It’s a most improper note, I call it; most improper for such an intelligent, well-brought-up girl to write. H’m! I dare say she was annoyed that you didn’t come; but she ought to have known that one can’t write like that to an idiot like you, for you’d be sure to take it literally.” Mrs. Epanchin was dragging the prince along with her all the time, and never let go of his hand for an instant. “What are you listening for?” she added, seeing that she had committed herself a little. “She wants a clown like you--she hasn’t seen one for some time--to play with. That’s why she is anxious for you to come to the house. And right glad I am that she’ll make a thorough good fool of you. You deserve it; and she can do it--oh! she can, indeed!--as well as most people.”

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.

“Why, how strange!” he ejaculated. “You didn’t answer me seriously, surely, did you?”

“‘I think you dropped this,’ I remarked, as quietly and drily as I could. (I thought it best to treat him so.) For some while he stood before me in downright terror, and seemed unable to understand. He then suddenly grabbed at his side-pocket, opened his mouth in alarm, and beat his forehead with his hand.

“Come along,” said Aglaya. “Prince, you must walk with me. May he, mother? This young cavalier, who won’t have me? You said you would _never_ have me, didn’t you, prince? No--no, not like that; _that’s_ not the way to give your arm. Don’t you know how to give your arm to a lady yet? There--so. Now, come along, you and I will lead the way. Would you like to lead the way with me alone, tête-à-tête?”

“Are you telling the truth when you say you are not in love?”

“Ah!” said the visitor, passing his fingers through his hair and sighing. He then looked over to the other side of the room and around it. “Got any money?” he asked, suddenly.

“Oh, then you _do_ intend to take a room?”

“Then you think Aglaya Ivanovna herself intends to go to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight?” he asked, and bright hectic spots came out on his cheeks and forehead.

“But what right had you?” said Hippolyte in a very strange tone.

As to the rest, one was a man of thirty, the retired officer, now a boxer, who had been with Rogojin, and in his happier days had given fifteen roubles at a time to beggars. Evidently he had joined the others as a comrade to give them moral, and if necessary material, support. The man who had been spoken of as “Pavlicheff’s son,” although he gave the name of Antip Burdovsky, was about twenty-two years of age, fair, thin and rather tall. He was remarkable for the poverty, not to say uncleanliness, of his personal appearance: the sleeves of his overcoat were greasy; his dirty waistcoat, buttoned up to his neck, showed not a trace of linen; a filthy black silk scarf, twisted till it resembled a cord, was round his neck, and his hands were unwashed. He looked round with an air of insolent effrontery. His face, covered with pimples, was neither thoughtful nor even contemptuous; it wore an expression of complacent satisfaction in demanding his rights and in being an aggrieved party. His voice trembled, and he spoke so fast, and with such stammerings, that he might have been taken for a foreigner, though the purest Russian blood ran in his veins. Lebedeff’s nephew, whom the reader has seen already, accompanied him, and also the youth named Hippolyte Terentieff. The latter was only seventeen or eighteen. He had an intelligent face, though it was usually irritated and fretful in expression. His skeleton-like figure, his ghastly complexion, the brightness of his eyes, and the red spots of colour on his cheeks, betrayed the victim of consumption to the most casual glance. He coughed persistently, and panted for breath; it looked as though he had but a few weeks more to live. He was nearly dead with fatigue, and fell, rather than sat, into a chair. The rest bowed as they came in; and being more or less abashed, put on an air of extreme self-assurance. In short, their attitude was not that which one would have expected in men who professed to despise all trivialities, all foolish mundane conventions, and indeed everything, except their own personal interests.

“Why, open it, for the time being, don’t you know?” he said, most confidentially and mysteriously.

She was very like her mother: she even dressed like her, which proved that she had no taste for smart clothes. The expression of her grey eyes was merry and gentle, when it was not, as lately, too full of thought and anxiety. The same decision and firmness was to be observed in her face as in her mother’s, but her strength seemed to be more vigorous than that of Nina Alexandrovna. She was subject to outbursts of temper, of which even her brother was a little afraid.

At this point General Epanchin, noticing how interested Muishkin had become in the conversation, said to him, in a low tone:

“Oh--if that is the state of affairs--” began Gania.

The prince was silent. At last he spoke.

“Ask Gavrila Ardalionovitch to step this way,” said she to the man who answered.

The prince had observed that Nastasia knew well enough what Aglaya was to him. He never spoke of it, but he had seen her face when she had caught him starting off for the Epanchins’ house on several occasions. When the Epanchins left Pavlofsk, she had beamed with radiance and happiness. Unsuspicious and unobservant as he was, he had feared at that time that Nastasia might have some scheme in her mind for a scene or scandal which would drive Aglaya out of Pavlofsk. She had encouraged the rumours and excitement among the inhabitants of the place as to her marriage with the prince, in order to annoy her rival; and, finding it difficult to meet the Epanchins anywhere, she had, on one occasion, taken him for a drive past their house. He did not observe what was happening until they were almost passing the windows, when it was too late to do anything. He said nothing, but for two days afterwards he was ill.

Aglaya stopped, took the letter, and gazed strangely into the prince’s eyes. There was no confusion in her face; a little surprise, perhaps, but that was all. By her look she seemed merely to challenge the prince to an explanation as to how he and Gania happened to be connected in this matter. But her expression was perfectly cool and quiet, and even condescending.

Mrs. Epanchin, long accustomed to her husband’s infidelities, had heard of the pearls, and the rumour excited her liveliest curiosity and interest. The general remarked her suspicions, and felt that a grand explanation must shortly take place--which fact alarmed him much.

“Who? I?--good and honest?”

“ANTIP BURDOVSKY.

The prince flushed up so much that he could not look her in the face.

“Affectation!” remarked someone else.

“_Very_ much; and I am so glad that you have realized the fact.”

The prince was listening open-mouthed, and still in a condition of excited agitation. The old man was evidently interested in him, and anxious to study him more closely.

“He’s fainted!” the cry went round.

“I will only remark that from these premises one could conclude that might is right--I mean the right of the clenched fist, and of personal inclination. Indeed, the world has often come to that conclusion. Prudhon upheld that might is right. In the American War some of the most advanced Liberals took sides with the planters on the score that the blacks were an inferior race to the whites, and that might was the right of the white race.”

“The bullet struck so low down that probably his antagonist would never have aimed at that part of him--people never do; he would have aimed at his chest or head; so that probably the bullet hit him accidentally. I have been told this by competent authorities.”

“Please don’t be angry with me,” continued the prince. “I know very well that I have seen less of life than other people, and have less knowledge of it. I must appear to speak strangely sometimes...”

Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the house together.

The prince’s tone was so natural and respectful that the general could not possibly suspect him of any insincerity.

While Gania put this question, a new idea suddenly flashed into his brain, and blazed out, impatiently, in his eyes. The general, who was really agitated and disturbed, looked at the prince too, but did not seem to expect much from his reply.

“Goodness knows what it means, ma’am,” she said. “There is a whole collection of men come--all tipsy--and want to see you. They say that ‘it’s Rogojin, and she knows all about it.’”

“My dear sir, a man of such noble aspirations is worthy of all esteem by virtue of those aspirations alone.”

He reappeared in five minutes as he had said. The prince was waiting for him.

“Are you out of your mind?” cried the prince, almost starting from his seat. “What do they accuse you of? Who accuses you?”

Rogojin raised his eyes and gazed intently at the prince.

The prince was beside himself.

Evgenie Pavlovitch seemed to be in a lively humour. He made Adelaida and Alexandra laugh all the way to the Vauxhall; but they both laughed so very readily and promptly that the worthy Evgenie began at last to suspect that they were not listening to him at all.

“That officer, eh!--that young officer--don’t you remember that fellow at the band? Eh? Ha, ha, ha! Didn’t she whip him smartly, eh?”

All this was suspicious and unsatisfactory. Very likely the porter had received new instructions during the interval of the prince’s absence; his manner was so different now. He had been obliging--now he was as obstinate and silent as a mule. However, the prince decided to call again in a couple of hours, and after that to watch the house, in case of need. His hope was that he might yet find Nastasia at the address which he had just received. To that address he now set off at full speed.

“You’ve moved him to tears,” added Ferdishenko. But Hippolyte was by no means weeping. He was about to move from his place, when his four guards rushed at him and seized him once more. There was a laugh at this.

“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed in alarm, snatching her hand away. She went hastily out of the room in a state of strange confusion.

“They have planted roses all round her grave, and every year they look after the flowers and make Marie’s resting-place as beautiful as they can. I was in ill odour after all this with the parents of the children, and especially with the parson and schoolmaster. Schneider was obliged to promise that I should not meet them and talk to them; but we conversed from a distance by signs, and they used to write me sweet little notes. Afterwards I came closer than ever to those little souls, but even then it was very dear to me, to have them so fond of me.

“Well, gentlemen!” she continued, gazing around in apparent astonishment; “what do you all look so alarmed about? Why are you so upset?”

There was evidently, he concluded, something at work here; some storm of the mind, some paroxysm of romantic anger, goodness knows against whom or what, some insatiable contempt--in a word, something altogether absurd and impossible, but at the same time most dangerous to be met with by any respectable person with a position in society to keep up.

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.

He was particularly anxious that this one day should be passed--especially the evening--without unpleasantness between himself and his family; and just at the right moment the prince turned up--“as though Heaven had sent him on purpose,” said the general to himself, as he left the study to seek out the wife of his bosom.

“Oh general, spare Ferdishenko!” replied the other, smiling. “I have special privileges.”

“Yes, very much.”

“Well--gentlemen--I do not force anyone to listen! If any of you are unwilling to sit it out, please go away, by all means!”

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.

The letter had evidently been written in a hurry:

Her usually thoughtful, pale face, which all this while had been so little in harmony with the jests and laughter which she had seemed to put on for the occasion, was now evidently agitated by new feelings, though she tried to conceal the fact and to look as though she were as ready as ever for jesting and irony.

“How can it be foreign? You _are_ going to be married, are you not? Very well, then you are persisting in your course. _Are_ you going to marry her or not?”

“I know nothing, Nastasia Philipovna. I have seen nothing. You are right so far; but I consider that you would be honouring me, and not I you. I am a nobody. You have suffered, you have passed through hell and emerged pure, and that is very much. Why do you shame yourself by desiring to go with Rogojin? You are delirious. You have returned to Mr. Totski his seventy-five thousand roubles, and declared that you will leave this house and all that is in it, which is a line of conduct that not one person here would imitate. Nastasia Philipovna, I love you! I would die for you. I shall never let any man say one word against you, Nastasia Philipovna! and if we are poor, I can work for both.”

“Especially as you know all, eh?”

“So that if I cannot now impart all that has tormented me for the last six months, at all events you will understand that, having reached my ‘last convictions,’ I must have paid a very dear price for them. That is what I wished, for reasons of my own, to make a point of in this my ‘Explanation.’

“Nowhere, as yet.”

“It was Colia told me, and his father told _him_ at about six this morning. They met at the threshold, when Colia was leaving the room for something or other.” The prince told Lebedeff all that Colia had made known to himself, in detail.

“But if I beg you to make it up?” said Varia.

“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.”

“Her relations had all died off--her husband was dead and buried forty years since; and a niece, who had lived with her and bullied her up to three years ago, was dead too; so that she was quite alone.

Once she turned and observed the prince hurrying after them. Noticing his anxiety to catch them up, she smiled ironically, and then looked back no more. At length, just as they neared the house, General Epanchin came out and met them; he had only just arrived from town.

“Of course--she showed them to me herself. You are thinking of the razor, eh? Ha, ha, ha!”

“Prince!” she said, “have pity on that poor boy; don’t turn him out today.”

Aglaya rushed away homewards with these words.

“You suspect him?”

The wedding was fixed for eight o’clock in the evening. Nastasia Philipovna was ready at seven. From six o’clock groups of people began to gather at Nastasia’s house, at the prince’s, and at the church door, but more especially at the former place. The church began to fill at seven.

This message entirely calmed the prince’s mind.

“I only wished to say that this ‘distortion,’ as Evgenie Pavlovitch expressed it, is met with very often, and is far more the general rule than the exception, unfortunately for Russia. So much so, that if this distortion were not the general rule, perhaps these dreadful crimes would be less frequent.”

“‘I’m afraid you are ill?’ he remarked, in the tone which doctors use when they address a patient. ‘I am myself a medical man’ (he did not say ‘doctor’), with which words he waved his hands towards the room and its contents as though in protest at his present condition. ‘I see that you--’

“As for your face, Lizabetha Prokofievna, I not only think, but am perfectly _sure_, that you are an absolute child--in all, in all, mind, both good and bad--and in spite of your years. Don’t be angry with me for saying so; you know what my feelings for children are. And do not suppose that I am so candid out of pure simplicity of soul. Oh dear no, it is by no means the case! Perhaps I have my own very profound object in view.”

“Quite so, quite so!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, delighted. “I see you _can_ be sensible now and then, Alexandra. You were speaking of Switzerland, prince?”

“You are very like Lizabetha Prokofievna.”

“Who told you that?” broke in Evgenie Pavlovitch.

“You are innocent--and in your innocence lies all your perfection--oh, remember that! What is my passion to you?--you are mine now; I shall be near you all my life--I shall not live long!”

“At moments I was in a state of dreadful weakness and misery, so that Colia was greatly disturbed when he left me.

“What? What? What?” cried all the visitors at once, in violent agitation.

“So that if I cannot now impart all that has tormented me for the last six months, at all events you will understand that, having reached my ‘last convictions,’ I must have paid a very dear price for them. That is what I wished, for reasons of my own, to make a point of in this my ‘Explanation.’

“Laissez-le dire! He is trembling all over,” said the old man, in a warning whisper.

“I knew it had been written, but I would not have advised its publication,” said Lebedeff’s nephew, “because it is premature.”

“By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant Trepalaf’s.

A new fancy! The prince reflected, and then mounted the stairs once more. He pulled out the cross without taking it off his neck.

“Your philosophy is rather like that of an old woman we know, who is rich and yet does nothing but try how little she can spend. She talks of nothing but money all day. Your great philosophical idea of a grand life in a prison and your four happy years in that Swiss village are like this, rather,” said Aglaya.