“I really think I must request you to step into the next room!” he said, with all the insistence he could muster.
“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.
“Yes... from you it is quite natural.”
“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.
“You, you! She has loved you ever since that day, her birthday! Only she thinks she cannot marry you, because it would be the ruin of you. ‘Everybody knows what sort of a woman I am,’ she says. She told me all this herself, to my very face! She’s afraid of disgracing and ruining you, she says, but it doesn’t matter about me. She can marry me all right! Notice how much consideration she shows for me!”
“You’ll hate her afterwards for all your present love, and for all the torment you are suffering on her account now. What seems to me the most extraordinary thing is, that she can again consent to marry you, after all that has passed between you. When I heard the news yesterday, I could hardly bring myself to believe it. Why, she has run twice from you, from the very altar rails, as it were. She must have some presentiment of evil. What can she want with you now? Your money? Nonsense! Besides, I should think you must have made a fairly large hole in your fortune already. Surely it is not because she is so very anxious to find a husband? She could find many a one besides yourself. Anyone would be better than you, because you will murder her, and I feel sure she must know that but too well by now. Is it because you love her so passionately? Indeed, that may be it. I have heard that there are women who want just that kind of love... but still...” The prince paused, reflectively.
“Vladimir Doktorenko,” said Lebedeff’s nephew briskly, and with a certain pride, as if he boasted of his name.
“As the true friend of your father, I wish to say a few words to you,” he began. “I have suffered--there was a catastrophe. I suffered without a trial; I had no trial. Nina Alexandrovna my wife, is an excellent woman, so is my daughter Varvara. We have to let lodgings because we are poor--a dreadful, unheard-of come-down for us--for me, who should have been a governor-general; but we are very glad to have _you_, at all events. Meanwhile there is a tragedy in the house.”
“Oho! ho, ho, ho!” cried Ferdishenko. “_Now_ then, prince! My word, what things I would say if I had such a chance as that! My goodness, prince--go on!”
“But how do you, how can you--” began the prince, gazing with dread and horror at Rogojin.
“We have done without him so far,” interrupted Adelaida in her turn. “Surely we can wait until to-morrow.”
Colia Ivolgin, for some time after the prince’s departure, continued his old life. That is, he went to school, looked after his father, helped Varia in the house, and ran her errands, and went frequently to see his friend, Hippolyte.
“How so? Do you want to make out that you love them _both?_”
“Shall I see you home?” asked the prince, rising from his seat, but suddenly stopping short as he remembered Aglaya’s prohibition against leaving the house. Hippolyte laughed.
“I assure you I did not mean to reckon up debits and credits,” he began, “and if you--”
Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class--to the “much cleverer” persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the “clever commonplace” person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair. (As a rule, however, nothing tragic happens;--his liver becomes a little damaged in the course of time, nothing more serious. Such men do not give up their aspirations after originality without a severe struggle,--and there have been men who, though good fellows in themselves, and even benefactors to humanity, have sunk to the level of base criminals for the sake of originality).
“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.”
And Rogojin burst out laughing, this time with unconcealed malice, as though he were glad that he had been able to find an opportunity for giving vent to it.
“Rogojin only leaned his elbow on the table and silently stared at me. So passed two or three minutes, and I recollect that his silence hurt and offended me very much. Why did he not speak?
“Why? Do you know anything about it? Look here,” continued the general, more agitated than ever, and trembling with excitement, “maybe I have been letting the cat out of the bag too freely with you, if so, it is because you are--that sort of man, you know! Perhaps you have some special information?”
“You seem to be a little feverish tonight,” said the actress.
“‘Oh, it was evident at the first glance,’ I said ironically, but not intentionally so. ‘There are lots of people who come up from the provinces full of hope, and run about town, and have to live as best they can.’
It is impossible to describe Aglaya’s irritation. She flared up, and said some indignant words about “all these silly insinuations.” She added that “she had no intentions as yet of replacing anybody’s mistress.”
“Prince,” he began again, “they are rather angry with me, in there, owing to a circumstance which I need not explain, so that I do not care to go in at present without an invitation. I particularly wish to speak to Aglaya, but I have written a few words in case I shall not have the chance of seeing her” (here the prince observed a small note in his hand), “and I do not know how to get my communication to her. Don’t you think you could undertake to give it to her at once, but only to her, mind, and so that no one else should see you give it? It isn’t much of a secret, but still--Well, will you do it?”
The reading of these letters produced some such effect upon the prince. He felt, before he even opened the envelopes, that the very fact of their existence was like a nightmare. How could she ever have made up her mind to write to her? he asked himself. How could she write about that at all? And how could such a wild idea have entered her head? And yet, the strangest part of the matter was, that while he read the letters, he himself almost believed in the possibility, and even in the justification, of the idea he had thought so wild. Of course it was a mad dream, a nightmare, and yet there was something cruelly real about it. For hours he was haunted by what he had read. Several passages returned again and again to his mind, and as he brooded over them, he felt inclined to say to himself that he had foreseen and known all that was written here; it even seemed to him that he had read the whole of this some time or other, long, long ago; and all that had tormented and grieved him up to now was to be found in these old, long since read, letters.
Little by little he became very happy indeed. All his late anxieties and apprehensions (after his conversation with Lebedeff) now appeared like so many bad dreams--impossible, and even laughable.
“What letters?” said the prince, alarmed.
“Oh, but I’m quite well now, thank you, and very glad to make your acquaintance. Prince S. has often spoken to me about you,” said Muishkin, and for an instant the two men looked intently into one another’s eyes.
Lebedeff’s country-house was not large, but it was pretty and convenient, especially the part which was let to the prince.
“We were leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking into the Neva at this moment.
“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.”
There was nothing premeditated, there was not even any conscious purpose in it all, and yet, in spite of everything, the family, although highly respected, was not quite what every highly respected family ought to be. For a long time now Lizabetha Prokofievna had had it in her mind that all the trouble was owing to her “unfortunate character,” and this added to her distress. She blamed her own stupid unconventional “eccentricity.” Always restless, always on the go, she constantly seemed to lose her way, and to get into trouble over the simplest and more ordinary affairs of life.
“Oh! I can’t do that,” said the prince, laughing too. “I lived almost all the while in one little Swiss village; what can I teach you? At first I was only just not absolutely dull; then my health began to improve--then every day became dearer and more precious to me, and the longer I stayed, the dearer became the time to me; so much so that I could not help observing it; but why this was so, it would be difficult to say.”
“Enough,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna abruptly, trembling with anger, “we have had enough of this balderdash!”
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.
On the latter’s arrival, at six in the morning, Gania had gone to him in his room, bringing with him the singed packet of money, which he had insisted that the prince should return to Nastasia Philipovna without delay. It was said that when Gania entered the prince’s room, he came with anything but friendly feelings, and in a condition of despair and misery; but that after a short conversation, he had stayed on for a couple of hours with him, sobbing continuously and bitterly the whole time. They had parted upon terms of cordial friendship.
She became so excited and agitated during all these explanations and confessions that General Epanchin was highly gratified, and considered the matter satisfactorily arranged once for all. But the once bitten Totski was twice shy, and looked for hidden snakes among the flowers. However, the special point to which the two friends particularly trusted to bring about their object (namely, Gania’s attractiveness for Nastasia Philipovna), stood out more and more prominently; the pourparlers had commenced, and gradually even Totski began to believe in the possibility of success.
“I assure you I did not mean to reckon up debits and credits,” he began, “and if you--”
“You know quite well that I am telling the truth, because I have always been frank with you. I have never concealed my own opinion from you. I have always told you that I consider a marriage between you and her would be ruin to her. You would also be ruined, and perhaps even more hopelessly. If this marriage were to be broken off again, I admit I should be greatly pleased; but at the same time I have not the slightest intention of trying to part you. You may be quite easy in your mind, and you need not suspect me. You know yourself whether I was ever really your rival or not, even when she ran away and came to me.
“Of course not--of course not!--bah! The criminal was a fine intelligent fearless man; Le Gros was his name; and I may tell you--believe it or not, as you like--that when that man stepped upon the scaffold he _cried_, he did indeed,--he was as white as a bit of paper. Isn’t it a dreadful idea that he should have cried--cried! Whoever heard of a grown man crying from fear--not a child, but a man who never had cried before--a grown man of forty-five years. Imagine what must have been going on in that man’s mind at such a moment; what dreadful convulsions his whole spirit must have endured; it is an outrage on the soul that’s what it is. Because it is said ‘thou shalt not kill,’ is he to be killed because he murdered some one else? No, it is not right, it’s an impossible theory. I assure you, I saw the sight a month ago and it’s dancing before my eyes to this moment. I dream of it, often.”
The general shrugged his shoulders.
“How dared they, how _dared_ they write that hateful anonymous letter informing me that Aglaya is in communication with Nastasia Philipovna?” she thought, as she dragged the prince along towards her own house, and again when she sat him down at the round table where the family was already assembled. “How dared they so much as _think_ of such a thing? I should _die_ with shame if I thought there was a particle of truth in it, or if I were to show the letter to Aglaya herself! Who dares play these jokes upon _us_, the Epanchins? _Why_ didn’t we go to the Yelagin instead of coming down here? I _told_ you we had better go to the Yelagin this summer, Ivan Fedorovitch. It’s all your fault. I dare say it was that Varia who sent the letter. It’s all Ivan Fedorovitch. _That_ woman is doing it all for him, I know she is, to show she can make a fool of him now just as she did when he used to give her pearls.
When the widow hurried away to Pavlofsk, she went straight to Daria Alexeyevna’s house, and telling all she knew, threw her into a state of great alarm. Both ladies decided to communicate at once with Lebedeff, who, as the friend and landlord of the prince, was also much agitated. Vera Lebedeff told all she knew, and by Lebedeff’s advice it was decided that all three should go to Petersburg as quickly as possible, in order to avert “what might so easily happen.”
“Wait for me here, my boy--will you? Just wait and think it all over, and I’ll come back directly,” he said hurriedly, and made off with what looked like the rapidity of alarm in response to Alexandra’s call.
“Surely not you?” cried the prince.
“I didn’t come here for that purpose, Parfen. That was not in my mind--”
“She was very quiet always--and I remember once, when she had suddenly begun singing at her work, everyone said, ‘Marie tried to sing today!’ and she got so chaffed that she was silent for ever after. She had been treated kindly in the place before; but when she came back now--ill and shunned and miserable--not one of them all had the slightest sympathy for her. Cruel people! Oh, what hazy understandings they have on such matters! Her mother was the first to show the way. She received her wrathfully, unkindly, and with contempt. ‘You have disgraced me,’ she said. She was the first to cast her into ignominy; but when they all heard that Marie had returned to the village, they ran out to see her and crowded into the little cottage--old men, children, women, girls--such a hurrying, stamping, greedy crowd. Marie was lying on the floor at the old woman’s feet, hungry, torn, draggled, crying, miserable.
The subject under discussion did not appear to be very popular with the assembly, and some would have been delighted to change it; but Evgenie would not stop holding forth, and the prince’s arrival seemed to spur him on to still further oratorical efforts.
“My God! Who would ever have believed this?” cried Mrs. Epanchin, wringing her hands.
“The prince has this to do with it--that I see in him for the first time in all my life, a man endowed with real truthfulness of spirit, and I trust him. He trusted me at first sight, and I trust him!”
“Get away then, all of you. I shall do as I like with my own--don’t meddle! Ferdishenko, make up the fire, quick!”
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
Hippolyte suddenly burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, which turned into a choking cough.
Mrs. Epanchin almost sprang up in amazement at his answer, and at the assurance of his tone.
“Oh yes, but that is not enough.”
“Then how Schneider told me about my childish nature, and--”
When he was carried away unconscious, Keller stood in the middle of the room, and made the following declaration to the company in general, in a loud tone of voice, with emphasis upon each word.
“I know this much, that you did not go out to honest work, but went away with a rich man, Rogojin, in order to pose as a fallen angel. I don’t wonder that Totski was nearly driven to suicide by such a fallen angel.”
Undoubtedly the fact that he might now come and see Aglaya as much as he pleased again was quite enough to make him perfectly happy; that he might come and speak to her, and see her, and sit by her, and walk with her--who knows, but that all this was quite enough to satisfy him for the whole of his life, and that he would desire no more to the end of time?
Alexandra was a good-natured girl, though she had a will of her own. She was intelligent and kind-hearted, and, if she were to marry Totski, she would make him a good wife. She did not care for a brilliant marriage; she was eminently a woman calculated to soothe and sweeten the life of any man; decidedly pretty, if not absolutely handsome. What better could Totski wish?
All this occurred, of course, in one instant of time.
“PRINCE LEF NICOLAIEVITCH,--If you think fit, after all that has passed, to honour our house with a visit, I can assure you you will not find me among the number of those who are in any way delighted to see you.
“He has been very ill,” added Varia.
But it was more serious than he wished to think. As soon as the visitors had crossed the low dark hall, and entered the narrow reception-room, furnished with half a dozen cane chairs, and two small card-tables, Madame Terentieff, in the shrill tones habitual to her, continued her stream of invectives.
“Oh, that may be. He may have known her some time ago--two or three years, at least. He used to know Totski. But it is impossible that there should be any intimacy between them. She has not even been in the place--many people don’t even know that she has returned from Moscow! I have only observed her carriage about for the last three days or so.”
“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.”
“Artists always draw the Saviour as an actor in one of the Gospel stories. I should do differently. I should represent Christ alone--the disciples did leave Him alone occasionally. I should paint one little child left with Him. This child has been playing about near Him, and had probably just been telling the Saviour something in its pretty baby prattle. Christ had listened to it, but was now musing--one hand reposing on the child’s bright head. His eyes have a far-away expression. Thought, great as the Universe, is in them--His face is sad. The little one leans its elbow upon Christ’s knee, and with its cheek resting on its hand, gazes up at Him, pondering as children sometimes do ponder. The sun is setting. There you have my picture.
“Of course, of course! And about your fits?”
Gania was silent for a minute or two, as though thinking out some problem. Suddenly he cried:
“‘Child,’ he addressed me suddenly, ‘what do you think of our plan?’ Of course he only applied to me as a sort of toss-up, you know. I turned to Davoust and addressed my reply to him. I said, as though inspired:
“Never, never!” cried Rogojin, excitedly.
The entrance-hall suddenly became full of noise and people. To judge from the sounds which penetrated to the drawing-room, a number of people had already come in, and the stampede continued. Several voices were talking and shouting at once; others were talking and shouting on the stairs outside; it was evidently a most extraordinary visit that was about to take place.
“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”
An old woman opened to them and bowed low to Parfen, who asked her some questions hurriedly, but did not wait to hear her answer. He led the prince on through several dark, cold-looking rooms, spotlessly clean, with white covers over all the furniture.
“Papa, how can you?” cried Adelaida, walking quickly up to the prince and holding out her hand.
“Drink some water, and don’t look like that!”
“I am very sorry; I was not thinking at the time. I merely said that Aglaya was almost as beautiful as Nastasia Philipovna.”
“Well, it is a silly little story, in a few words,” began the delighted general. “A couple of years ago, soon after the new railway was opened, I had to go somewhere or other on business. Well, I took a first-class ticket, sat down, and began to smoke, or rather _continued_ to smoke, for I had lighted up before. I was alone in the carriage. Smoking is not allowed, but is not prohibited either; it is half allowed--so to speak, winked at. I had the window open.”
Evgenie Pavlovitch flushed up and looked angrily at Nastasia Philipovna, then turned his back on her.
“Pure amiable curiosity,--I assure you--desire to do a service. That’s all. Now I’m entirely yours again, your slave; hang me if you like!”
First, with a sad smile, and then with a twinkle of merriment in her eyes, she admitted that such a storm as that of five years ago was now quite out of the question. She said that she had long since changed her views of things, and recognized that facts must be taken into consideration in spite of the feelings of the heart. What was done was done and ended, and she could not understand why Totski should still feel alarmed.
Indeed, Gania did not look in the least like himself. His bewilderment and his alarmed perplexity passed off, however, and his lips now twitched with rage as he continued to stare evilly at his laughing guest, while his countenance became absolutely livid.
“That has been seen already,” continued Lebedeff, not deigning to notice the interruption. “Malthus was a friend of humanity, but, with ill-founded moral principles, the friend of humanity is the devourer of humanity, without mentioning his pride; for, touch the vanity of one of these numberless philanthropists, and to avenge his self-esteem, he will be ready at once to set fire to the whole globe; and to tell the truth, we are all more or less like that. I, perhaps, might be the first to set a light to the fuel, and then run away. But, again, I must repeat, that is not the question.”
“Oh, I don’t know what this means” cried Ivan Fedorovitch, transported with indignation.
“Aglaya, make a note of ‘Pafnute,’ or we shall forget him. H’m! and where is this signature?”
“She has promised to tell me tonight at her own house whether she consents or not,” replied Gania.
“Why, he knows everything--Lebedeff knows everything! I was a month or two with Lihachof after his father died, your excellency, and while he was knocking about--he’s in the debtor’s prison now--I was with him, and he couldn’t do a thing without Lebedeff; and I got to know Nastasia Philipovna and several people at that time.”
“What, know of it? Ha, ha, ha! Why, there was a whole crowd round her the moment she appeared on the scenes here. You know what sort of people surround her nowadays, and solicit the honour of her ‘acquaintance.’ Of course she might easily have heard the news from someone coming from town. All Petersburg, if not all Pavlofsk, knows it by now. Look at the slyness of her observation about Evgenie’s uniform! I mean, her remark that he had retired just in time! There’s a venomous hint for you, if you like! No, no! there’s no insanity there! Of course I refuse to believe that Evgenie Pavlovitch could have known beforehand of the catastrophe; that is, that at such and such a day at seven o’clock, and all that; but he might well have had a presentiment of the truth. And I--all of us--Prince S. and everybody, believed that he was to inherit a large fortune from this uncle. It’s dreadful, horrible! Mind, I don’t suspect Evgenie of anything, be quite clear on that point; but the thing is a little suspicious, nevertheless. Prince S. can’t get over it. Altogether it is a very extraordinary combination of circumstances.”
At the beginning of the evening, when the prince first came into the room, he had sat down as far as possible from the Chinese vase which Aglaya had spoken of the day before.
“Yes, I remember too!” said Alexandra. “You quarrelled about the wounded pigeon, and Adelaida was put in the corner, and stood there with her helmet and sword and all.”
But the puzzle and mystery of Aglaya was not yet over for the evening. The last exhibition fell to the lot of the prince alone. When they had proceeded some hundred paces or so from the house, Aglaya said to her obstinately silent cavalier in a quick half-whisper:
“Is it certainly accursed?... or do you only mean it might be? That is an important point,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“Then I’m not to read it?” he whispered, nervously. “Am I not to read it?” he repeated, gazing around at each face in turn. “What are you afraid of, prince?” he turned and asked the latter suddenly.
“Do you know that I came here to see those trees?” pointing to the trees in the park. “It is not ridiculous, is it? Say that it is not ridiculous!” he demanded urgently of Lizabetha Prokofievna. Then he seemed to be plunged in thought. A moment later he raised his head, and his eyes sought for someone. He was looking for Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was close by on his right as before, but he had forgotten this, and his eyes ranged over the assembled company. “Ah! you have not gone!” he said, when he caught sight of him at last. “You kept on laughing just now, because I thought of speaking to the people from the window for a quarter of an hour. But I am not eighteen, you know; lying on that bed, and looking out of that window, I have thought of all sorts of things for such a long time that... a dead man has no age, you know. I was saying that to myself only last week, when I was awake in the night. Do you know what you fear most? You fear our sincerity more than anything, although you despise us! The idea crossed my mind that night... You thought I was making fun of you just now, Lizabetha Prokofievna? No, the idea of mockery was far from me; I only meant to praise you. Colia told me the prince called you a child--very well--but let me see, I had something else to say...” He covered his face with his hands and tried to collect his thoughts.
She next turned to General Epanchin and observed, most courteously, that she had long since known of his daughters, and that she had heard none but good report; that she had learned to think of them with deep and sincere respect. The idea alone that she could in any way serve them, would be to her both a pride and a source of real happiness.
“I felt so furious with him at this moment that I longed to rush at him; but as I had sworn that he should speak first, I continued to lie still--and the more willingly, as I was still by no means satisfied as to whether it really was Rogojin or not.
The rest of the company followed her example.