Nastasia Philipovna was waiting for them in the first room they went into. She was dressed very simply, in black.
“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?”
“I was glad for the poor fellow, and went home. But an idea got hold of me somehow. I don’t know how. It was nearly two in the morning. I rang the bell and ordered the coachman to be waked up and sent to me. He came. I gave him a tip of fifteen roubles, and told him to get the carriage ready at once. In half an hour it was at the door. I got in and off we went.
An ominous expression passed over Nastasia Philipovna’s face, of a sudden. It became obstinate-looking, hard, and full of hatred; but she did not take her eyes off her visitors for a moment.
The prince muttered something, blushed, and jumped up; but Aglaya immediately sat down beside him; so he reseated himself.
“How, what? my letter?” he cried. “He never delivered it! I might have guessed it, oh! curse him! Of course she did not understand what I meant, naturally! Why--why--_why_ didn’t you give her the note, you--”
He seized her hands, and pressed them so hard that Adelaida nearly cried out; he then gazed with delight into her eyes, and raising her right hand to his lips with enthusiasm, kissed it three times.
“He may not be home for a week.”
“If you do not turn those dreadful people out of the house this very instant, I shall hate you all my life--all my life!” It was Aglaya. She seemed almost in a frenzy, but she turned away before the prince could look at her. However, there was no one left to turn out of the house, for they had managed meanwhile to get Hippolyte into the cab, and it had driven off.
“Well, leave your hotel at once and come here; then we can all go together to Pavlofsk the day after tomorrow.”
“In connection with ‘the ten,’ eh?” laughed Evgenie, as he left the room.
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.
Offering all these facts to our readers and refusing to explain them, we do not for a moment desire to justify our hero’s conduct. On the contrary, we are quite prepared to feel our share of the indignation which his behaviour aroused in the hearts of his friends. Even Vera Lebedeff was angry with him for a while; so was Colia; so was Keller, until he was selected for best man; so was Lebedeff himself,--who began to intrigue against him out of pure irritation;--but of this anon. In fact we are in full accord with certain forcible words spoken to the prince by Evgenie Pavlovitch, quite unceremoniously, during the course of a friendly conversation, six or seven days after the events at Nastasia Philipovna’s house.
“Yes, believe it or not! It’s all the same to me!”
Nastasia Philipovna, observing his woe-begone expression, suddenly burst out laughing.
He immediately judged from the faces of his daughters and Prince S. that there was a thunderstorm brewing, and he himself already bore evidences of unusual perturbation of mind.
“It was a dream, of course,” he said, musingly. “Strange that I should have a dream like that at such a moment. Sit down--”
“You won’t? Very well. I shall be as short as possible, for my part. Two or three times to-day I have had the word ‘hospitality’ pushed down my throat; this is not fair. In inviting me here you yourself entrapped me for your own use; you thought I wished to revenge myself upon the prince. You heard that Aglaya Ivanovna had been kind to me and read my confession. Making sure that I should give myself up to your interests, you hoped that you might get some assistance out of me. I will not go into details. I don’t ask either admission or confirmation of this from yourself; I am quite content to leave you to your conscience, and to feel that we understand one another capitally.”
“Well!--and what’s the meaning of the ‘poor knight,’ eh?”
No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.
The general dropped his eyes, and elevated his brows; shrugged his shoulders, tightened his lips, spread his hands, and remained silent. At last he blurted out:
She could not believe her ears.
“Not as a present, not as a present! I should not have taken the liberty,” said Lebedeff, appearing suddenly from behind his daughter. “It is our own Pushkin, our family copy, Annenkoff’s edition; it could not be bought now. I beg to suggest, with great respect, that your excellency should buy it, and thus quench the noble literary thirst which is consuming you at this moment,” he concluded grandiloquently.
“I don’t know. Perhaps it was that I seemed to come upon light in the midst of my gloom. I told you the truth when I said I did not know why I thought of you before all others. Of course it was all a sort of dream, a dream amidst the horrors of reality. Afterwards I began to work. I did not intend to come back here for two or three years--”
“Why do you look at me like that, prince?” she asked suddenly, breaking off her merry conversation and laughter with those about her. “I’m afraid of you! You look as though you were just going to put out your hand and touch my face to see if it’s real! Doesn’t he, Evgenie Pavlovitch--doesn’t he look like that?”
She gazed attentively at him.
“So do I, so do I! This moment, if I could! I’d give every farthing I have to do it.”
There he lay on the carpet, and someone quickly placed a cushion under his head.
“Oh, wouldn’t he just!”
“What a dear little thing she is,” thought the prince, and immediately forgot all about her.
“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.
Varia pounced upon her brother.
“What of that? People will say anything,” said Rogojin drily.
“Why so?” asked the prince uneasily.
“Is father in?” he asked. Colia whispered something in his ear and went out.
“Well, leave your hotel at once and come here; then we can all go together to Pavlofsk the day after tomorrow.”
“Yes, I think I can.”
“Well, well! Enough! You’ve pitied me, and that’s all that good manners exact. I forgot, how are you?”
Not only was there no trace of her former irony, of her old hatred and enmity, and of that dreadful laughter, the very recollection of which sent a cold chill down Totski’s back to this very day; but she seemed charmed and really glad to have the opportunity of talking seriously with him for once in a way. She confessed that she had long wished to have a frank and free conversation and to ask for friendly advice, but that pride had hitherto prevented her; now, however, that the ice was broken, nothing could be more welcome to her than this opportunity.
“Nor do I! They always try to bury me underground when there’s anything going on; they don’t seem to reflect that it is unpleasant to a man to be treated so! I won’t stand it! We have just had a terrible scene!--mind, I speak to you as I would to my own son! Aglaya laughs at her mother. Her sisters guessed about Evgenie having proposed and been rejected, and told Lizabetha.
“‘Camellias!’ I said, ‘father, save me, save me, let me have some camellias!’ He was a tall, grey old man--a terrible-looking old gentleman. ‘Not a bit of it,’ he says. ‘I won’t.’ Down I went on my knees. ‘Don’t say so, don’t--think what you’re doing!’ I cried; ‘it’s a matter of life and death!’ ‘If that’s the case, take them,’ says he. So up I get, and cut such a bouquet of red camellias! He had a whole greenhouse full of them--lovely ones. The old fellow sighs. I pull out a hundred roubles. ‘No, no!’ says he, ‘don’t insult me that way.’ ‘Oh, if that’s the case, give it to the village hospital,’ I say. ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘that’s quite a different matter; that’s good of you and generous. I’ll pay it in there for you with pleasure.’ I liked that old fellow, Russian to the core, _de la vraie souche_. I went home in raptures, but took another road in order to avoid Peter. Immediately on arriving I sent up the bouquet for Anfisa to see when she awoke.
Gania suddenly became so ill at ease that his face grew paler than ever.
“H’m! she is as stupid as a fool! A veritable ‘wet hen’! Nothing excites her; and yet she is not happy; some days it makes one miserable only to look at her! Why is she unhappy, I wonder?” At times Lizabetha Prokofievna put this question to her husband, and as usual she spoke in the threatening tone of one who demands an immediate answer. Ivan Fedorovitch would frown, shrug his shoulders, and at last give his opinion: “She needs a husband!”
“But whatever she may say, remember that she does not believe it herself,--remember that she will believe nothing but that she is a guilty creature.
“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?”
“There is no silliness about it at all--only the profoundest respect,” said Aglaya, very seriously. She had quite recovered her temper; in fact, from certain signs, it was fair to conclude that she was delighted to see this joke going so far; and a careful observer might have remarked that her satisfaction dated from the moment when the fact of the prince’s confusion became apparent to all.
He lived at Ptitsin’s, and openly showed contempt for the latter, though he always listened to his advice, and was sensible enough to ask for it when he wanted it. Gavrila Ardalionovitch was angry with Ptitsin because the latter did not care to become a Rothschild. “If you are to be a Jew,” he said, “do it properly--squeeze people right and left, show some character; be the King of the Jews while you are about it.”
He himself, when relating the circumstances of the general’s illness to Lizabetha Prokofievna, “spoke beautifully,” as Aglaya’s sisters declared afterwards--“modestly, quietly, without gestures or too many words, and with great dignity.” He had entered the room with propriety and grace, and he was perfectly dressed; he not only did not “fall down on the slippery floor,” as he had expressed it, but evidently made a very favourable impression upon the assembled guests.
“Well, a soldier once told me that they were always ordered to aim at the middle of the body. So you see they don’t aim at the chest or head; they aim lower on purpose. I asked some officer about this afterwards, and he said it was perfectly true.”
“Thank God, I have got mother away, and put her to bed without another scene! Gania is worried--and ashamed--not without reason! What a spectacle! I have come to thank you once more, prince, and to ask you if you knew Nastasia Philipovna before?”
He panted, and could hardly speak for agitation. He advanced into the room mechanically; but perceiving Nina Alexandrovna and Varia he became more or less embarrassed, in spite of his excitement. His followers entered after him, and all paused a moment at sight of the ladies. Of course their modesty was not fated to be long-lived, but for a moment they were abashed. Once let them begin to shout, however, and nothing on earth should disconcert them.
Even Keller admitted afterwards that this was “extraordinarily philosophical” on the prince’s part. He left the church quite calm, to all appearances, as many witnesses were found to declare afterwards. He seemed anxious to reach home and be left alone as quickly as possible; but this was not to be. He was accompanied by nearly all the invited guests, and besides this, the house was almost besieged by excited bands of people, who insisted upon being allowed to enter the verandah. The prince heard Keller and Lebedeff remonstrating and quarrelling with these unknown individuals, and soon went out himself. He approached the disturbers of his peace, requested courteously to be told what was desired; then politely putting Lebedeff and Keller aside, he addressed an old gentleman who was standing on the verandah steps at the head of the band of would-be guests, and courteously requested him to honour him with a visit. The old fellow was quite taken aback by this, but entered, followed by a few more, who tried to appear at their ease. The rest remained outside, and presently the whole crowd was censuring those who had accepted the invitation. The prince offered seats to his strange visitors, tea was served, and a general conversation sprang up. Everything was done most decorously, to the considerable surprise of the intruders. A few tentative attempts were made to turn the conversation to the events of the day, and a few indiscreet questions were asked; but Muishkin replied to everybody with such simplicity and good-humour, and at the same time with so much dignity, and showed such confidence in the good breeding of his guests, that the indiscreet talkers were quickly silenced. By degrees the conversation became almost serious. One gentleman suddenly exclaimed, with great vehemence: “Whatever happens, I shall not sell my property; I shall wait. Enterprise is better than money, and there, sir, you have my whole system of economy, if you wish!” He addressed the prince, who warmly commended his sentiments, though Lebedeff whispered in his ear that this gentleman, who talked so much of his “property,” had never had either house or home.
But this evening he did nearly all the talking himself, and told stories by the dozen, while he answered all questions put to him clearly, gladly, and with any amount of detail.
“And you are not offended?”
“Do you remember Ferdishenko?” he asked.
The answer of the sisters to the communication was, if not conclusive, at least consoling and hopeful. It made known that the eldest, Alexandra, would very likely be disposed to listen to a proposal.
“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!”
It would be difficult to describe her thoughts at that moment. One of them was, “Shall I show it to anyone?” But she was ashamed to show it. So she ended by hiding it in her table drawer, with a very strange, ironical smile upon 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.”
Towards the end of November, during a thaw, at nine o’clock one morning, a train on the Warsaw and Petersburg railway was approaching the latter city at full speed. The morning was so damp and misty that it was only with great difficulty that the day succeeded in breaking; and it was impossible to distinguish anything more than a few yards away from the carriage windows.
Hippolyte was not in the house. Lebedeff turned up late in the afternoon; he had been asleep ever since his interview with the prince in the morning. He was quite sober now, and cried with real sincerity over the sick general--mourning for him as though he were his own brother. He blamed himself aloud, but did not explain why. He repeated over and over again to Nina Alexandrovna that he alone was to blame--no one else--but that he had acted out of “pure amiable curiosity,” and that “the deceased,” as he insisted upon calling the still living general, had been the greatest of geniuses.
“No, you fool--you don’t know whom you are dealing with--and it appears I am a fool, too!” said Parfen, trembling beneath the flashing glance of Nastasia. “Oh, curse it all! What a fool I was to listen to you!” he added, with profound melancholy.
“What did she send? Whom? Was it that boy? Was it a message?--quick!”
“May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?”
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.
“I don’t torment him, prince, I don’t indeed!” cried Lebedeff, hotly. “I love him, my dear sir, I esteem him; and believe it or not, I love him all the better for this business, yes--and value him more.”
Sure enough the cloak was lying on the ground. Nastasia had thrown it off her towards the prince, expecting him to catch it, but the prince had missed it.
The prince trembled all over. Why was he so agitated? Why had he flown into such transports of delight without any apparent reason? He had far outshot the measure of joy and emotion consistent with the occasion. Why this was it would be difficult to say.
“I love Aglaya Ivanovna--she knows it,--and I think she must have long known it.”
Suddenly, to the astonishment of all, Keller went quickly up to the general.
Hippolyte was very ill, and looked as though he could not long survive. He was tearful at first, but grew more and more sarcastic and malicious as the interview proceeded.
“Oh, do stop pretending, mamma,” cried Aglaya, in vexation. “Send him up, father; mother allows.”
Lizabetha Prokofievna suddenly flared up.
“What! _Aglaya_ would have funked? You are a chicken-hearted fellow, Gania!” said Varia, looking at her brother with contempt. “Not one of us is worth much. Aglaya may be a wild sort of a girl, but she is far nobler than any of us, a thousand times nobler!”
“Quite so, quite so. I only asked for information--excuse the question. Go on.”
“Not those very words. She only just had time to whisper as she went by; but by the way she looked at me I knew it was important. She looked at me in a way that made my heart stop beating.”
“Early?” said Lebedeff, sarcastically. “Time counts for nothing, even in physical chastisement; but my slap in the face was not physical, it was moral.”
“_What?_” cried Mrs. Epanchin, raising her hands in horror. “_What’s_ that?”
And he disappeared, without looking round again.
“_I_ for one shall never think you a blackguard again,” said the prince. “I confess I had a poor opinion of you at first, but I have been so joyfully surprised about you just now; it’s a good lesson for me. I shall never judge again without a thorough trial. I see now that you are not only not a blackguard, but are not even quite spoiled. I see that you are quite an ordinary man, not original in the least degree, but rather weak.”
“That picture! That picture!” cried Muishkin, struck by a sudden idea. “Why, a man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!”
He did not dare look at her, but he was conscious, to the very tips of his fingers, that she was gazing at him, perhaps angrily; and that she had probably flushed up with a look of fiery indignation in her black eyes.
He broke off abruptly, and could not add another word. This was his one attempt to stop the mad child, and, after he had made it, he followed her as though he had no will of his own. Confused as his thoughts were, he was, nevertheless, capable of realizing the fact that if he did not go with her, she would go alone, and so he must go with her at all hazards. He guessed the strength of her determination; it was beyond him to check it.
“Who said that, Colia?”
“I confess I came here with an object. I wished to persuade Nastasia to go abroad for her health; she requires it. Both mind and body need a change badly. I did not intend to take her abroad myself. I was going to arrange for her to go without me. Now I tell you honestly, Parfen, if it is true that all is made up between you, I will not so much as set eyes upon her, and I will never even come to see you again.
“Can there be an appearance of that which has no form? And yet it seemed to me, at certain moments, that I beheld in some strange and impossible form, that dark, dumb, irresistibly powerful, eternal force.
“It cannot be moved; you would have to pull the wall down, it is so firmly fixed.”
“Fever, probably,” he said to himself, “for the man is all nerves, and this business has been a little too much for him. He is not _afraid_, that’s clear; that sort never funks! H’m! champagne! That was an interesting item of news, at all events!--Twelve bottles! Dear me, that’s a very respectable little stock indeed! I bet anything Lebedeff lent somebody money on deposit of this dozen of champagne. Hum! he’s a nice fellow, is this prince! I like this sort of man. Well, I needn’t be wasting time here, and if it’s a case of champagne, why--there’s no time like the present!”
“What? Pavlicheff’s son!” cried the prince, much perturbed. “I know... I know--but I entrusted this matter to Gavrila Ardalionovitch. He told me...”
“I must admit, prince, I was a little put out to see you up and about like this--I expected to find you in bed; but I give you my word, I was only annoyed for an instant, before I collected my thoughts properly. I am always wiser on second thoughts, and I dare say you are the same. I assure you I am as glad to see you well as though you were my own son,--yes, and more; and if you don’t believe me the more shame to you, and it’s not my fault. But that spiteful boy delights in playing all sorts of tricks. You are his patron, it seems. Well, I warn you that one fine morning I shall deprive myself of the pleasure of his further acquaintance.”
“And how do you know that I am ‘so happy’?”
And so he departed. The prince found out afterwards that this gentleman made it his business to amaze people with his originality and wit, but that it did not as a rule “come off.” He even produced a bad impression on some people, which grieved him sorely; but he did not change his ways for all that.
“You must have forgotten Russia, hadn’t you?”
“A-ah! if he is to be under special patronage, I withdraw my claws.”
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.
“Yes, I’m at home. Where else should I go to?”
Rogojin listened to the end, and then burst out laughing: