It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
Suddenly he embraced Muishkin.
“Bachmatoff saw me home after the dinner and we crossed the Nicolai bridge. We were both a little drunk. He told me of his joy, the joyful feeling of having done a good action; he said that it was all thanks to myself that he could feel this satisfaction; and held forth about the foolishness of the theory that individual charity is useless.
“I thought Evgenie Pavlovitch was talking seriously,” said the prince, blushing and dropping his eyes.
“Water or the knife?” said the latter, at last. “Ha, ha--that’s exactly why she is going to marry me, because she knows for certain that the knife awaits her. Prince, can it be that you don’t even yet see what’s at the root of it all?”
“You are unjust; I found him sincerely repentant,” observed the prince, after listening for a time.
MY NECESSARY EXPLANATION.
“No, they are not Nihilists,” explained Lebedeff, who seemed much excited. “This is another lot--a special group. According to my nephew they are more advanced even than the Nihilists. You are quite wrong, excellency, if you think that your presence will intimidate them; nothing intimidates them. Educated men, learned men even, are to be found among Nihilists; these go further, in that they are men of action. The movement is, properly speaking, a derivative from Nihilism--though they are only known indirectly, and by hearsay, for they never advertise their doings in the papers. They go straight to the point. For them, it is not a question of showing that Pushkin is stupid, or that Russia must be torn in pieces. No; but if they have a great desire for anything, they believe they have a right to get it even at the cost of the lives, say, of eight persons. They are checked by no obstacles. In fact, prince, I should not advise you...”
“What’s that got to do with it?” asked the general, who loathed Ferdishenko.
“You were quite right to go away!” he said. “The row will rage there worse than ever now; and it’s like this every day with us--and all through that Nastasia Philipovna.”
These were the tears of joy and peace and reconciliation. Aglaya was kissing her mother’s lips and cheeks and hands; they were hugging each other in the most ardent way.
“Gracious heavens!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. The general stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.
“It was just a minute before the execution,” began the prince, readily, carried away by the recollection and evidently forgetting everything else in a moment; “just at the instant when he stepped off the ladder on to the scaffold. He happened to look in my direction: I saw his eyes and understood all, at once--but how am I to describe it? I do so wish you or somebody else could draw it, you, if possible. I thought at the time what a picture it would make. You must imagine all that went before, of course, all--all. He had lived in the prison for some time and had not expected that the execution would take place for at least a week yet--he had counted on all the formalities and so on taking time; but it so happened that his papers had been got ready quickly. At five o’clock in the morning he was asleep--it was October, and at five in the morning it was cold and dark. The governor of the prison comes in on tip-toe and touches the sleeping man’s shoulder gently. He starts up. ‘What is it?’ he says. ‘The execution is fixed for ten o’clock.’ He was only just awake, and would not believe at first, but began to argue that his papers would not be out for a week, and so on. When he was wide awake and realized the truth, he became very silent and argued no more--so they say; but after a bit he said: ‘It comes very hard on one so suddenly’ and then he was silent again and said nothing.
The prince made one step forward, and then turned round.
She awaited him in trembling agitation; and when he at last arrived she nearly went off into hysterics.
“It’s better so, you know, Gania--especially as, from one point of view, the matter may be considered as settled,” said Ptitsin; and sitting down a little way from the table he began to study a paper covered with pencil writing.
He felt in a very curious condition today, a condition similar to that which had preceded his fits in bygone years.
“And you allowed it?”
But the real upshot of the business was that the number of riddles to be solved was augmented. The two girls, though rather irritated at their mother’s exaggerated alarm and haste to depart from the scene, had been unwilling to worry her at first with questions.
“What help do you want from me? You may be certain that I am most anxious to understand you, Lebedeff.”
The prince said nothing.
He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him--he could not tell why.
“May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?”
“Do you really forgive me?” he said at last. “And--and Lizabetha Prokofievna too?” The laugh increased, tears came into the prince’s eyes, he could not believe in all this kindness--he was enchanted.
“You are deviating from the truth, sir, as usual!” she remarked, boiling over with indignation; “you never carried her in your life!”
“My sister again,” cried Gania, looking at her with contempt and almost hate. “Look here, mother, I have already given you my word that I shall always respect you fully and absolutely, and so shall everyone else in this house, be it who it may, who shall cross this threshold.”
But at this moment Aglaya came back, and the prince had no time to reply.
“I told them how unhappy Marie was, and after a while they stopped their abuse of her, and let her go by silently. Little by little we got into the way of conversing together, the children and I. I concealed nothing from them, I told them all. They listened very attentively and soon began to be sorry for Marie. At last some of them took to saying ‘Good-morning’ to her, kindly, when they met her. It is the custom there to salute anyone you meet with ‘Good-morning’ whether acquainted or not. I can imagine how astonished Marie was at these first greetings from the children.
“All I’m afraid of is--mother. I’m afraid this scandal about father may come to her ears; perhaps it has already. I am dreadfully afraid.”
These letters, too, were like a dream. We sometimes have strange, impossible dreams, contrary to all the laws of nature. When we awake we remember them and wonder at their strangeness. You remember, perhaps, that you were in full possession of your reason during this succession of fantastic images; even that you acted with extraordinary logic and cunning while surrounded by murderers who hid their intentions and made great demonstrations of friendship, while waiting for an opportunity to cut your throat. You remember how you escaped them by some ingenious stratagem; then you doubted if they were really deceived, or whether they were only pretending not to know your hiding-place; then you thought of another plan and hoodwinked them once again. You remember all this quite clearly, but how is it that your reason calmly accepted all the manifest absurdities and impossibilities that crowded into your dream? One of the murderers suddenly changed into a woman before your very eyes; then the woman was transformed into a hideous, cunning little dwarf; and you believed it, and accepted it all almost as a matter of course--while at the same time your intelligence seemed unusually keen, and accomplished miracles of cunning, sagacity, and logic! Why is it that when you awake to the world of realities you nearly always feel, sometimes very vividly, that the vanished dream has carried with it some enigma which you have failed to solve? You smile at the extravagance of your dream, and yet you feel that this tissue of absurdity contained some real idea, something that belongs to your true life,--something that exists, and has always existed, in your heart. You search your dream for some prophecy that you were expecting. It has left a deep impression upon you, joyful or cruel, but what it means, or what has been predicted to you in it, you can neither understand nor remember.
“Nor the general? Ha, ha, ha!”
“In the first place, I have had the opportunity of getting a correct idea of Mr. Burdovsky. I see what he is for myself. He is an innocent man, deceived by everyone! A defenceless victim, who deserves indulgence! Secondly, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, in whose hands I had placed the matter, had his first interview with me barely an hour ago. I had not heard from him for some time, as I was away, and have been ill for three days since my return to St. Petersburg. He tells me that he has exposed the designs of Tchebaroff and has proof that justifies my opinion of him. I know, gentlemen, that many people think me an idiot. Counting upon my reputation as a man whose purse-strings are easily loosened, Tchebaroff thought it would be a simple matter to fleece me, especially by trading on my gratitude to Pavlicheff. But the main point is--listen, gentlemen, let me finish!--the main point is that Mr. Burdovsky is not Pavlicheff’s son at all. Gavrila Ardalionovitch has just told me of his discovery, and assures me that he has positive proofs. Well, what do you think of that? It is scarcely credible, even after all the tricks that have been played upon me. Please note that we have positive proofs! I can hardly believe it myself, I assure you; I do not yet believe it; I am still doubtful, because Gavrila Ardalionovitch has not had time to go into details; but there can be no further doubt that Tchebaroff is a rogue! He has deceived poor Mr. Burdovsky, and all of you, gentlemen, who have come forward so nobly to support your friend--(he evidently needs support, I quite see that!). He has abused your credulity and involved you all in an attempted fraud, for when all is said and done this claim is nothing else!”
To his consternation the good people at the lodgings had not only heard nothing of Nastasia, but all came out to look at him as if he were a marvel of some sort. The whole family, of all ages, surrounded him, and he was begged to enter. He guessed at once that they knew perfectly well who he was, and that yesterday ought to have been his wedding-day; and further that they were dying to ask about the wedding, and especially about why he should be here now, inquiring for the woman who in all reasonable human probability might have been expected to be with him in Pavlofsk.
“Yes, and he gave me a fearful dig in the chest,” cried the prince, still laughing. “What are we to fight about? I shall beg his pardon, that’s all. But if we must fight--we’ll fight! Let him have a shot at me, by all means; I should rather like it. Ha, ha, ha! I know how to load a pistol now; do you know how to load a pistol, Keller? First, you have to buy the powder, you know; it mustn’t be wet, and it mustn’t be that coarse stuff that they load cannons with--it must be pistol powder. Then you pour the powder in, and get hold of a bit of felt from some door, and then shove the bullet in. But don’t shove the bullet in before the powder, because the thing wouldn’t go off--do you hear, Keller, the thing wouldn’t go off! Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t that a grand reason, Keller, my friend, eh? Do you know, my dear fellow, I really must kiss you, and embrace you, this very moment. Ha, ha! How was it you so suddenly popped up in front of me as you did? Come to my house as soon as you can, and we’ll have some champagne. We’ll all get drunk! Do you know I have a dozen of champagne in Lebedeff’s cellar? Lebedeff sold them to me the day after I arrived. I took the lot. We’ll invite everybody! Are you going to do any sleeping tonight?”
“What are you doing there?” she asked.
“Yes, for certain--quite for certain, now! I have discovered it _absolutely_ for certain, these last few days.”
The funeral service produced a great effect on the prince. He whispered to Lebedeff that this was the first time he had ever heard a Russian funeral service since he was a little boy. Observing that he was looking about him uneasily, Lebedeff asked him whom he was seeking.
“No one ever thought of such a thing! There has never been a word said about it!” cried Alexandra.
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.
“I thought of buying flowers, and putting them all round her; but I was afraid it would make us sad to see her with flowers round her.”
“I know very well that he does deceive me occasionally, and he knows that I know it, but--” The prince did not finish his sentence.
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.”
“Nastasia Philipovna!” said the general, in persuasive but agitated tones.
Hippolyte paused, and looked at him intently and with great gratification. He then turned his gaze upon Varia, bowed, and went out, without adding another word.
“Very well then, a _hundred_ thousand! a hundred thousand! paid this very day. Ptitsin! find it for me. A good share shall stick to your fingers--come!”
“I shall leave you nothing!” exclaimed his uncle angrily.
To Nastasia’s question as to what they wished her to do, Totski confessed that he had been so frightened by her, five years ago, that he could never now be entirely comfortable until she herself married. He immediately added that such a suggestion from him would, of course, be absurd, unless accompanied by remarks of a more pointed nature. He very well knew, he said, that a certain young gentleman of good family, namely, Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin, with whom she was acquainted, and whom she received at her house, had long loved her passionately, and would give his life for some response from her. The young fellow had confessed this love of his to him (Totski) and had also admitted it in the hearing of his benefactor, General Epanchin. Lastly, he could not help being of opinion that Nastasia must be aware of Gania’s love for her, and if he (Totski) mistook not, she had looked with some favour upon it, being often lonely, and rather tired of her present life. Having remarked how difficult it was for him, of all people, to speak to her of these matters, Totski concluded by saying that he trusted Nastasia Philipovna would not look with contempt upon him if he now expressed his sincere desire to guarantee her future by a gift of seventy-five thousand roubles. He added that the sum would have been left her all the same in his will, and that therefore she must not consider the gift as in any way an indemnification to her for anything, but that there was no reason, after all, why a man should not be allowed to entertain a natural desire to lighten his conscience, etc., etc.; in fact, all that would naturally be said under the circumstances. Totski was very eloquent all through, and, in conclusion, just touched on the fact that not a soul in the world, not even General Epanchin, had ever heard a word about the above seventy-five thousand roubles, and that this was the first time he had ever given expression to his intentions in respect to them.
“I don’t wish to joke with you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I shall see Hippolyte myself. Tell him so. As for you, I think you are behaving very badly, because it is not right to judge a man’s soul as you are judging Hippolyte’s. You have no gentleness, but only justice--so you are unjust.”
“What on earth will she say to me, I wonder?” he thought to himself.
“What delightful writing materials you have here, such a lot of pencils and things, and what beautiful paper! It’s a charming room altogether. I know that picture, it’s a Swiss view. I’m sure the artist painted it from nature, and that I have seen the very place--”
“What is it?” demanded the lady.
“Remember, Ivan Fedorovitch,” said Gania, in great agitation, “that I was to be free too, until her decision; and that even then I was to have my ‘yes or no’ free.”
“Why do you speak so?” he murmured. “Why do you ask my forgiveness?”
The bewildered Gania introduced her first to Varia, and both women, before shaking hands, exchanged looks of strange import. Nastasia, however, smiled amiably; but Varia did not try to look amiable, and kept her gloomy expression. She did not even vouchsafe the usual courteous smile of etiquette. Gania darted a terrible glance of wrath at her for this, but Nina Alexandrovna mended matters a little when Gania introduced her at last. Hardly, however, had the old lady begun about her “highly gratified feelings,” and so on, when Nastasia left her, and flounced into a chair by Gania’s side in the corner by the window, and cried: “Where’s your study? and where are the--the lodgers? You do take in lodgers, don’t you?”
Nastasia Philipovna looked keenly round at the prince.
“What sort of hope?”
“Look here, Aglaya--” began the general.
The prince gazed affectionately at Colia, who, of course, had come in solely for the purpose of talking about this “gigantic thought.”
He was extremely excited; his lips trembled, and the resentment of an embittered soul was in his voice. But he spoke so indistinctly that hardly a dozen words could be gathered.
“Marie was very gentle to her mother, and nursed her, and did everything for her; but the old woman accepted all her services without a word and never showed her the slightest kindness. Marie bore all this; and I could see when I got to know her that she thought it quite right and fitting, considering herself the lowest and meanest of creatures.
“Take care, don’t commit yourself for a whole lifetime.”
In the first place there were present Totski, and General Epanchin. They were both highly amiable, but both appeared to be labouring under a half-hidden feeling of anxiety as to the result of Nastasia’s deliberations with regard to Gania, which result was to be made public this evening.
That month in the provinces, when he had seen this woman nearly every day, had affected him so deeply that he could not now look back upon it calmly. In the very look of this woman there was something which tortured him. In conversation with Rogojin he had attributed this sensation to pity--immeasurable pity, and this was the truth. The sight of the portrait face alone had filled his heart full of the agony of real sympathy; and this feeling of sympathy, nay, of actual _suffering_, for her, had never left his heart since that hour, and was still in full force. Oh yes, and more powerful than ever!
“Oh! how ashamed you will be of this afterwards!”
Lizabetha Prokofievna stood like a stone.
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of them burst into irrepressible laughter.
However, it appeared to Totski that he might make use of her in another way; and he determined to establish her in St. Petersburg, surrounding her with all the comforts and luxuries that his wealth could command. In this way he might gain glory in certain circles.
“Yes, yes, yes!” said the prince, once more, nodding his head, and blushing slightly. “Yes, it was so, or nearly so--I know it. And besides, you see, I had not slept the night before, in the train, or the night before that, either, and I was very tired.”
“You may smile,--but there’s a career in this,” said the general. “You don’t know what a great personage I shall show this to, prince. Why, you can command a situation at thirty-five roubles per month to start with. However, it’s half-past twelve,” he concluded, looking at his watch; “so to business, prince, for I must be setting to work and shall not see you again today. Sit down a minute. I have told you that I cannot receive you myself very often, but I should like to be of some assistance to you, some small assistance, of a kind that would give you satisfaction. I shall find you a place in one of the State departments, an easy place--but you will require to be accurate. Now, as to your plans--in the house, or rather in the family of Gania here--my young friend, whom I hope you will know better--his mother and sister have prepared two or three rooms for lodgers, and let them to highly recommended young fellows, with board and attendance. I am sure Nina Alexandrovna will take you in on my recommendation. There you will be comfortable and well taken care of; for I do not think, prince, that you are the sort of man to be left to the mercy of Fate in a town like Petersburg. Nina Alexandrovna, Gania’s mother, and Varvara Alexandrovna, are ladies for whom I have the highest possible esteem and respect. Nina Alexandrovna is the wife of General Ardalion Alexandrovitch, my old brother in arms, with whom, I regret to say, on account of certain circumstances, I am no longer acquainted. I give you all this information, prince, in order to make it clear to you that I am personally recommending you to this family, and that in so doing, I am more or less taking upon myself to answer for you. The terms are most reasonable, and I trust that your salary will very shortly prove amply sufficient for your expenditure. Of course pocket-money is a necessity, if only a little; do not be angry, prince, if I strongly recommend you to avoid carrying money in your pocket. But as your purse is quite empty at the present moment, you must allow me to press these twenty-five roubles upon your acceptance, as something to begin with. Of course we will settle this little matter another time, and if you are the upright, honest man you look, I anticipate very little trouble between us on that score. Taking so much interest in you as you may perceive I do, I am not without my object, and you shall know it in good time. You see, I am perfectly candid with you. I hope, Gania, you have nothing to say against the prince’s taking up his abode in your house?”
“Yes, I am Rogojin, Parfen Rogojin.”
“There now! It’s just like him,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, boiling over once more, and entirely oblivious of the fact that she had just taken the prince’s part. “I dare swear that you went up to town yesterday on purpose to get the little wretch to do you the great honour of coming to stay at your house. You did go up to town, you know you did--you said so yourself! Now then, did you, or did you not, go down on your knees and beg him to come, confess!”
“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.
“I said, and I have repeated it over and over again,” shouted Burdovsky furiously, “that I did not want the money. I will not take it... why...I will not... I am going away!”
“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”
“He sat down in amazement, and I lost no time in telling him the medical man’s history; and explained that he, with the influence which he possessed over his uncle, might do some good to the poor fellow.
“Yes, yes, yours, yours! What is there to surprise anyone in that? Come, come, you mustn’t go on like this, crying in the middle of the road; and you a general too, a military man! Come, let’s go back.”
“I’ll tell you afterwards,” he said quietly.
“Really?” said the old man, smiling.
After a formal introduction by Gania (who greeted his mother very shortly, took no notice of his sister, and immediately marched Ptitsin out of the room), Nina Alexandrovna addressed a few kind words to the prince and forthwith requested Colia, who had just appeared at the door, to show him to the “middle room.”
“Aglaya, make a note of ‘Pafnute,’ or we shall forget him. H’m! and where is this signature?”
She was as capricious as ever in the choice of her acquaintances, and admitted few into her narrow circle. Yet she already had a numerous following and many champions on whom she could depend in time of need. One gentleman on his holiday had broken off his engagement on her account, and an old general had quarrelled with his only son for the same reason.
“We were leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking into the Neva at this moment.
It was getting late when the party arrived at Pavlofsk, but several people called to see the prince, and assembled in the verandah. Gania was the first to arrive. He had grown so pale and thin that the prince could hardly recognize him. Then came Varia and Ptitsin, who were rusticating in the neighbourhood. As to General Ivolgin, he scarcely budged from Lebedeff’s house, and seemed to have moved to Pavlofsk with him. Lebedeff did his best to keep Ardalion Alexandrovitch by him, and to prevent him from invading the prince’s quarters. He chatted with him confidentially, so that they might have been taken for old friends. During those three days the prince had noticed that they frequently held long conversations; he often heard their voices raised in argument on deep and learned subjects, which evidently pleased Lebedeff. He seemed as if he could not do without the general. But it was not only Ardalion Alexandrovitch whom Lebedeff kept out of the prince’s way. Since they had come to the villa, he treated his own family the same. Upon the pretext that his tenant needed quiet, he kept him almost in isolation, and Muishkin protested in vain against this excess of zeal. Lebedeff stamped his feet at his daughters and drove them away if they attempted to join the prince on the terrace; not even Vera was excepted.
Gania seized his head with both hands and tottered to the window; Varia sat down at the other window.
“Why, what do you mean? You said you knew, and now suddenly you know nothing! You say ‘very well; let’s leave it so.’ But I say, don’t be so confiding, especially as you know nothing. You are confiding simply _because_ you know nothing. But do you know what these good people have in their minds’ eye--Gania and his sister? Perhaps you are suspicious? Well, well, I’ll drop the subject!” he added, hastily, observing the prince’s impatient gesture. “But I’ve come to you on my own business; I wish to make you a clear explanation. What a nuisance it is that one cannot die without explanations! I have made such a quantity of them already. Do you wish to hear what I have to say?”
“‘And to think that you are to be cut off from life!’ remarked Bachmatoff, in a tone of reproach, as though he would like to find someone to pitch into on my account.
“Nothing--of course! That’s the best answer. Is it the case that you are going to live in his house?”
“_Après moi le déluge._
“I, too, was burning to have my say!
“Yes--I don’t like that Ferdishenko. I can’t understand why Nastasia Philipovna encourages him so. Is he really her cousin, as he says?”
“I won’t believe this!” cried the prince.
“No, I didn’t like it at all, and was ill after seeing it; but I confess I stared as though my eyes were fixed to the sight. I could not tear them away.”
“However, within three weeks my determination was taken, owing to a very strange circumstance.
The evidence of the porter went further than anything else towards the success of Lebedeff in gaining the assistance of the police. He declared that he had seen Rogojin return to the house last night, accompanied by a friend, and that both had gone upstairs very secretly and cautiously. After this there was no hesitation about breaking open the door, since it could not be got open in any other way.
“Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?” cried Muishkin.
“No, sir, Kapitoshka--not Eroshka. I mean, Kapiton Alexeyevitch--retired major--married Maria Petrovna Lu--Lu--he was my friend and companion--Lutugoff--from our earliest beginnings. I closed his eyes for him--he was killed. Kapiton Eropegoff never existed! tfu!”
“Reading? None of your reading now!” said somebody; “it’s supper-time.” “What sort of an article is it? For a paper? Probably it’s very dull,” said another. But the prince’s timid gesture had impressed even Hippolyte.
“Oh! do be quiet! You must be drunk! He has taken it into his head to play the lawyer, prince, and he practices speechifying, and is always repeating his eloquent pleadings to his children. And who do you think was his last client? An old woman who had been robbed of five hundred roubles, her all, by some rogue of a usurer, besought him to take up her case, instead of which he defended the usurer himself, a Jew named Zeidler, because this Jew promised to give him fifty roubles....”