“Yes--I dare say it is all as you say; I dare say you are quite right,” muttered the prince once more. “She is very sensitive and easily put out, of course; but still, she...”
“You are always thinking about your nephew’s conduct. Don’t believe him, Lizabetha Prokofievna. I can assure you Gorsky and Daniloff are exceptions--and that these are only... mistaken. However, I do not care about receiving them here, in public. Excuse me, Lizabetha Prokofievna. They are coming, and you can see them, and then I will take them away. Please come in, gentlemen!”
Lebedeff stood two or three paces behind his chief; and the rest of the band waited about near the door.
“Would you believe,” said the mistress of the house, suddenly addressing the prince, “would you believe that that man has not even spared my orphan children? He has stolen everything I possessed, sold everything, pawned everything; he has left me nothing--nothing! What am I to do with your IOU’s, you cunning, unscrupulous rogue? Answer, devourer! answer, heart of stone! How shall I feed my orphans? with what shall I nourish them? And now he has come, he is drunk! He can scarcely stand. How, oh how, have I offended the Almighty, that He should bring this curse upon me! Answer, you worthless villain, answer!”
He lifted the curtain, paused--and turned to the prince. “Go in,” he said, motioning him to pass behind the curtain. Muishkin went in.
“Was not Nastasia Philipovna here with him, yesterday evening?”
He lifted the curtain, paused--and turned to the prince. “Go in,” he said, motioning him to pass behind the curtain. Muishkin went in.
“Well, what then? Supposing I should like to know?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, blushing. “I’m sure I am not afraid of plain speaking. I’m not offending anyone, and I never wish to, and--”
They walked silently, and said scarcely a word all the way. He only noticed that she seemed to know the road very well; and once, when he thought it better to go by a certain lane, and remarked to her that it would be quieter and less public, she only said, “it’s all the same,” and went on.
“You’re right, clerk,” said the latter, “you’re right, tipsy spirit--you’re right!--Nastasia Philipovna,” he added, looking at her like some lunatic, harmless generally, but suddenly wound up to a pitch of audacity, “here are eighteen thousand roubles, and--and you shall have more--.” Here he threw a packet of bank-notes tied up in white paper, on the table before her, not daring to say all he wished to say.
“Of course, naturally. The bridegroom is an impossible and ridiculous one. I mean, has _she_ given her formal consent?”
The general shrugged his shoulders.
Colia broke loose, seized his father by the shoulders, and stared into his eyes with frenzied gaze. The old man had grown livid--his lips were shaking, convulsions were passing over his features. Suddenly he leant over and began to sink slowly into Colia’s arms.
“Yes, I have a little more,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, with a smile. “It seems to me that all you and your friends have said, Mr. Terentieff, and all you have just put forward with such undeniable talent, may be summed up in the triumph of right above all, independent of everything else, to the exclusion of everything else; perhaps even before having discovered what constitutes the right. I may be mistaken?”
So saying, she scornfully rose from her seat as though to depart.
The officer, tearing himself from the prince’s grasp, pushed him so violently backwards that he staggered a few steps and then subsided into a chair.
“That is all he thinks of!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“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.”
“You are still suspicious, I see, and do not believe me; but you may be quite at your ease. There shall be no more tears, nor questions--not from my side, at all events. All I wish is that you may be happy, you know that. I have submitted to my fate; but my heart will always be with you, whether we remain united, or whether we part. Of course I only answer for myself--you can hardly expect your sister--”
“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.
“Agreed that all this may be true; but we need not discuss a subject which belongs to the domain of theology.”
“Yes, a marriage is being arranged--a marriage between a questionable woman and a young fellow who might be a flunkey. They wish to bring this woman into the house where my wife and daughter reside, but while I live and breathe she shall never enter my doors. I shall lie at the threshold, and she shall trample me underfoot if she does. I hardly talk to Gania now, and avoid him as much as I can. I warn you of this beforehand, but you cannot fail to observe it. But you are the son of my old friend, and I hope--”
“The young fellow whose arms you held, don’t you know? He was so wild with you that he was going to send a friend to you tomorrow morning.”
It was clear that he came out with these words quite spontaneously, on the spur of the moment. But his speech was productive of much--for it appeared that all Gania’s rage now overflowed upon the prince. He seized him by the shoulder and gazed with an intensity of loathing and revenge at him, but said nothing--as though his feelings were too strong to permit of words.
“Then I read it,” said Hippolyte, in the tone of one bowing to the fiat of destiny. He could not have grown paler if a verdict of death had suddenly been presented to him.
“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I have heard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded to narrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of the latter’s story.
So saying, she reseated herself; a strange smile played on her lips. She sat quite still, but watched the door in a fever of impatience.
The prince immediately began to tell him, eagerly and joyfully, how he had but the moment before expected to see him in the dark passage of the hotel.
“That’s impossible!” said he in an aggrieved tone. “I am often discussing subjects of this nature with him, gentlemen, but for the most part he talks nonsense enough to make one deaf: this story has no pretence of being true.”
“Look here, Parfen; if you love her so much, surely you must be anxious to earn her respect? And if you do so wish, surely you may hope to? I said just now that I considered it extraordinary that she could still be ready to marry you. Well, though I cannot yet understand it, I feel sure she must have some good reason, or she wouldn’t do it. She is sure of your love; but besides that, she must attribute _something_ else to you--some good qualities, otherwise the thing would not be. What you have just said confirms my words. You say yourself that she found it possible to speak to you quite differently from her usual manner. You are suspicious, you know, and jealous, therefore when anything annoying happens to you, you exaggerate its significance. Of course, of course, she does not think so ill of you as you say. Why, if she did, she would simply be walking to death by drowning or by the knife, with her eyes wide open, when she married you. It is impossible! As if anybody would go to their death deliberately!”
“It’s my turn, but I plead exemption,” said Ptitsin.
“Well!” said the latter, at last rousing himself. “Ah! yes! You know why I came, Lebedeff. Your letter brought me. Speak! Tell me all about it.”
“Nonsense! Let me alone!” said the angry mother. “Now then, prince, sit down here, no, nearer, come nearer the light! I want to have a good look at you. So, now then, who is this abbot?”
“Hippolyte, stop, please! It’s so dreadfully undignified,” said Varia.
“But at the same time you would be very glad to know how I happened to meet Aglaya Ivanovna this morning?” The prince finished her speech for her with the utmost composure.
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“Yes, I have,” and the prince stopped again.
She was astonished and vexed, and her disappointment pleased Colia immensely. Of course he could have undeceived her before she started, but the mischievous boy had been careful not to do that, foreseeing the probably laughable disgust that she would experience when she found her dear friend, the prince, in good health. Colia was indelicate enough to voice the delight he felt at his success in managing to annoy Lizabetha Prokofievna, with whom, in spite of their really amicable relations, he was constantly sparring.
“Be silent! At once!” interrupted the prince, red with indignation, and perhaps with shame, too. “It is impossible and absurd! All that has been invented by you, or fools like you! Let me never hear you say a word again on that subject!”
“It is revolting and unseemly!” cried Hippolyte, jumping up in a fury.
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.
So saying, she scornfully rose from her seat as though to depart.
“Oh, but I did not speak of individual representatives. I was merely talking about Roman Catholicism, and its essence--of Rome itself. A Church can never entirely disappear; I never hinted at that!”
“They are Nihilists, are they not?”
“Of course not.”
“For two days the children looked after her, and then, when the village people got to know that Marie was really dying, some of the old women came and took it in turns to sit by her and look after her a bit. I think they began to be a little sorry for her in the village at last; at all events they did not interfere with the children any more, on her account.
“You are certainly mistaken; I do not even understand you. What else?”
“I assure you, when I came in here just now and saw your kind faces (I can read faces well) my heart felt light for the first time since that moment of parting. I think I must be one of those who are born to be in luck, for one does not often meet with people whom one feels he can love from the first sight of their faces; and yet, no sooner do I step out of the railway carriage than I happen upon you!
Around him all was quiet; only the flutter and whisper of the leaves broke the silence, but broke it only to cause it to appear yet more deep and still.
“Excuse me; I was able to deliver it almost immediately after receiving your commission, and I gave it, too, just as you asked me to. It has come into my hands now because Aglaya Ivanovna has just returned it to me.”
“You have not quite understood,” she said. “I did not come to quarrel with you, though I do not like you. I came to speak to you as... as one human being to another. I came with my mind made up as to what I had to say to you, and I shall not change my intention, although you may misunderstand me. So much the worse for you, not for myself! I wished to reply to all you have written to me and to reply personally, because I think that is the more convenient way. Listen to my reply to all your letters. I began to be sorry for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch on the very day I made his acquaintance, and when I heard--afterwards--of all that took place at your house in the evening, I was sorry for him because he was such a simple-minded man, and because he, in the simplicity of his soul, believed that he could be happy with a woman of your character. What I feared actually took place; you could not love him, you tortured him, and threw him over. You could not love him because you are too proud--no, not proud, that is an error; because you are too vain--no, not quite that either; too self-loving; you are self-loving to madness. Your letters to me are a proof of it. You could not love so simple a soul as his, and perhaps in your heart you despised him and laughed at him. All you could love was your shame and the perpetual thought that you were disgraced and insulted. If you were less shameful, or had no cause at all for shame, you would be still more unhappy than you are now.”
“But you seem to be on the best of terms with him?”
“Come, that is enough! That is all now; you have no more to say? Now go to bed; you are burning with fever,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna impatiently. Her anxious eyes had never left the invalid. “Good heavens, he is going to begin again!”
“Well, that’ll do; we must be quick,” she concluded, after hearing all. “We have only an hour here, till eight; I must be home by then without fail, so that they may not find out that I came and sat here with you; but I’ve come on business. I have a great deal to say to you. But you have bowled me over considerably with your news. As to Hippolyte, I think his pistol was bound not to go off; it was more consistent with the whole affair. Are you sure he really wished to blow his brains out, and that there was no humbug about the matter?”
“Well?” cried the prince.
“And just fancy, this infamy pleased them, all of them, nearly. Only the children had altered--for then they were all on my side and had learned to love Marie.
However, she turned and ran down to the prince as fast as her feet could carry her.
“Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn’t know however I should manage to support life--you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. There was a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread but white and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and it was half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen to it at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went and climbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alone in the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer--and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison.”
“At last!” murmured Lizabetha Prokofievna indignantly.
The prince was beside himself.
“Prince!” said he. “Excellency! You won’t let me tell you the whole truth; I have tried to explain; more than once I have begun, but you have not allowed me to go on...”
Not finding the prince on his death-bed, Lizabetha Prokofievna had been misled by his appearance to think him much better than he was. But his recent illness, the painful memories attached to it, the fatigue of this evening, the incident with “Pavlicheff’s son,” and now this scene with Hippolyte, had all so worked on his oversensitive nature that he was now almost in a fever. Moreover, a new trouble, almost a fear, showed itself in his eyes; he watched Hippolyte anxiously as if expecting something further.
“But why talk now?” replied Lizabetha Prokofievna, more and more alarmed; “You are quite feverish. Just now you would not stop shouting, and now you can hardly breathe. You are gasping.”
“I gave him all the information he needed, and he very soon took his departure; so that, since he only came for the purpose of gaining the information, the matter might have been expected to end there.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand--”
Nastasia rushed to him like a madwoman, and seized both his hands.
“For a moment I thought he would assault me; he grew so pale that he looked like a woman about to have hysterics; his wife was dreadfully alarmed.
“The good of it! Well, I want just to see a ray of the sun,” said Hippolyte. “Can one drink to the sun’s health, do you think, prince?”
“I hear you have called twice; I suppose you are still worried about yesterday’s affair.”
Lebedeff said this so seriously that the prince quite lost his temper with him.
“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.
“And you preached her sermons there, did you?”
Now and then he looked at Aglaya for five minutes at a time, without taking his eyes off her face; but his expression was very strange; he would gaze at her as though she were an object a couple of miles distant, or as though he were looking at her portrait and not at herself at all.
“You may add that I have surely enough to think of, on my own account, without him; and therefore it is all the more surprising that I cannot tear my eyes and thoughts away from his detestable physiognomy.”
“No,” said the prince, “no, I do not love her. Oh! if you only knew with what horror I recall the time I spent with her!”
The prince remained silent.
“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.”
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
Or if that were impossible he would like to be alone at home, on the terrace--without either Lebedeff or his children, or anyone else about him, and to lie there and think--a day and night and another day again! He thought of the mountains--and especially of a certain spot which he used to frequent, whence he would look down upon the distant valleys and fields, and see the waterfall, far off, like a little silver thread, and the old ruined castle in the distance. Oh! how he longed to be there now--alone with his thoughts--to think of one thing all his life--one thing! A thousand years would not be too much time! And let everyone here forget him--forget him utterly! How much better it would have been if they had never known him--if all this could but prove to be a dream. Perhaps it was a dream!
Many of them expected to be thrown downstairs at once, without further ceremony, the elegant and irresistible Zaleshoff among them. But the party led by the athlete, without openly showing their hostile intentions, silently nursed contempt and even hatred for Nastasia Philipovna, and marched into her house as they would have marched into an enemy’s fortress. Arrived there, the luxury of the rooms seemed to inspire them with a kind of respect, not unmixed with alarm. So many things were entirely new to their experience--the choice furniture, the pictures, the great statue of Venus. They followed their chief into the salon, however, with a kind of impudent curiosity. There, the sight of General Epanchin among the guests, caused many of them to beat a hasty retreat into the adjoining room, the “boxer” and “beggar” being among the first to go. A few only, of whom Lebedeff made one, stood their ground; he had contrived to walk side by side with Rogojin, for he quite understood the importance of a man who had a fortune of a million odd roubles, and who at this moment carried a hundred thousand in his hand. It may be added that the whole company, not excepting Lebedeff, had the vaguest idea of the extent of their powers, and of how far they could safely go. At some moments Lebedeff was sure that right was on their side; at others he tried uneasily to remember various cheering and reassuring articles of the Civil Code.
“Very well, we’ll drop it for a while. You can’t look at anything but in your exalted, generous way. You must put out your finger and touch a thing before you’ll believe it, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I suppose you despise me dreadfully, prince, eh? What do you think?”
“Yes, quite so. I wished to ask you whether you could show me the way to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight. I must go; I have business with her; I was not invited but I was introduced. Anyhow I am ready to trespass the laws of propriety if only I can get in somehow or other.”
Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.
The prince sat down, and at length prevailed upon Burdovsky’s company to do likewise. During the last ten or twenty minutes, exasperated by continual interruptions, he had raised his voice, and spoken with great vehemence. Now, no doubt, he bitterly regretted several words and expressions which had escaped him in his excitement. If he had not been driven beyond the limits of endurance, he would not have ventured to express certain conjectures so openly. He had no sooner sat down than his heart was torn by sharp remorse. Besides insulting Burdovsky with the supposition, made in the presence of witnesses, that he was suffering from the complaint for which he had himself been treated in Switzerland, he reproached himself with the grossest indelicacy in having offered him the ten thousand roubles before everyone. “I ought to have waited till to-morrow and offered him the money when we were alone,” thought Muishkin. “Now it is too late, the mischief is done! Yes, I am an idiot, an absolute idiot!” he said to himself, overcome with shame and regret.
At last they reached the Litaynaya. The thaw increased steadily, a warm, unhealthy wind blew through the streets, vehicles splashed through the mud, and the iron shoes of horses and mules rang on the paving stones. Crowds of melancholy people plodded wearily along the footpaths, with here and there a drunken man among them.
“Well? What have I seen?” he continued. “I have seen men of graceful simplicity of intellect; I have seen an old man who is not above speaking kindly and even _listening_ to a boy like myself; I see before me persons who can understand, who can forgive--kind, good Russian hearts--hearts almost as kind and cordial as I met abroad. Imagine how delighted I must have been, and how surprised! Oh, let me express this feeling! I have so often heard, and I have even believed, that in society there was nothing but empty forms, and that reality had vanished; but I now see for myself that this can never be the case _here_, among us--it may be the order elsewhere, but not in Russia. Surely you are not all Jesuits and deceivers! I heard Prince N.’s story just now. Was it not simple-minded, spontaneous humour? Could such words come from the lips of a man who is dead?--a man whose heart and talents are dried up? Could dead men and women have treated me so kindly as you have all been treating me to-day? Is there not material for the future in all this--for hope? Can such people fail to _understand?_ Can such men fall away from reality?”
“Come along, Colia, I want to see your father. I have an idea,” said the prince.
However, the ice was broken, and it suddenly became possible to mention the prince’s name again. And again it became evident how very strong was the impression the young man had made in the household by his one visit there. Mrs. Epanchin was surprised at the effect which the news from Moscow had upon the girls, and they were no less surprised that after solemnly remarking that her most striking characteristic was “being mistaken in people” she should have troubled to obtain for the prince the favour and protection of so powerful an old lady as the Princess Bielokonski. As soon as the ice was thus broken, the general lost no time in showing that he, too, took the greatest interest in the subject. He admitted that he was interested, but said that it was merely in the business side of the question. It appeared that, in the interests of the prince, he had made arrangements in Moscow for a careful watch to be kept upon the prince’s business affairs, and especially upon Salaskin. All that had been said as to the prince being an undoubted heir to a fortune turned out to be perfectly true; but the fortune proved to be much smaller than was at first reported. The estate was considerably encumbered with debts; creditors turned up on all sides, and the prince, in spite of all advice and entreaty, insisted upon managing all matters of claim himself--which, of course, meant satisfying everybody all round, although half the claims were absolutely fraudulent.
“Absolutely and utterly impossible--and yet, so it must be. But one thing I am sure of, if it be a theft, it was committed, not in the evening when we were all together, but either at night or early in the morning; therefore, by one of those who slept here. Burdovsky and Colia I except, of course. They did not even come into my room.”
“How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you so struck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?”
At last Varvara Ardalionovna came in search of her brother, and remained for a few minutes. Without Muishkin’s asking her, she informed him that Evgenie Pavlovitch was spending the day in Petersburg, and perhaps would remain there over tomorrow; and that her husband had also gone to town, probably in connection with Evgenie Pavlovitch’s affairs.
“Rogojin was evidently by no means pleased to see me, and hinted, delicately, that he saw no reason why our acquaintance should continue. For all that, however, I spent a very interesting hour, and so, I dare say, did he. There was so great a contrast between us that I am sure we must both have felt it; anyhow, I felt it acutely. Here was I, with my days numbered, and he, a man in the full vigour of life, living in the present, without the slightest thought for ‘final convictions,’ or numbers, or days, or, in fact, for anything but that which-which--well, which he was mad about, if he will excuse me the expression--as a feeble author who cannot express his ideas properly.
Everyone in the room began to laugh.
“And you are _not_, I presume, eh?”
“Listen to me, Keller,” returned the prince. “If I were in your place, I should not acknowledge that unless it were absolutely necessary for some reason. But perhaps you are making yourself out to be worse than you are, purposely?”
“If that is true,” said he, “I have been deceived, grossly deceived, but not by Tchebaroff: and for a long time past, a long time. I do not wish for experts, not I, nor to go to see you. I believe you. I give it up.... But I refuse the ten thousand roubles. Good-bye.”