“Quite so, I take no notice of it. Ha, ha! and think of this, prince, my pockets are always strong and whole, and yet, here in one night, is a huge hole. I know the phenomenon is unworthy of your notice; but such is the case. I examined the hole, and I declare it actually looks as though it had been made with a pen-knife, a most improbable contingency.”
“Listen, Lebedeff,” began the prince, quite overwhelmed; “_do_ act quietly--don’t make a scandal, Lebedeff, I ask you--I entreat you! No one must know--_no one_, mind! In that case only, I will help you.”
She gazed attentively at him.
The prince’s expression was so good-natured at this moment, and so entirely free from even a suspicion of unpleasant feeling was the smile with which he looked at the general as he spoke, that the latter suddenly paused, and appeared to gaze at his guest from quite a new point of view, all in an instant.
“Is that you, Keller?” said the prince, in surprise.
“I have heard that Lebedeff explains it as the railroads that cover Europe like a net.”
“From you to me? Ha, ha! that’s nothing! Why, she always acts as though she were in a delirium now-a-days! Either she says, ‘Come on, I’ll marry you! Let’s have the wedding quickly!’ and fixes the day, and seems in a hurry for it, and when it begins to come near she feels frightened; or else some other idea gets into her head--goodness knows! you’ve seen her--you know how she goes on--laughing and crying and raving! There’s nothing extraordinary about her having run away from you! She ran away because she found out how dearly she loved you. She could not bear to be near you. You said just now that I had found her at Moscow, when she ran away from you. I didn’t do anything of the sort; she came to me herself, straight from you. ‘Name the day--I’m ready!’ she said. ‘Let’s have some champagne, and go and hear the gipsies sing!’ I tell you she’d have thrown herself into the water long ago if it were not for me! She doesn’t do it because I am, perhaps, even more dreadful to her than the water! She’s marrying me out of spite; if she marries me, I tell you, it will be for spite!”
Heading this little band walked three ladies, two of whom were remarkably lovely; and there was nothing surprising in the fact that they should have had a large troop of admirers following in their wake.
“He is a nice fellow, but a little too simple,” said Adelaida, as the prince left the room.
“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?”
“Early?” said Lebedeff, sarcastically. “Time counts for nothing, even in physical chastisement; but my slap in the face was not physical, it was moral.”
“I don’t know.”
Nastasia Philipovna was ready. She rose from her seat, looked into the glass and remarked, as Keller told the tale afterwards, that she was “as pale as a corpse.” She then bent her head reverently, before the ikon in the corner, and left the room.
The outburst was so terribly violent that the prince thought it would have killed her.
“My goodness, Lef Nicolaievitch, why, you can’t have heard a single word I said! Look at me, I’m still trembling all over with the dreadful shock! It is that that kept me in town so late. Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle--”
“Do you know this for certain?” asked Evgenie, with the greatest curiosity.
“Of course; quite so. In that case it all depends upon what is going on in her brain at this moment.”
She did not rise from her knees; she would not listen to him; she put her questions hurriedly, as though she were pursued.
“Oh, the devil take Switzerland!”
“Is not that enough? The instinct of self-preservation is the normal law of humanity...”
The prince immediately followed the man out of the room.
“He has gone to get his coat,” said the boy.
“Keller told me (I found him at your place) that you were in the park. ‘Of course he is!’ I thought.”
The general was, of course, repeating what he had told Lebedeff the night before, and thus brought it out glibly enough, but here he looked suspiciously at the prince out of the corners of his eyes.
“Tell us about the execution,” put in Adelaida.
“Of course not,” replied the prince; “there are none, except myself. I believe I am the last and only one. As to my forefathers, they have always been a poor lot; my own father was a sublieutenant in the army. I don’t know how Mrs. Epanchin comes into the Muishkin family, but she is descended from the Princess Muishkin, and she, too, is the last of her line.”
“Of course no one knows anything about her but you,” muttered the young man in a would-be jeering tone.
“So should I, in your place, I’ve no doubt!” laughed the prince to Ferdishenko; then continued, addressing Nastasia: “Your portrait struck me very forcibly this morning; then I was talking about you to the Epanchins; and then, in the train, before I reached Petersburg, Parfen Rogojin told me a good deal about you; and at the very moment that I opened the door to you I happened to be thinking of you, when--there you stood before me!”
“The prince is clearly a democrat,” remarked Aglaya.
“Who told you that?” broke in Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“How very curious, point for point the same anecdote, and happening at different ends of Europe! Even the light blue dress the same,” continued the pitiless Nastasia. “I must really send you the paper.”
“How so? What in?”
“So do I,” said Adelaida, solemnly.
“Disgraced you! How?”
“If you say,” she began in shaky tones, “if you say that this woman of yours is mad--at all events I have nothing to do with her insane fancies. Kindly take these three letters, Lef Nicolaievitch, and throw them back to her, from me. And if she dares,” cried Aglaya suddenly, much louder than before, “if she dares so much as write me one word again, tell her I shall tell my father, and that she shall be taken to a lunatic asylum.”
“No, Tver,” insisted the general; “he removed just before his death. You were very small and cannot remember; and Pavlicheff, though an excellent fellow, may have made a mistake.”
“Why on earth not?” asked the latter. “Really, you know, you are making yourself a nuisance, by keeping guard over me like this. I get bored all by myself; I have told you so over and over again, and you get on my nerves more than ever by waving your hands and creeping in and out in the mysterious way you do.”
“Then it was _you_ who came--_you_--_you?_”
“On the table, as in the other room, burned a tallow candle-end in an iron candlestick; and on the bed there whined a baby of scarcely three weeks old. A pale-looking woman was dressing the child, probably the mother; she looked as though she had not as yet got over the trouble of childbirth, she seemed so weak and was so carelessly dressed. Another child, a little girl of about three years old, lay on the sofa, covered over with what looked like a man’s old dress-coat.
“Listen to me! You are going to live here, are you not?” said Colia. “I mean to get something to do directly, and earn money. Then shall we three live together? You, and I, and Hippolyte? We will hire a flat, and let the general come and visit us. What do you say?”
“But how could he know anything of it? Tell me that. Lebedeff and the prince determined to tell no one--even Colia knows nothing.”
“He discovered everything, the monster... himself......”
“Is not that enough? The instinct of self-preservation is the normal law of humanity...”
“I have not asked you to marry me yet, Aglaya Ivanovna,” said the prince, becoming suddenly animated; “but you know yourself how much I love you and trust you.”
“Father, your dinner is ready,” said Varvara at this point, putting her head in at the door.
The prince knew that if he called at the Epanchins’ now he would only find the general, and that the latter might probably carry him straight off to Pavlofsk with him; whereas there was one visit he was most anxious to make without delay.
“No; I shall not be ashamed of that. You did not so live by your own will.”
Both she and Aglaya stood and waited as though in expectation, and both looked at the prince like madwomen.
“Why do you tease him?” cried the prince, suddenly.
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 note was written and folded anyhow, evidently in a great hurry, and probably just before Aglaya had come down to the verandah.
“At any rate, your uncle has a kind heart,” remarked the prince, who really had to force himself to speak to the nephew, so much did he dislike him.
“Prince, I wish to place myself in a respectable position--I wish to esteem myself--and to--”
The room had a blue wall-paper, and was well, almost pretentiously, furnished, with its round table, its divan, and its bronze clock under a glass shade. There was a narrow pier-glass against the wall, and a chandelier adorned with lustres hung by a bronze chain from the ceiling.
“I have never given him my word at all, nor have I ever counted him as my future husband--never in my life. He is just as little to me as all the rest.”
So said the sisters. Of course, Lizabetha Prokofievna had foreseen it long before the rest; her “heart had been sore” for a long while, she declared, and it was now so sore that she appeared to be quite overwhelmed, and the very thought of the prince became distasteful to her.
But the new guests at least somewhat eased his strained and uncomfortable position. Seeing them approaching, he rose from his chair, and nodding amicably to the general, signed to him not to interrupt the recitation. He then got behind his chair, and stood there with his left hand resting on the back of it. Thanks to this change of position, he was able to listen to the ballad with far less embarrassment than before. Mrs. Epanchin had also twice motioned to the new arrivals to be quiet, and stay where they were.
“No--in anger, perhaps. Oh yes! she reproached me dreadfully in anger; and suffered herself, too! But afterwards--oh! don’t remind me--don’t remind me of that!”
“But, my goodness me,” laughed Ivan Petrovitch, “why can’t I be cousin to even a splendid man?”
“Then what did you mean, when you said straight out to her that she was not really ‘like that’? You guessed right, I fancy. It is quite possible she was not herself at the moment, though I cannot fathom her meaning. Evidently she meant to hurt and insult us. I have heard curious tales about her before now, but if she came to invite us to her house, why did she behave so to my mother? Ptitsin knows her very well; he says he could not understand her today. With Rogojin, too! No one with a spark of self-respect could have talked like that in the house of her... Mother is extremely vexed on your account, too...
“I understand, gentlemen,” he began, trembling as before, and stumbling over every word, “that I have deserved your resentment, and--and am sorry that I should have troubled you with this raving nonsense” (pointing to his article), “or rather, I am sorry that I have not troubled you enough.” He smiled feebly. “Have I troubled you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” He suddenly turned on Evgenie with this question. “Tell me now, have I troubled you or not?”
“You must have misunderstood what I said,” said Nastasia, in some surprise.
“Neither during my illness nor at any previous time had I ever seen an apparition;--but I had always thought, both when I was a little boy, and even now, that if I were to see one I should die on the spot--though I don’t believe in ghosts. And yet _now_, when the idea struck me that this was a ghost and not Rogojin at all, I was not in the least alarmed. Nay--the thought actually irritated me. Strangely enough, the decision of the question as to whether this were a ghost or Rogojin did not, for some reason or other, interest me nearly so much as it ought to have done;--I think I began to muse about something altogether different. For instance, I began to wonder why Rogojin, who had been in dressing-gown and slippers when I saw him at home, had now put on a dress-coat and white waistcoat and tie? I also thought to myself, I remember--‘if this is a ghost, and I am not afraid of it, why don’t I approach it and verify my suspicions? Perhaps I am afraid--’ And no sooner did this last idea enter my head than an icy blast blew over me; I felt a chill down my backbone and my knees shook.
“And if you had known that I was coming today, why be so irritated about it?” he asked, in quiet surprise.
Lizabetha Prokofievna well understood that the old lady was angry at the failure of Evgenie Pavlovitch--her own recommendation. She returned home to Pavlofsk in a worse humour than when she left, and of course everybody in the house suffered. She pitched into everyone, because, she declared, they had ‘gone mad.’ Why were things always mismanaged in her house? Why had everybody been in such a frantic hurry in this matter? So far as she could see, nothing whatever had happened. Surely they had better wait and see what was to happen, instead of making mountains out of molehills.
“I cannot boast of any such knowledge, of course, but I wished to know your name.”
“That is a very difficult and complicated question. I cannot suspect the servant, for she was in the kitchen the whole evening, nor do I suspect any of my children.”
“It grieves me to see you so, Hippolyte. Why didn’t you send me a message? I would have come up and saved you this trouble.”
“Oh, quite so, of course. But how was it in your case?--I don’t quite understand,” said the bewildered prince. “You say it wasn’t there at first, and that you searched the place thoroughly, and yet it turned up on that very spot!”
“Where’s your brother?”
“Who? I?--good and honest?”
Rogojin and Nastasia Philipovna reached the station just in time for the train. As he jumped out of the carriage and was almost on the point of entering the train, Rogojin accosted a young girl standing on the platform and wearing an old-fashioned, but respectable-looking, black cloak and a silk handkerchief over her head.
“And natural,” repeated Lebedeff with pedantic obstinacy. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by nature excessively curious; it would be quite easy therefore to entice him into a wood, or some secret place, on false pretences, and there to deal with him as said. But I do not dispute in the least that the number of persons consumed appears to denote a spice of greediness.”
“I didn’t say a word, but with extreme courtesy, I may say with most refined courtesy, I reached my finger and thumb over towards the poodle, took it up delicately by the nape of the neck, and chucked it out of the window, after the cigar. The train went flying on, and the poodle’s yells were lost in the distance.”
“I asked Nicolai Ardalionovitch...”
“My goodness, what utter twaddle, and what may all this nonsense have signified, pray? If it had any meaning at all!” said Mrs. Epanchin, cuttingly, after having listened with great attention.
But these vulgarities seemed to please Nastasia Philipovna, although too often they were both rude and offensive. Those who wished to go to her house were forced to put up with Ferdishenko. Possibly the latter was not mistaken in imagining that he was received simply in order to annoy Totski, who disliked him extremely. Gania also was often made the butt of the jester’s sarcasms, who used this method of keeping in Nastasia Philipovna’s good graces.
“But after all is said, we are mixed up in it. Your daughters are mixed up in it, Ivan Fedorovitch; young ladies in society, young ladies at an age to be married; they were present, they heard everything there was to hear. They were mixed up with that other scene, too, with those dreadful youths. You must be pleased to remember they heard it all. I cannot forgive that wretched prince. I never shall forgive him! And why, if you please, has Aglaya had an attack of nerves for these last three days? Why has she all but quarrelled with her sisters, even with Alexandra--whom she respects so much that she always kisses her hands as though she were her mother? What are all these riddles of hers that we have to guess? What has Gavrila Ardalionovitch to do with it? Why did she take upon herself to champion him this morning, and burst into tears over it? Why is there an allusion to that cursed ‘poor knight’ in the anonymous letter? And why did I rush off to him just now like a lunatic, and drag him back here? I do believe I’ve gone mad at last. What on earth have I done now? To talk to a young man about my daughter’s secrets--and secrets having to do with himself, too! Thank goodness, he’s an idiot, and a friend of the house! Surely Aglaya hasn’t fallen in love with such a gaby! What an idea! Pfu! we ought all to be put under glass cases--myself first of all--and be shown off as curiosities, at ten copecks a peep!”
“Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things that Gania does not know,” exclaimed the prince, as he considered Colia’s last words.
Since the general’s “mishap,” as Colia called it, and the marriage of his sister, the boy had quietly possessed himself of far more freedom. His relations saw little of him, for he rarely slept at home. He made many new friends; and was moreover, a frequent visitor at the debtor’s prison, to which he invariably accompanied his mother. Varia, who used to be always correcting him, never spoke to him now on the subject of his frequent absences, and the whole household was surprised to see Gania, in spite of his depression, on quite friendly terms with his brother. This was something new, for Gania had been wont to look upon Colia as a kind of errand-boy, treating him with contempt, threatening to “pull his ears,” and in general driving him almost wild with irritation. It seemed now that Gania really needed his brother, and the latter, for his part, felt as if he could forgive Gania much since he had returned the hundred thousand roubles offered to him by Nastasia Philipovna. Three months after the departure of the prince, the Ivolgin family discovered that Colia had made acquaintance with the Epanchins, and was on very friendly terms with the daughters. Varia heard of it first, though Colia had not asked her to introduce him. Little by little the family grew quite fond of him. Madame Epanchin at first looked on him with disdain, and received him coldly, but in a short time he grew to please her, because, as she said, he “was candid and no flatterer”--a very true description. From the first he put himself on an equality with his new friends, and though he sometimes read newspapers and books to the mistress of the house, it was simply because he liked to be useful.
“That gentleman--Ivan Petrovitch--is a relation of your late friend, Mr. Pavlicheff. You wanted to find some of his relations, did you not?”
“What? I have emeralds? Oh, prince! with what simplicity, with what almost pastoral simplicity, you look upon life!”
The present visitor, Ptitsin, was also afraid of her. This was a young fellow of something under thirty, dressed plainly, but neatly. His manners were good, but rather ponderously so. His dark beard bore evidence to the fact that he was not in any government employ. He could speak well, but preferred silence. On the whole he made a decidedly agreeable impression. He was clearly attracted by Varvara, and made no secret of his feelings. She trusted him in a friendly way, but had not shown him any decided encouragement as yet, which fact did not quell his ardour in the least.
“It is hardly an exact statement of the case,” said the prince in reply. “You have confused your motives and ideas, as I need scarcely say too often happens to myself. I can assure you, Keller, I reproach myself bitterly for it sometimes. When you were talking just now I seemed to be listening to something about myself. At times I have imagined that all men were the same,” he continued earnestly, for he appeared to be much interested in the conversation, “and that consoled me in a certain degree, for a _double_ motive is a thing most difficult to fight against. I have tried, and I know. God knows whence they arise, these ideas that you speak of as base. I fear these double motives more than ever just now, but I am not your judge, and in my opinion it is going too far to give the name of baseness to it--what do you think? You were going to employ your tears as a ruse in order to borrow money, but you also say--in fact, you have sworn to the fact--that independently of this your confession was made with an honourable motive. As for the money, you want it for drink, do you not? After your confession, that is weakness, of course; but, after all, how can anyone give up a bad habit at a moment’s notice? It is impossible. What can we do? It is best, I think, to leave the matter to your own conscience. How does it seem to you?” As he concluded the prince looked curiously at Keller; evidently this problem of double motives had often been considered by him before.
“‘Tis he, ‘tis he!” he said at last, quietly, but with much solemnity. “As though he were alive once more. I heard the familiar name--the dear familiar name--and, oh! how it reminded me of the irrevocable past--Prince Muishkin, I believe?”
“I don’t know; I always feel like that when I look at the beauties of nature for the first time; but then, I was ill at that time, of course!”
“The man-servant, while I was waiting to see the general.”
It was about Easter, when, taking advantage of a momentary tête-à-tête Colia handed Aglaya a letter, remarking that he “had orders to deliver it to her privately.” She stared at him in amazement, but he did not wait to hear what she had to say, and went out. Aglaya broke the seal, and read as follows:
“Dishonesty--it is, it is! That’s the very word!”
“I think you might have spared me that,” murmured the prince reproachfully, almost in a whisper.
“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.
“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”
“No--no, impossible!” said Evgenie, rising.
“Oh, yes--I know what count you’re going to see!” remarked his wife in a cutting manner, as she turned her angry eyes on the prince. “Now then, what’s all this about?--What abbot--Who’s Pafnute?” she added, brusquely.
All the Rogojin company were now collected in the drawing-room; some were drinking, some laughed and talked: all were in the highest and wildest spirits. Ferdishenko was doing his best to unite himself to them; the general and Totski again made an attempt to go. Gania, too stood hat in hand ready to go; but seemed to be unable to tear his eyes away from the scene before him.
“Well, when we tried it we were a party of people, like this, for instance; and somebody proposed that each of us, without leaving his place at the table, should relate something about himself. It had to be something that he really and honestly considered the very worst action he had ever committed in his life. But he was to be honest--that was the chief point! He wasn’t to be allowed to lie.”