The neighbours undoubtedly did hear. Varia rushed out of the room.
“You never know the day of the week; what’s the day of the month?”
The prince made one step forward, and then turned round.
“‘Never!’ I cried, indignantly.”
The news of what had happened reached the church with extraordinary rapidity. When Keller arrived, a host of people whom he did not know thronged around to ask him questions. There was much excited talking, and shaking of heads, even some laughter; but no one left the church, all being anxious to observe how the now celebrated bridegroom would take the news. He grew very pale upon hearing it, but took it quite quietly.
“Father, will you hear a word from me outside!” said Gania, his voice shaking with agitation, as he seized his father by the shoulder. His eyes shone with a blaze of hatred.
Aglaya merely glanced at the portrait--frowned, and put out her underlip; then went and sat down on the sofa with folded hands. Mrs. Epanchin rang the bell.
“Yet I remember all he talked about, and every word we said, though whenever my eyes closed for a moment I could picture nothing but the image of Surikoff just in the act of finding a million roubles. He could not make up his mind what to do with the money, and tore his hair over it. He trembled with fear that somebody would rob him, and at last he decided to bury it in the ground. I persuaded him that, instead of putting it all away uselessly underground, he had better melt it down and make a golden coffin out of it for his starved child, and then dig up the little one and put her into the golden coffin. Surikoff accepted this suggestion, I thought, with tears of gratitude, and immediately commenced to carry out my design.
“My father’s name was Nicolai Lvovitch.”
“Your exclamation proves the generous sympathy of your nature, prince; for four hundred roubles--to a struggling family man like myself--is no small matter!”
An impetuous woman, Lizabetha Prokofievna sometimes weighed her anchors and put out to sea quite regardless of the possible storms she might encounter. Ivan Fedorovitch felt a sudden pang of alarm, but the others were merely curious, and somewhat surprised. Colia unfolded the paper, and began to read, in his clear, high-pitched voice, the following article:
The prince took down the chain and opened the door. He started back in amazement--for there stood Nastasia Philipovna. He knew her at once from her photograph. Her eyes blazed with anger as she looked at him. She quickly pushed by him into the hall, shouldering him out of her way, and said, furiously, as she threw off her fur cloak:
“No, Ferdishenko would not; he is a candid fellow, Nastasia Philipovna,” said that worthy. “But the prince would. You sit here making complaints, but just look at the prince. I’ve been observing him for a long while.”
Gania lit a cigarette and offered one to the prince. The latter accepted the offer, but did not talk, being unwilling to disturb Gania’s work. He commenced to examine the study and its contents. But Gania hardly so much as glanced at the papers lying before him; he was absent and thoughtful, and his smile and general appearance struck the prince still more disagreeably now that the two were left alone together.
“Perhaps you are right,” said the prince, smiling. “I think I am a philosopher, perhaps, and who knows, perhaps I do wish to teach my views of things to those I meet with?”
“Of course it is; we are not a secret society; and that being the case, it is all the more curious that the general should have been on his way to wake me up in order to tell me this.”
“He is ashamed of his tears!” whispered Lebedeff to Lizabetha Prokofievna. “It was inevitable. Ah! what a wonderful man the prince is! He read his very soul.”
The old woman continued to stare at him, but said nothing.
“‘I think you dropped this,’ I remarked, as quietly and drily as I could. (I thought it best to treat him so.) For some while he stood before me in downright terror, and seemed unable to understand. He then suddenly grabbed at his side-pocket, opened his mouth in alarm, and beat his forehead with his hand.
“Now tell us about your love affairs,” said Adelaida, after a moment’s pause.
“Prince! ex-ex-excellency!” he stammered. Then suddenly he ran towards the girl with the infant, a movement so unexpected by her that she staggered and fell back, but next moment he was threatening the other child, who was standing, still laughing, in the doorway. She screamed, and ran towards the kitchen. Lebedeff stamped his foot angrily; then, seeing the prince regarding him with amazement, he murmured apologetically--“Pardon to show respect!... he-he!”
“Yes--yes--both! I do!”
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.
“By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant Trepalaf’s.
He had kept but one idea before him all day, and for that he had worked in an agony of anxiety and a fever of suspense. His lieutenants had worked so hard from five o’clock until eleven, that they actually had collected a hundred thousand roubles for him, but at such terrific expense, that the rate of interest was only mentioned among them in whispers and with bated breath.
She awaited him in trembling agitation; and when he at last arrived she nearly went off into hysterics.
“What did you suppose, then? Why did you think I invited you out here? I suppose you think me a ‘little fool,’ as they all call me at home?”
“It is a pity you have taken too much wine, Lebedeff I want to ask you something... but...”
“Out of obstinacy” shouted Gania. “You haven’t married, either, thanks to your obstinacy. Oh, you needn’t frown at me, Varvara! You can go at once for all I care; I am sick enough of your company. What, you are going to leave us are you, too?” he cried, turning to the prince, who was rising from his chair.
Aglaya did not begin the conversation, but contented herself with watching her companion intently.
The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.
“Quite so, quite so, of course!” murmured the poor prince, who didn’t know where to look. “Your memoirs would be most interesting.”
“‘Child,’ he addressed me suddenly, ‘what do you think of our plan?’ Of course he only applied to me as a sort of toss-up, you know. I turned to Davoust and addressed my reply to him. I said, as though inspired:
“What are you shouting about there!” cried Nastasia “I’m not yours yet. I may kick you out for all you know I haven’t taken your money yet; there it all is on the table. Here, give me over that packet! Is there a hundred thousand roubles in that one packet? Pfu! what abominable stuff it looks! Oh! nonsense, Daria Alexeyevna; you surely did not expect me to ruin _him?_” (indicating the prince). “Fancy him nursing me! Why, he needs a nurse himself! The general, there, will be his nurse now, you’ll see. Here, prince, look here! Your bride is accepting money. What a disreputable woman she must be! And you wished to marry her! What are you crying about? Is it a bitter dose? Never mind, you shall laugh yet. Trust to time.” (In spite of these words there were two large tears rolling down Nastasia’s own cheeks.) “It’s far better to think twice of it now than afterwards. Oh! you mustn’t cry like that! There’s Katia crying, too. What is it, Katia, dear? I shall leave you and Pasha a lot of things, I’ve laid them out for you already; but good-bye, now. I made an honest girl like you serve a low woman like myself. It’s better so, prince, it is indeed. You’d begin to despise me afterwards--we should never be happy. Oh! you needn’t swear, prince, I shan’t believe you, you know. How foolish it would be, too! No, no; we’d better say good-bye and part friends. I am a bit of a dreamer myself, and I used to dream of you once. Very often during those five years down at his estate I used to dream and think, and I always imagined just such a good, honest, foolish fellow as you, one who should come and say to me: ‘You are an innocent woman, Nastasia Philipovna, and I adore you.’ I dreamt of you often. I used to think so much down there that I nearly went mad; and then this fellow here would come down. He would stay a couple of months out of the twelve, and disgrace and insult and deprave me, and then go; so that I longed to drown myself in the pond a thousand times over; but I did not dare do it. I hadn’t the heart, and now--well, are you ready, Rogojin?”
“Why, it’s true that I am going to marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope with him tomorrow,” cried Aglaya, turning upon her mother. “Do you hear? Is your curiosity satisfied? Are you pleased with what you have heard?”
“Have I been acting rightly in allowing him to develop such vast resources of imagination?” the prince asked himself. But his answer was a fit of violent laughter which lasted ten whole minutes. He tried to reproach himself for the laughing fit, but eventually concluded that he needn’t do so, since in spite of it he was truly sorry for the old man. The same evening he received a strange letter, short but decided. The general informed him that they must part for ever; that he was grateful, but that even from him he could not accept “signs of sympathy which were humiliating to the dignity of a man already miserable enough.”
Muishkin glanced at Rogojin in perplexity, but the latter only smiled disagreeably, and said nothing. The silence continued for some few moments.
“I will not deceive you. ‘Reality’ got me so entrapped in its meshes now and again during the past six months, that I forgot my ‘sentence’ (or perhaps I did not wish to think of it), and actually busied myself with affairs.
“So that is true, is it?” cried the prince, greatly agitated. “I had heard a report of it, but would not believe 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?”
The general flushed with indignation as he spoke.
“I--I don’t quite know how to answer your question, Aglaya Ivanovna. What is there to say to such a question? And--and must I answer?”
“Even the porter does not know that I have come home now. I told him, and told them at my mother’s too, that I was off to Pavlofsk,” said Rogojin, with a cunning and almost satisfied smile. “We’ll go in quietly and nobody will hear us.”
The prince was startled, and reflected for a moment.
“How he could hate me and tell scandalous stories about me, living among children as he did, is what I cannot understand. Children soothe and heal the wounded heart. I remember there was one poor fellow at our professor’s who was being treated for madness, and you have no idea what those children did for him, eventually. I don’t think he was mad, but only terribly unhappy. But I’ll tell you all about him another day. Now I must get on with this story.
Mrs. Epanchin put these questions hastily and brusquely, and when the prince answered she nodded her head sagely at each word he said.
“Keller is my name, sir; ex-lieutenant,” he said, very loud. “If you will accept me as champion of the fair sex, I am at your disposal. English boxing has no secrets from me. I sympathize with you for the insult you have received, but I can’t permit you to raise your hand against a woman in public. If you prefer to meet me--as would be more fitting to your rank--in some other manner, of course you understand me, captain.”
“Probably when he is alone he looks quite different, and hardly smiles at all!” thought the prince.
“So I will,” he whispered hoarsely. “As soon as I get home I will go to bed at once; and I know I shall be dead in a fortnight; Botkine told me so himself last week. That is why I should like to say a few farewell words, if you will let me.”
“Look here--I’ll write a letter--take a letter for me!”
“I am very sorry; I was not thinking at the time. I merely said that Aglaya was almost as beautiful as Nastasia Philipovna.”
“Why, prince, you’ve only gone a few steps along this road, I perceive. You are evidently a mere beginner. Wait a bit! Before long, you’ll have your own detectives, you’ll watch day and night, and you’ll know every little thing that goes on there--that is, if--”
“Aglaya, don’t! This is unfair,” cried the prince, deeply distressed.
“Only because I seem to be giving you a lecture, all the time!”
Gania stood at the door like a block and looked on in silence, putting no obstacle in the way of their entrance, and ten or a dozen men marched in behind Parfen Rogojin. They were a decidedly mixed-looking collection, and some of them came in in their furs and caps. None of them were quite drunk, but all appeared to be considerably excited.
“I shall leave you nothing!” exclaimed his uncle angrily.
“Brought whom?” cried Muishkin.
“But what’s to be done? It’s a serious matter,” said the prince, thoughtfully. “Don’t you think you may have dropped it out of your pocket whilst intoxicated?”
“Yes, I intend to.”
“I know that--I know that; but what a part to play! And think what she must take _you_ for, Gania! I know she kissed mother’s hand, and all that, but she laughed at you, all the same. All this is not good enough for seventy-five thousand roubles, my dear boy. You are capable of honourable feelings still, and that’s why I am talking to you so. Oh! _do_ take care what you are doing! Don’t you know yourself that it will end badly, Gania?”
“Five weeks since, I was just like yourself,” continued Rogojin, addressing the prince, “with nothing but a bundle and the clothes I wore. I ran away from my father and came to Pskoff to my aunt’s house, where I caved in at once with fever, and he went and died while I was away. All honour to my respected father’s memory--but he uncommonly nearly killed me, all the same. Give you my word, prince, if I hadn’t cut and run then, when I did, he’d have murdered me like a dog.”
“I had a small pocket pistol. I had procured it while still a boy, at that droll age when the stories of duels and highwaymen begin to delight one, and when one imagines oneself nobly standing fire at some future day, in a duel.
“Well? Go on.”
It so happened that Prince S---- introduced a distant relation of his own into the Epanchin family--one Evgenie Pavlovitch, a young officer of about twenty-eight years of age, whose conquests among the ladies in Moscow had been proverbial. This young gentleman no sooner set eyes on Aglaya than he became a frequent visitor at the house. He was witty, well-educated, and extremely wealthy, as the general very soon discovered. His past reputation was the only thing against him.
“In the first place, my dear prince, don’t be angry with me. I would have come to see you yesterday, but I didn’t know how Lizabetha Prokofievna would take it. My dear fellow, my house is simply a hell just now, a sort of sphinx has taken up its abode there. We live in an atmosphere of riddles; I can’t make head or tail of anything. As for you, I feel sure you are the least to blame of any of us, though you certainly have been the cause of a good deal of trouble. You see, it’s all very pleasant to be a philanthropist; but it can be carried too far. Of course I admire kind-heartedness, and I esteem my wife, but--”
“Oh, _that’s_ all the same! The chief thing is that she wants to see you after six months’ absence. Look here, Gania, this is a _serious_ business. Don’t swagger again and lose the game--play carefully, but don’t funk, do you understand? As if she could possibly avoid seeing what I have been working for all this last six months! And just imagine, I was there this morning and not a word of this! I was there, you know, on the sly. The old lady did not know, or she would have kicked me out. I ran some risk for you, you see. I did so want to find out, at all hazards.”
“Yes--yes, quite so; you are quite right. I wished to see Aglaya Ivanovna, you know!” said the prince, nodding his head.
“I don’t want you to suspect that I have simply come here to deceive you and pump information out of you!” said Evgenie, still smiling, and without making any direct reply to the question.
“Oh, you shall tell us about the Basle picture another time; now we must have all about the execution,” said Adelaida. “Tell us about that face as it appeared to your imagination--how should it be drawn?--just the face alone, do you mean?”
“Ho, ho! you are not nearly so simple as they try to make you out! This is not the time for it, or I would tell you a thing or two about that beauty, Gania, and his hopes. You are being undermined, pitilessly undermined, and--and it is really melancholy to see you so calm about it. But alas! it’s your nature--you can’t help it!”
“Rogojin and his hundred thousand roubles, no doubt of it,” muttered Ptitsin to himself.
These exclamations but feebly expressed the profound bewilderment into which the prince’s words had plunged Burdovsky’s companions.
“It was you,” he murmured, almost in a whisper, but with absolute conviction. “Yes, it was you who came to my room and sat silently on a chair at my window for a whole hour--more! It was between one and two at night; you rose and went out at about three. It was you, you! Why you should have frightened me so, why you should have wished to torment me like that, I cannot tell--but you it was.”
Gania looked dreadfully put out, and tried to say something in reply, but Nastasia interrupted him:
“Let him go on reading at all costs!” ordered Lizabetha Prokofievna, evidently preserving her composure by a desperate effort. “Prince, if the reading is stopped, you and I will quarrel.”
“Make allowances? For whom? Him--the old blackguard? No, no, Varia--that won’t do! It won’t do, I tell you! And look at the swagger of the man! He’s all to blame himself, and yet he puts on so much ‘side’ that you’d think--my word!--‘It’s too much trouble to go through the gate, you must break the fence for me!’ That’s the sort of air he puts on; but what’s the matter with you, Varia? What a curious expression you have!”
The prince rose from his seat in a condition of mental collapse. The good ladies reported afterwards that “his pallor was terrible to see, and his legs seemed to give way underneath him.” With difficulty he was made to understand that his new friends would be glad of his address, in order to act with him if possible. After a moment’s thought he gave the address of the small hotel, on the stairs of which he had had a fit some five weeks since. He then set off once more for Rogojin’s.
“What, it’s still there then, is it? Ever since the day before yesterday?”
“The thought steps in, whether one likes it or no, that death is so terrible and so powerful, that even He who conquered it in His miracles during life was unable to triumph over it at the last. He who called to Lazarus, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and the dead man lived--He was now Himself a prey to nature and death. Nature appears to one, looking at this picture, as some huge, implacable, dumb monster; or still better--a stranger simile--some enormous mechanical engine of modern days which has seized and crushed and swallowed up a great and invaluable Being, a Being worth nature and all her laws, worth the whole earth, which was perhaps created merely for the sake of the advent of that Being.
He gasped as he spoke, and his strange agitation seemed to increase.
“In the first place, don’t dare to suppose,” she began, “that I am going to apologize. Nonsense! You were entirely to blame.”
“No; I shall not be ashamed of that. You did not so live by your own will.”
“I--I thought it was half-past nine!”
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.
“Do you hear, prince?” said Nastasia Philipovna. “Do you hear how this moujik of a fellow goes on bargaining for your bride?”
“There, they are all like that,” said Gania, laughing, “just as if I do not know all about it much better than they do.”
“You wouldn’t believe,” he concluded, “how irritating they all are there. They are such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, _commonplace_ people! Would you believe it, they invited me there under the express condition that I should die quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having died yet, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn’t it a comedy? I don’t mind betting that you don’t believe me!”
“Whose fault is it that they are all miserable, that they don’t know how to live, though they have fifty or sixty years of life before them? Why did that fool allow himself to die of hunger with sixty years of unlived life before him?
In order to pass from the Vauxhall to the band-stand, the visitor has to descend two or three steps. Just at these steps the group paused, as though it feared to proceed further; but very quickly one of the three ladies, who formed its apex, stepped forward into the charmed circle, followed by two members of her suite.
“Then how do you come to be going there?” cried Colia, so much astonished that he stopped short in the middle of the pavement. “And... and are you going to her ‘At Home’ in that costume?”
The woman lowered her eyes.
“Oh--if that is the state of affairs--” began Gania.
“What are you up to? Where are you off to? You’ve nowhere to go to, you know,” cried Gania, out of the window.
“What do you say, sir?” growled the general, taking a step towards him.
Arrived on the opposite pavement, he looked back to see whether the prince were moving, waved his hand in the direction of the Gorohovaya, and strode on, looking across every moment to see whether Muishkin understood his instructions. The prince supposed that Rogojin desired to look out for someone whom he was afraid to miss; but if so, why had he not told _him_ whom to look out for? So the two proceeded for half a mile or so. Suddenly the prince began to tremble from some unknown cause. He could not bear it, and signalled to Rogojin across the road.