“I’ll come tomorrow. Now I’m going home--are you coming to my house?”
At length, in the last letter of all, he found:
“Yes, your brother does not attract me much.”
“A son of my old friend, dear,” he cried; “surely you must remember Prince Nicolai Lvovitch? You saw him at--at Tver.”
“But all the common herd judge differently; in the town, at the meetings, in the villas, at the band, in the inns and the billiard-rooms, the coming event has only to be mentioned and there are shouts and cries from everybody. I have even heard talk of getting up a ‘charivari’ under the windows on the wedding-night. So if ‘you have need of the pistol’ of an honest man, prince, I am ready to fire half a dozen shots even before you rise from your nuptial couch!”
“‘Perhaps you are exaggerating--if you were to take proper measures perhaps--”
Little by little he became very happy indeed. All his late anxieties and apprehensions (after his conversation with Lebedeff) now appeared like so many bad dreams--impossible, and even laughable.
“Yes, _seriously_,” said the general, gravely.
It was said that Elizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters had there and then denounced the prince in the strongest terms, and had refused any further acquaintance and friendship with him; their rage and denunciations being redoubled when Varia Ardalionovna suddenly arrived and stated that Aglaya had been at her house in a terrible state of mind for the last hour, and that she refused to come home.
His wife, Colia, and Ptitsin ran out after him.
Nature loves and favours such people. Ptitsin will certainly have his reward, not three houses, but four, precisely because from childhood up he had realized that he would never be a Rothschild. That will be the limit of Ptitsin’s fortune, and, come what may, he will never have more than four houses.
“Dreadful crimes? But I can assure you that crimes just as dreadful, and probably more horrible, have occurred before our times, and at all times, and not only here in Russia, but everywhere else as well. And in my opinion it is not at all likely that such murders will cease to occur for a very long time to come. The only difference is that in former times there was less publicity, while now everyone talks and writes freely about such things--which fact gives the impression that such crimes have only now sprung into existence. That is where your mistake lies--an extremely natural mistake, I assure you, my dear fellow!” said Prince S.
“Your love is mingled with hatred, and therefore, when your love passes, there will be the greater misery,” said the prince. “I tell you this, Parfen--”
Arrived at her house, Lizabetha Prokofievna paused in the first room. She could go no farther, and subsided on to a couch quite exhausted; too feeble to remember so much as to ask the prince to take a seat. This was a large reception-room, full of flowers, and with a glass door leading into the garden.
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.
“Did I ever expect to find happiness with Aglaya?”
“Not as a present, not as a present! I should not have taken the liberty,” said Lebedeff, appearing suddenly from behind his daughter. “It is our own Pushkin, our family copy, Annenkoff’s edition; it could not be bought now. I beg to suggest, with great respect, that your excellency should buy it, and thus quench the noble literary thirst which is consuming you at this moment,” he concluded grandiloquently.
“Well, very well, very well!” she said, but quite in a different tone. She was remorseful now, and bent forward to touch his shoulder, though still trying not to look him in the face, as if the more persuasively to beg him not to be angry with her. “Very well,” she continued, looking thoroughly ashamed of herself, “I feel that I said a very foolish thing. I only did it just to try you. Take it as unsaid, and if I offended you, forgive me. Don’t look straight at me like that, please; turn your head away. You called it a ‘horrible idea’; I only said it to shock you. Very often I am myself afraid of saying what I intend to say, and out it comes all the same. You have just told me that you wrote that letter at the most painful moment of your life. I know what moment that was!” she added softly, looking at the ground again.
“I didn’t come here for that purpose, Parfen. That was not in my mind--”
“Oh, the devil take Switzerland!”
“I determined to die at Pavlofsk at sunrise, in the park--so as to make no commotion in the house.
“Is father in?” he asked. Colia whispered something in his ear and went out.
“And you won’t reproach me for all these rude words of mine--some day--afterwards?” she asked, of a sudden.
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.
“And enough of this. By the time I have got so far in the reading of my document the sun will be up and the huge force of his rays will be acting upon the living world. So be it. I shall die gazing straight at the great Fountain of life and power; I do not want this life!
He looked at the address on the letter once more. Oh, he was not in the least degree alarmed about Aglaya writing such a letter; he could trust her. What he did not like about it was that he could not trust Gania.
Neither one nor the other seemed to give expression to her full thoughts.
“But what is it all about? Tell me, for Heaven’s sake! Cannot you understand how nearly it touches me? Why are they blackening Evgenie Pavlovitch’s reputation?”
He was a remarkably handsome young fellow of some twenty-eight summers, fair and of middle height; he wore a small beard, and his face was most intelligent. Yet his smile, in spite of its sweetness, was a little thin, if I may so call it, and showed his teeth too evenly; his gaze though decidedly good-humoured and ingenuous, was a trifle too inquisitive and intent to be altogether agreeable.
The prince had been left an orphan when quite a little child, and Pavlicheff had entrusted him to an old lady, a relative of his own, living in the country, the child needing the fresh air and exercise of country life. He was educated, first by a governess, and afterwards by a tutor, but could not remember much about this time of his life. His fits were so frequent then, that they made almost an idiot of him (the prince used the expression “idiot” himself). Pavlicheff had met Professor Schneider in Berlin, and the latter had persuaded him to send the boy to Switzerland, to Schneider’s establishment there, for the cure of his epilepsy, and, five years before this time, the prince was sent off. But Pavlicheff had died two or three years since, and Schneider had himself supported the young fellow, from that day to this, at his own expense. Although he had not quite cured him, he had greatly improved his condition; and now, at last, at the prince’s own desire, and because of a certain matter which came to the ears of the latter, Schneider had despatched the young man to Russia.
“I love you, Aglaya Ivanovna,--I love you very much. I love only you--and--please don’t jest about it, for I do love you very much.”
In fact, the door opened directly, and the footman informed the visitors that the family were all away.
“Come to Aglaya--quick, quick!”
General Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was standing in the middle of the room, and gazed with great curiosity at the prince as he entered. He even advanced a couple of steps to meet him.
“Oh, not cold--believe an old man--not from a cold, but from grief for her prince. Oh--your mother, your mother! heigh-ho! Youth--youth! Your father and I--old friends as we were--nearly murdered each other for her sake.”
The latter had no idea and could give no information as to why Pavlicheff had taken so great an interest in the little prince, his ward.
“Oh! _do_ teach us,” laughed Adelaida.
“The child she carries is an orphan, too. She is Vera’s sister, my daughter Luboff. The day this babe was born, six weeks ago, my wife died, by the will of God Almighty.... Yes... Vera takes her mother’s place, though she is but her sister... nothing more... nothing more...”
“He is in there,” said she, pointing to the salon.
“Because you are a humbug, sir; and thought fit to worry people for half an hour, and tried to frighten them into believing that you would shoot yourself with your little empty pistol, pirouetting about and playing at suicide! I gave you hospitality, you have fattened on it, your cough has left you, and you repay all this--”
Rogojin listened to the end, and then burst out laughing:
“Yes; I feel quite ill. I have been obliged to put on this shawl--I feel so cold,” replied Nastasia. She certainly had grown very pale, and every now and then she tried to suppress a trembling in her limbs.
“That she did not disgrace me at Moscow with that officer, Zemtuznikoff? I know for certain she did, after having fixed our marriage-day herself!”
“Well? Go on.”
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.
The prince muttered that the spot was a lovely one.
“Well, you’ve put me into such a fright that I shall certainly make a fool of myself, and very likely break something too. I wasn’t a bit alarmed before, but now I’m as nervous as can be.”
“You are quite ready, I observe,” she said, with absolute composure, “dressed, and your hat in your hand. I see somebody has thought fit to warn you, and I know who. Hippolyte?”
Gania felt a little guilty.
The old woman continued to stare at him, but said nothing.
“H’m! she is as stupid as a fool! A veritable ‘wet hen’! Nothing excites her; and yet she is not happy; some days it makes one miserable only to look at her! Why is she unhappy, I wonder?” At times Lizabetha Prokofievna put this question to her husband, and as usual she spoke in the threatening tone of one who demands an immediate answer. Ivan Fedorovitch would frown, shrug his shoulders, and at last give his opinion: “She needs a husband!”
It was true enough that everybody was laughing, the prince among them.
So saying she gazed into his eyes, longing to see whether she could make any guess as to the explanation of his motive in coming to her house. The prince would very likely have made some reply to her kind words, but he was so dazzled by her appearance that he could not speak.
“Is there over there?”
“‘A man I knew who had been to Siberia and returned, told me that he himself had been a witness of how the very most hardened criminals remembered the old general, though, in point of fact, he could never, of course, have distributed more than a few pence to each member of a party. Their recollection of him was not sentimental or particularly devoted. Some wretch, for instance, who had been a murderer--cutting the throat of a dozen fellow-creatures, for instance; or stabbing six little children for his own amusement (there have been such men!)--would perhaps, without rhyme or reason, suddenly give a sigh and say, “I wonder whether that old general is alive still!” Although perhaps he had not thought of mentioning him for a dozen years before! How can one say what seed of good may have been dropped into his soul, never to die?’
“Brought whom?” cried Muishkin.
“Why do you say all this here?” cried Aglaya, suddenly. “Why do you talk like this to _them?_”
“Well, good-bye,” said Rogojin. “I’m off tomorrow too, you know. Remember me kindly! By-the-by,” he added, turning round sharply again, “did you answer her question just now? Are you happy, or not?”
“If he cared to kiss you, that is,” said Alexandra, whose cheeks were red with irritation and excitement.
“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?”
In point of fact it is quite possible that the matter would have ended in a very commonplace and natural way in a few minutes. The undoubtedly astonished, but now more collected, General Epanchin had several times endeavoured to interrupt the prince, and not having succeeded he was now preparing to take firmer and more vigorous measures to attain his end. In another minute or two he would probably have made up his mind to lead the prince quietly out of the room, on the plea of his being ill (and it was more than likely that the general was right in his belief that the prince _was_ actually ill), but it so happened that destiny had something different in store.
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t misunderstand me! Do not think that I humiliate myself by writing thus to you, or that I belong to that class of people who take a satisfaction in humiliating themselves--from pride. I have my consolation, though it would be difficult to explain it--but I do not humiliate myself.
“Oh, I hardly know! You see, I only went to restore my health. I don’t know whether I learned to see, exactly. I was very happy, however, nearly all the time.”
“It is perhaps true, gentlemen,” said the prince, quietly. He had been listening in silence up to that moment without taking part in the conversation, but laughing heartily with the others from time to time. Evidently he was delighted to see that everybody was amused, that everybody was talking at once, and even that everybody was drinking. It seemed as if he were not intending to speak at all, when suddenly he intervened in such a serious voice that everyone looked at him with interest.
Lebedeff said this so seriously that the prince quite lost his temper with him.
“He is telling lies!” cried the nephew. “Even now he cannot speak the truth. He is not called Timofey Lukianovitch, prince, but Lukian Timofeyovitch. Now do tell us why you must needs lie about it? Lukian or Timofey, it is all the same to you, and what difference can it make to the prince? He tells lies without the least necessity, simply by force of habit, I assure you.”
“How dare you speak so to me?” she said, with a haughtiness which was quite indescribable, replying to Nastasia’s last remark.
He did not dare look at her, but he was conscious, to the very tips of his fingers, that she was gazing at him, perhaps angrily; and that she had probably flushed up with a look of fiery indignation in her black eyes.
“I felt sure of that, or I should not have come to you. We might manage it with the help of Nina Alexandrovna, so that he might be closely watched in his own house. Unfortunately I am not on terms... otherwise... but Nicolai Ardalionovitch, who adores you with all his youthful soul, might help, too.”
“Poor orphans,” began Lebedeff, his face assuming a mournful air, but he stopped short, for the other looked at him inattentively, as if he had already forgotten his own remark. They waited a few minutes in silence, while Lebedeff sat with his eyes fixed mournfully on the young man’s face.
Lizabetha Prokofievna was about to rise, when she saw Hippolyte laughing, and turned upon him with irritation.
“Oh! _do_ teach us,” laughed Adelaida.
“Do you know, prince,” he said, in quite a different tone, “I do not know you at all, yet, and after all, Elizabetha Prokofievna would very likely be pleased to have a peep at a man of her own name. Wait a little, if you don’t mind, and if you have time to spare?”
“But there is nothing to understand! Sympathy and tenderness, that is all--that is all our poor invalid requires! You will permit me to consider him an invalid?”
All this news was received by the company with somewhat gloomy interest. Nastasia was silent, and would not say what she thought about it. Gania was equally uncommunicative. The general seemed the most anxious of all, and decidedly uneasy. The present of pearls which he had prepared with so much joy in the morning had been accepted but coldly, and Nastasia had smiled rather disagreeably as she took it from him. Ferdishenko was the only person present in good spirits.
“Though I am a woman, I should certainly not run away for anything,” said Aglaya, in a slightly pained voice. “However, I see you are laughing at me and twisting your face up as usual in order to make yourself look more interesting. Now tell me, they generally shoot at twenty paces, don’t they? At ten, sometimes? I suppose if at ten they must be either wounded or killed, mustn’t they?”
“Why? Do you hate me so much as all that?”
“Well, where are we to go to now, father?” he asked. “You don’t want to go to the prince’s; you have quarrelled with Lebedeff; you have no money; I never have any; and here we are in the middle of the road, in a nice sort of mess.”
“Yes, she is inquisitive,” assented the prince.
“A great disgrace.”
He saw, for instance, that one important dignitary, old enough to be his grandfather, broke off his own conversation in order to listen to _him_--a young and inexperienced man; and not only listened, but seemed to attach value to his opinion, and was kind and amiable, and yet they were strangers and had never seen each other before. Perhaps what most appealed to the prince’s impressionability was the refinement of the old man’s courtesy towards him. Perhaps the soil of his susceptible nature was really predisposed to receive a pleasant impression.
Nastasia rushed to him like a madwoman, and seized both his hands.
At this moment there was a furious ring at the bell, and a great knock at the door--exactly similar to the one which had startled the company at Gania’s house in the afternoon.
“Oh, I hardly know! You see, I only went to restore my health. I don’t know whether I learned to see, exactly. I was very happy, however, nearly all the time.”
“You don’t answer me; perhaps you think I am very fond of you?” added Hippolyte, as though the words had been drawn from him.
“I asked Nicolai Ardalionovitch...”
Hippolyte flushed hotly. He had thought at first that the prince was “humbugging” him; but on looking at his face he saw that he was absolutely serious, and had no thought of any deception. Hippolyte beamed with gratification.
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.
“Yes, he would!” said Rogojin, quietly, but with an air of absolute conviction.
There was no need to repeat that she was serious. The general, like all drunkards, was extremely emotional and easily touched by recollections of his better days. He rose and walked quietly to the door, so meekly that Mrs. Epanchin was instantly sorry for him.
“Mamma, it’s rather a strange order, that!” said Adelaida, who was fussing among her paints and paint-brushes at the easel. Aglaya and Alexandra had settled themselves with folded hands on a sofa, evidently meaning to be listeners. The prince felt that the general attention was concentrated upon himself.
“I took it out and had a look at it; it’s all right. I’ve let it slip back into the lining now, as you see, and so I have been walking about ever since yesterday morning; it knocks against my legs when I walk along.”
The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna’s consisted of none but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.
“Why should I? I’ve given you the message.--Goodbye!”
“And yet you flush up as red as a rosebud! Come--it’s all right. I’m not going to laugh at you. Do you know she is a very virtuous woman? Believe it or not, as you like. You think she and Totski--not a bit of it, not a bit of it! Not for ever so long! _Au revoir!_”
“I don’t love you, Lef Nicolaievitch, and, therefore, what would be the use of my coming to see you? You are just like a child--you want a plaything, and it must be taken out and given you--and then you don’t know how to work it. You are simply repeating all you said in your letter, and what’s the use? Of course I believe every word you say, and I know perfectly well that you neither did or ever can deceive me in any way, and yet, I don’t love you. You write that you’ve forgotten everything, and only remember your brother Parfen, with whom you exchanged crosses, and that you don’t remember anything about the Rogojin who aimed a knife at your throat. What do you know about my feelings, eh?” (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) “Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree. I did not think of it again all that evening; all my thoughts were centred on something else--”
“You knew Pavlicheff then?”
“I don’t think you need break your heart over Gania,” said the prince; “for if what you say is true, he must be considered dangerous in the Epanchin household, and if so, certain hopes of his must have been encouraged.”
“No, I have forgotten nothing. Come! This is the house--up this magnificent staircase. I am surprised not to see the porter, but .... it is a holiday... and the man has gone off... Drunken fool! Why have they not got rid of him? Sokolovitch owes all the happiness he has had in the service and in his private life to me, and me alone, but... here we are.”