“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.”
There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters--one of them was very long.
“I give you my word of honour that I had nothing to do with the matter and know nothing about it.”
“Oh, very well! if it’s improbable--it is--that’s all! And yet--where should you have heard it? Though I must say, if a fly crosses the room it’s known all over the place here. However, I’ve warned you, and you may be grateful to me. Well--_au revoir_--probably in the next world! One more thing--don’t think that I am telling you all this for your sake. Oh, dear, no! Do you know that I dedicated my confession to Aglaya Ivanovna? I did though, and how she took it, ha, ha! Oh, no! I am not acting from any high, exalted motives. But though I may have behaved like a cad to you, I have not done _her_ any harm. I don’t apologize for my words about ‘leavings’ and all that. I am atoning for that, you see, by telling you the place and time of the meeting. Goodbye! You had better take your measures, if you are worthy the name of a man! The meeting is fixed for this evening--that’s certain.”
“They will lose all respect if they are allowed to be so free and easy; besides it is not proper for them,” he declared at last, in answer to a direct question from the prince.
“Schneider said that I did the children great harm by my pernicious ‘system’; what nonsense that was! And what did he mean by my system? He said afterwards that he believed I was a child myself--just before I came away. ‘You have the form and face of an adult’ he said, ‘but as regards soul, and character, and perhaps even intelligence, you are a child in the completest sense of the word, and always will be, if you live to be sixty.’ I laughed very much, for of course that is nonsense. But it is a fact that I do not care to be among grown-up people and much prefer the society of children. However kind people may be to me, I never feel quite at home with them, and am always glad to get back to my little companions. Now my companions have always been children, not because I was a child myself once, but because young things attract me. On one of the first days of my stay in Switzerland, I was strolling about alone and miserable, when I came upon the children rushing noisily out of school, with their slates and bags, and books, their games, their laughter and shouts--and my soul went out to them. I stopped and laughed happily as I watched their little feet moving so quickly. Girls and boys, laughing and crying; for as they went home many of them found time to fight and make peace, to weep and play. I forgot my troubles in looking at them. And then, all those three years, I tried to understand why men should be for ever tormenting themselves. I lived the life of a child there, and thought I should never leave the little village; indeed, I was far from thinking that I should ever return to Russia. But at last I recognized the fact that Schneider could not keep me any longer. And then something so important happened, that Schneider himself urged me to depart. I am going to see now if can get good advice about it. Perhaps my lot in life will be changed; but that is not the principal thing. The principal thing is the entire change that has already come over me. I left many things behind me--too many. They have gone. On the journey I said to myself, ‘I am going into the world of men. I don’t know much, perhaps, but a new life has begun for me.’ I made up my mind to be honest, and steadfast in accomplishing my task. Perhaps I shall meet with troubles and many disappointments, but I have made up my mind to be polite and sincere to everyone; more cannot be asked of me. People may consider me a child if they like. I am often called an idiot, and at one time I certainly was so ill that I was nearly as bad as an idiot; but I am not an idiot now. How can I possibly be so when I know myself that I am considered one?
“Oh, no, no!” said the prince at last, “that was not what I was going to say--oh no! I don’t think you would ever have been like Osterman.”
“But he interested me too much, and all that day I was under the influence of strange thoughts connected with him, and I determined to return his visit the next day.
The door was shut with these words, and the old woman disappeared. The prince decided to come back within an hour. Passing out of the house, he met the porter.
“Those are the two hundred and fifty roubles you dared to send him as a charity, by the hands of Tchebaroff,” explained Doktorenko.
“Here on my paper, I make a note of all the figures and dates that come into my explanation. Of course, it is all the same to me, but just now--and perhaps only at this moment--I desire that all those who are to judge of my action should see clearly out of how logical a sequence of deductions has at length proceeded my ‘last conviction.’
The general grew purple with anger.
“Surely you--are from abroad?” he inquired at last, in a confused sort of way. He had begun his sentence intending to say, “Surely you are not Prince Muishkin, are you?”
“What an extraordinary idea!” said the general.
The sisters replied candidly and fully enough to their mother’s impatient questions on her return. They said, in the first place, that nothing particular had happened since her departure; that the prince had been, and that Aglaya had kept him waiting a long while before she appeared--half an hour, at least; that she had then come in, and immediately asked the prince to have a game of chess; that the prince did not know the game, and Aglaya had beaten him easily; that she had been in a wonderfully merry mood, and had laughed at the prince, and chaffed him so unmercifully that one was quite sorry to see his wretched expression.
“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.
The prince was away for six months, and even those who were most interested in his destiny were able to pick up very little news about him all that while. True, certain rumours did reach his friends, but these were both strange and rare, and each one contradicted the last.
“No humbug at all.”
“So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” he said, ironically. “You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening--I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I’ve just been dreaming about him, prince,” he added, frowning. “Yes, by the by,” starting up, “where’s the orator? Where’s Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that ‘beauty would save the world’? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he’s in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don’t blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian.”
“Are you tempting me to box your ears for you, or what?”
“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.”
“Drink some water, and don’t look like that!”
“It’s hot weather, you see,” continued Rogojin, as he lay down on the cushions beside Muishkin, “and, naturally, there will be a smell. I daren’t open the window. My mother has some beautiful flowers in pots; they have a delicious scent; I thought of fetching them in, but that old servant will find out, she’s very inquisitive.”
Thanks to the manner in which he regarded Nastasia’s mental and moral condition, the prince was to some extent freed from other perplexities. She was now quite different from the woman he had known three months before. He was not astonished, for instance, to see her now so impatient to marry him--she who formerly had wept with rage and hurled curses and reproaches at him if he mentioned marriage! “It shows that she no longer fears, as she did then, that she would make me unhappy by marrying me,” he thought. And he felt sure that so sudden a change could not be a natural one. This rapid growth of self-confidence could not be due only to her hatred for Aglaya. To suppose that would be to suspect the depth of her feelings. Nor could it arise from dread of the fate that awaited her if she married Rogojin. These causes, indeed, as well as others, might have played a part in it, but the true reason, Muishkin decided, was the one he had long suspected--that the poor sick soul had come to the end of its forces. Yet this was an explanation that did not procure him any peace of mind. At times he seemed to be making violent efforts to think of nothing, and one would have said that he looked on his marriage as an unimportant formality, and on his future happiness as a thing not worth considering. As to conversations such as the one held with Evgenie Pavlovitch, he avoided them as far as possible, feeling that there were certain objections to which he could make no answer.
“No, I’m not married!” replied the prince, smiling at the ingenuousness of this little feeler.
“I should refuse to say a word if _I_ were ordered to tell a story like that!” observed Aglaya.
“Next morning they came and told me that Marie was dead. The children could not be restrained now; they went and covered her coffin with flowers, and put a wreath of lovely blossoms on her head. The pastor did not throw any more shameful words at the poor dead woman; but there were very few people at the funeral. However, when it came to carrying the coffin, all the children rushed up, to carry it themselves. Of course they could not do it alone, but they insisted on helping, and walked alongside and behind, crying.
“I think it was left on the general’s table.”
“I assure you I ‘blabbed’ a great deal less than you seem to suppose,” said the prince, with some annoyance. Clearly the relations between Gania and himself were by no means improving.
This country villa pleased the prince very much in his state of physical and mental exhaustion. On the day that they left for Pavlofsk, that is the day after his attack, he appeared almost well, though in reality he felt very far from it. The faces of those around him for the last three days had made a pleasant impression. He was pleased to see, not only Colia, who had become his inseparable companion, but Lebedeff himself and all the family, except the nephew, who had left the house. He was also glad to receive a visit from General Ivolgin, before leaving St. Petersburg.
“Oh, is that it? That makes a difference, perhaps. What did you go to the bandstand for?”
The bewildered Gania introduced her first to Varia, and both women, before shaking hands, exchanged looks of strange import. Nastasia, however, smiled amiably; but Varia did not try to look amiable, and kept her gloomy expression. She did not even vouchsafe the usual courteous smile of etiquette. Gania darted a terrible glance of wrath at her for this, but Nina Alexandrovna mended matters a little when Gania introduced her at last. Hardly, however, had the old lady begun about her “highly gratified feelings,” and so on, when Nastasia left her, and flounced into a chair by Gania’s side in the corner by the window, and cried: “Where’s your study? and where are the--the lodgers? You do take in lodgers, don’t you?”
“So that you didn’t care to go away anywhere else?”
“Had you not better light a candle?” said Muishkin.
“I have nearly finished,” replied Evgenie Pavlovitch.
And again he stood like a log in the middle of the pavement; so amazed that his mouth remained open after the last word had left it.
“Of course you have your own lodging at Pavlofsk at--at your daughter’s house,” began the prince, quite at a loss what to say. He suddenly recollected that the general had come for advice on a most important matter, affecting his destiny.
“Well, hardly at all. I wish I were, if only for the sake of justifying myself in her eyes. Nina Alexandrovna has a grudge against me for, as she thinks, encouraging her husband in drinking; whereas in reality I not only do not encourage him, but I actually keep him out of harm’s way, and out of bad company. Besides, he’s my friend, prince, so that I shall not lose sight of him, again. Where he goes, I go. He’s quite given up visiting the captain’s widow, though sometimes he thinks sadly of her, especially in the morning, when he’s putting on his boots. I don’t know why it’s at that time. But he has no money, and it’s no use his going to see her without. Has he borrowed any money from you, prince?”
The staircase led to the first and second corridors of the hotel, along which lay the guests’ bedrooms. As is often the case in Petersburg houses, it was narrow and very dark, and turned around a massive stone column.
“You have no right.... I am not simple,” stammered Burdovsky, much agitated.
“Ha! and whose eyes may they have been?” said Rogojin, suspiciously. It seemed to the prince that he was trembling.
“At all events,” put in the general, not listening to the news about the letter, “at all events, you must have learned _something_, and your malady would not prevent your undertaking some easy work, in one of the departments, for instance?”
Of those who were present, such as knew the prince listened to his outburst in a state of alarm, some with a feeling of mortification. It was so unlike his usual timid self-constraint; so inconsistent with his usual taste and tact, and with his instinctive feeling for the higher proprieties. They could not understand the origin of the outburst; it could not be simply the news of Pavlicheff’s perversion. By the ladies the prince was regarded as little better than a lunatic, and Princess Bielokonski admitted afterwards that “in another minute she would have bolted.”
“Wait,” interrupted the prince. “I asked both the porter and the woman whether Nastasia Philipovna had spent last night in the house; so they knew--”
“When you rang the bell this morning I thought it must be you. I went to the door on tip-toe and heard you talking to the servant opposite. I had told her before that if anyone came and rang--especially you, and I gave her your name--she was not to tell about me. Then I thought, what if he goes and stands opposite and looks up, or waits about to watch the house? So I came to this very window, looked out, and there you were staring straight at me. That’s how it came about.”
“Yes, it’s off our hands--off _yours_, I should say.”
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.
“Let it be sent for at once!”
Prince Muishkin entered the court-yard, and ascended the steps. A cook with her sleeves turned up to the elbows opened the door. The visitor asked if Mr. Lebedeff were at home.
The prince did not hear the rest, because at this point the servant continued his communication in a whisper.
Gania lost his head. Forgetful of everything he aimed a blow at Varia, which would inevitably have laid her low, but suddenly another hand caught his. Between him and Varia stood the prince.
“I thought he might be useful. You know he is in love with Aglaya himself, now, and has written to her; he has even written to Lizabetha Prokofievna!”
“Not the least bit in the world, esteemed and revered prince! Not the least bit in the world!” cried Lebedeff, solemnly, with his hand upon his heart. “On the contrary, I am too painfully aware that neither by my position in the world, nor by my gifts of intellect and heart, nor by my riches, nor by any former conduct of mine, have I in any way deserved your confidence, which is far above my highest aspirations and hopes. Oh no, prince; I may serve you, but only as your humble slave! I am not angry, oh no! Not angry; pained perhaps, but nothing more.”
“He has told me already that he hates you,” murmured Aglaya, scarcely audibly.
“I’ll swear it by whatever you please.”
So saying, he almost panted with agitation, and a cold sweat stood upon his forehead. These were his first words since he had entered the house; he tried to lift his eyes, and look around, but dared not; Evgenie Pavlovitch noticed his confusion, and smiled.
“You too, Alexandra Ivanovna, have a very lovely face; but I think you may have some secret sorrow. Your heart is undoubtedly a kind, good one, but you are not merry. There is a certain suspicion of ‘shadow’ in your face, like in that of Holbein’s Madonna in Dresden. So much for your face. Have I guessed right?
The trip abroad might have been enjoyed later on by Mrs. Epanchin and her two remaining daughters, but for another circumstance.
Keller started, gave an astonished look at the speaker, and thumped the table with his fist.
“And what did he mean by that _face_--a face which he so fears, and yet so loves? And meanwhile he really may die, as he says, without seeing Aglaya, and she will never know how devotedly he loves her! Ha, ha, ha! How does the fellow manage to love two of them? Two different kinds of love, I suppose! This is very interesting--poor idiot! What on earth will become of him now?”
“Of course not.”
The prince redoubled his attentive study of her symptoms. It was a most curious circumstance, in his opinion, that she never spoke of Rogojin. But once, about five days before the wedding, when the prince was at home, a messenger arrived begging him to come at once, as Nastasia Philipovna was very ill.
“It’s quite a clear case,” said the hitherto silent Gania. “I have watched the prince almost all day, ever since the moment when he first saw Nastasia Philipovna’s portrait, at General Epanchin’s. I remember thinking at the time what I am now pretty sure of; and what, I may say in passing, the prince confessed to myself.”
“There was no cap in it,” Keller announced.
“I was not going to express myself so. But how could you so blind her?”
“Ah! that’s it, no doubt!”
Ungovernable rage and madness took entire possession of Gania, and his fury burst out without the least attempt at restraint.
“Gentlemen--” began the prince.
The prince made his bows and retired at once. Alexandra and Adelaida smiled and whispered to each other, while Lizabetha Prokofievna glared severely at them. “We are only laughing at the prince’s beautiful bows, mamma,” said Adelaida. “Sometimes he bows just like a meal-sack, but to-day he was like--like Evgenie Pavlovitch!”
“Suddenly I heard behind me, and about on a level with my head, a sort of rattling sound. I turned sharp round and saw that the brute had crawled up the wall as high as the level of my face, and that its horrible tail, which was moving incredibly fast from side to side, was actually touching my hair! I jumped up--and it disappeared. I did not dare lie down on my bed for fear it should creep under my pillow. My mother came into the room, and some friends of hers. They began to hunt for the reptile and were more composed than I was; they did not seem to be afraid of it. But they did not understand as I did.
“I’ll wear it; and you shall have mine. I’ll take it off at once.”
“And pray what _is_ my position, madame? I have the greatest respect for you, personally; but--”
The prince begged him to step in and sit down.
“How can she be mad,” Rogojin interrupted, “when she is sane enough for other people and only mad for you? How can she write letters to _her_, if she’s mad? If she were insane they would observe it in her letters.”
“Then how Schneider told me about my childish nature, and--”
“‘My God!’ he cried, ‘where did you find it? How?’ I explained in as few words as I could, and as drily as possible, how I had seen it and picked it up; how I had run after him, and called out to him, and how I had followed him upstairs and groped my way to his door.
“Well--come! there’s nothing to get cross about,” said Gania.
“I assure you this business left me no peace for many a long year. Why did I do it? I was not in love with her myself; I’m afraid it was simply mischief--pure ‘cussedness’ on my part.
Evgenie Pavlovitch gazed at him in real surprise, and this time his expression of face had no mockery in it whatever.
Besides, they could not help thinking that their sister Aglaya probably knew more about the whole matter than both they and their mother put together.
“Get out of this, you drunken beast!” cried Gania, who was red and white by turns.
“I take all that you have said as a joke,” said Prince S. seriously.
“Your highness! His excellency begs your presence in her excellency’s apartments!” announced the footman, appearing at the door.
“I told you Lef Nicolaievitch was a man--a man--if only he would not be in such a hurry, as the princess remarked,” said the latter, with delight.
“‘How dare you come in so? Be off!’ he shouted, trembling all over with rage and scarcely able to articulate the words. Suddenly, however, he observed his pocketbook in my hand.
The prince was listening open-mouthed, and still in a condition of excited agitation. The old man was evidently interested in him, and anxious to study him more closely.
“I can just see there’s a bed--”
“There, he is feeling embarrassed; I expected as much,” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch suddenly in the prince’s ear. “It is a bad sign; what do you think? Now, out of spite, he will come out with something so outrageous that even Lizabetha Prokofievna will not be able to stand it.”
“Once I had to interfere by force; and after that I took to speaking to them every day and whenever I could. Occasionally they stopped and listened; but they teased Marie all the same.
This sort of character is met with pretty frequently in a certain class. They are people who know everyone--that is, they know where a man is employed, what his salary is, whom he knows, whom he married, what money his wife had, who are his cousins, and second cousins, etc., etc. These men generally have about a hundred pounds a year to live on, and they spend their whole time and talents in the amassing of this style of knowledge, which they reduce--or raise--to the standard of a science.
“As soon as I had finished reading it, she told me that you were fishing for her; that you wished to compromise her so far as to receive some hopes from her, trusting to which hopes you might break with the prospect of receiving a hundred thousand roubles. She said that if you had done this without bargaining with her, if you had broken with the money prospects without trying to force a guarantee out of her first, she might have been your friend. That’s all, I think. Oh no, when I asked her what I was to say, as I took the letter, she replied that ‘no answer is the best answer.’ I think that was it. Forgive me if I do not use her exact expressions. I tell you the sense as I understood it myself.”
The prince was touched; he took Gania’s hands, and embraced him heartily, while each kissed the other.
“I will think about it,” said the prince dreamily, and went off.
“Really, Lebedeff, I must leave your house. Where are Gavrila Ardalionovitch and the Ptitsins? Are they here? Have you chased them away, too?”