But the prince only looked at the bright side; he did not turn the coat and see the shabby lining.
“Is it a note?”
Lebedeff made a strange and very expressive grimace; he twisted about in his chair, and did something, apparently symbolical, with his hands.
“Well, a soldier once told me that they were always ordered to aim at the middle of the body. So you see they don’t aim at the chest or head; they aim lower on purpose. I asked some officer about this afterwards, and he said it was perfectly true.”
“You’ve moved him to tears,” added Ferdishenko. But Hippolyte was by no means weeping. He was about to move from his place, when his four guards rushed at him and seized him once more. There was a laugh at this.
“I am speaking allegorically, of course; but he will be the murderer of a Zemarin family in the future. He is getting ready. ...”
“Lizabetha Prokofievna! Lizabetha Prokofievna! Lizabetha Prokofievna!”
“Meanwhile he continued to sit and stare jeeringly at me.
“I seem to have seen your eyes somewhere; but it cannot be! I have not seen you--I never was here before. I may have dreamed of you, I don’t know.”
“Gentlemen, I did not know you were there; I have only just been informed, I assure you,” repeated Muishkin.
“I like looking at that picture,” muttered Rogojin, not noticing, apparently, that the prince had not answered his question.
The general dropped his eyes, and elevated his brows; shrugged his shoulders, tightened his lips, spread his hands, and remained silent. At last he blurted out:
Colia jogged the prince’s arm.
“You see, it is very important, it is most important to know where you got this report from,” said Lebedeff, excitedly. He had risen from his seat, and was trying to keep step with the prince, running after him, up and down. “Because look here, prince, I don’t mind telling you now that as we were going along to Wilkin’s this morning, after telling me what you know about the fire, and saving the count and all that, the general was pleased to drop certain hints to the same effect about Ferdishenko, but so vaguely and clumsily that I thought better to put a few questions to him on the matter, with the result that I found the whole thing was an invention of his excellency’s own mind. Of course, he only lies with the best intentions; still, he lies. But, such being the case, where could you have heard the same report? It was the inspiration of the moment with him, you understand, so who could have told _you?_ It is an important question, you see!”
The prince muttered that the spot was a lovely one.
“Oh,” cried the prince, “I have often thought that! Why, I know of a murder, for the sake of a watch. It’s in all the papers now. But if some writer had invented it, all the critics would have jumped down his throat and said the thing was too improbable for anything. And yet you read it in the paper, and you can’t help thinking that out of these strange disclosures is to be gained the full knowledge of Russian life and character. You said that well, general; it is so true,” concluded the prince, warmly, delighted to have found a refuge from the fiery blushes which had covered his face.
“There’s news!” continued the clear voice. “You need not be anxious about Kupferof’s IOU’s--Rogojin has bought them up. I persuaded him to!--I dare say we shall settle Biscup too, so it’s all right, you see! _Au revoir_, tomorrow! And don’t worry!” The carriage moved on, and disappeared.
“Well, only for the sake of a lady,” said Hippolyte, laughing. “I am ready to put off the reckoning, but only put it off, Varvara Ardalionovna, because an explanation between your brother and myself has become an absolute necessity, and I could not think of leaving the house without clearing up all misunderstandings first.”
“But there is no necessity for you to retire at all,” complained the general, “as far as I know.”
“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”
The entrance-hall suddenly became full of noise and people. To judge from the sounds which penetrated to the drawing-room, a number of people had already come in, and the stampede continued. Several voices were talking and shouting at once; others were talking and shouting on the stairs outside; it was evidently a most extraordinary visit that was about to take place.
The prince blushed and broke off, without finishing what he meant to say.
Gania was silent and merely looked contemptuously at him.
He remembered seeing something in the window marked at sixty copecks. Therefore, if the shop existed and if this object were really in the window, it would prove that he had been able to concentrate his attention on this article at a moment when, as a general rule, his absence of mind would have been too great to admit of any such concentration; in fact, very shortly after he had left the railway station in such a state of agitation.
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
However, all these rumours soon died down, to which circumstance certain facts largely contributed. For instance, the whole of the Rogojin troop had departed, with him at their head, for Moscow. This was exactly a week after a dreadful orgy at the Ekaterinhof gardens, where Nastasia Philipovna had been present. It became known that after this orgy Nastasia Philipovna had entirely disappeared, and that she had since been traced to Moscow; so that the exodus of the Rogojin band was found consistent with this report.
“I know nothing, Nastasia Philipovna. I have seen nothing. You are right so far; but I consider that you would be honouring me, and not I you. I am a nobody. You have suffered, you have passed through hell and emerged pure, and that is very much. Why do you shame yourself by desiring to go with Rogojin? You are delirious. You have returned to Mr. Totski his seventy-five thousand roubles, and declared that you will leave this house and all that is in it, which is a line of conduct that not one person here would imitate. Nastasia Philipovna, I love you! I would die for you. I shall never let any man say one word against you, Nastasia Philipovna! and if we are poor, I can work for both.”
“You are afraid of the million, I suppose,” said Gania, grinning and showing his teeth.
“Of course,” added the prince, “he wished us all to applaud his conduct--besides yourself.”
“If you didn’t mean that, then she has only to go down the steps and walk off, and she need never come back unless she chooses: Ships are burned behind one sometimes, and one doesn’t care to return whence one came. Life need not consist only of lunches, and dinners, and Prince S’s. It strikes me you take Aglaya Ivanovna for some conventional boarding-school girl. I said so to her, and she quite agreed with me. Wait till seven or eight o’clock. In your place I would send someone there to keep watch, so as to seize the exact moment when she steps out of the house. Send Colia. He’ll play the spy with pleasure--for you at least. Ha, ha, ha!”
“I, too, should have been unable to tear my eyes away,” said Aglaya.
“Of course,” remarked General Epanchin, “he does this out of pure innocence. It’s a little dangerous, perhaps, to encourage this sort of freedom; but it is rather a good thing that he has arrived just at this moment. He may enliven us a little with his originalities.”
He was sitting in the Summer Garden on a seat under a tree, and his mind dwelt on the matter. It was about seven o’clock, and the place was empty. The stifling atmosphere foretold a storm, and the prince felt a certain charm in the contemplative mood which possessed him. He found pleasure, too, in gazing at the exterior objects around him. All the time he was trying to forget some thing, to escape from some idea that haunted him; but melancholy thoughts came back, though he would so willingly have escaped from them. He remembered suddenly how he had been talking to the waiter, while he dined, about a recently committed murder which the whole town was discussing, and as he thought of it something strange came over him. He was seized all at once by a violent desire, almost a temptation, against which he strove in vain.
“Oh, I supposed you were coming,” the other replied, smiling sarcastically, “and I was right in my supposition, you see; but how was I to know that you would come _today?_”
Suddenly Hippolyte arose. His face, shockingly pale, was that of a man overwhelmed with shame and despair. This was shown chiefly in the look of fear and hatred which he cast upon the assembled company, and in the wild smile upon his trembling lips. Then he cast down his eyes, and with the same smile, staggered towards Burdovsky and Doktorenko, who stood at the entrance to the verandah. He had decided to go with them.
“Very well, I believe you. I have my own ideas about it. Up to yesterday morning I thought it was really Evgenie Pavlovitch who was to blame; now I cannot help agreeing with the others. But why he was made such a fool of I cannot understand. However, he is not going to marry Aglaya, I can tell you that. He may be a very excellent fellow, but--so it shall be. I was not at all sure of accepting him before, but now I have quite made up my mind that I won’t have him. ‘Put me in my coffin first and then into my grave, and then you may marry my daughter to whomsoever you please,’ so I said to the general this very morning. You see how I trust you, my boy.”
“In the first place, don’t dare to suppose,” she began, “that I am going to apologize. Nonsense! You were entirely to blame.”
“What nonsense!” Lebedeff’s nephew interrupted violently.
“I wish at least _he_ would come and say something!” complained poor Lizabetha Prokofievna.
Up to this moment jealousy had not been one of his torments; now it suddenly gnawed at his heart.
“Well--that’ll do; now leave me.”
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.
Aglaya then lost her temper, and began to say such awful things to the prince that he laughed no more, but grew dreadfully pale, especially when she said that she should not remain in the house with him, and that he ought to be ashamed of coming to their house at all, especially at night, “_after all that had happened._”
“Excuse me, Varia Ardalionovna, I will proceed. I can, of course, neither love nor respect the prince, though he is a good-hearted fellow, if a little queer. But there is no need whatever for me to hate him. I quite understood your brother when he first offered me aid against the prince, though I did not show it; I knew well that your brother was making a ridiculous mistake in me. I am ready to spare him, however, even now; but solely out of respect for yourself, Varvara Ardalionovna.
“What are you looking so surprised about, my friend?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, suddenly. “Did you suppose he was stupider than yourself, and was incapable of forming his own opinions, or what?”
Gania’s irritation increased with every word he uttered, as he walked up and down the room. These conversations always touched the family sores before long.
“No, I am not lying.”
“None of us ever thought such a thing!” Muishkin replied for all. “Why should you suppose it of us? And what are you going to read, Hippolyte? What is it?”
“Artists always draw the Saviour as an actor in one of the Gospel stories. I should do differently. I should represent Christ alone--the disciples did leave Him alone occasionally. I should paint one little child left with Him. This child has been playing about near Him, and had probably just been telling the Saviour something in its pretty baby prattle. Christ had listened to it, but was now musing--one hand reposing on the child’s bright head. His eyes have a far-away expression. Thought, great as the Universe, is in them--His face is sad. The little one leans its elbow upon Christ’s knee, and with its cheek resting on its hand, gazes up at Him, pondering as children sometimes do ponder. The sun is setting. There you have my picture.
“And do you know,” the prince continued, “I am amazed at your naive ways, Lebedeff! Don’t be angry with me--not only yours, everybody else’s also! You are waiting to hear something from me at this very moment with such simplicity that I declare I feel quite ashamed of myself for having nothing whatever to tell you. I swear to you solemnly, that there is nothing to tell. There! Can you take that in?” The prince laughed again.
Meanwhile the daylight grew full and strong; and at last the prince lay down, as though overcome by despair, and laid his face against the white, motionless face of Rogojin. His tears flowed on to Rogojin’s cheek, though he was perhaps not aware of them himself.
“He is drunk,” said the prince, quietly, “and he loves you very much.”
“You manage your composure too awkwardly. I see you wish to insult me,” he cried to Gania. “You--you are a cur!” He looked at Gania with an expression of malice.
The prince did not hear the rest, because at this point the servant continued his communication in a whisper.
Lizabetha Prokofievna, who really had not slept all night, rose at about eight on purpose to meet Aglaya in the garden and walk with her; but she could not find her either in the garden or in her own room.
Nastasia noticed this with satisfaction. She was in full dress this evening; and her appearance was certainly calculated to impress all beholders. She took his hand and led him towards her other guests. But just before they reached the drawing-room door, the prince stopped her, and hurriedly and in great agitation whispered to her:
The occurrence at the Vauxhall had filled both mother and daughters with something like horror. In their excitement Lizabetha Prokofievna and the girls were nearly running all the way home.
In point of fact, he did attach marvellously little importance to the approaching event. He was occupied with altogether different thoughts. Aglaya was growing hourly more capricious and gloomy, and this distressed him. When they told him that Evgenie Pavlovitch was expected, he evinced great delight, and said that he had long wished to see him--and somehow these words did not please anyone.
The prince remained silent.
“This is intolerable,” growled the general.
It seemed clear to the prince that Aglaya forgave him, and that he might go there again this very evening; and in his eyes that was not only the main thing, but everything in the world.
Alas Aglaya still did not come--and the prince was quite lost. He had the greatest difficulty in expressing his opinion that railways were most useful institutions,--and in the middle of his speech Adelaida laughed, which threw him into a still worse state of confusion.
“It’s quite new.”
She rose at their entrance, but did not smile or give her hand, even to the prince. Her anxious eyes were fixed upon Aglaya. Both sat down, at a little distance from one another--Aglaya on the sofa, in the corner of the room, Nastasia by the window. The prince and Rogojin remained standing, and were not invited to sit.
In reply to a very guarded question of her sisters’, Aglaya had answered coldly, but exceedingly haughtily:
“The cleverest in the world,” interrupted his uncle hastily.
“Yes. First, he proposes to come and live in my house. Well and good; but he sticks at nothing; he immediately makes himself one of the family. We have talked over our respective relations several times, and discovered that we are connected by marriage. It seems also that you are a sort of nephew on his mother’s side; he was explaining it to me again only yesterday. If you are his nephew, it follows that I must also be a relation of yours, most excellent prince. Never mind about that, it is only a foible; but just now he assured me that all his life, from the day he was made an ensign to the 11th of last June, he has entertained at least two hundred guests at his table every day. Finally, he went so far as to say that they never rose from the table; they dined, supped, and had tea, for fifteen hours at a stretch. This went on for thirty years without a break; there was barely time to change the table-cloth; directly one person left, another took his place. On feast-days he entertained as many as three hundred guests, and they numbered seven hundred on the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of the Russian Empire. It amounts to a passion with him; it makes one uneasy to hear of it. It is terrible to have to entertain people who do things on such a scale. That is why I wonder whether such a man is not too hospitable for you and me.”
A new fancy! The prince reflected, and then mounted the stairs once more. He pulled out the cross without taking it off his neck.
“After--it was about twelve o’clock.”
“Mamma!” said Alexandra, shocked at her rudeness.
“He won’t shoot himself; the boy is only playing the fool,” said General Ivolgin, suddenly and unexpectedly, with indignation.
The prince gazed at it for a minute or two, then glanced around him, and hurriedly raised the portrait to his lips. When, a minute after, he reached the drawing-room door, his face was quite composed. But just as he reached the door he met Aglaya coming out alone.
“Will you let me ask the prince for a cup of tea?... I am exhausted. Do you know what you might do, Lizabetha Prokofievna? I think you wanted to take the prince home with you for tea. Stay here, and let us spend the evening together. I am sure the prince will give us all some tea. Forgive me for being so free and easy--but I know you are kind, and the prince is kind, too. In fact, we are all good-natured people--it is really quite comical.”
“I met him outside and brought him in--he’s a gentleman who doesn’t often allow his friends to see him, of late--but he’s sorry now.”
We suspect, for instance, that having commissioned Lebedeff and the others, as above, the prince immediately forgot all about masters of ceremonies and even the ceremony itself; and we feel quite certain that in making these arrangements he did so in order that he might absolutely escape all thought of the wedding, and even forget its approach if he could, by detailing all business concerning it to others.
“At last he began to mount the steps; his legs were tied, so that he had to take very small steps. The priest, who seemed to be a wise man, had stopped talking now, and only held the cross for the wretched fellow to kiss. At the foot of the ladder he had been pale enough; but when he set foot on the scaffold at the top, his face suddenly became the colour of paper, positively like white notepaper. His legs must have become suddenly feeble and helpless, and he felt a choking in his throat--you know the sudden feeling one has in moments of terrible fear, when one does not lose one’s wits, but is absolutely powerless to move? If some dreadful thing were suddenly to happen; if a house were just about to fall on one;--don’t you know how one would long to sit down and shut one’s eyes and wait, and wait? Well, when this terrible feeling came over him, the priest quickly pressed the cross to his lips, without a word--a little silver cross it was--and he kept on pressing it to the man’s lips every second. And whenever the cross touched his lips, the eyes would open for a moment, and the legs moved once, and he kissed the cross greedily, hurriedly--just as though he were anxious to catch hold of something in case of its being useful to him afterwards, though he could hardly have had any connected religious thoughts at the time. And so up to the very block.
“Yes, but the prince told us about the donkey very cleverly, all the same,” said Alexandra. “I have always been most interested to hear how people go mad and get well again, and that sort of thing. Especially when it happens suddenly.”
“What did I want? Well, to begin with, it is good to meet a man like you. It is a pleasure to talk over my faults with you. I know you for one of the best of men... and then... then...”
“I am aware that you sent your son to that house--he told me so himself just now, but what is this intrigue?” said the prince, impatiently.
The president joined in the general outcry.
“I told you I had not had much of an education,” replied the prince.
Exclamations arose on all sides.
Suddenly Prince S. hinted something about “a new and approaching change in the family.” He was led to this remark by a communication inadvertently made to him by Lizabetha Prokofievna, that Adelaida’s marriage must be postponed a little longer, in order that the two weddings might come off together.
“Do you know what, I had better not come at all tomorrow! I’ll plead sick-list and stay away,” said the prince, with decision.
Hippolyte braced himself up a little.
The servant left the room. Vera was about to follow her, but returned and approached the prince with a preoccupied air.
“We’re all ready,” said several of his friends. “The troikas [Sledges drawn by three horses abreast.] are at the door, bells and all.”
“A brilliant idea, and most true!” cried Lebedeff, “for he never even touched the laity. Sixty monks, and not a single layman! It is a terrible idea, but it is historic, it is statistic; it is indeed one of those facts which enables an intelligent historian to reconstruct the physiognomy of a special epoch, for it brings out this further point with mathematical accuracy, that the clergy were in those days sixty times richer and more flourishing than the rest of humanity and perhaps sixty times fatter also...”
“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.
“You are always thinking about your nephew’s conduct. Don’t believe him, Lizabetha Prokofievna. I can assure you Gorsky and Daniloff are exceptions--and that these are only... mistaken. However, I do not care about receiving them here, in public. Excuse me, Lizabetha Prokofievna. They are coming, and you can see them, and then I will take them away. Please come in, gentlemen!”
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.
The reading of these letters produced some such effect upon the prince. He felt, before he even opened the envelopes, that the very fact of their existence was like a nightmare. How could she ever have made up her mind to write to her? he asked himself. How could she write about that at all? And how could such a wild idea have entered her head? And yet, the strangest part of the matter was, that while he read the letters, he himself almost believed in the possibility, and even in the justification, of the idea he had thought so wild. Of course it was a mad dream, a nightmare, and yet there was something cruelly real about it. For hours he was haunted by what he had read. Several passages returned again and again to his mind, and as he brooded over them, he felt inclined to say to himself that he had foreseen and known all that was written here; it even seemed to him that he had read the whole of this some time or other, long, long ago; and all that had tormented and grieved him up to now was to be found in these old, long since read, letters.
“Probably when he is alone he looks quite different, and hardly smiles at all!” thought the prince.
But by this time they had reached Gania’s house.
The prince’s conversation was artless and confiding to a degree, and the servant could not help feeling that as from visitor to common serving-man this state of things was highly improper. His conclusion was that one of two things must be the explanation--either that this was a begging impostor, or that the prince, if prince he were, was simply a fool, without the slightest ambition; for a sensible prince with any ambition would certainly not wait about in ante-rooms with servants, and talk of his own private affairs like this. In either case, how was he to announce this singular visitor?