“I have heard that my son--” began Ardalion Alexandrovitch.
When--late in the evening--the prince made his appearance in Lizabetha Prokofievna’s drawing-room, he found it full of guests. Mrs. Epanchin questioned him very fully about the general as soon as he appeared; and when old Princess Bielokonski wished to know “who this general was, and who was Nina Alexandrovna,” she proceeded to explain in a manner which pleased the prince very much.
“The noble and intelligent word of an intelligent and most noble man, at last!” exclaimed the boxer.
“I only see that Aglaya Ivanovna is laughing at me,” said the poor prince, sadly.
“Isn’t there something else, prince? I heard yesterday, but I have no right to talk about this... If you ever want a true friend and servant--neither you nor I are so very happy, are we?--come to me. I won’t ask you questions, though.”
“Pavlicheff was a man of bright intellect and a good Christian, a sincere Christian,” said the prince, suddenly. “How could he possibly embrace a faith which is unchristian? Roman Catholicism is, so to speak, simply the same thing as unchristianity,” he added with flashing eyes, which seemed to take in everybody in the room.
When recalling all this afterwards the prince could not for the life of him understand how to reconcile the beautiful, sincere, pure nature of the girl with the irony of this jest. That it was a jest there was no doubt whatever; he knew that well enough, and had good reason, too, for his conviction; for during her recitation of the ballad Aglaya had deliberately changed the letters A. N. B. into N. P. B. He was quite sure she had not done this by accident, and that his ears had not deceived him. At all events her performance--which was a joke, of course, if rather a crude one,--was premeditated. They had evidently talked (and laughed) over the ‘poor knight’ for more than a month.
“I don’t know; I thought it was a hallucination. I often have hallucinations nowadays. I feel just as I did five years ago when my fits were about to come on.”
“Surely there must be someone among all of you here who will turn this shameless creature out of the room?” cried Varia, suddenly. She was shaking and trembling with rage.
“‘Like Napoleon going to England, eh?’ cried he, laughing. ‘I’ll do it though--of course, and at once, if I can!’ he added, seeing that I rose seriously from my chair at this point.
He did not finish his sentence, for at this moment Ferdishenko pushed a chair up from behind, and the general, not very firm on his legs, at this post-prandial hour, flopped into it backwards. It was always a difficult thing to put this warrior to confusion, and his sudden descent left him as composed as before. He had sat down just opposite to Nastasia, whose fingers he now took, and raised to his lips with great elegance, and much courtesy. The general had once belonged to a very select circle of society, but he had been turned out of it two or three years since on account of certain weaknesses, in which he now indulged with all the less restraint; but his good manners remained with him to this day, in spite of all.
“No; a bundle--your brother has just gone to the hall for it.”
“Prince,” whispered Hippolyte, suddenly, his eyes all ablaze, “you don’t suppose that I did not foresee all this hatred?” He looked at the prince as though he expected him to reply, for a moment. “Enough!” he added at length, and addressing the whole company, he cried: “It’s all my fault, gentlemen! Lebedeff, here’s the key,” (he took out a small bunch of keys); “this one, the last but one--Colia will show you--Colia, where’s Colia?” he cried, looking straight at Colia and not seeing him. “Yes, he’ll show you; he packed the bag with me this morning. Take him up, Colia; my bag is upstairs in the prince’s study, under the table. Here’s the key, and in the little case you’ll find my pistol and the powder, and all. Colia packed it himself, Mr. Lebedeff; he’ll show you; but it’s on condition that tomorrow morning, when I leave for Petersburg, you will give me back my pistol, do you hear? I do this for the prince’s sake, not yours.”
This invitation to drink, couched, as it was, in such informal terms, came very strangely from Nastasia Philipovna. Her usual entertainments were not quite like this; there was more style about them. However, the wine was not refused; each guest took a glass excepting Gania, who drank nothing.
The prince seemed quite distracted for the moment.
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.
“If you don’t understand, then--but of course, you do understand. He wished--he wished to bless you all round and to have your blessing--before he died--that’s all.”
“Be quiet, do be quiet!”
“Why so? why so? Because I envy you, eh? You always think that, I know. But do you know why I am saying all this? Look here! I must have some more champagne--pour me out some, Keller, will you?”
“You are going home?”
“No, I have never known her.”
“I might have been surprised (though I admit I know nothing of the world), not only that you should have stayed on just now in the company of such people as myself and my friends, who are not of your class, but that you should let these... young ladies listen to such a scandalous affair, though no doubt novel-reading has taught them all there is to know. I may be mistaken; I hardly know what I am saying; but surely no one but you would have stayed to please a whippersnapper (yes, a whippersnapper; I admit it) to spend the evening and take part in everything--only to be ashamed of it tomorrow. (I know I express myself badly.) I admire and appreciate it all extremely, though the expression on the face of his excellency, your husband, shows that he thinks it very improper. He-he!” He burst out laughing, and was seized with a fit of coughing which lasted for two minutes and prevented him from speaking.
“Wheugh! my goodness!” The black-haired young fellow whistled, and then laughed.
The room had a blue wall-paper, and was well, almost pretentiously, furnished, with its round table, its divan, and its bronze clock under a glass shade. There was a narrow pier-glass against the wall, and a chandelier adorned with lustres hung by a bronze chain from the ceiling.
Lebedeff clasped his hands in supplication.
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
“The three or four hours went by, of course, in necessary preparations--the priest, breakfast, (coffee, meat, and some wine they gave him; doesn’t it seem ridiculous?) And yet I believe these people give them a good breakfast out of pure kindness of heart, and believe that they are doing a good action. Then he is dressed, and then begins the procession through the town to the scaffold. I think he, too, must feel that he has an age to live still while they cart him along. Probably he thought, on the way, ‘Oh, I have a long, long time yet. Three streets of life yet! When we’ve passed this street there’ll be that other one; and then that one where the baker’s shop is on the right; and when shall we get there? It’s ages, ages!’ Around him are crowds shouting, yelling--ten thousand faces, twenty thousand eyes. All this has to be endured, and especially the thought: ‘Here are ten thousand men, and not one of them is going to be executed, and yet I am to die.’ Well, all that is preparatory.
“I cannot remember how long this lasted; I cannot recollect, either, whether consciousness forsook me at intervals, or not. But at last Rogojin rose, staring at me as intently as ever, but not smiling any longer,--and walking very softly, almost on tip-toes, to the door, he opened it, went out, and shut it behind him.
Perhaps he was too easy in his mind. So thought Hippolyte, at all events, who met him in the park one day.
Lebedeff followed suit at once, and it was clear from his radiant face that he considered his prospects of satisfaction immensely improved.
In fact, the door opened directly, and the footman informed the visitors that the family were all away.
Varvara Ardalionovna was not like her brother. She too, had passionate desires, but they were persistent rather than impetuous. Her plans were as wise as her methods of carrying them out. No doubt she also belonged to the category of ordinary people who dream of being original, but she soon discovered that she had not a grain of true originality, and she did not let it trouble her too much. Perhaps a certain kind of pride came to her help. She made her first concession to the demands of practical life with great resolution when she consented to marry Ptitsin. However, when she married she did not say to herself, “Never mind a mean action if it leads to the end in view,” as her brother would certainly have said in such a case; it is quite probable that he may have said it when he expressed his elder-brotherly satisfaction at her decision. Far from this; Varvara Ardalionovna did not marry until she felt convinced that her future husband was unassuming, agreeable, almost cultured, and that nothing on earth would tempt him to a really dishonourable deed. As to small meannesses, such trifles did not trouble her. Indeed, who is free from them? It is absurd to expect the ideal! Besides, she knew that her marriage would provide a refuge for all her family. Seeing Gania unhappy, she was anxious to help him, in spite of their former disputes and misunderstandings. Ptitsin, in a friendly way, would press his brother-in-law to enter the army. “You know,” he said sometimes, jokingly, “you despise generals and generaldom, but you will see that ‘they’ will all end by being generals in their turn. You will see it if you live long enough!”
(“N.B.--Let me remember to consider; am I mad at this moment, or not? or rather at these moments? I have been told that consumptives sometimes do go out of their minds for a while in the last stages of the malady. I can prove this tomorrow when I read it out, by the impression it makes upon the audience. I must settle this question once and for all, otherwise I can’t go on with anything.)
“I knew you’d be wandering about somewhere here. I didn’t have to look for you very long,” muttered the latter between his teeth.
The prince took his banknote out and showed it to Ferdishenko. The latter unfolded it and looked at it; then he turned it round and examined the other side; then he held it up to the light.
The man’s suspicions seemed to increase more and more. The prince was too unlike the usual run of daily visitors; and although the general certainly did receive, on business, all sorts and conditions of men, yet in spite of this fact the servant felt great doubts on the subject of this particular visitor. The presence of the secretary as an intermediary was, he judged, essential in this case.
They certainly were put out, both of them.
One of them was a young fellow of about twenty-seven, not tall, with black curling hair, and small, grey, fiery eyes. His nose was broad and flat, and he had high cheek bones; his thin lips were constantly compressed into an impudent, ironical--it might almost be called a malicious--smile; but his forehead was high and well formed, and atoned for a good deal of the ugliness of the lower part of his face. A special feature of this physiognomy was its death-like pallor, which gave to the whole man an indescribably emaciated appearance in spite of his hard look, and at the same time a sort of passionate and suffering expression which did not harmonize with his impudent, sarcastic smile and keen, self-satisfied bearing. He wore a large fur--or rather astrachan--overcoat, which had kept him warm all night, while his neighbour had been obliged to bear the full severity of a Russian November night entirely unprepared. His wide sleeveless mantle with a large cape to it--the sort of cloak one sees upon travellers during the winter months in Switzerland or North Italy--was by no means adapted to the long cold journey through Russia, from Eydkuhnen to St. Petersburg.
“In point of fact I don’t think I thought much about it,” said the old fellow. He seemed to have a wonderfully good memory, however, for he told the prince all about the two old ladies, Pavlicheff’s cousins, who had taken care of him, and whom, he declared, he had taken to task for being too severe with the prince as a small sickly boy--the elder sister, at least; the younger had been kind, he recollected. They both now lived in another province, on a small estate left to them by Pavlicheff. The prince listened to all this with eyes sparkling with emotion and delight.
The phrase flattered the general, touched him, and pleased him mightily. He immediately changed his tone, and started off on a long and solemn explanation. But listen as he would, the prince could make neither head nor tail of it.
“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.”
“But as if that is enough!” cried Evgenie, indignantly. “As if it is enough simply to say: ‘I know I am very guilty!’ You are to blame, and yet you persevere in evil-doing. Where was your heart, I should like to know, your _christian heart_, all that time? Did she look as though she were suffering less, at that moment? You saw her face--was she suffering less than the other woman? How could you see her suffering and allow it to continue? How could you?”
But, besides the above, we are cognizant of certain other undoubted facts, which puzzle us a good deal because they seem flatly to contradict the foregoing.
Gania hurled Ferdishenko from him; then he turned sharp round and made for the door. But he had not gone a couple of steps when he tottered and fell to the ground.
“Pavlicheff’s son! It is not worth while!” cried Lebedeff. “There is no necessity to see them, and it would be most unpleasant for your excellency. They do not deserve...”
He tried to give the prince an affectionate smile, and it seemed to the latter as though in this smile of his something had broken, and that he could not mend it, try as he would.
The subject under discussion did not appear to be very popular with the assembly, and some would have been delighted to change it; but Evgenie would not stop holding forth, and the prince’s arrival seemed to spur him on to still further oratorical efforts.
It was about Easter, when, taking advantage of a momentary tête-à-tête Colia handed Aglaya a letter, remarking that he “had orders to deliver it to her privately.” She stared at him in amazement, but he did not wait to hear what she had to say, and went out. Aglaya broke the seal, and read as follows:
“Thank you,” began the prince; “and since you are so very kind there is just one matter which I--”
Here the voice of Hippolyte suddenly intervened.
“Surely not you?” cried the prince.
They locked the door, and both lay down again. There was a long silence.
“When I do go to bed I shall never get up again,” said Hippolyte, with a smile. “I meant to take to my bed yesterday and stay there till I died, but as my legs can still carry me, I put it off for two days, so as to come here with them to-day--but I am very tired.”
Without the ceremony of knocking, Parfen entered a small apartment, furnished like a drawing-room, but with a polished mahogany partition dividing one half of it from what was probably a bedroom. In one corner of this room sat an old woman in an arm-chair, close to the stove. She did not look very old, and her face was a pleasant, round one; but she was white-haired and, as one could detect at the first glance, quite in her second childhood. She wore a black woollen dress, with a black handkerchief round her neck and shoulders, and a white cap with black ribbons. Her feet were raised on a footstool. Beside her sat another old woman, also dressed in mourning, and silently knitting a stocking; this was evidently a companion. They both looked as though they never broke the silence. The first old woman, so soon as she saw Rogojin and the prince, smiled and bowed courteously several times, in token of her gratification at their visit.
“Pafnute, yes. And who was he?”
He burst out laughing again, but it was the laughter of a madman. Lizabetha Prokofievna approached him anxiously and seized his arm. He stared at her for a moment, still laughing, but soon his face grew serious.
“And imagine how that Gania annoys me! He has developed the idea--or pretends to believe--that in all probability three or four others who heard my confession will die before I do. There’s an idea for you--and all this by way of _consoling_ me! Ha! ha! ha! In the first place they haven’t died yet; and in the second, if they _did_ die--all of them--what would be the satisfaction to me in that? He judges me by himself. But he goes further, he actually pitches into me because, as he declares, ‘any decent fellow’ would die quietly, and that ‘all this’ is mere egotism on my part. He doesn’t see what refinement of egotism it is on his own part--and at the same time, what ox-like coarseness! Have you ever read of the death of one Stepan Gleboff, in the eighteenth century? I read of it yesterday by chance.”
“At all events, you’ve disbanded your troop--and you are living in your own house instead of being fast and loose about the place; that’s all very good. Is this house all yours, or joint property?”
“Well, he shouldn’t steal,” cried Gania, panting with fury. And just at this moment his eye met Hippolyte’s.
Nastasia Philipovna seemed delighted at the appearance of this latest arrival, of whom she had of course heard a good deal by report.
“What on earth does all this mean? What’s he going to read?” muttered several voices. Others said nothing; but one and all sat down and watched with curiosity. They began to think something strange might really be about to happen. Vera stood and trembled behind her father’s chair, almost in tears with fright; Colia was nearly as much alarmed as she was. Lebedeff jumped up and put a couple of candles nearer to Hippolyte, so that he might see better.
“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.
“Don’t you see he is a lunatic, prince?” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch in his ear. “Someone told me just now that he is a bit touched on the subject of lawyers, that he has a mania for making speeches and intends to pass the examinations. I am expecting a splendid burlesque now.”
“Oh, dear me, I assure you there is no need to stand on ceremony with him,” the general explained hastily. “He is quite a child, not to say a pathetic-looking creature. He has fits of some sort, and has just arrived from Switzerland, straight from the station, dressed like a German and without a farthing in his pocket. I gave him twenty-five roubles to go on with, and am going to find him some easy place in one of the government offices. I should like you to ply him well with the victuals, my dears, for I should think he must be very hungry.”
“Never mind, mamma! Prince, I wish you had seen an execution,” said Aglaya. “I should like to ask you a question about that, if you had.”
It was about eleven o’clock in the forenoon when the prince rang the bell at General Epanchin’s door. The general lived on the first floor or flat of the house, as modest a lodging as his position permitted. A liveried servant opened the door, and the prince was obliged to enter into long explanations with this gentleman, who, from the first glance, looked at him and his bundle with grave suspicion. At last, however, on the repeated positive assurance that he really was Prince Muishkin, and must absolutely see the general on business, the bewildered domestic showed him into a little ante-chamber leading to a waiting-room that adjoined the general’s study, there handing him over to another servant, whose duty it was to be in this ante-chamber all the morning, and announce visitors to the general. This second individual wore a dress coat, and was some forty years of age; he was the general’s special study servant, and well aware of his own importance.
“You are unjust; I found him sincerely repentant,” observed the prince, after listening for a time.
“Not I--not I! I retire from all responsibility,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.
At length she looked straight into Nastasia’s eyes, and instantly read all there was to read in her rival’s expression. Woman understood woman! Aglaya shuddered.
“I have now--let’s see--I have a hundred and thirty-five thousand roubles,” said the prince, blushing violently.
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
He crossed the salon and the entrance-hall, so as to pass down the corridor into his own room. As he came near the front door he heard someone outside vainly endeavouring to ring the bell, which was evidently broken, and only shook a little, without emitting any sound.
“Philosophy is necessary, sir--very necessary--in our day. It is too much neglected. As for me, much esteemed prince, I am sensible of having experienced the honour of your confidence in a certain matter up to a certain point, but never beyond that point. I do not for a moment complain--”
“She was a Countess who rose from shame to reign like a Queen. An Empress wrote to her, with her own hand, as ‘_Ma chère cousine_.’ At a _lever-du-roi_ one morning (do you know what a _lever-du-roi_ was?)--a Cardinal, a Papal legate, offered to put on her stockings; a high and holy person like that looked on it as an honour! Did you know this? I see by your expression that you did not! Well, how did she die? Answer!”
“Where is it? Give it here, at once.”
“Had you any emeralds?” asked the prince.
Burdovsky next jumped up and explained that he had come in by accident, having escorted Hippolyte from town. He murmured that he was glad he had “written nonsense” in his letter, and then pressed the prince’s hand warmly and sat down again.
“H’m destiny it is,” said the general, “and there’s no getting out of destiny.”
At the same time his grasp of things in general soon showed Totski that he now had to deal with a being who was outside the pale of the ordinary rules of traditional behaviour, and who would not only threaten mischief but would undoubtedly carry it out, and stop for no one.
“I knew you would be at that hotel,” he continued, just as men sometimes commence a serious conversation by discussing any outside subject before leading up to the main point. “As I entered the passage it struck me that perhaps you were sitting and waiting for me, just as I was waiting for you. Have you been to the old lady at Ismailofsky barracks?”
“Oh, what a dreadful calamity! A wretched vase smashed, and a man half dead with remorse about it,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, loudly. “What made you so dreadfully startled, Lef Nicolaievitch?” she added, a little timidly. “Come, my dear boy! cheer up. You really alarm me, taking the accident so to heart.”
The general laughed with great satisfaction, and applied himself once more to the champagne.
“It’s for you--for you! I’ve brought it you on purpose!” cried Lebedeff, excitedly. “Why, I’m yours again now, heart and hand, your slave; there was but a momentary pause in the flow of my love and esteem for you. Mea culpa, mea culpa! as the Pope of Rome says.”
“Ah, he’s ashamed to! He _meant_ to ask you, I know, for he said so. I suppose he thinks that as you gave him some once (you remember), you would probably refuse if he asked you again.”
“It is not my intrigue!” cried Lebedeff, waving his hand.
With these words they all moved off towards the drawing-room, where another surprise awaited them. Aglaya had not only not laughed, as she had feared, but had gone to the prince rather timidly, and said to him:
In fact, the door opened directly, and the footman informed the visitors that the family were all away.
“I confess I came here with an object. I wished to persuade Nastasia to go abroad for her health; she requires it. Both mind and body need a change badly. I did not intend to take her abroad myself. I was going to arrange for her to go without me. Now I tell you honestly, Parfen, if it is true that all is made up between you, I will not so much as set eyes upon her, and I will never even come to see you again.
“Did you give my note? Is there an answer?” interrupted Gania, impatiently.
“Especially as you know all, eh?”
“Better not read it now,” said the prince, putting his hand on the packet.
“Why do you tease him?” cried the prince, suddenly.
“Yes, lock it.”
“Is what today?” cried the former. Then suddenly recollecting himself, he turned sharply on the prince. “Oh,” he growled, “I see, you are here, that explains it! Is it a disease, or what, that you can’t hold your tongue? Look here, understand once for all, prince--”
The prince was in a fever all night. It was strange, but he had suffered from fever for several nights in succession. On this particular night, while in semi-delirium, he had an idea: what if on the morrow he were to have a fit before everybody? The thought seemed to freeze his blood within him. All night he fancied himself in some extraordinary society of strange persons. The worst of it was that he was talking nonsense; he knew that he ought not to speak at all, and yet he talked the whole time; he seemed to be trying to persuade them all to something. Evgenie and Hippolyte were among the guests, and appeared to be great friends.
Lizabetha Prokofievna, when she saw poor Muishkin, in his enfeebled and humiliated condition, had wept bitterly. Apparently all was forgiven him.
“It is quite true; we had agreed upon that point,” said Lebedeff’s nephew, in confirmation.
“It’s a garden knife, isn’t it?”
A man, whose face it was difficult to see in the gloom, approached the bench, and sat down beside him. The prince peered into his face, and recognized the livid features of Rogojin.
Twice during the day a messenger came to Nina Alexandrovna from the Epanchins to inquire after the invalid.