“Again, I repeat, I cannot be blamed because I am unable to understand that which it is not given to mankind to fathom. Why am I to be judged because I could not comprehend the Will and Laws of Providence? No, we had better drop religion.
In his heart passion and hate seemed to hold divided sway, and although he had at last given his consent to marry the woman (as he said), under the stress of circumstances, yet he promised himself that he would “take it out of her,” after marriage.
“Marie Alexandrovna is not at home,” said she, staring hard at the general. “She has gone to her mother’s, with Alexandra Michailovna.”
“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.
She appeared to be in the last stages of wrath and irritation; her eyes flashed. The prince stood dumbly and blindly before her, and suddenly grew pale.
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
“No, don’t read it!” cried Evgenie suddenly. He appeared so strangely disturbed that many of those present could not help wondering.
The general watched Gania’s confusion intently, and clearly did not like it.
In reply to a very guarded question of her sisters’, Aglaya had answered coldly, but exceedingly haughtily:
“I thought I spat on the ground and left him in disgust. Colia told me, when I quite recovered my senses, that I had not been asleep for a moment, but that I had spoken to him about Surikoff the whole while.
Conversing with the prince, Aglaya did not even seem to notice that Gania was in the room. But while the prince was getting his pen ready, finding a page, and making his preparations to write, Gania came up to the fireplace where Aglaya was standing, to the right of the prince, and in trembling, broken accents said, almost in her ear:
“I’m not laughing. I am convinced, myself, that that may have been partly the reason.”
Several times during the last six months he had recalled the effect which the first sight of this face had had upon him, when he only saw its portrait. He recollected well that even the portrait face had left but too painful an impression.
Nothing was said; there were not even any hints dropped; but still, it seemed better to the parents to say nothing more about going abroad this season, at all events. Aglaya herself perhaps was of a different opinion.
“Yes, it’s quite true,” said Rogojin, frowning gloomily; “so Zaleshoff told me. I was walking about the Nefsky one fine day, prince, in my father’s old coat, when she suddenly came out of a shop and stepped into her carriage. I swear I was all of a blaze at once. Then I met Zaleshoff--looking like a hair-dresser’s assistant, got up as fine as I don’t know who, while I looked like a tinker. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, my boy,’ said he; ‘she’s not for such as you; she’s a princess, she is, and her name is Nastasia Philipovna Barashkoff, and she lives with Totski, who wishes to get rid of her because he’s growing rather old--fifty-five or so--and wants to marry a certain beauty, the loveliest woman in all Petersburg.’ And then he told me that I could see Nastasia Philipovna at the opera-house that evening, if I liked, and described which was her box. Well, I’d like to see my father allowing any of us to go to the theatre; he’d sooner have killed us, any day. However, I went for an hour or so and saw Nastasia Philipovna, and I never slept a wink all night after. Next morning my father happened to give me two government loan bonds to sell, worth nearly five thousand roubles each. ‘Sell them,’ said he, ‘and then take seven thousand five hundred roubles to the office, give them to the cashier, and bring me back the rest of the ten thousand, without looking in anywhere on the way; look sharp, I shall be waiting for you.’ Well, I sold the bonds, but I didn’t take the seven thousand roubles to the office; I went straight to the English shop and chose a pair of earrings, with a diamond the size of a nut in each. They cost four hundred roubles more than I had, so I gave my name, and they trusted me. With the earrings I went at once to Zaleshoff’s. ‘Come on!’ I said, ‘come on to Nastasia Philipovna’s,’ and off we went without more ado. I tell you I hadn’t a notion of what was about me or before me or below my feet all the way; I saw nothing whatever. We went straight into her drawing-room, and then she came out to us.
The following report of the proceedings on the wedding day may be depended upon, as coming from eye-witnesses.
And, indeed, there were no words in which he could have expressed his horror, yes, _horror_, for he was now fully convinced from his own private knowledge of her, that the woman was mad.
Varvara was a girl of some twenty-three summers, of middle height, thin, but possessing a face which, without being actually beautiful, had the rare quality of charm, and might fascinate even to the extent of passionate regard.
But they did not let her finish, and gathered round her eagerly. The prince immediately invited everyone to stay for tea, and apologized for not having thought of it before. The general murmured a few polite words, and asked Lizabetha Prokofievna if she did not feel cold on the terrace. He very nearly asked Hippolyte how long he had been at the University, but stopped himself in time. Evgenie Pavlovitch and Prince S. suddenly grew extremely gay and amiable. Adelaida and Alexandra had not recovered from their surprise, but it was now mingled with satisfaction; in short, everyone seemed very much relieved that Lizabetha Prokofievna had got over her paroxysm. Aglaya alone still frowned, and sat apart in silence. All the other guests stayed on as well; no one wanted to go, not even General Ivolgin, but Lebedeff said something to him in passing which did not seem to please him, for he immediately went and sulked in a corner. The prince took care to offer tea to Burdovsky and his friends as well as the rest. The invitation made them rather uncomfortable. They muttered that they would wait for Hippolyte, and went and sat by themselves in a distant corner of the verandah. Tea was served at once; Lebedeff had no doubt ordered it for himself and his family before the others arrived. It was striking eleven.
At seven in the evening, the prince sent to request Lebedeff to pay him a visit. Lebedeff came at once, and “esteemed it an honour,” as he observed, the instant he entered the room. He acted as though there had never been the slightest suspicion of the fact that he had systematically avoided the prince for the last three days.
“How ‘means nothing’? You are talking nonsense, my friend. You are marrying the woman you love in order to secure her happiness, and Aglaya sees and knows it. How can you say that it’s ‘not the point’?”
Aglaya gazed at him for some seconds with precisely the same composure and calm astonishment as she had shown a little while before, when the prince handed her the note, and it appeared that this calm surprise and seemingly absolute incomprehension of what was said to her, were more terribly overwhelming to Gania than even the most plainly expressed disdain would have been.
“The urchin, I tell you!”
“Most undoubtedly, excellent prince, you have hit it--that is the very question. How wonderfully you express the exact situation in a few words!”
“What have you done now?” said Varia to Gania. “He’ll probably be making off _there_ again! What a disgrace it all is!”
“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.”
“Well, he shouldn’t steal,” cried Gania, panting with fury. And just at this moment his eye met Hippolyte’s.
However, the invalid--to his immense satisfaction--ended by seriously alarming the prince.
No one else followed the eccentric lady; but as she descended the steps she did not even look behind her, as though it were absolutely the same to her whether anyone were following or not. She laughed and talked loudly, however, just as before. She was dressed with great taste, but with rather more magnificence than was needed for the occasion, perhaps.
“Father, will you hear a word from me outside!” said Gania, his voice shaking with agitation, as he seized his father by the shoulder. His eyes shone with a blaze of hatred.
Yes, all this must be put straight and above-board, there must be no more passionate renouncements, such as Rogojin’s. It must all be clear as day. Cannot Rogojin’s soul bear the light? He said he did not love her with sympathy and pity; true, he added that “your pity is greater than my love,” but he was not quite fair on himself there. Kin! Rogojin reading a book--wasn’t that sympathy beginning? Did it not show that he comprehended his relations with her? And his story of waiting day and night for her forgiveness? That didn’t look quite like passion alone.
First of all Hippolyte had arrived, early in the evening, and feeling decidedly better, had determined to await the prince on the verandah. There Lebedeff had joined him, and his household had followed--that is, his daughters and General Ivolgin. Burdovsky had brought Hippolyte, and stayed on with him. Gania and Ptitsin had dropped in accidentally later on; then came Keller, and he and Colia insisted on having champagne. Evgenie Pavlovitch had only dropped in half an hour or so ago. Lebedeff had served the champagne readily.
“No. I was only going to say that what surprises me most of all is your extraordinary confidence.”
“Oh stop, Lebedeff!” interposed Muishkin, feeling as if he had been touched on an open wound. “That... that has nothing to do with me. I should like to know when you are going to start. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned, for I am at an hotel.”
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
“Hadn’t you better--better--take a nap?” murmured the stupefied Ptitsin.
“In spite of Norma’s terror she looked furious, though she trembled in all her limbs. At length she slowly bared her terrible teeth, opened her great red jaws, hesitated--took courage, and seized the beast in her mouth. It seemed to try to dart out of her jaws twice, but Norma caught at it and half swallowed it as it was escaping. The shell cracked in her teeth; and the tail and legs stuck out of her mouth and shook about in a horrible manner. Suddenly Norma gave a piteous whine; the reptile had bitten her tongue. She opened her mouth wide with the pain, and I saw the beast lying across her tongue, and out of its body, which was almost bitten in two, came a hideous white-looking substance, oozing out into Norma’s mouth; it was of the consistency of a crushed black-beetle. Just then I awoke and the prince entered the room.”
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.
“I don’t know, really, whether I shall be allowed in at all. If she will receive me, so much the better. If not, the matter is ended. As to my clothes--what can I do?”
Muishkin gave him excellent cigars to smoke, and Lebedeff, for his part, regaled him with liqueurs, brought in by Vera, to whom the doctor--a married man and the father of a family--addressed such compliments that she was filled with indignation. They parted friends, and, after leaving the prince, the doctor said to Lebedeff: “If all such people were put under restraint, there would be no one left for keepers.” Lebedeff then, in tragic tones, told of the approaching marriage, whereupon the other nodded his head and replied that, after all, marriages like that were not so rare; that he had heard that the lady was very fascinating and of extraordinary beauty, which was enough to explain the infatuation of a wealthy man; that, further, thanks to the liberality of Totski and of Rogojin, she possessed--so he had heard--not only money, but pearls, diamonds, shawls, and furniture, and consequently she could not be considered a bad match. In brief, it seemed to the doctor that the prince’s choice, far from being a sign of foolishness, denoted, on the contrary, a shrewd, calculating, and practical mind. Lebedeff had been much struck by this point of view, and he terminated his confession by assuring the prince that he was ready, if need be, to shed his very life’s blood for him.
The prince would never so much as suspect such a thing in the delight of his first impression.
“No--Aglaya--come, enough of this, you mustn’t behave like this,” said her father, in dismay.
She awaited him in trembling agitation; and when he at last arrived she nearly went off into hysterics.
“One moment, my dear prince, just one. I must absolutely speak to you about something which is most grave,” said Lebedeff, mysteriously and solemnly, entering the room with a bow and looking extremely important. He had but just returned, and carried his hat in his hand. He looked preoccupied and most unusually dignified.
She could not hold out long enough even to witness his movement in her direction. She had hidden her face in her hands, cried once “Oh, my God!” and rushed out of the room. Rogojin followed her to undo the bolts of the door and let her out into the street.
“Yes,” said Ferdishenko; “it’s a good idea--come along--the men begin. Of course no one need tell a story if he prefers to be disobliging. We must draw lots! Throw your slips of paper, gentlemen, into this hat, and the prince shall draw for turns. It’s a very simple game; all you have to do is to tell the story of the worst action of your life. It’s as simple as anything. I’ll prompt anyone who forgets the rules!”
“Her happiness? Oh, no! I am only marrying her--well, because she wished it. It means nothing--it’s all the same. She would certainly have died. I see now that that marriage with Rogojin was an insane idea. I understand all now that I did not understand before; and, do you know, when those two stood opposite to one another, I could not bear Nastasia Philipovna’s face! You must know, Evgenie Pavlovitch, I have never told anyone before--not even Aglaya--that I cannot bear Nastasia Philipovna’s face.” (He lowered his voice mysteriously as he said this.) “You described that evening at Nastasia Philipovna’s (six months since) very accurately just now; but there is one thing which you did not mention, and of which you took no account, because you do not know. I mean her _face_--I looked at her face, you see. Even in the morning when I saw her portrait, I felt that I could not _bear_ to look at it. Now, there’s Vera Lebedeff, for instance, her eyes are quite different, you know. I’m _afraid_ of her face!” he added, with real alarm.
So the matter crept slowly forward. The general and Totski had agreed to avoid any hasty and irrevocable step. Alexandra’s parents had not even begun to talk to their daughters freely upon the subject, when suddenly, as it were, a dissonant chord was struck amid the harmony of the proceedings. Mrs. Epanchin began to show signs of discontent, and that was a serious matter. A certain circumstance had crept in, a disagreeable and troublesome factor, which threatened to overturn the whole business.
No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.
“No. I was only going to say that what surprises me most of all is your extraordinary confidence.”
“The old story, eh?”
The general was, of course, repeating what he had told Lebedeff the night before, and thus brought it out glibly enough, but here he looked suspiciously at the prince out of the corners of his eyes.
“I hinted nothing to him about my ‘final conviction,’ but it appeared to me that he had guessed it from my words. He remained silent--he is a terribly silent man. I remarked to him, as I rose to depart, that, in spite of the contrast and the wide differences between us two, les extremites se touchent [‘extremes meet,’ as I explained to him in Russian); so that maybe he was not so far from my final conviction as appeared.
Aglaya alone seemed sad and depressed; her face was flushed, perhaps with indignation.
“No. I was only going to say that what surprises me most of all is your extraordinary confidence.”
A few moments later, the prince was seated by Nastasia on the sofa, gazing into her eyes and stroking her face and hair, as he would a little child’s. He laughed when she laughed, and was ready to cry when she cried. He did not speak, but listened to her excited, disconnected chatter, hardly understanding a word of it the while. No sooner did he detect the slightest appearance of complaining, or weeping, or reproaching, than he would smile at her kindly, and begin stroking her hair and her cheeks, soothing and consoling her once more, as if she were a child.
He awaited the reply in deadly anxiety.
“Is Parfen Semionovitch at home?” he asked.
“How can I? How can I?” cried Hippolyte, looking at him in amazement. “Gentlemen! I was a fool! I won’t break off again. Listen, everyone who wants to!”
“Why on earth not?” asked the latter. “Really, you know, you are making yourself a nuisance, by keeping guard over me like this. I get bored all by myself; I have told you so over and over again, and you get on my nerves more than ever by waving your hands and creeping in and out in the mysterious way you do.”
“I don’t know--perhaps you are right in much that you have said, Evgenie Pavlovitch. You are very wise, Evgenie Pavlovitch--oh! how my head is beginning to ache again! Come to her, quick--for God’s sake, come!”
“Well, that’ll do; we must be quick,” she concluded, after hearing all. “We have only an hour here, till eight; I must be home by then without fail, so that they may not find out that I came and sat here with you; but I’ve come on business. I have a great deal to say to you. But you have bowled me over considerably with your news. As to Hippolyte, I think his pistol was bound not to go off; it was more consistent with the whole affair. Are you sure he really wished to blow his brains out, and that there was no humbug about the matter?”
If Hippolyte and Nina Alexandrovna had, as Gania suspected, had some special conversation about the general’s actions, it was strange that the malicious youth, whom Gania had called a scandal-monger to his face, had not allowed himself a similar satisfaction with Colia.
“Forgive a silly, horrid, spoilt girl”--(she took his hand here)--“and be quite assured that we all of us esteem you beyond all words. And if I dared to turn your beautiful, admirable simplicity to ridicule, forgive me as you would a little child its mischief. Forgive me all my absurdity of just now, which, of course, meant nothing, and could not have the slightest consequence.” She spoke these words with great emphasis.
“But what on earth did she mean? I assure you it is a real riddle to me--to me, and to others, too!” Prince S. seemed to be under the influence of sincere astonishment.
“Oh, well, when I saw her she almost punched my head, as I say; in fact so nearly that one might almost say she did punch my head. She threw the letter in my face; she seemed to reflect first, as if she would have liked to keep it, but thought better of it and threw it in my face instead. ‘If anybody can have been such a fool as to trust a man like you to deliver the letter,’ says she, ‘take it and deliver it!’ Hey! she was grandly indignant. A fierce, fiery lady that, sir!”
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.
“Perhaps not; it is very possible,” the prince agreed hastily, “though I do not know what general law you allude to. I will go on--only please do not take offence without good cause. I assure you I do not mean to offend you in the least. Really, it is impossible to speak three words sincerely without your flying into a rage! At first I was amazed when Tchebaroff told me that Pavlicheff had a son, and that he was in such a miserable position. Pavlicheff was my benefactor, and my father’s friend. Oh, Mr. Keller, why does your article impute things to my father without the slightest foundation? He never squandered the funds of his company nor ill-treated his subordinates, I am absolutely certain of it; I cannot imagine how you could bring yourself to write such a calumny! But your assertions concerning Pavlicheff are absolutely intolerable! You do not scruple to make a libertine of that noble man; you call him a sensualist as coolly as if you were speaking the truth, and yet it would not be possible to find a chaster man. He was even a scholar of note, and in correspondence with several celebrated scientists, and spent large sums in the interests of science. As to his kind heart and his good actions, you were right indeed when you said that I was almost an idiot at that time, and could hardly understand anything--(I could speak and understand Russian, though),--but now I can appreciate what I remember--”
“And everyone of them shows his rags, his toil-worn hands, and yells in his wrath: ‘Here are we, working like cattle all our lives, and always as hungry as dogs, and there are others who do not work, and are fat and rich!’ The eternal refrain! And side by side with them trots along some wretched fellow who has known better days, doing light porter’s work from morn to night for a living, always blubbering and saying that ‘his wife died because he had no money to buy medicine with,’ and his children dying of cold and hunger, and his eldest daughter gone to the bad, and so on. Oh! I have no pity and no patience for these fools of people. Why can’t they be Rothschilds? Whose fault is it that a man has not got millions of money like Rothschild? If he has life, all this must be in his power! Whose fault is it that he does not know how to live his life?
“Hadn’t you better--better--take a nap?” murmured the stupefied Ptitsin.
As to the girls, nothing was said openly, at all events; and probably very little in private. They were proud damsels, and were not always perfectly confidential even among themselves. But they understood each other thoroughly at the first word on all occasions; very often at the first glance, so that there was no need of much talking as a rule.
“Of course,” said he. “I have heard it spoken about at your house, and I am anxious to see these young men!”
“Judging from the fact that the prince blushed at this innocent joke, like a young girl, I should think that he must, as an honourable man, harbour the noblest intentions,” said the old toothless schoolmaster, most unexpectedly; he had not so much as opened his mouth before. This remark provoked general mirth, and the old fellow himself laughed loudest of the lot, but ended with a stupendous fit of coughing.
“You are mad!” said Ptitsin, coming up quickly and seizing him by the hand. “You’re drunk--the police will be sent for if you don’t look out. Think where you are.”
Evgenie Pavlovitch seemed to be in a lively humour. He made Adelaida and Alexandra laugh all the way to the Vauxhall; but they both laughed so very readily and promptly that the worthy Evgenie began at last to suspect that they were not listening to him at all.
“And you can marry her now, Parfen! What will come of it all?” said the prince, with dread in his voice.
It was true that she was lonely in her present life; Totski had judged her thoughts aright. She longed to rise, if not to love, at least to family life and new hopes and objects, but as to Gavrila Ardalionovitch, she could not as yet say much. She thought it must be the case that he loved her; she felt that she too might learn to love him, if she could be sure of the firmness of his attachment to herself; but he was very young, and it was a difficult question to decide. What she specially liked about him was that he worked, and supported his family by his toil.
“Yes, I played with her,” said Rogojin, after a short silence.
“Do you know, though,” cried the prince warmly, “you made that remark now, and everyone says the same thing, and the machine is designed with the purpose of avoiding pain, this guillotine I mean; but a thought came into my head then: what if it be a bad plan after all? You may laugh at my idea, perhaps--but I could not help its occurring to me all the same. Now with the rack and tortures and so on--you suffer terrible pain of course; but then your torture is bodily pain only (although no doubt you have plenty of that) until you die. But _here_ I should imagine the most terrible part of the whole punishment is, not the bodily pain at all--but the certain knowledge that in an hour,--then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, then now--this very _instant_--your soul must quit your body and that you will no longer be a man--and that this is certain, _certain_! That’s the point--the certainty of it. Just that instant when you place your head on the block and hear the iron grate over your head--then--that quarter of a second is the most awful of all.
“Why--is he here?”
“I’ve put her in the carriage,” he said; “it has been waiting round the corner there since ten o’clock. She expected that you would be with _them_ all the evening. I told her exactly what you wrote me. She won’t write to the girl any more, she promises; and tomorrow she will be off, as you wish. She desired to see you for the last time, although you refused, so we’ve been sitting and waiting on that bench till you should pass on your way home.”
“Of course she did!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth; “and I saw for myself what I knew before. You’ve read her letters, I suppose?”
He was so happy that “it made one feel happy to look at him,” as Aglaya’s sisters expressed it afterwards. He talked, and told stories just as he had done once before, and never since, namely on the very first morning of his acquaintance with the Epanchins, six months ago. Since his return to Petersburg from Moscow, he had been remarkably silent, and had told Prince S. on one occasion, before everyone, that he did not think himself justified in degrading any thought by his unworthy words.
“Oh, then you _do_ intend to take a room?”
Arrived on the opposite pavement, he looked back to see whether the prince were moving, waved his hand in the direction of the Gorohovaya, and strode on, looking across every moment to see whether Muishkin understood his instructions. The prince supposed that Rogojin desired to look out for someone whom he was afraid to miss; but if so, why had he not told _him_ whom to look out for? So the two proceeded for half a mile or so. Suddenly the prince began to tremble from some unknown cause. He could not bear it, and signalled to Rogojin across the road.
Seeing him laugh, Lebedeff thought fit to laugh also, and though much agitated his satisfaction was quite visible.
“Now then--announce me, quick!”
“I declare, this is a lunatic asylum!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“How extremely stupid!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, giving back the letter abruptly. “It was not worth the trouble of reading. Why are you smiling?”
“Why do you speak so?” he murmured. “Why do you ask my forgiveness?”
“Is there over there?”
“Never mind about him now, prince,” said Colia. “He is all right and taking a nap after the journey. He is very happy to be here; but I think perhaps it would be better if you let him alone for today,--he is very sensitive now that he is so ill--and he might be embarrassed if you show him too much attention at first. He is decidedly better today, and says he has not felt so well for the last six months, and has coughed much less, too.”
“That is nothing!” said the prince, waving his hand.
“And who told you this about Ferdishenko?”
Nina Alexandrovna started, and examined the photograph intently, gazing at it long and sadly. At last she looked up inquiringly at Varia.
“The vase certainly was a very beautiful one. I remember it here for fifteen years--yes, quite that!” remarked Ivan Petrovitch.
“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.”
“I am surprised to see you laugh in that way, like a child. You came to make friends with me again just now, and you said, ‘I will kiss your hand, if you like,’ just as a child would have said it. And then, all at once you are talking of this mad project--of these seventy-five thousand roubles! It all seems so absurd and impossible.”
“Oh, dear, no! Why, they don’t even know him! Anyone can come in, you know. Why do you look so amazed? I often meet him; I’ve seen him at least four times, here at Pavlofsk, within the last week.”