“How was I to tell?” replied Rogojin, with an angry laugh. “I did my best to catch her tripping in Moscow, but did not succeed. However, I caught hold of her one day, and said: ‘You are engaged to be married into a respectable family, and do you know what sort of a woman you are? _That’s_ the sort of woman you are,’ I said.”
“Oh general, spare Ferdishenko!” replied the other, smiling. “I have special privileges.”
“You kiss my hands, _mine?_”
Well, why should he judge them so hastily! Could he really say what they were, after one short visit? Even Lebedeff seemed an enigma today. Did he expect to find him so? He had never seen him like that before. Lebedeff and the Comtesse du Barry! Good Heavens! If Rogojin should really kill someone, it would not, at any rate, be such a senseless, chaotic affair. A knife made to a special pattern, and six people killed in a kind of delirium. But Rogojin also had a knife made to a special pattern. Can it be that Rogojin wishes to murder anyone? The prince began to tremble violently. “It is a crime on my part to imagine anything so base, with such cynical frankness.” His face reddened with shame at the thought; and then there came across him as in a flash the memory of the incidents at the Pavlofsk station, and at the other station in the morning; and the question asked him by Rogojin about _the eyes_ and Rogojin’s cross, that he was even now wearing; and the benediction of Rogojin’s mother; and his embrace on the darkened staircase--that last supreme renunciation--and now, to find himself full of this new “idea,” staring into shop-windows, and looking round for things--how base he was!
“Ah! I thought perhaps Ferdishenko had taken it.”
The guests exchanged glances; they were annoyed and bewildered by the episode; but it was clear enough that all this had been pre-arranged and expected by Nastasia Philipovna, and that there was no use in trying to stop her now--for she was little short of insane.
“Oh, prince, how strange you have become! I assure you, I hardly know you for your old self. How can you suppose that I ever suggested you could have had a finger in such a business? But you are not quite yourself today, I can see.” He embraced the prince, and kissed him.
“That is a very difficult and complicated question. I cannot suspect the servant, for she was in the kitchen the whole evening, nor do I suspect any of my children.”
Ptitsin here looked in and beckoned to Gania, who hastily left the room, in spite of the fact that he had evidently wished to say something more and had only made the remark about the room to gain time. The prince had hardly had time to wash and tidy himself a little when the door opened once more, and another figure appeared.
“Well, anyone who does not interest himself in questions such as this is, in my opinion, a mere fashionable dummy.”
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.
“Well, then, _let_ him talk, mamma,” said Alexandra. “This prince is a great humbug and by no means an idiot,” she whispered to Aglaya.
“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.
This is the reason why he was so unwilling to take lunch (on the morning upon which we took up this narrative) with the rest of his family. Before the prince’s arrival he had made up his mind to plead business, and “cut” the meal; which simply meant running away.
“How he could hate me and tell scandalous stories about me, living among children as he did, is what I cannot understand. Children soothe and heal the wounded heart. I remember there was one poor fellow at our professor’s who was being treated for madness, and you have no idea what those children did for him, eventually. I don’t think he was mad, but only terribly unhappy. But I’ll tell you all about him another day. Now I must get on with this story.
At this moment Alexandra’s voice was heard outside the door, calling out “Papa!”
“Goodness gracious! good heavens!” came from all quarters of the room.
“Oh, don’t you begin bantering him,” said mamma. “He is probably a good deal cleverer than all three of you girls put together. We shall see. Only you haven’t told us anything about Aglaya yet, prince; and Aglaya and I are both waiting to hear.”
“By reading the Apocalypse. The lady has a restless imagination, he-he! She has a liking for conversation on serious subjects, of any kind; in fact they please her so much, that it flatters her to discuss them. Now for fifteen years at least I have studied the Apocalypse, and she agrees with me in thinking that the present is the epoch represented by the third horse, the black one whose rider holds a measure in his hand. It seems to me that everything is ruled by measure in our century; all men are clamouring for their rights; ‘a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny.’ But, added to this, men desire freedom of mind and body, a pure heart, a healthy life, and all God’s good gifts. Now by pleading their rights alone, they will never attain all this, so the white horse, with his rider Death, comes next, and is followed by Hell. We talked about this matter when we met, and it impressed her very much.”
“Yet I remember all he talked about, and every word we said, though whenever my eyes closed for a moment I could picture nothing but the image of Surikoff just in the act of finding a million roubles. He could not make up his mind what to do with the money, and tore his hair over it. He trembled with fear that somebody would rob him, and at last he decided to bury it in the ground. I persuaded him that, instead of putting it all away uselessly underground, he had better melt it down and make a golden coffin out of it for his starved child, and then dig up the little one and put her into the golden coffin. Surikoff accepted this suggestion, I thought, with tears of gratitude, and immediately commenced to carry out my design.
“The good of it! Well, I want just to see a ray of the sun,” said Hippolyte. “Can one drink to the sun’s health, do you think, prince?”
“Surely not _all_, ma’am? They seem so disorderly--it’s dreadful to see them.”
“Here are twenty-five roubles, Marfa Borisovna... it is all that I can give... and I owe even these to the prince’s generosity--my noble friend. I have been cruelly deceived. Such is... life... Now... Excuse me, I am very weak,” he continued, standing in the centre of the room, and bowing to all sides. “I am faint; excuse me! Lenotchka... a cushion... my dear!”
“Drop that subject, Rogojin, and never mention it again. And listen: as I have sat here, and talked, and listened, it has suddenly struck me that tomorrow is my birthday. It must be about twelve o’clock, now; come home with me--do, and we’ll see the day in! We’ll have some wine, and you shall wish me--I don’t know what--but you, especially you, must wish me a good wish, and I shall wish you full happiness in return. Otherwise, hand me my cross back again. You didn’t return it to me next day. Haven’t you got it on now?”
“Prince,” he said, “tell me the truth; do you know what all this means?”
“Let’s go in--but you mustn’t--well--let’s go in.”
“You are convinced? You don’t really mean to say you think that honestly?” asked Aglaya, extremely surprised.
“Yes, _seriously_,” said the general, gravely.
“No--I will not sit down,--I am keeping you, I see,--another time!--I think I may be permitted to congratulate you upon the realization of your heart’s best wishes, is it not so?”
“Nor do I! They always try to bury me underground when there’s anything going on; they don’t seem to reflect that it is unpleasant to a man to be treated so! I won’t stand it! We have just had a terrible scene!--mind, I speak to you as I would to my own son! Aglaya laughs at her mother. Her sisters guessed about Evgenie having proposed and been rejected, and told Lizabetha.
“Yes, yes, so he does,” laughed the others.
“Capital, that’s much better!” cried Lebedeff, and seizing the key he made off in haste.
“How can it be foreign? You _are_ going to be married, are you not? Very well, then you are persisting in your course. _Are_ you going to marry her or not?”
“N-no thanks, I don’t know--”
“_What?_” cried Mrs. Epanchin, raising her hands in horror. “_What’s_ that?”
“No; Constant was away then, taking a letter to the Empress Josephine. Instead of him there were always a couple of orderlies--and that was all, excepting, of course, the generals and marshals whom Napoleon always took with him for the inspection of various localities, and for the sake of consultation generally. I remember there was one--Davoust--nearly always with him--a big man with spectacles. They used to argue and quarrel sometimes. Once they were in the Emperor’s study together--just those two and myself--I was unobserved--and they argued, and the Emperor seemed to be agreeing to something under protest. Suddenly his eye fell on me and an idea seemed to flash across him.
Five seconds after the disappearance of the last actor in this scene, the police arrived. The whole episode had not lasted more than a couple of minutes. Some of the spectators had risen from their places, and departed altogether; some merely exchanged their seats for others a little further off; some were delighted with the occurrence, and talked and laughed over it for a long time.
However, when he did master the fact, it acted upon him as a tonic by completely distracting his attention. He went at once to Nina Alexandrovna’s, whither the general had been carried, and stayed there until the evening. He could do no good, but there are people whom to have near one is a blessing at such times. Colia was in an almost hysterical state; he cried continuously, but was running about all day, all the same; fetching doctors, of whom he collected three; going to the chemist’s, and so on.
“My dear,” said the general, “it seems to me that a sick-nurse would be of more use here than an excitable person like you. Perhaps it would be as well to get some sober, reliable man for the night. In any case we must consult the prince, and leave the patient to rest at once. Tomorrow we can see what can be done for him.”
“Oh, be calm--be calm! Get up!” he entreated, in despair.
“Mother, this is disgraceful!” cried Aglaya.
It was strange, Nastasia Philipovna felt, to see Aglaya like this. She gazed at her, and could hardly believe her eyes and ears for a moment or two.
“I hear you have called twice; I suppose you are still worried about yesterday’s affair.”
“Then I’m not to read it?” he whispered, nervously. “Am I not to read it?” he repeated, gazing around at each face in turn. “What are you afraid of, prince?” he turned and asked the latter suddenly.
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
“Just two words: have you any means at all? Or perhaps you may be intending to undertake some sort of employment? Excuse my questioning you, but--”
“Do you know that I came here to see those trees?” pointing to the trees in the park. “It is not ridiculous, is it? Say that it is not ridiculous!” he demanded urgently of Lizabetha Prokofievna. Then he seemed to be plunged in thought. A moment later he raised his head, and his eyes sought for someone. He was looking for Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was close by on his right as before, but he had forgotten this, and his eyes ranged over the assembled company. “Ah! you have not gone!” he said, when he caught sight of him at last. “You kept on laughing just now, because I thought of speaking to the people from the window for a quarter of an hour. But I am not eighteen, you know; lying on that bed, and looking out of that window, I have thought of all sorts of things for such a long time that... a dead man has no age, you know. I was saying that to myself only last week, when I was awake in the night. Do you know what you fear most? You fear our sincerity more than anything, although you despise us! The idea crossed my mind that night... You thought I was making fun of you just now, Lizabetha Prokofievna? No, the idea of mockery was far from me; I only meant to praise you. Colia told me the prince called you a child--very well--but let me see, I had something else to say...” He covered his face with his hands and tried to collect his thoughts.
“Oh, she would funk a scandal like anyone else. You are all tarred with one brush!”
“How ‘as he did yesterday’? What do you mean? What did he do yesterday?” asked Gania, in alarm.
“No; I shall not be ashamed of that. You did not so live by your own will.”
She was silent a moment to get breath, and to recover her composure.
“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.”
“Yes... from you it is quite natural.”
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:
“Good-bye!” she said at last, and rose and left him, very quickly.
“Oh yes, Mr. Terentieff. Thank you prince. I heard it just now, but had forgotten it. I want to know, Mr. Terentieff, if what I have heard about you is true. It seems you are convinced that if you could speak to the people from a window for a quarter of an hour, you could make them all adopt your views and follow you?”
And so they took their departure; but in this hasty and kindly designed visit there was hidden a fund of cruelty which Lizabetha Prokofievna never dreamed of. In the words “as usual,” and again in her added, “mine, at all events,” there seemed an ominous knell of some evil to come.
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
Breath failed him here, and he was obliged to stop.
“Did you see how she spat in Gania’s face! Varia is afraid of no one. But you did not follow her example, and yet I am sure it was not through cowardice. Here she comes! Speak of a wolf and you see his tail! I felt sure that she would come. She is very generous, though of course she has her faults.”
“Yes, I have just read it.”
A week had elapsed since the rendezvous of our two friends on the green bench in the park, when, one fine morning at about half-past ten o’clock, Varvara Ardalionovna, otherwise Mrs. Ptitsin, who had been out to visit a friend, returned home in a state of considerable mental depression.
Lebedeff followed suit at once, and it was clear from his radiant face that he considered his prospects of satisfaction immensely improved.
“Well then, have you come here for _her?_ Are you in love with _her?_ With _that_ creature?”
“No, I tell you I did _not_.”
“What, he doesn’t know me!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth disagreeably. “He doesn’t recognize Rogojin!” He did not move an inch, however.
“Formerly, when I was seven years old or so. I believe I wore one; but now I usually hold my napkin on my knee when I eat.”
General Epanchin lived in his own house near the Litaynaya. Besides this large residence--five-sixths of which was let in flats and lodgings--the general was owner of another enormous house in the Sadovaya bringing in even more rent than the first. Besides these houses he had a delightful little estate just out of town, and some sort of factory in another part of the city. General Epanchin, as everyone knew, had a good deal to do with certain government monopolies; he was also a voice, and an important one, in many rich public companies of various descriptions; in fact, he enjoyed the reputation of being a well-to-do man of busy habits, many ties, and affluent means. He had made himself indispensable in several quarters, amongst others in his department of the government; and yet it was a known fact that Fedor Ivanovitch Epanchin was a man of no education whatever, and had absolutely risen from the ranks.
“Oh, I heard that much, my dear fellow! But the thing is so impossibly absurd! A man of property like Evgenie to give IOU’s to a money-lender, and to be worried about them! It is ridiculous. Besides, he cannot possibly be on such intimate terms with Nastasia Philipovna as she gave us to understand; that’s the principal part of the mystery! He has given me his word that he knows nothing whatever about the matter, and of course I believe him. Well, the question is, my dear prince, do you know anything about it? Has any sort of suspicion of the meaning of it come across you?”
“No finessing, please. What did you write about?”
Next day, she took it out, and put it into a large book, as she usually did with papers which she wanted to be able to find easily. She laughed when, about a week later, she happened to notice the name of the book, and saw that it was Don Quixote, but it would be difficult to say exactly why.
“Oh, if you put it in that way,” cried the general, excitedly, “I’m ready to tell the whole story of my life, but I must confess that I prepared a little story in anticipation of my turn.”
“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.”
Muishkin frowned, and rose from his seat.
“Yes, indeed I had--a good deal; and, would you believe it, I often wonder at myself for not having forgotten how to speak Russian? Even now, as I talk to you, I keep saying to myself ‘how well I am speaking it.’ Perhaps that is partly why I am so talkative this morning. I assure you, ever since yesterday evening I have had the strongest desire to go on and on talking Russian.”
“Yes; I must say that I am pretty hungry, thanks very much.”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you think about it?” said the general in a low voice to Totski. “Is she mad? I mean mad in the medical sense of the word .... eh?”
He was rushing hurriedly from the terrace, when Lebedeff’s nephew seized his arms, and said something to him in a low voice. Burdovsky turned quickly, and drawing an addressed but unsealed envelope from his pocket, he threw it down on a little table beside the prince.
Little by little, the rumours spread about town became lost in a maze of uncertainty. It was said that some foolish young prince, name unknown, had suddenly come into possession of a gigantic fortune, and had married a French ballet dancer. This was contradicted, and the rumour circulated that it was a young merchant who had come into the enormous fortune and married the great ballet dancer, and that at the wedding the drunken young fool had burned seventy thousand roubles at a candle out of pure bravado.
“You are crying, aren’t you?”
The general blushed dreadfully; Colia blushed too; and Ptitsin turned hastily away. Ferdishenko was the only one who laughed as gaily as before. As to Gania, I need not say that he was miserable; he stood dumb and wretched and took no notice of anybody.
“He does not know of it; I have kept it a secret. Very well, Ferdishenko went off to Wilkin’s. That is not so curious in itself, but here the evidence opens out further. He left his address, you see, when he went. Now prince, consider, why did he leave his address? Why do you suppose he went out of his way to tell Colia that he had gone to Wilkin’s? Who cared to know that he was going to Wilkin’s? No, no! prince, this is finesse, thieves’ finesse! This is as good as saying, ‘There, how can I be a thief when I leave my address? I’m not concealing my movements as a thief would.’ Do you understand, prince?”
“No, I have forgotten nothing. Come! This is the house--up this magnificent staircase. I am surprised not to see the porter, but .... it is a holiday... and the man has gone off... Drunken fool! Why have they not got rid of him? Sokolovitch owes all the happiness he has had in the service and in his private life to me, and me alone, but... here we are.”
“You know of course why I requested this meeting?” she said at last, quietly, and pausing twice in the delivery of this very short sentence.
“Abbot Pafnute,” said our friend, seriously and with deference.
“You told her it was a shame for her to behave so, and her manner changed at once; she was like another person. You have some influence over her, prince,” added Varia, smiling a little.
Aglaya left the room in a fit of irritation, and it was not until late in the evening, past eleven, when the prince was taking his departure, that she said a word or two to him, privately, as she accompanied him as far as the front door.
“Why, he must pay toll for his entrance,” explained the latter.
“Just so, prince, just so. How well you bring out that fact! Because your own heart is good!” cried the ecstatic old gentleman, and, strangely enough, real tears glistened in his eyes. “Yes, prince, it was a wonderful spectacle. And, do you know, I all but went off to Paris, and should assuredly have shared his solitary exile with him; but, alas, our destinies were otherwise ordered! We parted, he to his island, where I am sure he thought of the weeping child who had embraced him so affectionately at parting in Moscow; and I was sent off to the cadet corps, where I found nothing but roughness and harsh discipline. Alas, my happy days were done!”
They stopped on the landing, and rang the bell at a door opposite to Parfen’s own lodging.
Lebedeff made an impatient movement.
The prince took down the chain and opened the door. He started back in amazement--for there stood Nastasia Philipovna. He knew her at once from her photograph. Her eyes blazed with anger as she looked at him. She quickly pushed by him into the hall, shouldering him out of her way, and said, furiously, as she threw off her fur cloak:
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“Things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. I have applied those words to him before, but now I add that God has preserved the babe himself from the abyss, He and all His saints.”
“Well, hardly so. If you stretch a point, we are relations, of course, but so distant that one cannot really take cognizance of it. I once wrote to your mistress from abroad, but she did not reply. However, I have thought it right to make acquaintance with her on my arrival. I am telling you all this in order to ease your mind, for I see you are still far from comfortable on my account. All you have to do is to announce me as Prince Muishkin, and the object of my visit will be plain enough. If I am received--very good; if not, well, very good again. But they are sure to receive me, I should think; Madame Epanchin will naturally be curious to see the only remaining representative of her family. She values her Muishkin descent very highly, if I am rightly informed.”