“Well, how much longer is this going to last, Ivan Fedorovitch? What do you think? Shall I soon be delivered from these odious youths?”
“Go on! Go on! Nobody is going to interrupt you!” cried several voices.
The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing.
“Very well, then there’s an experiment, and the thing is proved; one cannot live and count each moment; say what you like, but one _cannot_.”
“What a power!” cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly examined the portrait over her sister’s shoulder.
“Oh, no, no!” said the prince at last, “that was not what I was going to say--oh no! I don’t think you would ever have been like Osterman.”
“I shall just say two words to him, that’s all,” said her mother, silencing all objection by her manner; she was evidently seriously put out. “You see, prince, it is all secrets with us, just now--all secrets. It seems to be the etiquette of the house, for some reason or other. Stupid nonsense, and in a matter which ought to be approached with all candour and open-heartedness. There is a marriage being talked of, and I don’t like this marriage--”
“Yes, believe it or not! It’s all the same to me!”
“The noble and intelligent word of an intelligent and most noble man, at last!” exclaimed the boxer.
“Pooh! he was a fool, and his actions were the actions of a fool,” said Mrs. Epanchin; “and as for you, young woman, you ought to know better. At all events, you are not to talk like that again. What poem is it? Recite it! I want to hear this poem! I have hated poetry all my life. Prince, you must excuse this nonsense. We neither of us like this sort of thing! Be patient!”
Parfen was silent. With sad surprise the prince observed that the look of distrust, the bitter, ironical smile, had still not altogether left his newly-adopted brother’s face. At moments, at all events, it showed itself but too plainly,
“You told her that?”
“All this is mere jealousy--it is some malady of yours, Parfen! You exaggerate everything,” said the prince, excessively agitated. “What are you doing?”
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.
“What are you making such a fuss about?” said the old lady, with annoyance. “You are a good fellow, but very silly. One gives you a halfpenny, and you are as grateful as though one had saved your life. You think this is praiseworthy on your part, but it is not--it is not, indeed.”
“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?”
“Well, what does it all mean? What do you make of it?” asked the general of his spouse, hurriedly.
But Rogojin added no words of his own in confirmation of this view, and as before, he recounted with marvellous exactness the details of his crime. He was convicted, but with extenuating circumstances, and condemned to hard labour in Siberia for fifteen years. He heard his sentence grimly, silently, and thoughtfully. His colossal fortune, with the exception of the comparatively small portion wasted in the first wanton period of his inheritance, went to his brother, to the great satisfaction of the latter.
“I say that I have but to open my mouth, and you--”
For that had happened at this moment, which for two months had been his nightmare; which had filled his soul with dread and shame--the meeting between his father and Nastasia Philipovna. He had often tried to imagine such an event, but had found the picture too mortifying and exasperating, and had quietly dropped it. Very likely he anticipated far worse things than was at all necessary; it is often so with vain persons. He had long since determined, therefore, to get his father out of the way, anywhere, before his marriage, in order to avoid such a meeting; but when Nastasia entered the room just now, he had been so overwhelmed with astonishment, that he had not thought of his father, and had made no arrangements to keep him out of the way. And now it was too late--there he was, and got up, too, in a dress coat and white tie, and Nastasia in the very humour to heap ridicule on him and his family circle; of this last fact, he felt quite persuaded. What else had she come for? There were his mother and his sister sitting before her, and she seemed to have forgotten their very existence already; and if she behaved like that, he thought, she must have some object in view.
“Old story? No! Heaven knows what’s up now--I don’t! Father has simply gone mad; mother’s in floods of tears. Upon my word, Varia, I must kick him out of the house; or else go myself,” he added, probably remembering that he could not well turn people out of a house which was not his own.
“Do not despair. I think we may say without fear of deceiving ourselves, that you have now given a fairly exact account of your life. I, at least, think it would be impossible to add much to what you have just told me.”
“Well, there are three left, then--Keller firstly. He is a drunkard to begin with, and a liberal (in the sense of other people’s pockets), otherwise with more of the ancient knight about him than of the modern liberal. He was with the sick man at first, but came over afterwards because there was no place to lie down in the room and the floor was so hard.”
“No, sir, I do not exaggerate, I understate the matter, if anything, undoubtedly understate it; simply because I cannot express myself as I should like, but--”
“I quite agree with you there!” said Prince S., laughing.
True enough, most of the guests, next day and the day after, were not in very good humour. Ivan Petrovitch was a little offended, but not seriously so. General Epanchin’s chief was rather cool towards him for some while after the occurrence. The old dignitary, as patron of the family, took the opportunity of murmuring some kind of admonition to the general, and added, in flattering terms, that he was most interested in Aglaya’s future. He was a man who really did possess a kind heart, although his interest in the prince, in the earlier part of the evening, was due, among other reasons, to the latter’s connection with Nastasia Philipovna, according to popular report. He had heard a good deal of this story here and there, and was greatly interested in it, so much so that he longed to ask further questions about it.
“Yes, _seriously_,” said the general, gravely.
“You want to take advantage of my position, now that I am in your house,” continued Aglaya, awkwardly.
“And supposing I do know something?” observed the other, triumphantly.
“What have you done?” he hissed, glaring at her as though he would like to annihilate her on the spot. He was quite beside himself, and could hardly articulate his words for rage.
“Does she know about father, do you think--or not?”
“Yes--I saw an execution in France--at Lyons. Schneider took me over with him to see it.”
“Lvovitch,” repeated the general without the slightest haste, and with perfect confidence, just as though he had not committed himself the least in the world, but merely made a little slip of the tongue. He sat down, and taking the prince’s hand, drew him to a seat next to himself.
Aglaya began to flush up.
Her usually thoughtful, pale face, which all this while had been so little in harmony with the jests and laughter which she had seemed to put on for the occasion, was now evidently agitated by new feelings, though she tried to conceal the fact and to look as though she were as ready as ever for jesting and irony.
What had really happened?
“Oh, he is much more likely not to kill anyone at all,” said the prince, gazing thoughtfully at Evgenie. The latter laughed disagreeably.
“Who told you that?” broke in Evgenie Pavlovitch.
At this moment in marched Aglaya, as calm and collected as could be. She gave the prince a ceremonious bow and solemnly took up a prominent position near the big round table. She looked at the prince questioningly.
We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”
“Out. Well--what has happened?--go on.”
“Why don’t you say something?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, stamping her foot.
When Keller seized the would-be suicide, the latter fell forward into his arms, probably actually believing that he was shot. Keller had hold of the pistol now. Hippolyte was immediately placed in a chair, while the whole company thronged around excitedly, talking and asking each other questions. Every one of them had heard the snap of the trigger, and yet they saw a live and apparently unharmed man before them.
“You are still suspicious, I see, and do not believe me; but you may be quite at your ease. There shall be no more tears, nor questions--not from my side, at all events. All I wish is that you may be happy, you know that. I have submitted to my fate; but my heart will always be with you, whether we remain united, or whether we part. Of course I only answer for myself--you can hardly expect your sister--”
She fell senseless into his arms.
“No, you’re not to drink any more, Hippolyte. I won’t let you.” The prince moved the glass away.
He aired his own views on various matters, some of his most private opinions and observations, many of which would have seemed rather funny, so his hearers agreed afterwards, had they not been so well expressed.
“I’ve never learned anything whatever,” said the other.
“I must see it!” cried Mrs. Epanchin. “Where is the portrait? If she gave it to him, he must have it; and he is still in the study. He never leaves before four o’clock on Wednesdays. Send for Gavrila Ardalionovitch at once. No, I don’t long to see _him_ so much. Look here, dear prince, _be_ so kind, will you? Just step to the study and fetch this portrait! Say we want to look at it. Please do this for me, will you?”
“No, that was another commentator, whom the papers named. He is dead, however, and I have taken his place,” said the other, much delighted.
The prince stopped.
“He burned his hand!”
“What in the world induces you to act so? You are nothing but a spy. Why did you write anonymously to worry so noble and generous a lady? Why should not Aglaya Ivanovna write a note to whomever she pleases? What did you mean to complain of today? What did you expect to get by it? What made you go at all?”
“I am not going to let him go like this,” thought Gania, glancing angrily at the prince as they walked along. “The fellow has sucked everything out of me, and now he takes off his mask--there’s something more than appears, here we shall see. It shall all be as clear as water by tonight, everything!”
“For a moment I thought he would assault me; he grew so pale that he looked like a woman about to have hysterics; his wife was dreadfully alarmed.
“Well--it’s all most strange to me. That is--my dear fellow, it is such a surprise--such a blow--that... You see, it is not your financial position (though I should not object if you were a bit richer)--I am thinking of my daughter’s happiness, of course, and the thing is--are you able to give her the happiness she deserves? And then--is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? I don’t mean on your side, but on hers.”
Muishkin frowned, and rose from his seat.
“And I was right, truly right,” cried the general, with warmth and solemnity, “for if cigars are forbidden in railway carriages, poodles are much more so.”
“This is your doing, prince,” said Gania, turning on the latter so soon as the others were all out of the room. “This is your doing, sir! _You_ have been telling them that I am going to be married!” He said this in a hurried whisper, his eyes flashing with rage and his face ablaze. “You shameless tattler!”
“I’m all right; yesterday I was a little--”
Then the sky cleared in a moment. The prince seemed to arise from the dead; he asked Colia all about it, made him repeat the story over and over again, and laughed and shook hands with the boys in his delight.
“No--no--no!” muttered Lebedeff, clutching at his arm. He was clearly aghast at the largeness of the sum, and thought a far smaller amount should have been tried first.
Here is the article.
She put her questions very quickly and talked fast, every now and then forgetting what she had begun to say, and not finishing her sentence. She seemed to be impatient to warn the prince about something or other. She was in a state of unusual excitement, and though she put on a brave and even defiant air, she seemed to be rather alarmed. She was dressed very simply, but this suited her well. She continually trembled and blushed, and she sat on the very edge of the seat.
“I never thought of such a thing for a moment,” said the prince, with disgust.
“Now, that is a valuable piece of information, Mr. Keller,” replied Gania. “However that may be, I have private information which convinces me that Mr. Burdovsky, though doubtless aware of the date of his birth, knew nothing at all about Pavlicheff’s sojourn abroad. Indeed, he passed the greater part of his life out of Russia, returning at intervals for short visits. The journey in question is in itself too unimportant for his friends to recollect it after more than twenty years; and of course Mr. Burdovsky could have known nothing about it, for he was not born. As the event has proved, it was not impossible to find evidence of his absence, though I must confess that chance has helped me in a quest which might very well have come to nothing. It was really almost impossible for Burdovsky or Tchebaroff to discover these facts, even if it had entered their heads to try. Naturally they never dreamt...”
The prince was given the middle room of the three, the first being occupied by one Ferdishenko, while the third was empty.
The prince wanted to say something, but was so confused and astonished that he could not. However, he moved off towards the drawing-room with the cloak over his arm.
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
Next moment he was absolutely unconscious; black darkness blotted out everything.
“And how do you know that?” she asked him, sharply.
“N-no!--I don’t think so. A coward is a man who is afraid and runs away; the man who is frightened but does not run away, is not quite a coward,” said the prince with a smile, after a moment’s thought.
“None--none whatever,” agreed the prince hastily. “I admit you are right there, but it was involuntary, and I immediately said to myself that my personal feelings had nothing to do with it,--that if I thought it right to satisfy the demands of Mr. Burdovsky, out of respect for the memory of Pavlicheff, I ought to do so in any case, whether I esteemed Mr. Burdovsky or not. I only mentioned this, gentlemen, because it seemed so unnatural to me for a son to betray his mother’s secret in such a way. In short, that is what convinced me that Tchebaroff must be a rogue, and that he had induced Mr. Burdovsky to attempt this fraud.”
“Nothing unexpected. I discovered that it’s all true. My husband was wiser than either of us. Just as he suspected from the beginning, so it has fallen out. Where is he?”
“Is it jolly there?”
“I long sought to meet Marie alone; and at last I did meet her, on the hillside beyond the village. I gave her the eight francs and asked her to take care of the money because I could get no more; and then I kissed her and said that she was not to suppose I kissed her with any evil motives or because I was in love with her, for that I did so solely out of pity for her, and because from the first I had not accounted her as guilty so much as unfortunate. I longed to console and encourage her somehow, and to assure her that she was not the low, base thing which she and others strove to make out; but I don’t think she understood me. She stood before me, dreadfully ashamed of herself, and with downcast eyes; and when I had finished she kissed my hand. I would have kissed hers, but she drew it away. Just at this moment the whole troop of children saw us. (I found out afterwards that they had long kept a watch upon me.) They all began whistling and clapping their hands, and laughing at us. Marie ran away at once; and when I tried to talk to them, they threw stones at me. All the village heard of it the same day, and Marie’s position became worse than ever. The children would not let her pass now in the streets, but annoyed her and threw dirt at her more than before. They used to run after her--she racing away with her poor feeble lungs panting and gasping, and they pelting her and shouting abuse at her.
“I assure you I am not deceiving you; you shall not have to answer for me. As to my being dressed like this, and carrying a bundle, there’s nothing surprising in that--the fact is, my circumstances are not particularly rosy at this moment.”
“Well?” said Mrs. Epanchin angrily, surprised at his tone; “well, what more?”
“N-no! don’t marry him!” he whispered at last, drawing his breath with an effort.
“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--”
“I think so too, as clear as day; she loves him.”
“Are you telling the truth when you say you are not in love?”
“A son of my old friend, dear,” he cried; “surely you must remember Prince Nicolai Lvovitch? You saw him at--at Tver.”
Why, here he was on the Petersburg Side already, quite close to the house! Where was his “idea”? He was marching along without it now. Yes, his malady was coming back, it was clear enough; all this gloom and heaviness, all these “ideas,” were nothing more nor less than a fit coming on; perhaps he would have a fit this very day.
“Why, what has he done?”
The prince continued to regard Nastasia with a sorrowful, but intent and piercing, gaze.
“If so, you are a heartless man!” cried Aglaya. “As if you can’t see that it is not myself she loves, but you, you, and only you! Surely you have not remarked everything else in her, and only not _this?_ Do you know what these letters mean? They mean jealousy, sir--nothing but pure jealousy! She--do you think she will ever really marry this Rogojin, as she says here she will? She would take her own life the day after you and I were married.”
The man evidently could not take in the idea of such a shabby-looking visitor, and had decided to ask once more.
“Come along,” he whispered.
“Hey! look at it, it’ll burn in another minute or two!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “You’ll hang yourself afterwards, you know, if it does! I’m not joking.”
“That is an artful and traitorous idea. A smart notion,” vociferated the clerk, “thrown out as an apple of discord. But it is just. You are a scoffer, a man of the world, a cavalry officer, and, though not without brains, you do not realize how profound is your thought, nor how true. Yes, the laws of self-preservation and of self-destruction are equally powerful in this world. The devil will hold his empire over humanity until a limit of time which is still unknown. You laugh? You do not believe in the devil? Scepticism as to the devil is a French idea, and it is also a frivolous idea. Do you know who the devil is? Do you know his name? Although you don’t know his name you make a mockery of his form, following the example of Voltaire. You sneer at his hoofs, at his tail, at his horns--all of them the produce of your imagination! In reality the devil is a great and terrible spirit, with neither hoofs, nor tail, nor horns; it is you who have endowed him with these attributes! But... he is not the question just now!”
“Quite so,” replied the general, “and what can I do for you?”
“H’m--well, at all events, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep here, in your place. It wasn’t nice of you, that. I suppose you fall asleep wherever you sit down?”
“Is such a thing possible?”
“Do go on, Ferdishenko, and don’t make unnecessary preface, or you’ll never finish,” said Nastasia Philipovna. All observed how irritable and cross she had become since her last burst of laughter; but none the less obstinately did she stick to her absurd whim about this new game. Totski sat looking miserable enough. The general lingered over his champagne, and seemed to be thinking of some story for the time when his turn should come.
“But that evening and that night were sown the first seeds of my ‘last conviction.’ I seized greedily on my new idea; I thirstily drank in all its different aspects (I did not sleep a wink that night!), and the deeper I went into it the more my being seemed to merge itself in it, and the more alarmed I became. A dreadful terror came over me at last, and did not leave me all next day.
“Don’t suppose, prince,” she began, bracing herself up for the effort, “don’t suppose that I have brought you here to ask questions. After last night, I assure you, I am not so exceedingly anxious to see you at all; I could have postponed the pleasure for a long while.” She paused.