“Well, if you could tell Aleksey about it, surely you can tell us too.”
Gania lit a cigarette and offered one to the prince. The latter accepted the offer, but did not talk, being unwilling to disturb Gania’s work. He commenced to examine the study and its contents. But Gania hardly so much as glanced at the papers lying before him; he was absent and thoughtful, and his smile and general appearance struck the prince still more disagreeably now that the two were left alone together.
At this moment a loud voice from behind the group which hedged in the prince and Nastasia Philipovna, divided the crowd, as it were, and before them stood the head of the family, General Ivolgin. He was dressed in evening clothes; his moustache was dyed.
“He’s a little screw,” cried the general; “he drills holes in my heart and soul. He wishes me to be a pervert to atheism. Know, you young greenhorn, that I was covered with honours before ever you were born; and you are nothing better than a wretched little worm, torn in two with coughing, and dying slowly of your own malice and unbelief. What did Gavrila bring you over here for? They’re all against me, even to my own son--all against me.”
It was seven in the evening, and the prince was just preparing to go out for a walk in the park, when suddenly Mrs. Epanchin appeared on the terrace.
“‘In Moscow,’ I said, ‘there was an old state counsellor, a civil general, who, all his life, had been in the habit of visiting the prisons and speaking to criminals. Every party of convicts on its way to Siberia knew beforehand that on the Vorobeef Hills the “old general” would pay them a visit. He did all he undertook seriously and devotedly. He would walk down the rows of the unfortunate prisoners, stop before each individual and ask after his needs--he never sermonized them; he spoke kindly to them--he gave them money; he brought them all sorts of necessaries for the journey, and gave them devotional books, choosing those who could read, under the firm conviction that they would read to those who could not, as they went along.
Gania might justly complain of the hardness with which fate treated him. Varia dared not speak to him for a long while, as he strode past her, backwards and forwards. At last he went and stood at the window, looking out, with his back turned towards her. There was a fearful row going on upstairs again.
And in the semi-darkness the prince distinguished a man standing close to the stairs, apparently waiting.
“Yes, it is,” replied Rogojin with an unpleasant smile, as if he had expected his guest to ask the question, and then to make some disagreeable remark.
“I’ll bring it you directly. We only have a cook and one maid, so I have to help as much as I can. Varia looks after things, generally, and loses her temper over it. Gania says you have only just arrived from Switzerland?”
The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.
“Wouldn’t it be better, esteemed prince, wouldn’t it be better--to--don’t you know--”
“Did not you ask me the question seriously” inquired the prince, in amazement.
“However, within three weeks my determination was taken, owing to a very strange circumstance.
“Don’t be afraid,” he muttered, indistinctly, “though I have taken your cross, I shall not murder you for your watch.” So saying, he laughed suddenly, and strangely. Then in a moment his face became transfigured; he grew deadly white, his lips trembled, his eyes burned like fire. He stretched out his arms and held the prince tightly to him, and said in a strangled voice:
“I would much rather not, just now,” said the prince, a little disturbed and frowning slightly.
The prince began to give his reasons, but she interrupted him again.
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.
“Don’t be cross, Daria Alexeyevna!” laughed Nastasia. “I was not angry when I spoke; I wasn’t reproaching Gania. I don’t know how it was that I ever could have indulged the whim of entering an honest family like his. I saw his mother--and kissed her hand, too. I came and stirred up all that fuss, Gania, this afternoon, on purpose to see how much you could swallow--you surprised me, my friend--you did, indeed. Surely you could not marry a woman who accepts pearls like those you knew the general was going to give me, on the very eve of her marriage? And Rogojin! Why, in your own house and before your own brother and sister, he bargained with me! Yet you could come here and expect to be betrothed to me before you left the house! You almost brought your sister, too. Surely what Rogojin said about you is not really true: that you would crawl all the way to the other end of the town, on hands and knees, for three roubles?”
“No! Oh no! Not at all!” said Evgenie. “But--how is it, prince, that you--(excuse the question, will you?)--if you are capable of observing and seeing things as you evidently do, how is it that you saw nothing distorted or perverted in that claim upon your property, which you acknowledged a day or two since; and which was full of arguments founded upon the most distorted views of right and wrong?”
“Well, it is troublesome, rather,” said the latter; “but I suppose it will ‘pay’ pretty well. We have only just begun, however--”
“Thank you for the lesson, general,” said Hippolyte, with unexpected gravity, regarding him thoughtfully.
“Why, what an idiot it is!” cried Nastasia, stamping her foot with irritation. “Go on, do! Whom are you going to announce?”
“The face was depicted as though still suffering; as though the body, only just dead, was still almost quivering with agony. The picture was one of pure nature, for the face was not beautified by the artist, but was left as it would naturally be, whosoever the sufferer, after such anguish.
“Only, of course that’s not nearly your worst action,” said the actress, with evident dislike in her face.
“Come, let us go in--it’s all right,” he whispered in the prince’s ear.
However, she turned and ran down to the prince as fast as her feet could carry her.
“Oh, very well, let’s sit down, at all events, for I don’t intend to stand up all day. And remember, if you say, one word about ‘mischievous urchins,’ I shall go away and break with you altogether. Now then, did you, or did you not, send a letter to Aglaya, a couple of months or so ago, about Easter-tide?”
Colia entered first, and as the door stood open, the mistress of the house peeped out. The surprise of the general’s imagination fell very flat, for she at once began to address him in terms of reproach.
“Did I ever expect to find happiness with Aglaya?”
Rogojin listened to the end, and then burst out laughing:
“You seem to be very religious,” he continued, kindly, addressing the prince, “which is a thing one meets so seldom nowadays among young people.”
“Forty thousand, then--forty thousand roubles instead of eighteen! Ptitsin and another have promised to find me forty thousand roubles by seven o’clock tonight. Forty thousand roubles--paid down on the nail!”
“Very,” said his neighbour, readily, “and this is a thaw, too. Fancy if it had been a hard frost! I never thought it would be so cold in the old country. I’ve grown quite out of the way of it.”
“Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. “I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o’clock,” he added, looking at his watch.
“No, no, no!” cried the prince, with unspeakable sadness.
He explained about himself in a few words, very much the same as he had told the footman and Rogojin beforehand.
“Well, really, you know”--(silence)--“of course, you know all this is very strange, if true, which I cannot deny; but”--(silence).--“But, on the other hand, if one looks things in the face, you know--upon my honour, the prince is a rare good fellow--and--and--and--well, his name, you know--your family name--all this looks well, and perpetuates the name and title and all that--which at this moment is not standing so high as it might--from one point of view--don’t you know? The world, the world is the world, of course--and people will talk--and--and--the prince has property, you know--if it is not very large--and then he--he--” (Continued silence, and collapse of the general.)
“Of course--quite so, whom else? But what are the proofs?”
“‘Whoso forsakes his country forsakes his God.’
“Yesterday, after seeing you, I went home and thought out a picture.
“No; I shall not be ashamed of that. You did not so live by your own will.”
“I am not smiling, but I really think you are in the wrong, somewhat,” replied Muishkin, reluctantly.
“You have no right--you have no right!” cried Burdovsky.
In a quarter of an hour or so Prince N. and Evgenie Pavlovitch and the old dignitary were hard at work endeavouring to restore the harmony of the evening, but it was of no avail, and very soon after the guests separated and went their ways.
“And now it is you who have brought them together again?”
Aglaya pressed the prince’s hand and left the room. Her face was serious and frowning; she did not even smile as she nodded good-bye to him at the door.
As to recollecting what he had been thinking of all that time, he could not. He caught himself, however, indulging in one thought which made him roar with laughter, though there was nothing really to laugh at in it; but he felt that he must laugh, and go on laughing.
“You are going to Pavlofsk too?” asked the prince sharply. “Everybody seems to be going there. Have you a house in that neighbourhood?”
“‘In the flashing eyes of this patriotic child I read and accept the fiat of the Russian people. Enough, Davoust, it is mere phantasy on our part. Come, let’s hear your other project.’”
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
The prince made up his mind that he would make a point of going there “as usual,” tonight, and looked feverishly at his watch.
“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
“Alexandra Michailovna out, too! How disappointing! Would you believe it, I am always so unfortunate! May I most respectfully ask you to present my compliments to Alexandra Michailovna, and remind her... tell her, that with my whole heart I wish for her what she wished for herself on Thursday evening, while she was listening to Chopin’s Ballade. She will remember. I wish it with all sincerity. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin!”
“Why, look at him--look at him now!”
We suspect, for instance, that having commissioned Lebedeff and the others, as above, the prince immediately forgot all about masters of ceremonies and even the ceremony itself; and we feel quite certain that in making these arrangements he did so in order that he might absolutely escape all thought of the wedding, and even forget its approach if he could, by detailing all business concerning it to others.
“But who else _could_ it be, my very dear prince?” repeated Lebedeff, as sweet as sugar again. “If you don’t wish me to suspect Mr. Burdovsky?”
The laughter became louder than ever.
“Yes, I hear.”
“Oho!” laughed the boy, “you can be nicer than that to _me_, you know--I’m not Ptitsin!”
Gania stood before her, in his evening clothes, holding his white gloves and hat in his hand, speechless and motionless, with arms folded and eyes fixed on the fire.
“They killed Pushkin that way.”
“Oh, come! He has a handsome face.”
“Are you going to be married here?”
“This, gentlemen, is a hundred thousand roubles,” said Nastasia Philipovna, addressing the company in general, “here, in this dirty parcel. This afternoon Rogojin yelled, like a madman, that he would bring me a hundred thousand in the evening, and I have been waiting for him all the while. He was bargaining for me, you know; first he offered me eighteen thousand; then he rose to forty, and then to a hundred thousand. And he has kept his word, see! My goodness, how white he is! All this happened this afternoon, at Gania’s. I had gone to pay his mother a visit--my future family, you know! And his sister said to my very face, surely somebody will turn this shameless creature out. After which she spat in her brother Gania’s face--a girl of character, that!”
There were sounds of half-smothered laughter at this.
“He got out of it very neatly about our faces, though,” said Aglaya. “He flattered us all round, even mamma.”
“Will you let me ask the prince for a cup of tea?... I am exhausted. Do you know what you might do, Lizabetha Prokofievna? I think you wanted to take the prince home with you for tea. Stay here, and let us spend the evening together. I am sure the prince will give us all some tea. Forgive me for being so free and easy--but I know you are kind, and the prince is kind, too. In fact, we are all good-natured people--it is really quite comical.”
“Then why did--”
Her character was absolutely changed. No more of the girlish alternations of timidity and petulance, the adorable naivete, the reveries, the tears, the playfulness... It was an entirely new and hitherto unknown being who now sat and laughed at him, and informed him to his face that she had never had the faintest feeling for him of any kind, except loathing and contempt--contempt which had followed closely upon her sensations of surprise and bewilderment after her first acquaintance with him.
“Come, come, Lebedeff, no sarcasm! It’s a serious--”
Lizabetha Prokofievna saw that she returned in such a state of agitation that it was doubtful whether she had even heard their calls. But only a couple of minutes later, when they had reached the park, Aglaya suddenly remarked, in her usual calm, indifferent voice:
“Well, you have no right, you have no right, no right at all!... Your friends indeed!”... gabbled Burdovsky, defiantly examining the faces round him, and becoming more and more excited. “You have no right!...” As he ended thus abruptly, he leant forward, staring at the prince with his short-sighted, bloodshot eyes. The latter was so astonished, that he did not reply, but looked steadily at him in return.
“Brought whom?” cried Muishkin.
“Perhaps you do not wish to accept my proposition?” she asked, gazing haughtily at the prince.
“Marie Alexandrovna is not at home,” said she, staring hard at the general. “She has gone to her mother’s, with Alexandra Michailovna.”
“No, they did not cure me.”
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
“Yes, yes, so he does,” laughed the others.
Nina Alexandrovna’s question betrayed intense annoyance. Gania waited a moment and then said, without taking the trouble to conceal the irony of his tone:
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
“But, at times, I can’t help thinking that I am wrong in feeling so about it, you know. Sincerity is more important than elocution, isn’t it?”
“What did I want? Well, to begin with, it is good to meet a man like you. It is a pleasure to talk over my faults with you. I know you for one of the best of men... and then... then...”
“Speak away, I am listening.”
“A whole one, and in a candlestick?”
“About the hedgehog.”
“Oh, she was turned out next day, of course. It’s a very strict household, there!”
“Nastasia Philipovna!” cried Totski, in a quaking voice.
Nastasia turned to him. Her eyes flashed; she rushed up to a young man standing near, whom she did not know in the least, but who happened to have in his hand a thin cane. Seizing this from him, she brought it with all her force across the face of her insulter.
“Oh, she is mad!” cried the prince, wringing his hands.
“Nonsense!” cried the latter. “He did not flatter me. It was I who found his appreciation flattering. I think you are a great deal more foolish than he is. He is simple, of course, but also very knowing. Just like myself.”
“You will have to excuse very much in my husband, if you stay with us,” said Nina Alexandrovna; “but he will not disturb you often. He dines alone. Everyone has his little peculiarities, you know, and some people perhaps have more than those who are most pointed at and laughed at. One thing I must beg of you--if my husband applies to you for payment for board and lodging, tell him that you have already paid me. Of course anything paid by you to the general would be as fully settled as if paid to me, so far as you are concerned; but I wish it to be so, if you please, for convenience’ sake. What is it, Varia?”
“She has not said ‘no,’ up to now, and that’s all. It was sure to be so with her. You know what she is like. You know how absurdly shy she is. You remember how she used to hide in a cupboard as a child, so as to avoid seeing visitors, for hours at a time. She is just the same now; but, do you know, I think there is something serious in the matter, even from her side; I feel it, somehow. She laughs at the prince, they say, from morn to night in order to hide her real feelings; but you may be sure she finds occasion to say something or other to him on the sly, for he himself is in a state of radiant happiness. He walks in the clouds; they say he is extremely funny just now; I heard it from themselves. They seemed to be laughing at me in their sleeves--those elder girls--I don’t know why.”
The prince was silent. At last he spoke.
He had found her in a condition approaching to absolute madness. She screamed, and trembled, and cried out that Rogojin was hiding out there in the garden--that she had seen him herself--and that he would murder her in the night--that he would cut her throat. She was terribly agitated all day. But it so happened that the prince called at Hippolyte’s house later on, and heard from his mother that she had been in town all day, and had there received a visit from Rogojin, who had made inquiries about Pavlofsk. On inquiry, it turned out that Rogojin visited the old lady in town at almost the same moment when Nastasia declared that she had seen him in the garden; so that the whole thing turned out to be an illusion on her part. Nastasia immediately went across to Hippolyte’s to inquire more accurately, and returned immensely relieved and comforted.
“Why, he must pay toll for his entrance,” explained the latter.