“Then about executions.”
“If that’s the case, darling--then, of course, you shall do exactly as you like. He is waiting alone downstairs. Hadn’t I better hint to him gently that he can go?” The general telegraphed to Lizabetha Prokofievna in his turn.
“No, they did not cure me.”
A couple of weeks went by, and suddenly the general and his wife were once more gloomy and silent, and the ice was as firm as ever. The fact was, the general, who had heard first, how Nastasia Philipovna had fled to Moscow and had been discovered there by Rogojin; that she had then disappeared once more, and been found again by Rogojin, and how after that she had almost promised to marry him, now received news that she had once more disappeared, almost on the very day fixed for her wedding, flying somewhere into the interior of Russia this time, and that Prince Muishkin had left all his affairs in the hands of Salaskin and disappeared also--but whether he was with Nastasia, or had only set off in search of her, was unknown.
“Well, look here, Gania. I wish to look into your heart once more, for the last time. You’ve worried me for the last three months--now it’s my turn. Do you see this packet? It contains a hundred thousand roubles. Now, I’m going to throw it into the fire, here--before all these witnesses. As soon as the fire catches hold of it, you put your hands into the fire and pick it out--without gloves, you know. You must have bare hands, and you must turn your sleeves up. Pull it out, I say, and it’s all yours. You may burn your fingers a little, of course; but then it’s a hundred thousand roubles, remember--it won’t take you long to lay hold of it and snatch it out. I shall so much admire you if you put your hands into the fire for my money. All here present may be witnesses that the whole packet of money is yours if you get it out. If you don’t get it out, it shall burn. I will let no one else come; away--get away, all of you--it’s my money! Rogojin has bought me with it. Is it my money, Rogojin?”
“Prince,” he said, “tell me the truth; do you know what all this means?”
General agitation prevailed. Nina Alexandrovna gave a little cry of anxiety; Ptitsin took a step forward in alarm; Colia and Ferdishenko stood stock still at the door in amazement;--only Varia remained coolly watching the scene from under her eyelashes. She did not sit down, but stood by her mother with folded hands. However, Gania recollected himself almost immediately. He let go of the prince and burst out laughing.
He turned his head towards her and glanced at her black and (for some reason) flashing eyes, tried to smile, and then, apparently forgetting her in an instant, turned to the right once more, and continued to watch the startling apparition before him.
“‘Lumen caeli, sancta Rosa!’ Shouting on the foe he fell, And like thunder rang his war-cry O’er the cowering infidel.
“I am kind myself, and _always_ kind too, if you please!” she retorted, unexpectedly; “and that is my chief fault, for one ought not to be always kind. I am often angry with these girls and their father; but the worst of it is, I am always kindest when I am cross. I was very angry just before you came, and Aglaya there read me a lesson--thanks, Aglaya, dear--come and kiss me--there--that’s enough” she added, as Aglaya came forward and kissed her lips and then her hand. “Now then, go on, prince. Perhaps you can think of something more exciting than about the donkey, eh?”
“I believe so; but I’m not sure.”
“It’s a funny notion,” said Totski, “and yet quite natural--it’s only a new way of boasting.”
Just then Lebedeff returned, having put on his coat.
“As the true friend of your father, I wish to say a few words to you,” he began. “I have suffered--there was a catastrophe. I suffered without a trial; I had no trial. Nina Alexandrovna my wife, is an excellent woman, so is my daughter Varvara. We have to let lodgings because we are poor--a dreadful, unheard-of come-down for us--for me, who should have been a governor-general; but we are very glad to have _you_, at all events. Meanwhile there is a tragedy in the house.”
She took the handkerchief from her face, glanced keenly at him, took in what he had said, and burst out laughing--such a merry, unrestrained laugh, so hearty and gay, that Adelaida could not contain herself. She, too, glanced at the prince’s panic-stricken countenance, then rushed at her sister, threw her arms round her neck, and burst into as merry a fit of laughter as Aglaya’s own. They laughed together like a couple of school-girls. Hearing and seeing this, the prince smiled happily, and in accents of relief and joy, he exclaimed “Well, thank God--thank God!”
He took her hand and seated her on the bench; then sat down beside her and reflected.
“No, at his mother’s flat; I rang at Parfen Semionovitch’s door and nobody came.”
“Pfu! what a wretched room this is--dark, and the window looking into the yard. Your coming to our house is, in no respect, opportune. However, it’s not _my_ affair. I don’t keep the lodgings.”
The prince looked back at him in amazement.
“Yes? Do you know that for a fact?” asked the prince, whose curiosity was aroused by the general’s words.
“Oh, I didn’t mean in this room! I know I can’t smoke here, of course. I’d adjourn to some other room, wherever you like to show me to. You see, I’m used to smoking a good deal, and now I haven’t had a puff for three hours; however, just as you like.”
“And supposing I do know something?” observed the other, triumphantly.
“Hurrah for the ‘poor knight’!” cried Colia.
“I thought you were capable of development,” said Hippolyte, coming out of his fit of abstraction. “Yes, that is what I meant to say,” he added, with the satisfaction of one who suddenly remembers something he had forgotten. “Here is Burdovsky, sincerely anxious to protect his mother; is not that so? And he himself is the cause of her disgrace. The prince is anxious to help Burdovsky and offers him friendship and a large sum of money, in the sincerity of his heart. And here they stand like two sworn enemies--ha, ha, ha! You all hate Burdovsky because his behaviour with regard to his mother is shocking and repugnant to you; do you not? Is not that true? Is it not true? You all have a passion for beauty and distinction in outward forms; that is all you care for, isn’t it? I have suspected for a long time that you cared for nothing else! Well, let me tell you that perhaps there is not one of you who loved your mother as Burdovsky loved his. As to you, prince, I know that you have sent money secretly to Burdovsky’s mother through Gania. Well, I bet now,” he continued with an hysterical laugh, “that Burdovsky will accuse you of indelicacy, and reproach you with a want of respect for his mother! Yes, that is quite certain! Ha, ha, ha!”
“That same husband of your sister, the usurer--”
“So I will,” he whispered hoarsely. “As soon as I get home I will go to bed at once; and I know I shall be dead in a fortnight; Botkine told me so himself last week. That is why I should like to say a few farewell words, if you will let me.”
“I shan’t ever be a Rothschild, and there is no reason why I should,” he added, smiling; “but I shall have a house in the Liteynaya, perhaps two, and that will be enough for me.” “Who knows but what I may have three!” he concluded to himself; but this dream, cherished inwardly, he never confided to a soul.
“There is nothing which you might not hear. Why I should wish to tell you, and only you, this experience of mine, I really cannot say; perhaps it really is because I love you very much. This unhappy woman is persuaded that she is the most hopeless, fallen creature in the world. Oh, do not condemn her! Do not cast stones at her! She has suffered too much already in the consciousness of her own undeserved shame.
“That’s true enough, he’ll have lots before evening!” put in Lebedeff.
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.
“In the first place, it is not for you to address me as ‘sir,’ and, in the second place, I refuse to give you any explanation,” said Ivan Fedorovitch vehemently; and he rose without another word, and went and stood on the first step of the flight that led from the verandah to the street, turning his back on the company. He was indignant with Lizabetha Prokofievna, who did not think of moving even now.
“Quite true! Much better to go in half an hour or so,” said Mrs. Epanchin.
On the third day there was no talk of him at all, until Aglaya remarked at dinner: “Mamma is cross because the prince hasn’t turned up,” to which the general replied that it was not his fault.
Colia did not understand the position. He tried severity with his father, as they stood in the street after the latter had cursed the household, hoping to bring him round that way.
“But you declared I wasn’t--”
“Now, do be careful! Secrecy, as before!”
“You were prevented by Aglaya Ivanovna. I think I am not mistaken? That is your daughter, Aglaya Ivanovna? She is so beautiful that I recognized her directly, although I had never seen her before. Let me, at least, look on beauty for the last time in my life,” he said with a wry smile. “You are here with the prince, and your husband, and a large company. Why should you refuse to gratify my last wish?”
“What? Pavlicheff’s son!” cried the prince, much perturbed. “I know... I know--but I entrusted this matter to Gavrila Ardalionovitch. He told me...”
“Wait in the next room, please; and leave your bundle here,” said the door-keeper, as he sat down comfortably in his own easy-chair in the ante-chamber. He looked at the prince in severe surprise as the latter settled himself in another chair alongside, with his bundle on his knees.
“What a power!” cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly examined the portrait over her sister’s shoulder.
“Don’t abuse him; though I dare say you have something to complain of....”
“No, I’m not; I’m not a bit ashamed!” she murmured. “And how do you know my heart is innocent? And how dared you send me a love-letter that time?”
Elizabetha Prokofievna sometimes informed the girls that they were a little too candid in this matter, but in spite of their outward deference to their mother these three young women, in solemn conclave, had long agreed to modify the unquestioning obedience which they had been in the habit of according to her; and Mrs. General Epanchin had judged it better to say nothing about it, though, of course, she was well aware of the fact.
The outburst was so terribly violent that the prince thought it would have killed her.
“Why, what an idea!” he said. “I didn’t mean to ask you any of these questions; I was thinking of something quite different! But my head is heavy, and I seem so absent-minded nowadays! Well, good-bye--I can’t remember what I wanted to say--good-bye!”
Gania felt a little guilty.
Here Hippolyte suddenly, and most unexpectedly, pulled out of his breast-pocket a large sealed paper. This imposing-looking document he placed upon the table before him.
“Let’s all go to my boudoir,” she said, “and they shall bring some coffee in there. That’s the room where we all assemble and busy ourselves as we like best,” she explained. “Alexandra, my eldest, here, plays the piano, or reads or sews; Adelaida paints landscapes and portraits (but never finishes any); and Aglaya sits and does nothing. I don’t work too much, either. Here we are, now; sit down, prince, near the fire and talk to us. I want to hear you relate something. I wish to make sure of you first and then tell my old friend, Princess Bielokonski, about you. I wish you to know all the good people and to interest them. Now then, begin!”
“Why should we be angry?” they cried.
Gania was right when he told his sister that Hippolyte was getting better; that he was better was clear at the first glance. He entered the room now last of all, deliberately, and with a disagreeable smile on his lips.
“You see,” he said, “I was given to understand that Ferdishenko was that sort of man,--that one can’t say everything before him. One has to take care not to say too much, you understand? I say this to prove that he really is, so to speak, more likely to have done this than anyone else, eh? You understand? The important thing is, not to make a mistake.”
“I knew yesterday that Gavrila Ardalionovitch--” began the prince, and paused in evident confusion, though Hippolyte had shown annoyance at his betraying no surprise.
They had left the garden now, and were crossing the yard on their way to the gate.
“A crowd of people had collected to see how she would cry. The parson, a young fellow ambitious of becoming a great preacher, began his sermon and pointed to Marie. ‘There,’ he said, ‘there is the cause of the death of this venerable woman’--(which was a lie, because she had been ill for at least two years)--‘there she stands before you, and dares not lift her eyes from the ground, because she knows that the finger of God is upon her. Look at her tatters and rags--the badge of those who lose their virtue. Who is she? her daughter!’ and so on to the end.
“I wrote, and I say to you once more, that she is not in her right mind,” said the prince, who had listened with anguish to what Rogojin said.
“One more second and I should have stopped him,” said Keller, afterwards. In fact, he and Burdovsky jumped into another carriage and set off in pursuit; but it struck them as they drove along that it was not much use trying to bring Nastasia back by force.
“I seem to have seen your eyes somewhere; but it cannot be! I have not seen you--I never was here before. I may have dreamed of you, I don’t know.”
“Well--come! there’s nothing to get cross about,” said Gania.
“If you really intended to shoot yourself, Terentieff,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, laughing, “if I were you, after all these compliments, I should just not shoot myself in order to vex them all.”
“And now it is you who have brought them together again?”
“What are you doing, then?” cried Evgenie, in horror. “You must be marrying her solely out of _fear_, then! I can’t make head or tail of it, prince. Perhaps you don’t even love her?”
“What’s true? What’s all this? What’s true?” said an alarmed voice just beside them.
“I’ll swear it by whatever you please.”
Rogojin took the chair offered him, but he did not sit long; he soon stood up again, and did not reseat himself. Little by little he began to look around him and discern the other guests. Seeing Gania, he smiled venomously and muttered to himself, “Look at that!”
“Of course! And it would be a disgrace to marry so, eh?”
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
But the situation was becoming rapidly critical.
“Antip Burdovsky,” stuttered the son of Pavlicheff.
“Is Parfen Semionovitch at home?” he asked.
The laughter became general, and the young officer, who seemed a particularly lively sort of person, simply shook with mirth.
“I suppose that was it; I cannot explain it otherwise.”
The prince’s expression was so good-natured at this moment, and so entirely free from even a suspicion of unpleasant feeling was the smile with which he looked at the general as he spoke, that the latter suddenly paused, and appeared to gaze at his guest from quite a new point of view, all in an instant.
“He sat down in amazement, and I lost no time in telling him the medical man’s history; and explained that he, with the influence which he possessed over his uncle, might do some good to the poor fellow.
“A Kammer-junker? I had not thought of it, but--”
“What? Surrender her to _you?_” cried Daria Alexeyevna. “To a fellow who comes and bargains for a wife like a moujik! The prince wishes to marry her, and you--”
“I’m all right,” said Varia, in a tone that sounded as though she were all wrong.
“You are quite wrong...” began the prince.
“Do you know, Totski, this is all very like what they say goes on among the Japanese?” said Ptitsin. “The offended party there, they say, marches off to his insulter and says to him, ‘You insulted me, so I have come to rip myself open before your eyes;’ and with these words he does actually rip his stomach open before his enemy, and considers, doubtless, that he is having all possible and necessary satisfaction and revenge. There are strange characters in the world, sir!”
They sat now in a row facing the prince, and frowned, and played with their caps. All appeared ready to speak, and yet all were silent; the defiant expression on their faces seemed to say, “No, sir, you don’t take us in!” It could be felt that the first word spoken by anyone present would bring a torrent of speech from the whole deputation.
Aglaya suddenly whispered angrily to herself the word--
“Do you admire that sort of woman, prince?” he asked, looking intently at him. He seemed to have some special object in the question.
“Oh, there I can give you my fullest assurance that she did _not_. I was there all the while--she had no time to do it!”
“I have waited for you with the greatest impatience (not that you were worth it). Every night I have drenched my pillow with tears, not for you, my friend, not for you, don’t flatter yourself! I have my own grief, always the same, always the same. But I’ll tell you why I have been awaiting you so impatiently, because I believe that Providence itself sent you to be a friend and a brother to me. I haven’t a friend in the world except Princess Bielokonski, and she is growing as stupid as a sheep from old age. Now then, tell me, yes or no? Do you know why she called out from her carriage the other night?”
“How so?” asked Adelaida, with curiosity.
At first Muishkin had not cared to make any reply to his sundry questions, and only smiled in response to Hippolyte’s advice to “run for his life--abroad, if necessary. There are Russian priests everywhere, and one can get married all over the world.”
The prince thought, too, that he looked vexed and annoyed, and not nearly so friendly towards himself as he had been earlier in the night.
“Even the porter does not know that I have come home now. I told him, and told them at my mother’s too, that I was off to Pavlofsk,” said Rogojin, with a cunning and almost satisfied smile. “We’ll go in quietly and nobody will hear us.”
“_C’est très-curieux et c’est très-sérieux_,” he whispered across the table to Ivan Petrovitch, rather loudly. Probably the prince heard him.
“What, only ten thousand!” cried Hippolyte.
“I really think I must request you to step into the next room!” he said, with all the insistence he could muster.
“Yes--those very ones,” interrupted Rogojin, impatiently, and with scant courtesy. I may remark that he had not once taken any notice of the blotchy-faced passenger, and had hitherto addressed all his remarks direct to the prince.
“It is nearly midnight; we are going. Will he come with us, or is he to stay here?” Doktorenko asked crossly of the prince.
“It was--about--you saw her--”