“Too much talk,” said Rogojin, breaking the silence for the first time.
“Yes, sir--on that very spot.” The prince gazed strangely at Lebedeff. “And the general?” he asked, abruptly.
Gavrila Ardalionovitch was still sitting in the study, buried in a mass of papers. He looked as though he did not take his salary from the public company, whose servant he was, for a sinecure.
“He led up to this on purpose. He took the trouble of writing all that so that people should come and grab him by the arm,” observed Rogojin. “Good-night, prince. What a time we’ve sat here, my very bones ache!”
And so the conclusion of the matter was that it would be far better to take it quietly, and wait coolly to see what would turn up. But, alas! peace did not reign for more than ten minutes. The first blow dealt to its power was in certain news communicated to Lizabetha Prokofievna as to events which had happened during her trip to see the princess. (This trip had taken place the day after that on which the prince had turned up at the Epanchins at nearly one o’clock at night, thinking it was nine.)
Only the prince stopped behind for a moment, as though in indecision; and Evgenie Pavlovitch lingered too, for he had not collected his scattered wits. But the Epanchins had not had time to get more than twenty paces away when a scandalous episode occurred. The young officer, Evgenie Pavlovitch’s friend who had been conversing with Aglaya, said aloud in a great state of indignation:
Evgenie Pavlovitch was silent, but Hippolyte kept his eyes fixed upon him, waiting impatiently for more.
“Save me!” she cried. “Take me away, anywhere you like, quick!”
“Leave off, Colia,” begged the prince. Exclamations arose on all sides.
But they all laughed on.
“Do you know this for certain?” asked Evgenie, with the greatest curiosity.
“It was a dream, of course,” he said, musingly. “Strange that I should have a dream like that at such a moment. Sit down--”
“How silly you are!” said Mrs. Epanchin, looking indignantly towards the last speaker.
Every time that Aglaya showed temper (and this was very often), there was so much childish pouting, such “school-girlishness,” as it were, in her apparent wrath, that it was impossible to avoid smiling at her, to her own unutterable indignation. On these occasions she would say, “How can they, how _dare_ they laugh at me?”
“I knew it had been written, but I would not have advised its publication,” said Lebedeff’s nephew, “because it is premature.”
The prince glanced again at Evgenie Pavlovitch with considerable surprise.
“Oh, I’m a mean wretch--a mean wretch!” he said, approaching the prince once more, and beating his breast, with tears in his eyes.
“And how do you know that I am ‘so happy’?”
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.
“Come along, let’s go out for a walk!” cried Adelaida. “We’ll all go together, and the prince must absolutely go with us. You needn’t go away, you dear good fellow! _Isn’t_ he a dear, Aglaya? Isn’t he, mother? I must really give him a kiss for--for his explanation to Aglaya just now. Mother, dear, I may kiss him, mayn’t I? Aglaya, may I kiss _your_ prince?” cried the young rogue, and sure enough she skipped up to the prince and kissed his forehead.
“I don’t quite like it,” replied the prince.
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
“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.
“Yes, yes,” agreed the prince, warmly.
“H’m! and he receives a good salary, I’m told. Well, what should you get but disgrace and misery if you took a wife you hated into your family (for I know very well that you do hate me)? No, no! I believe now that a man like you would murder anyone for money--sharpen a razor and come up behind his best friend and cut his throat like a sheep--I’ve read of such people. Everyone seems money-mad nowadays. No, no! I may be shameless, but you are far worse. I don’t say a word about that other--”
“Why don’t you tell him about them?” said Vera impatiently to her father. “They will come in, whether you announce them or not, and they are beginning to make a row. Lef Nicolaievitch,”--she addressed herself to the prince--“four men are here asking for you. They have waited some time, and are beginning to make a fuss, and papa will not bring them in.”
If, loving a woman above everything in the world, or at least having a foretaste of the possibility of such love for her, one were suddenly to behold her on a chain, behind bars and under the lash of a keeper, one would feel something like what the poor prince now felt.
“Lef Nicolaievitch!” cried Parfen, before he had reached the next landing. “Have you got that cross you bought from the soldier with you?”
“What? What _do_ you mean? What roi de Rome?”
“No, not a bit of it,” said Ivan Petrovitch, with a sarcastic laugh.
“Hush! hush! Gavrila Ardalionovitch!” cried Muishkin in dismay, but it was too late.
“That is true,” said the prince, “I have thought so myself. And yet, why shouldn’t one do it?”
“You seem to take me for a child, Lebedeff. Tell me, is it a fact that she left him while they were in Moscow?”
“I took a droshky and drove over to the Vassili Ostroff at once. For some years I had been at enmity with this young Bachmatoff, at school. We considered him an aristocrat; at all events I called him one. He used to dress smartly, and always drove to school in a private trap. He was a good companion, and was always merry and jolly, sometimes even witty, though he was not very intellectual, in spite of the fact that he was always top of the class; I myself was never top in anything! All his companions were very fond of him, excepting myself. He had several times during those years come up to me and tried to make friends; but I had always turned sulkily away and refused to have anything to do with him. I had not seen him for a whole year now; he was at the university. When, at nine o’clock, or so, this evening, I arrived and was shown up to him with great ceremony, he first received me with astonishment, and not too affably, but he soon cheered up, and suddenly gazed intently at me and burst out laughing.
The prince, when he heard the story afterwards, felt that he had never yet come across so wonderful a humorist, or such remarkable brilliancy as was shown by this man; and yet if he had only known it, this story was the oldest, stalest, and most worn-out yarn, and every drawing-room in town was sick to death of it. It was only in the innocent Epanchin household that it passed for a new and brilliant tale--as a sudden and striking reminiscence of a splendid and talented man.
“Goodness knows--you may be wrong there! At all events, she named the day this evening, as we left the gardens. ‘In three weeks,’ says she, ‘and perhaps sooner, we shall be married.’ She swore to it, took off her cross and kissed it. So it all depends upon you now, prince, You see! Ha, ha!”
The general flushed with indignation as he spoke.
“Why do you say all this here?” cried Aglaya, suddenly. “Why do you talk like this to _them?_”
“What a beauty!” cried one.
The prince asked a few more questions, and though he learned nothing else, he became more and more agitated.
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.
“A great disgrace.”
“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’?”
But now his eyes had become so far accustomed to the darkness that he could distinguish the whole of the bed. Someone was asleep upon it--in an absolutely motionless sleep. Not the slightest movement was perceptible, not the faintest breathing could be heard. The sleeper was covered with a white sheet; the outline of the limbs was hardly distinguishable. He could only just make out that a human being lay outstretched there.
“I’ll go and get your bundle.”
“It seems to me,” interrupted the prince, “that I was foolish to trouble you just now. However, at present you... Good-bye!”
“Oh, yes; I angered him--I certainly did anger him,” replied Rogojin. “But what puts me out so is my brother. Of course my mother couldn’t do anything--she’s too old--and whatever brother Senka says is law for her! But why couldn’t he let me know? He sent a telegram, they say. What’s the good of a telegram? It frightened my aunt so that she sent it back to the office unopened, and there it’s been ever since! It’s only thanks to Konief that I heard at all; he wrote me all about it. He says my brother cut off the gold tassels from my father’s coffin, at night ‘because they’re worth a lot of money!’ says he. Why, I can get him sent off to Siberia for that alone, if I like; it’s sacrilege. Here, you--scarecrow!” he added, addressing the clerk at his side, “is it sacrilege or not, by law?”
So saying, Aglaya burst into bitter tears, and, hiding her face in her handkerchief, sank back into a chair.
“Yes, yes, so he does,” laughed the others.
“Oh, Aglaya--perhaps you cannot understand all this. Try to realize that in the perpetual admission of guilt she probably finds some dreadful unnatural satisfaction--as though she were revenging herself upon someone.
Towards six o’clock he found himself at the station of the Tsarsko-Selski railway.
“And Hippolyte has come down here to stay,” said Colia, suddenly.
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” cried Ferdishenko. “I did so hope the prince would come out first, and then the general. Well, gentlemen, I suppose I must set a good example! What vexes me much is that I am such an insignificant creature that it matters nothing to anybody whether I have done bad actions or not! Besides, which am I to choose? It’s an _embarras de richesse_. Shall I tell how I became a thief on one occasion only, to convince Afanasy Ivanovitch that it is possible to steal without being a thief?”
As for Hippolyte, their effect upon him was astounding. He trembled so that the prince was obliged to support him, and would certainly have cried out, but that his voice seemed to have entirely left him for the moment. For a minute or two he could not speak at all, but panted and stared at Rogojin. At last he managed to ejaculate:
“What! didn’t I tell you? Ha, ha, ha! I thought I had. Why, I received a letter, you know, to be handed over--”
The Epanchin family had at last made up their minds to spend the summer abroad, all except the general, who could not waste time in “travelling for enjoyment,” of course. This arrangement was brought about by the persistence of the girls, who insisted that they were never allowed to go abroad because their parents were too anxious to marry them off. Perhaps their parents had at last come to the conclusion that husbands might be found abroad, and that a summer’s travel might bear fruit. The marriage between Alexandra and Totski had been broken off. Since the prince’s departure from St. Petersburg no more had been said about it; the subject had been dropped without ceremony, much to the joy of Mrs. General, who, announced that she was “ready to cross herself with both hands” in gratitude for the escape. The general, however, regretted Totski for a long while. “Such a fortune!” he sighed, “and such a good, easy-going fellow!”
“Tell me, prince, why on earth did this boy intrude himself upon you?” he asked, with such annoyance and irritation in his voice that the prince was quite surprised. “I wouldn’t mind laying odds that he is up to some mischief.”
“He is boring us!”
“Prince, my dear fellow, do remember what you are about,” said the general, approaching Muishkin, and pulling him by the coat sleeve.
“Nastasia Philipovna! Nastasia Philipovna!”
Of such people there are countless numbers in this world--far more even than appear. They can be divided into two classes as all men can--that is, those of limited intellect, and those who are much cleverer. The former of these classes is the happier.
And in the semi-darkness the prince distinguished a man standing close to the stairs, apparently waiting.
“Thank God--thank God!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quite knowing why she felt so relieved.
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“Oh! I _know_ you haven’t read it, and that you could never be that man’s accomplice. Read it, I wish you to read it.”
“I agree,” said Lebedeff, firmly, looking round involuntarily at his daughter, who had come nearer, and was listening attentively to the conversation.
Muishkin, who was but a couple of steps away, had time to spring forward and seize the officer’s arms from behind.
Seeing that the prince was considerably struck by the fact that he had twice seized this knife out of his hand, Rogojin caught it up with some irritation, put it inside the book, and threw the latter across to another table.
“This way--come along--I’ll show you.”
This, then, was the society that the prince accepted at once as true coin, as pure gold without alloy.
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.
The prince had not seen _her_ for more than three months. All these days since his arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but some mysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himself what impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had often tried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, and that was that the meeting would be painful.
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
And Afanasy Ivanovitch heaved a deep sigh.
“They drag each other about the place,” he said, “and get drunk together at the pub close by here, and quarrel in the street on the way home, and embrace one another after it, and don’t seem to part for a moment.”
“You’ve moved him to tears,” added Ferdishenko. But Hippolyte was by no means weeping. He was about to move from his place, when his four guards rushed at him and seized him once more. There was a laugh at this.
“We are neighbours, so will you be so kind as to come over one day and explain the Apocalypse to me?” said Aglaya. “I do not understand it in the least.”
Prince S., who was in the house, was requested to escort the ladies. He had been much interested when he first heard of the prince from the Epanchins. It appeared that they had known one another before, and had spent some time together in a little provincial town three months ago. Prince S. had greatly taken to him, and was delighted with the opportunity of meeting him again.
He caught sight of something flashing in Hippolyte’s right hand, and saw that it was a pistol. He rushed at him, but at that very instant Hippolyte raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. There followed a sharp metallic click, but no report.
“What do you mean?” said the prince.
Nastasia Philipovna was at this moment passing the young ladies’ chairs.
“He never drinks much in the morning; if you have come to talk business with him, do it now. It is the best time. He sometimes comes back drunk in the evening; but just now he passes the greater part of the evening in tears, and reads passages of Holy Scripture aloud, because our mother died five weeks ago.”
“‘I have jotted down your name,’ I told him, ‘and all the rest of it--the place you served at, the district, the date, and all. I have a friend, Bachmatoff, whose uncle is a councillor of state and has to do with these matters, one Peter Matveyevitch Bachmatoff.’
“Oh no, not he, not now! But you have to be very careful with this sort of gentleman. Crime is too often the last resource of these petty nonentities. This young fellow is quite capable of cutting the throats of ten people, simply for a lark, as he told us in his ‘explanation.’ I assure you those confounded words of his will not let me sleep.”
The general very nearly smiled, but thought better of it and kept his smile back. Then he reflected, blinked his eyes, stared at his guest once more from head to foot; then abruptly motioned him to a chair, sat down himself, and waited with some impatience for the prince to speak.
Gania left the room in great good humour. The prince stayed behind, and meditated alone for a few minutes. At length, Colia popped his head in once more.
There is, in extreme cases, a final stage of cynical candour when a nervous man, excited, and beside himself with emotion, will be afraid of nothing and ready for any sort of scandal, nay, glad of it. The extraordinary, almost unnatural, tension of the nerves which upheld Hippolyte up to this point, had now arrived at this final stage. This poor feeble boy of eighteen--exhausted by disease--looked for all the world as weak and frail as a leaflet torn from its parent tree and trembling in the breeze; but no sooner had his eye swept over his audience, for the first time during the whole of the last hour, than the most contemptuous, the most haughty expression of repugnance lighted up his face. He defied them all, as it were. But his hearers were indignant, too; they rose to their feet with annoyance. Fatigue, the wine consumed, the strain of listening so long, all added to the disagreeable impression which the reading had made upon them.
So spoke the good lady, almost angrily, as she took leave of Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“I’ll just tell you one fact, ladies and gentlemen,” continued the latter, with apparent seriousness and even exaltation of manner, but with a suggestion of “chaff” behind every word, as though he were laughing in his sleeve at his own nonsense--“a fact, the discovery of which, I believe, I may claim to have made by myself alone. At all events, no other has ever said or written a word about it; and in this fact is expressed the whole essence of Russian liberalism of the sort which I am now considering.
The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.
“We are not afraid of your friends, prince,” remarked Lebedeff’s nephew, “for we are within our rights.”
“But Nastasia Philipovna seems to me to be such a _sensible_ woman, and, as such, why should she run blindly into this business? That’s what puzzles me so,” said the prince.
“Prince,” said the general, pressing his hand, and looking at him with flashing eyes, and an expression as though he were under the influence of a sudden thought which had come upon him with stunning force. “Prince, you are so kind, so simple-minded, that sometimes I really feel sorry for you! I gaze at you with a feeling of real affection. Oh, Heaven bless you! May your life blossom and fructify in love. Mine is over. Forgive me, forgive me!”
The prince went out deep in thought, and walked up and down the pavement for some time. The windows of all the rooms occupied by Rogojin were closed, those of his mother’s apartments were open. It was a hot, bright day. The prince crossed the road in order to have a good look at the windows again; not only were Rogojin’s closed, but the white blinds were all down as well.
“Only quite lately. His sister has been working like a rat to clear the way for him all the winter.”
“Well, good-bye,” said Rogojin. “I’m off tomorrow too, you know. Remember me kindly! By-the-by,” he added, turning round sharply again, “did you answer her question just now? Are you happy, or not?”
“It was Colia told me, and his father told _him_ at about six this morning. They met at the threshold, when Colia was leaving the room for something or other.” The prince told Lebedeff all that Colia had made known to himself, in detail.
She was evidently in difficulties as to how best to go on. “May I speak of something serious to you, for once in my life?” she asked, angrily. She was irritated at she knew not what, and could not restrain her wrath.