“Then it was not simply a matter of bills?” Muishkin said at last, with some impatience. “It was not as she said?”
“Is it really you?” muttered the prince, not quite himself as yet, and recognizing her with a start of amazement. “Oh yes, of course,” he added, “this is our rendezvous. I fell asleep here.”
“She opened the parcel, looked at the earrings, and laughed.
The prince immediately followed the man out of the room.
“No--nothing more than that. Why, they couldn’t understand him themselves; and very likely didn’t tell me all.”
The latter, amazed at her conduct, began to express his displeasure; but he very soon became aware that he must change his voice, style, and everything else, with this young lady; the good old times were gone. An entirely new and different woman sat before him, between whom and the girl he had left in the country last July there seemed nothing in common.
“Yes, that’s the man!” said another voice.
“Tell me, how do you intend to live now, and what are your plans?” interrupted the general.
“Why, Keller said the same thing to me nearly word for word a few minutes ago!” cried Muishkin. “And you both seem inclined to boast about it! You astonish me, but I think he is more sincere than you, for you make a regular trade of it. Oh, don’t put on that pathetic expression, and don’t put your hand on your heart! Have you anything to say to me? You have not come for nothing...”
“Lef Nicolaievitch was a ward of Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff, after the death of his own parents,” he remarked, meeting Ivan Petrovitch’s eye.
“Rogojin? No, no, my good fellow. I should strongly recommend you, paternally,--or, if you prefer it, as a friend,--to forget all about Rogojin, and, in fact, to stick to the family into which you are about to enter.”
“I never, never thought you were like that,” said Muishkin, drawing a deep breath. “I thought you--you weren’t capable of--”
This confidence of a stupid man in his own talents has been wonderfully depicted by Gogol in the amazing character of Pirogoff. Pirogoff has not the slightest doubt of his own genius,--nay, of his _superiority_ of genius,--so certain is he of it that he never questions it. How many Pirogoffs have there not been among our writers--scholars, propagandists? I say “have been,” but indeed there are plenty of them at this very day.
“Very well, what next?” said the latter, almost laughing in his face.
“Yes, I am Rogojin, Parfen Rogojin.”
“His only reply to this was a sour grimace. He rose and looked for my cap, and placed it in my hand, and led me out of the house--that dreadful gloomy house of his--to all appearances, of course, as though I were leaving of my own accord, and he were simply seeing me to the door out of politeness. His house impressed me much; it is like a burial-ground, he seems to like it, which is, however, quite natural. Such a full life as he leads is so overflowing with absorbing interests that he has little need of assistance from his surroundings.
The prince noticed the sweet, welcoming look on Vera Lebedeff’s face, as she made her way towards him through the crowd. He held out his hand to her. She took it, blushing with delight, and wished him “a happy life from that day forward.” Then she ran off to the kitchen, where her presence was necessary to help in the preparations for supper. Before the prince’s arrival she had spent some time on the terrace, listening eagerly to the conversation, though the visitors, mostly under the influence of wine, were discussing abstract subjects far beyond her comprehension. In the next room her younger sister lay on a wooden chest, sound asleep, with her mouth wide open; but the boy, Lebedeff’s son, had taken up his position close beside Colia and Hippolyte, his face lit up with interest in the conversation of his father and the rest, to which he would willingly have listened for ten hours at a stretch.
“Did you find out anything?”
“Go nearer,” suggested Rogojin, softly.
The prince left her at eleven, full of these thoughts, and went home. But it was not twelve o’clock when a messenger came to say that Nastasia was very bad, and he must come at once.
Evgenie Pavlovitch stood on the steps like one struck by lightning. Mrs. Epanchin stood still too, but not with the petrified expression of Evgenie. She gazed haughtily at the audacious person who had addressed her companion, and then turned a look of astonishment upon Evgenie himself.
“I can see it by your face! Say ‘how do you do’ to the others, and come and sit down here, quick--I’ve been waiting for you!” he added, accentuating the fact that he had waited. On the prince’s asking, “Will it not be injurious to you to sit out so late?” he replied that he could not believe that he had thought himself dying three days or so ago, for he never had felt better than this evening.
“Of course! And it would be a disgrace to marry so, eh?”
It was “heads.”
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“H’m destiny it is,” said the general, “and there’s no getting out of destiny.”
“But, on the other hand, more frank in the evening! In the evening sincere and frank,” repeated Lebedeff, earnestly. “More candid, more exact, more honest, more honourable, and... although I may show you my weak side, I challenge you all; you atheists, for instance! How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road of progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trades unions, and all the rest? How are you going to save it, I say? By what? By credit? What is credit? To what will credit lead you?”
“‘Dead Souls,’ yes, of course, dead. When I die, Colia, you must engrave on my tomb:
“You have not quite understood,” she said. “I did not come to quarrel with you, though I do not like you. I came to speak to you as... as one human being to another. I came with my mind made up as to what I had to say to you, and I shall not change my intention, although you may misunderstand me. So much the worse for you, not for myself! I wished to reply to all you have written to me and to reply personally, because I think that is the more convenient way. Listen to my reply to all your letters. I began to be sorry for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch on the very day I made his acquaintance, and when I heard--afterwards--of all that took place at your house in the evening, I was sorry for him because he was such a simple-minded man, and because he, in the simplicity of his soul, believed that he could be happy with a woman of your character. What I feared actually took place; you could not love him, you tortured him, and threw him over. You could not love him because you are too proud--no, not proud, that is an error; because you are too vain--no, not quite that either; too self-loving; you are self-loving to madness. Your letters to me are a proof of it. You could not love so simple a soul as his, and perhaps in your heart you despised him and laughed at him. All you could love was your shame and the perpetual thought that you were disgraced and insulted. If you were less shameful, or had no cause at all for shame, you would be still more unhappy than you are now.”
“He won’t do any harm now; and--and don’t be too severe with him.”
“Here’s your miserable hat. He couldn’t even choose a respectable shape for his hat! Come on! She did that because I took your part and said you ought to have come--little vixen!--else she would never have sent you that silly note. It’s a most improper note, I call it; most improper for such an intelligent, well-brought-up girl to write. H’m! I dare say she was annoyed that you didn’t come; but she ought to have known that one can’t write like that to an idiot like you, for you’d be sure to take it literally.” Mrs. Epanchin was dragging the prince along with her all the time, and never let go of his hand for an instant. “What are you listening for?” she added, seeing that she had committed herself a little. “She wants a clown like you--she hasn’t seen one for some time--to play with. That’s why she is anxious for you to come to the house. And right glad I am that she’ll make a thorough good fool of you. You deserve it; and she can do it--oh! she can, indeed!--as well as most people.”
“If you didn’t mean that, then she has only to go down the steps and walk off, and she need never come back unless she chooses: Ships are burned behind one sometimes, and one doesn’t care to return whence one came. Life need not consist only of lunches, and dinners, and Prince S’s. It strikes me you take Aglaya Ivanovna for some conventional boarding-school girl. I said so to her, and she quite agreed with me. Wait till seven or eight o’clock. In your place I would send someone there to keep watch, so as to seize the exact moment when she steps out of the house. Send Colia. He’ll play the spy with pleasure--for you at least. Ha, ha, ha!”
“How do you know that? How do you know that she is not really in love with that--that rich cad--the man she eloped with?”
“But, you wretched man, at least she must have said something? There must be _some_ answer from her!”
“I have told you already, that I will not go away until I have got what I ask. Why are you smiling, prince? You look as if you disapproved of me.”
He ran off and left the prince more dejected than ever.
The general spoke hotly and quickly for ten minutes; he spoke as though his words could not keep pace with his crowding thoughts. Tears stood in his eyes, and yet his speech was nothing but a collection of disconnected sentences, without beginning and without end--a string of unexpected words and unexpected sentiments--colliding with one another, and jumping over one another, as they burst from his lips.
“But perhaps we shall not be poor; we may be very rich, Nastasia Philipovna,” continued the prince, in the same timid, quivering tones. “I don’t know for certain, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t had an opportunity of finding out all day; but I received a letter from Moscow, while I was in Switzerland, from a Mr. Salaskin, and he acquaints me with the fact that I am entitled to a very large inheritance. This letter--”
“Wait! What do you intend to do now, Parfen?”
“I have lost four hundred roubles out of my side pocket! They’re gone!” said Lebedeff, with a sour smile.
“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 was much surprised, and looked at him expectantly.
“Oh, you must forgive him the blank wall,” said the prince, quietly. “He has come down to see a few trees now, poor fellow.”
“I have had that idea.”
“It’s a funny notion,” said Totski, “and yet quite natural--it’s only a new way of boasting.”
“There, you are laughing at me--I know why you laugh. It is perfectly true that we lived apart from one another all the time, in different towns. I told you before that I did not love her with love, but with pity! You said then that you understood me; did you really understand me or not? What hatred there is in your eyes at this moment! I came to relieve your mind, because you are dear to me also. I love you very much, Parfen; and now I shall go away and never come back again. Goodbye.”
So saying she gazed into his eyes, longing to see whether she could make any guess as to the explanation of his motive in coming to her house. The prince would very likely have made some reply to her kind words, but he was so dazzled by her appearance that he could not speak.
“Well, and what did the lady do?” asked Nastasia, impatiently.
“You got that from some magazine, Colia,” remarked Adelaida.
“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?”
It would be difficult to describe her thoughts at that moment. One of them was, “Shall I show it to anyone?” But she was ashamed to show it. So she ended by hiding it in her table drawer, with a very strange, ironical smile upon her lips.
Muishkin was so absent, that from the very first he could not attend to a word the other was saying; and when the general suddenly stopped before him with some excited question, he was obliged to confess, ignominiously, that he did not know in the least what he had been talking about.
“Parfen! I won’t believe it.”
“I know he won’t, I know he won’t, general; but I--I’m master here!”
“It was just a minute before the execution,” began the prince, readily, carried away by the recollection and evidently forgetting everything else in a moment; “just at the instant when he stepped off the ladder on to the scaffold. He happened to look in my direction: I saw his eyes and understood all, at once--but how am I to describe it? I do so wish you or somebody else could draw it, you, if possible. I thought at the time what a picture it would make. You must imagine all that went before, of course, all--all. He had lived in the prison for some time and had not expected that the execution would take place for at least a week yet--he had counted on all the formalities and so on taking time; but it so happened that his papers had been got ready quickly. At five o’clock in the morning he was asleep--it was October, and at five in the morning it was cold and dark. The governor of the prison comes in on tip-toe and touches the sleeping man’s shoulder gently. He starts up. ‘What is it?’ he says. ‘The execution is fixed for ten o’clock.’ He was only just awake, and would not believe at first, but began to argue that his papers would not be out for a week, and so on. When he was wide awake and realized the truth, he became very silent and argued no more--so they say; but after a bit he said: ‘It comes very hard on one so suddenly’ and then he was silent again and said nothing.
“I have nearly finished,” replied Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“There were a couple of old bullets in the bag which contained the pistol, and powder enough in an old flask for two or three charges.
The undoubted beauty of the family, _par excellence_, was the youngest, Aglaya, as aforesaid. But Totski himself, though an egotist of the extremest type, realized that he had no chance there; Aglaya was clearly not for such as he.
“I remember--I remember it all!” he cried. “I was captain then. You were such a lovely little thing--Nina Alexandrovna!--Gania, listen! I was received then by General Epanchin.”
He found the mother and daughter locked in one another’s arms, mingling their tears.
“What was I to draw? According to the lines she quoted:
“You asked me about your faces, and what I could read in them; I will tell you with the greatest pleasure. You, Adelaida Ivanovna, have a very happy face; it is the most sympathetic of the three. Not to speak of your natural beauty, one can look at your face and say to one’s self, ‘She has the face of a kind sister.’ You are simple and merry, but you can see into another’s heart very quickly. That’s what I read in your face.
But he had no time to say another word before Aglaya’s terrible look bereft him of speech. In that look was embodied so dreadful a suffering and so deadly a hatred, that he gave a cry and flew to her; but it was too late.
“As to faith,” he said, smiling, and evidently unwilling to leave Rogojin in this state--“as to faith, I had four curious conversations in two days, a week or so ago. One morning I met a man in the train, and made acquaintance with him at once. I had often heard of him as a very learned man, but an atheist; and I was very glad of the opportunity of conversing with so eminent and clever a person. He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking _outside the subject_. And it has always struck me, both in speaking to such men and in reading their books, that they do not seem really to be touching on that at all, though on the surface they may appear to do so. I told him this, but I dare say I did not clearly express what I meant, for he could not understand me.
“What, after yesterday? Wasn’t I honest with you?”
“Five weeks!” said he, wiping his eyes. “Only five weeks! Poor orphans!”
“I didn’t mean that,” said Gania; “but while we are upon the subject, let me hear your opinion. Is all this worry worth seventy-five thousand or not?”
“But after all, what is it? Is it possible that I should have just risked my fate by tossing up?” he went on, shuddering; and looked round him again. His eyes had a curious expression of sincerity. “That is an astonishing psychological fact,” he cried, suddenly addressing the prince, in a tone of the most intense surprise. “It is... it is something quite inconceivable, prince,” he repeated with growing animation, like a man regaining consciousness. “Take note of it, prince, remember it; you collect, I am told, facts concerning capital punishment... They told me so. Ha, ha! My God, how absurd!” He sat down on the sofa, put his elbows on the table, and laid his head on his hands. “It is shameful--though what does it matter to me if it is shameful?
“Look at that, now,” thought the mother to herself, “she does nothing but sleep and eat for a year at a time, and then suddenly flies out in the most incomprehensible way!”
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”
The poor general had merely made the remark about having carried Aglaya in his arms because he always did so begin a conversation with young people. But it happened that this time he had really hit upon the truth, though he had himself entirely forgotten the fact. But when Adelaida and Aglaya recalled the episode of the pigeon, his mind became filled with memories, and it is impossible to describe how this poor old man, usually half drunk, was moved by the recollection.
“Of course,” said he. “I have heard it spoken about at your house, and I am anxious to see these young men!”
“But--but, why is this? What does it mean?”
“It was a large old-fashioned pocket-book, stuffed full; but I guessed, at a glance, that it had anything in the world inside it, except money.
She held out a weekly comic paper, pointing to an article on one of its pages. Just as the visitors were coming in, Lebedeff, wishing to ingratiate himself with the great lady, had pulled this paper from his pocket, and presented it to her, indicating a few columns marked in pencil. Lizabetha Prokofievna had had time to read some of it, and was greatly upset.
Hippolyte himself sat quite unconscious of what was going on, and gazed around with a senseless expression.
“I meant to say--I only meant to say,” said the prince, faltering, “I merely meant to explain to Aglaya Ivanovna--to have the honour to explain, as it were--that I had no intention--never had--to ask the honour of her hand. I assure you I am not guilty, Aglaya Ivanovna, I am not, indeed. I never did wish to--I never thought of it at all--and never shall--you’ll see it yourself--you may be quite assured of it. Some wicked person has been maligning me to you; but it’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”
Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.
“Yes, it is serious for a poor man who lives by his toil.”
“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.
“Listen, prince,” said Gania, as though an idea had just struck him, “I wish to ask you a great favour, and yet I really don’t know--”
“Again, I repeat, I cannot be blamed because I am unable to understand that which it is not given to mankind to fathom. Why am I to be judged because I could not comprehend the Will and Laws of Providence? No, we had better drop religion.
“How strange everyone, yourself included, has become of late,” said he. “I was telling you that I cannot in the least understand Lizabetha Prokofievna’s ideas and agitations. She is in hysterics up there, and moans and says that we have been ‘shamed and disgraced.’ How? Why? When? By whom? I confess that I am very much to blame myself; I do not conceal the fact; but the conduct, the outrageous behaviour of this woman, must really be kept within limits, by the police if necessary, and I am just on my way now to talk the question over and make some arrangements. It can all be managed quietly and gently, even kindly, and without the slightest fuss or scandal. I foresee that the future is pregnant with events, and that there is much that needs explanation. There is intrigue in the wind; but if on one side nothing is known, on the other side nothing will be explained. If I have heard nothing about it, nor have _you_, nor _he_, nor _she_--who _has_ heard about it, I should like to know? How _can_ all this be explained except by the fact that half of it is mirage or moonshine, or some hallucination of that sort?”
“How dreadfully you look at me, Parfen!” said the prince, with a feeling of dread.
“He gets most of his conversation in that way,” laughed Evgenie Pavlovitch. “He borrows whole phrases from the reviews. I have long had the pleasure of knowing both Nicholai Ardalionovitch and his conversational methods, but this time he was not repeating something he had read; he was alluding, no doubt, to my yellow waggonette, which has, or had, red wheels. But I have exchanged it, so you are rather behind the times, Colia.”
“Well, that is the murderer! It is he--in fact--”
In vain the girls assured her that a man who had not written for six months would not be in such a dreadful hurry, and that probably he had enough to do in town without needing to bustle down to Pavlofsk to see them. Their mother was quite angry at the very idea of such a thing, and announced her absolute conviction that he would turn up the next day at latest.
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:
The prince handed her the album.
“Then my mother opened the door and called my dog, Norma. Norma was a great Newfoundland, and died five years ago.
“I defy you to find another beauty like that,” said a fourth.
“It was a large old-fashioned pocket-book, stuffed full; but I guessed, at a glance, that it had anything in the world inside it, except money.
The clerk, rather confused, tried to say something, hesitated, began to speak, and again stopped. The prince looked at him gravely.
“I see, I see,” said Evgenie, smiling gently. His mirth seemed very near the surface this evening.
“‘Ne mentez jamais! NAPOLÉON (votre ami sincère).’
“Prince,” he cried, “you are forgetting that if you consented to receive and hear them, it was only because of your kind heart which has no equal, for they had not the least right to demand it, especially as you had placed the matter in the hands of Gavrila Ardalionovitch, which was also extremely kind of you. You are also forgetting, most excellent prince, that you are with friends, a select company; you cannot sacrifice them to these gentlemen, and it is only for you to have them turned out this instant. As the master of the house I shall have great pleasure ....”
The latter was describing in eloquent words how, in consequence of recent legislation, he was obliged to sell a beautiful estate in the N. province, not because he wanted ready money--in fact, he was obliged to sell it at half its value. “To avoid another lawsuit about the Pavlicheff estate, I ran away,” he said. “With a few more inheritances of that kind I should soon be ruined!”