“He has gone to get his coat,” said the boy.
“What do you mean by ‘arrangements’?”
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!”
“You have!” cried Aglaya. “I might have guessed it. That’s a fitting crown to the rest of the story. If you have seen an execution, how can you say you lived happily all the while?”
“Yes, that wall of Meyer’s could tell a tale if it liked. There was no spot on its dirty surface that I did not know by heart. Accursed wall! and yet it is dearer to me than all the Pavlofsk trees!--That is--it _would_ be dearer if it were not all the same to me, now!
So ended Aglaya; and, to look at her, it was difficult, indeed, to judge whether she was joking or in earnest.
“He is drunk,” said the prince, quietly, “and he loves you very much.”
The prince was much astonished that Evgenie Pavlovitch changed his mind, and took his departure without the conversation he had requested.
All present realized that the moment for the settlement of perplexities had arrived.
The prince followed her. Arrived at the dining-room, she stopped.
“Bravo! That’s frank, at any rate!” shouted Ferdishenko, and there was general laughter.
“Yes. First, he proposes to come and live in my house. Well and good; but he sticks at nothing; he immediately makes himself one of the family. We have talked over our respective relations several times, and discovered that we are connected by marriage. It seems also that you are a sort of nephew on his mother’s side; he was explaining it to me again only yesterday. If you are his nephew, it follows that I must also be a relation of yours, most excellent prince. Never mind about that, it is only a foible; but just now he assured me that all his life, from the day he was made an ensign to the 11th of last June, he has entertained at least two hundred guests at his table every day. Finally, he went so far as to say that they never rose from the table; they dined, supped, and had tea, for fifteen hours at a stretch. This went on for thirty years without a break; there was barely time to change the table-cloth; directly one person left, another took his place. On feast-days he entertained as many as three hundred guests, and they numbered seven hundred on the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of the Russian Empire. It amounts to a passion with him; it makes one uneasy to hear of it. It is terrible to have to entertain people who do things on such a scale. That is why I wonder whether such a man is not too hospitable for you and me.”
“Nastasia Philipovna,” murmured the prince.
“No, no, you needn’t do anything of the sort; you mustn’t hint gently at all. I’ll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because I hurt his feelings.”
“I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we came in for that.”
“All the while I was in their house I felt sure that somewhere beneath the floor there was hidden away some dreadful corpse, wrapped in oil-cloth, perhaps buried there by his father, who knows? Just as in the Moscow case. I could have shown you the very spot!
“How do you make out that the Roman Catholic religion is _unchristian?_ What is it, then?” asked Ivan Petrovitch, turning to the prince.
“He actually seems to boast of it!” she cried.
“Come, come, come! There, you must not cry, that will do. You are a good child! God will forgive you, because you knew no better. Come now, be a man! You know presently you will be ashamed.”
“Well, in any case, you are a most delightful man to have to deal with, be the business what it may,” concluded Evgenie. “Come along now, I’ll drink a glass to your health. I’m charmed to have entered into alliance with you. By-the-by,” he added suddenly, “has this young Hippolyte come down to stay with you?”
“He is ashamed of his tears!” whispered Lebedeff to Lizabetha Prokofievna. “It was inevitable. Ah! what a wonderful man the prince is! He read his very soul.”
“I haven’t seen him once--since that day!” the prince murmured.
No one liked the idea much. Some smiled, some frowned; some objected, but faintly, not wishing to oppose Nastasia’s wishes; for this new idea seemed to be rather well received by her. She was still in an excited, hysterical state, laughing convulsively at nothing and everything. Her eyes were blazing, and her cheeks showed two bright red spots against the white. The melancholy appearance of some of her guests seemed to add to her sarcastic humour, and perhaps the very cynicism and cruelty of the game proposed by Ferdishenko pleased her. At all events she was attracted by the idea, and gradually her guests came round to her side; the thing was original, at least, and might turn out to be amusing. “And supposing it’s something that one--one can’t speak about before ladies?” asked the timid and silent young man.
“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.
“Look here, prince,” said the general, with a cordial smile, “if you really are the sort of man you appear to be, it may be a source of great pleasure to us to make your better acquaintance; but, you see, I am a very busy man, and have to be perpetually sitting here and signing papers, or off to see his excellency, or to my department, or somewhere; so that though I should be glad to see more of people, nice people--you see, I--however, I am sure you are so well brought up that you will see at once, and--but how old are you, prince?”
“Accidental case!” said Evgenie Pavlovitch. “Do you consider it an accidental case, prince?”
The prince followed her. Arrived at the dining-room, she stopped.
Occasionally the prince heard loud talking and laughing upstairs, and once he detected the sound of a jolly soldier’s song going on above, and recognized the unmistakable bass of the general’s voice. But the sudden outbreak of song did not last; and for an hour afterwards the animated sound of apparently drunken conversation continued to be heard from above. At length there was the clearest evidence of a grand mutual embracing, and someone burst into tears. Shortly after this, however, there was a violent but short-lived quarrel, with loud talking on both sides.
But the prince’s mental perturbation increased every moment. He wandered about the park, looking absently around him, and paused in astonishment when he suddenly found himself in the empty space with the rows of chairs round it, near the Vauxhall. The look of the place struck him as dreadful now: so he turned round and went by the path which he had followed with the Epanchins on the way to the band, until he reached the green bench which Aglaya had pointed out for their rendezvous. He sat down on it and suddenly burst into a loud fit of laughter, immediately followed by a feeling of irritation. His disturbance of mind continued; he felt that he must go away somewhere, anywhere.
“Of course I wrote an apology, and called, but they would not receive either me or my apology, and the Epanchins cut me, too!”
“Just a couple of words, prince, if you’ll excuse me. Don’t blab over _there_ about what you may see here, or in this house as to all that about Aglaya and me, you know. Things are not altogether pleasant in this establishment--devil take it all! You’ll see. At all events keep your tongue to yourself for _today_.”
“Poodle? What was that? And in a railway carriage? Dear me,” said Nastasia, thoughtfully, as though trying to recall something to mind.
“Admitted that consciousness is called into existence by the will of a Higher Power; admitted that this consciousness looks out upon the world and says ‘I am;’ and admitted that the Higher Power wills that the consciousness so called into existence, be suddenly extinguished (for so--for some unexplained reason--it is and must be)--still there comes the eternal question--why must I be humble through all this? Is it not enough that I am devoured, without my being expected to bless the power that devours me? Surely--surely I need not suppose that Somebody--there--will be offended because I do not wish to live out the fortnight allowed me? I don’t believe it.
“I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! What object could they have?” He jumped up from his chair in his excitement.
“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.”
At length she plunged into an energetic and hostile criticism of railways, and glared at the prince defiantly.
The prince was silent. He sat straight up in his chair and gazed fervently at Ivan Petrovitch.
“It’s all nonsense on both sides,” snapped out Varia. “Let them alone, mother.”
“Oh, I happened to recall it, that’s all! It fitted into the conversation--”
An ominous expression passed over Nastasia Philipovna’s face, of a sudden. It became obstinate-looking, hard, and full of hatred; but she did not take her eyes off her visitors for a moment.
“What children we are still, Colia!” he cried at last, enthusiastically,--“and how delightful it is that we can be children still!”
“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.
This gentleman was a confidant of Evgenie’s, and had doubtless heard of the carriage episode.
“Ah, very angry all day, sir; all yesterday and all today. He shows decided bacchanalian predilections at one time, and at another is tearful and sensitive, but at any moment he is liable to paroxysms of such rage that I assure you, prince, I am quite alarmed. I am not a military man, you know. Yesterday we were sitting together in the tavern, and the lining of my coat was--quite accidentally, of course--sticking out right in front. The general squinted at it, and flew into a rage. He never looks me quite in the face now, unless he is very drunk or maudlin; but yesterday he looked at me in such a way that a shiver went all down my back. I intend to find the purse tomorrow; but till then I am going to have another night of it with him.”
“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?”
“It _is_ true, it _is_ true,” cried Aglaya, almost beside herself with rage.
“Get out of this, you drunken beast!” cried Gania, who was red and white by turns.
“Very well then, stay at home,” said Mrs. Epanchin, “and a good thing too, for Evgenie Pavlovitch is coming down and there will be no one at home to receive him.”
The prince and the general were the only two persons left in the room.
“I can tell you all about Colia,” said the young man
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!”
“That’s a kind-hearted man, if you like,” said Daria Alexeyevna, whose wrath was quickly evaporating.
A strange rumour began to circulate, meanwhile; no less than that the respectable and highly respected General Epanchin was himself so fascinated by Nastasia Philipovna that his feeling for her amounted almost to passion. What he thought to gain by Gania’s marriage to the girl it was difficult to imagine. Possibly he counted on Gania’s complaisance; for Totski had long suspected that there existed some secret understanding between the general and his secretary. At all events the fact was known that he had prepared a magnificent present of pearls for Nastasia’s birthday, and that he was looking forward to the occasion when he should present his gift with the greatest excitement and impatience. The day before her birthday he was in a fever of agitation.
“That will do. I can find out for myself. Only tell me, where is she now? At his house? With him?”
But by this time they had reached Gania’s house.
“I will tell you all the story. I am his nephew; he did speak the truth there, although he is generally telling lies. I am at the University, and have not yet finished my course. I mean to do so, and I shall, for I have a determined character. I must, however, find something to do for the present, and therefore I have got employment on the railway at twenty-four roubles a month. I admit that my uncle has helped me once or twice before. Well, I had twenty roubles in my pocket, and I gambled them away. Can you believe that I should be so low, so base, as to lose money in that way?”
His costume was the same as it had been in the morning, except for a new silk handkerchief round his neck, bright green and red, fastened with a huge diamond pin, and an enormous diamond ring on his dirty forefinger.
Here is the article.
The prince begged him to take a chair.
We have seen, however, that the general paid a visit to Lizabetha Prokofievna and caused trouble there, the final upshot being that he frightened Mrs. Epanchin, and angered her by bitter hints as to his son Gania.
“I have come to you--now--to--”
“Dear me--is it possible?” observed the clerk, while his face assumed an expression of great deference and servility--if not of absolute alarm: “what, a son of that very Semen Rogojin--hereditary honourable citizen--who died a month or so ago and left two million and a half of roubles?”
“Send Feodor or Alexey up by the very first train to buy a copy, then.--Aglaya, come here--kiss me, dear, you recited beautifully! but,” she added in a whisper, “if you were sincere I am sorry for you. If it was a joke, I do not approve of the feelings which prompted you to do it, and in any case you would have done far better not to recite it at all. Do you understand?--Now come along, young woman; we’ve sat here too long. I’ll speak to you about this another time.”
As he kept jumping from subject to subject, and forgetting what he had begun to talk about, the prince said nothing, but waited, to give him time.
But the situation was becoming rapidly critical.
“I don’t know, really, whether I shall be allowed in at all. If she will receive me, so much the better. If not, the matter is ended. As to my clothes--what can I do?”
When the prince ceased speaking all were gazing merrily at him--even Aglaya; but Lizabetha Prokofievna looked the jolliest of all.
“The son is not responsible for the misdeeds of his father; and the mother is not to blame,” added Hippolyte, with warmth.
“But you are half asleep, are you not? If you don’t want him, I will take him back to my house! Why, good gracious! He can hardly stand up himself! What is it? Are you ill?”
“Where is Nastasia Philipovna?” asked the prince, breathlessly.
“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.
“Without Aglaya--I--I _must_ see Aglaya!--I shall die in my sleep very soon--I thought I was dying in my sleep last night. Oh! if Aglaya only knew all--I mean really, _really_ all! Because she must know _all_--that’s the first condition towards understanding. Why cannot we ever know all about another, especially when that other has been guilty? But I don’t know what I’m talking about--I’m so confused. You pained me so dreadfully. Surely--surely Aglaya has not the same expression now as she had at the moment when she ran away? Oh, yes! I am guilty and I know it--I know it! Probably I am in fault all round--I don’t quite know how--but I am in fault, no doubt. There is something else, but I cannot explain it to you, Evgenie Pavlovitch. I have no words; but Aglaya will understand. I have always believed Aglaya will understand--I am assured she will.”
“There’s news!” continued the clear voice. “You need not be anxious about Kupferof’s IOU’s--Rogojin has bought them up. I persuaded him to!--I dare say we shall settle Biscup too, so it’s all right, you see! _Au revoir_, tomorrow! And don’t worry!” The carriage moved on, and disappeared.
“Are you going to be married here?”
Such a tile was about to descend upon the elegant and decorous public now assembled to hear the music.
“No, I have really an object in going... That is, I am going on business it is difficult to explain, but...”
“_What_ poor knight?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, looking round at the face of each of the speakers in turn. Seeing, however, that Aglaya was blushing, she added, angrily:
“On the contrary, he seems to be very well brought up. His manners are excellent--but here he is himself. Here you are, prince--let me introduce you, the last of the Muishkins, a relative of your own, my dear, or at least of the same name. Receive him kindly, please. They’ll bring in lunch directly, prince; you must stop and have some, but you must excuse me. I’m in a hurry, I must be off--”
The conversation had been on the subject of land, and the present disorders, and there must have been something amusing said, for the old man had begun to laugh at his companion’s heated expressions.
“Let’s play at some game!” suggested the actress.
“Wait a minute, I want to ask you something else, Parfen; all sorts of things; but tell me first, did you intend to kill her before my wedding, at the church door, with your knife?”
“Here,” laughed Lebedeff, at last, rising to his full height and looking pleasantly at the prince, “here, in the lining of my coat. Look, you can feel it for yourself, if you like!”
“Only, of course that’s not nearly your worst action,” said the actress, with evident dislike in her face.
The actress was a kind-hearted woman, and highly impressionable. She was very angry now.
“I can but thank you,” he said, in a tone too respectful to be sincere, “for your kindness in letting me speak, for I have often noticed that our Liberals never allow other people to have an opinion of their own, and immediately answer their opponents with abuse, if they do not have recourse to arguments of a still more unpleasant nature.”
“I am not laughing, Nastasia Philipovna; I am only listening with all my attention,” said Totski, with dignity.
The doctor stated that there was no danger to be apprehended from the wound on the head, and as soon as the prince could understand what was going on around him, Colia hired a carriage and took him away to Lebedeff’s. There he was received with much cordiality, and the departure to the country was hastened on his account. Three days later they were all at Pavlofsk.
“I know that there were just as many, and just as terrible, crimes before our times. Not long since I visited a convict prison and made acquaintance with some of the criminals. There were some even more dreadful criminals than this one we have been speaking of--men who have murdered a dozen of their fellow-creatures, and feel no remorse whatever. But what I especially noticed was this, that the very most hopeless and remorseless murderer--however hardened a criminal he may be--still _knows that he is a criminal_; that is, he is conscious that he has acted wickedly, though he may feel no remorse whatever. And they were all like this. Those of whom Evgenie Pavlovitch has spoken, do not admit that they are criminals at all; they think they had a right to do what they did, and that they were even doing a good deed, perhaps. I consider there is the greatest difference between the two cases. And recollect--it was a _youth_, at the particular age which is most helplessly susceptible to the distortion of ideas!”
“Look here,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, turning round suddenly; “we are passing his house. Whatever Aglaya may think, and in spite of anything that may happen, he is not a stranger to us; besides which, he is ill and in misfortune. I, for one, shall call in and see him. Let anyone follow me who cares to.”
If Hippolyte and Nina Alexandrovna had, as Gania suspected, had some special conversation about the general’s actions, it was strange that the malicious youth, whom Gania had called a scandal-monger to his face, had not allowed himself a similar satisfaction with Colia.
Hippolyte rose all at once, looking troubled and almost frightened.
“Oh, what _nonsense!_ You must buy one. French or English are the best, they say. Then take a little powder, about a thimbleful, or perhaps two, and pour it into the barrel. Better put plenty. Then push in a bit of felt (it _must_ be felt, for some reason or other); you can easily get a bit off some old mattress, or off a door; it’s used to keep the cold out. Well, when you have pushed the felt down, put the bullet in; do you hear now? The bullet last and the powder first, not the other way, or the pistol won’t shoot. What are you laughing at? I wish you to buy a pistol and practise every day, and you must learn to hit a mark for _certain_; will you?”
“That may have been an accident.”