“I confess this disturbs me a good deal. Someone must have picked it up, then.”
“One word from her,” he said, “one word from her, and I may yet be free.”
“Of course,” remarked General Epanchin, “he does this out of pure innocence. It’s a little dangerous, perhaps, to encourage this sort of freedom; but it is rather a good thing that he has arrived just at this moment. He may enliven us a little with his originalities.”
The actress was a kind-hearted woman, and highly impressionable. She was very angry now.
“Well, turn him out!”
“I never thought of such a thing for a moment,” said the prince, with disgust.
“Are you trying to frighten me? I am not Tania, you know, and I don’t intend to run away. Look, you are waking Lubotchka, and she will have convulsions again. Why do you shout like that?”
Nastasia Philipovna’s eyes were flashing in a most unmistakable way, now; and her lips were all a-quiver by the time Totski finished his story.
Colia came into the room and gave the prince a note; it was from the general and was carefully sealed up. It was clear from Colia’s face how painful it was to him to deliver the missive. The prince read it, rose, and took his hat.
“Probably an honest girl living by her own toil. Why do you speak of a housemaid so contemptuously?”
“Why should I? I’ve given you the message.--Goodbye!”
“Oh no! I have been here a long while,” replied Colia, who was at the front door when the general met him. “I am keeping Hippolyte company. He is worse, and has been in bed all day. I came down to buy some cards. Marfa Borisovna expects you. But what a state you are in, father!” added the boy, noticing his father’s unsteady gait. “Well, let us go in.”
Was there something in the whole aspect of the man, today, sufficient to justify the prince’s terror, and the awful suspicions of his demon? Something seen, but indescribable, which filled him with dreadful presentiments? Yes, he was convinced of it--convinced of what? (Oh, how mean and hideous of him to feel this conviction, this presentiment! How he blamed himself for it!) “Speak if you dare, and tell me, what is the presentiment?” he repeated to himself, over and over again. “Put it into words, speak out clearly and distinctly. Oh, miserable coward that I am!” The prince flushed with shame for his own baseness. “How shall I ever look this man in the face again? My God, what a day! And what a nightmare, what a nightmare!”
“What I am really alarmed about, though,” he said, “is Aglaya Ivanovna. Rogojin knows how you love her. Love for love. You took Nastasia Philipovna from him. He will murder Aglaya Ivanovna; for though she is not yours, of course, now, still such an act would pain you,--wouldn’t it?”
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.
“Quite so; I understand. I understand quite well. You are very--Well, how did she appear to you? What did she look like? No, I don’t want to know anything about her,” said Aglaya, angrily; “don’t interrupt me--”
“I knew nothing about your home before,” said the prince absently, as if he were thinking of something else.
“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--”
“That they do _not_ know about it in the house is quite certain, the rest of them, I mean; but you have given me an idea. Aglaya perhaps knows. She alone, though, if anyone; for the sisters were as astonished as I was to hear her speak so seriously. If she knows, the prince must have told her.”
“Well--gentlemen--I do not force anyone to listen! If any of you are unwilling to sit it out, please go away, by all means!”
“I haven’t seen him once--since that day!” the prince murmured.
“I will think about it,” said the prince dreamily, and went off.
“What do you mean, though,” asked Muishkin, “‘by such a business’? I don’t see any particular ‘business’ about it at all!”
“I’ll die before I invite you! I shall forget your very name! I’ve forgotten it already!”
“It’s hot weather, you see,” continued Rogojin, as he lay down on the cushions beside Muishkin, “and, naturally, there will be a smell. I daren’t open the window. My mother has some beautiful flowers in pots; they have a delicious scent; I thought of fetching them in, but that old servant will find out, she’s very inquisitive.”
“And you have it still?”
“As to the article, prince,” he said, “I admit that I wrote it, in spite of the severe criticism of my poor friend, in whom I always overlook many things because of his unfortunate state of health. But I wrote and published it in the form of a letter, in the paper of a friend. I showed it to no one but Burdovsky, and I did not read it all through, even to him. He immediately gave me permission to publish it, but you will admit that I might have done so without his consent. Publicity is a noble, beneficent, and universal right. I hope, prince, that you are too progressive to deny this?”
There was silence for a moment. Then Ptitsin spoke.
“Are you really throwing us all over, little mother? Where, where are you going to? And on your birthday, too!” cried the four girls, crying over her and kissing her hands.
“No--nothing more than that. Why, they couldn’t understand him themselves; and very likely didn’t tell me all.”
“Oh, no particular reason. I meant to ask you before--many people are unbelievers nowadays, especially Russians, I have been told. You ought to know--you’ve lived abroad.”
He had risen, and was speaking standing up. The old gentleman was looking at him now in unconcealed alarm. Lizabetha Prokofievna wrung her hands. “Oh, my God!” she cried. She had guessed the state of the case before anyone else.
The prince said nothing.
A man, whose face it was difficult to see in the gloom, approached the bench, and sat down beside him. The prince peered into his face, and recognized the livid features of Rogojin.
“Just about that time, that is, the middle of March, I suddenly felt very much better; this continued for a couple of weeks. I used to go out at dusk. I like the dusk, especially in March, when the night frost begins to harden the day’s puddles, and the gas is burning.
“You thought I should accept this good child’s invitation to ruin him, did you?” she cried. “That’s Totski’s way, not mine. He’s fond of children. Come along, Rogojin, get your money ready! We won’t talk about marrying just at this moment, but let’s see the money at all events. Come! I may not marry you, either. I don’t know. I suppose you thought you’d keep the money, if I did! Ha, ha, ha! nonsense! I have no sense of shame left. I tell you I have been Totski’s concubine. Prince, you must marry Aglaya Ivanovna, not Nastasia Philipovna, or this fellow Ferdishenko will always be pointing the finger of scorn at you. You aren’t afraid, I know; but I should always be afraid that I had ruined you, and that you would reproach me for it. As for what you say about my doing you honour by marrying you--well, Totski can tell you all about that. You had your eye on Aglaya, Gania, you know you had; and you might have married her if you had not come bargaining. You are all like this. You should choose, once for all, between disreputable women, and respectable ones, or you are sure to get mixed. Look at the general, how he’s staring at me!”
“I know very well that he does deceive me occasionally, and he knows that I know it, but--” The prince did not finish his sentence.
But the old lady, before Parfen had time to touch her, raised her right hand, and, with three fingers held up, devoutly made the sign of the cross three times over the prince. She then nodded her head kindly at him once more.
Lizabetha therefore decided that the prince was impossible as a husband for Aglaya; and during the ensuing night she made a vow that never while she lived should he marry Aglaya. With this resolve firmly impressed upon her mind, she awoke next day; but during the morning, after her early lunch, she fell into a condition of remarkable inconsistency.
“Oh! but that’s all I have,” said the prince, taking it.
“I quite understand. You are trying to comfort me for the naiveness with which you disagreed with me--eh? Ha! ha! ha! You are a regular child, prince! However, I cannot help seeing that you always treat me like--like a fragile china cup. Never mind, never mind, I’m not a bit angry! At all events we have had a very funny talk. Do you know, all things considered, I should like to be something better than Osterman! I wouldn’t take the trouble to rise from the dead to be an Osterman. However, I see I must make arrangements to die soon, or I myself--. Well--leave me now! _Au revoir._ Look here--before you go, just give me your opinion: how do you think I ought to die, now? I mean--the best, the most virtuous way? Tell me!”
Rogojin smiled, but did not explain.
“Not at all, gentlemen, not at all! Your presence is absolutely necessary to me tonight,” said Nastasia, significantly.
He gazed at Totski and the general with no apparent confusion, and with very little curiosity. But when he observed that the prince was seated beside Nastasia Philipovna, he could not take his eyes off him for a long while, and was clearly amazed. He could not account for the prince’s presence there. It was not in the least surprising that Rogojin should be, at this time, in a more or less delirious condition; for not to speak of the excitements of the day, he had spent the night before in the train, and had not slept more than a wink for forty-eight hours.
“Nastasia Philipovna? She does not live there, and to tell you the truth my father has never been to her house! It is strange that you should have depended on him! She lives near Wladimir Street, at the Five Corners, and it is quite close by. Will you go directly? It is just half-past nine. I will show you the way with pleasure.”
It appeared that he and the general were going in the same direction. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the general was hurrying away to talk to someone upon some important subject. Meanwhile he talked incessantly but disconnectedly to the prince, and continually brought in the name of Lizabetha Prokofievna.
But one very curious fact was that all the shame and vexation and mortification which he felt over the accident were less powerful than the deep impression of the almost supernatural truth of his premonition. He stood still in alarm--in almost superstitious alarm, for a moment; then all mists seemed to clear away from his eyes; he was conscious of nothing but light and joy and ecstasy; his breath came and went; but the moment passed. Thank God it was not that! He drew a long breath and looked around.
There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters--one of them was very long.
“Yes, it’s quite true,” said Rogojin, frowning gloomily; “so Zaleshoff told me. I was walking about the Nefsky one fine day, prince, in my father’s old coat, when she suddenly came out of a shop and stepped into her carriage. I swear I was all of a blaze at once. Then I met Zaleshoff--looking like a hair-dresser’s assistant, got up as fine as I don’t know who, while I looked like a tinker. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, my boy,’ said he; ‘she’s not for such as you; she’s a princess, she is, and her name is Nastasia Philipovna Barashkoff, and she lives with Totski, who wishes to get rid of her because he’s growing rather old--fifty-five or so--and wants to marry a certain beauty, the loveliest woman in all Petersburg.’ And then he told me that I could see Nastasia Philipovna at the opera-house that evening, if I liked, and described which was her box. Well, I’d like to see my father allowing any of us to go to the theatre; he’d sooner have killed us, any day. However, I went for an hour or so and saw Nastasia Philipovna, and I never slept a wink all night after. Next morning my father happened to give me two government loan bonds to sell, worth nearly five thousand roubles each. ‘Sell them,’ said he, ‘and then take seven thousand five hundred roubles to the office, give them to the cashier, and bring me back the rest of the ten thousand, without looking in anywhere on the way; look sharp, I shall be waiting for you.’ Well, I sold the bonds, but I didn’t take the seven thousand roubles to the office; I went straight to the English shop and chose a pair of earrings, with a diamond the size of a nut in each. They cost four hundred roubles more than I had, so I gave my name, and they trusted me. With the earrings I went at once to Zaleshoff’s. ‘Come on!’ I said, ‘come on to Nastasia Philipovna’s,’ and off we went without more ado. I tell you I hadn’t a notion of what was about me or before me or below my feet all the way; I saw nothing whatever. We went straight into her drawing-room, and then she came out to us.
“There’s news!” said the general in some excitement, after listening to the story with engrossed attention.
“Do you say he is consumptive?”
Thanks to the manner in which he regarded Nastasia’s mental and moral condition, the prince was to some extent freed from other perplexities. She was now quite different from the woman he had known three months before. He was not astonished, for instance, to see her now so impatient to marry him--she who formerly had wept with rage and hurled curses and reproaches at him if he mentioned marriage! “It shows that she no longer fears, as she did then, that she would make me unhappy by marrying me,” he thought. And he felt sure that so sudden a change could not be a natural one. This rapid growth of self-confidence could not be due only to her hatred for Aglaya. To suppose that would be to suspect the depth of her feelings. Nor could it arise from dread of the fate that awaited her if she married Rogojin. These causes, indeed, as well as others, might have played a part in it, but the true reason, Muishkin decided, was the one he had long suspected--that the poor sick soul had come to the end of its forces. Yet this was an explanation that did not procure him any peace of mind. At times he seemed to be making violent efforts to think of nothing, and one would have said that he looked on his marriage as an unimportant formality, and on his future happiness as a thing not worth considering. As to conversations such as the one held with Evgenie Pavlovitch, he avoided them as far as possible, feeling that there were certain objections to which he could make no answer.
“What do you see?” said the prince, startled.
“It’s a good thing that there is peace in the house, at all events,” he continued. “They never utter a hint about the past, not only in Aglaya’s presence, but even among themselves. The old people are talking of a trip abroad in the autumn, immediately after Adelaida’s wedding; Aglaya received the news in silence.”
“Well, I really have thought something of the sort now and then, especially when just dozing off,” laughed the prince. “Only it is the Austrians whom I conquer--not Napoleon.”
The prince was watching his guest, if not with much surprise, at all events with great attention and curiosity.
“My father’s name was Nicolai Lvovitch.”
“Well, let me at least embrace you and say goodbye, you strange fellow!” cried the prince, looking with gentle reproach at Rogojin, and advancing towards him. But the latter had hardly raised his arms when he dropped them again. He could not make up his mind to it; he turned away from the prince in order to avoid looking at him. He could not embrace him.
We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
“My fate is to be decided today” (it ran), “you know how. This day I must give my word irrevocably. I have no right to ask your help, and I dare not allow myself to indulge in any hopes; but once you said just one word, and that word lighted up the night of my life, and became the beacon of my days. Say one more such word, and save me from utter ruin. Only tell me, ‘break off the whole thing!’ and I will do so this very day. Oh! what can it cost you to say just this one word? In doing so you will but be giving me a sign of your sympathy for me, and of your pity; only this, only this; nothing more, _nothing_. I dare not indulge in any hope, because I am unworthy of it. But if you say but this word, I will take up my cross again with joy, and return once more to my battle with poverty. I shall meet the storm and be glad of it; I shall rise up with renewed strength.
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.
“But how was it?” he asked, “how was it that you (idiot that you are),” he added to himself, “were so very confidential a couple of hours after your first meeting with these people? How was that, eh?”
“No, I have forgotten nothing. Come! This is the house--up this magnificent staircase. I am surprised not to see the porter, but .... it is a holiday... and the man has gone off... Drunken fool! Why have they not got rid of him? Sokolovitch owes all the happiness he has had in the service and in his private life to me, and me alone, but... here we are.”
“One word, just one word from you, and I’m saved.”
“No--I will not sit down,--I am keeping you, I see,--another time!--I think I may be permitted to congratulate you upon the realization of your heart’s best wishes, is it not so?”
It appeared that neither the prince, nor the doctor with whom he lived in Switzerland, had thought of waiting for further communications; but the prince had started straight away with Salaskin’s letter in his pocket.
The prince made up his mind that he would make a point of going there “as usual,” tonight, and looked feverishly at his watch.
“No! That is, I understand how it’s done, of course, but I have never done it.”
Evgenie Pavlovitch fell back a step in astonishment. For one moment it was all he could do to restrain himself from bursting out laughing; but, looking closer, he observed that the prince did not seem to be quite himself; at all events, he was in a very curious state.
“Yes, and I heard that you were here, too,” added Evgenie Pavlovitch; “and since I had long promised myself the pleasure of seeking not only your acquaintance but your friendship, I did not wish to waste time, but came straight on. I am sorry to hear that you are unwell.”
“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I have heard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded to narrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of the latter’s story.
There are many strange circumstances such as this before us; but in our opinion they do but deepen the mystery, and do not in the smallest degree help us to understand the case.
“Not for the world, not for the world! I merely wish to make him ashamed of himself. Oh, prince, great though this misfortune be to myself, I cannot help thinking of his morals! I have a great favour to ask of you, esteemed prince; I confess that it is the chief object of my visit. You know the Ivolgins, you have even lived in their house; so if you would lend me your help, honoured prince, in the general’s own interest and for his good.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! I am about to break the seal,” he continued, with determination. “I--I--of course I don’t insist upon anyone listening if they do not wish to.”
“It hid itself under the cupboard and under the chest of drawers, and crawled into the corners. I sat on a chair and kept my legs tucked under me. Then the beast crawled quietly across the room and disappeared somewhere near my chair. I looked about for it in terror, but I still hoped that as my feet were safely tucked away it would not be able to touch me.
When he signed those notes of hand he never dreamt that they would be a source of future trouble. The event showed that he was mistaken. “Trust in anyone after this! Have the least confidence in man or woman!” he cried in bitter tones, as he sat with his new friends in prison, and recounted to them his favourite stories of the siege of Kars, and the resuscitated soldier. On the whole, he accommodated himself very well to his new position. Ptitsin and Varia declared that he was in the right place, and Gania was of the same opinion. The only person who deplored his fate was poor Nina Alexandrovna, who wept bitter tears over him, to the great surprise of her household, and, though always in feeble health, made a point of going to see him as often as possible.
“It was a princely action!” sneered Hippolyte.
There was a moment, during this long, wretched walk back from the Petersburg Side, when the prince felt an irresistible desire to go straight to Rogojin’s, wait for him, embrace him with tears of shame and contrition, and tell him of his distrust, and finish with it--once for all.
“Is that all, really?” said Aglaya, candidly, without the slightest show of confusion. “However, it’s not so bad, especially if managed with economy. Do you intend to serve?”
“You are quite wrong...” began the prince.
“Are you Prince Muishkin?” he asked, with the greatest courtesy and amiability.
‘A mighty lion, terror of the woods, Was shorn of his great prowess by old age.’
“What are you doing there?” she asked.
“But this is intolerable!” cried the visitors, some of them starting to their feet.
“I shall wait; he may come back this evening.”
“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I have heard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded to narrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of the latter’s story.
“Ha, ha! I never supposed you would say ‘yes,’” cried Rogojin, laughing sardonically.
The prince shuddered; his heart seemed to freeze within him. He gazed at Aglaya in wonderment; it was difficult for him to realize that this child was also a woman.
The prince rang the bell, and asked for Nastasia Philipovna. The lady of the house came out, and stated that Nastasia had gone to stay with Daria Alexeyevna at Pavlofsk, and might be there some days.
“What you say is quite true,” observed General Epanchin; then, clasping his hands behind his back, he returned to his place on the terrace steps, where he yawned with an air of boredom.
It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
The prince was instantly covered with confusion; for it appeared to be plain that everyone expected something of him--that everyone looked at him as though anxious to congratulate him, and greeted him with hints, and smiles, and knowing looks.
“Don’t go so fast, Lebedeff; you are much milder in the morning,” said Ptitsin, smiling.
“Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn’t know however I should manage to support life--you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. There was a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread but white and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and it was half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen to it at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went and climbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alone in the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer--and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison.”
“I only had a small bundle, containing linen, with me, nothing more. I can carry it in my hand, easily. There will be plenty of time to take a room in some hotel by the evening.”