“Ah! Well, if it was Rogojin--but do you know what she writes to me about?”
“Besides,” said Burdovsky, “the prince would not like it, would he?” So they gave up the pursuit.
She could not believe her ears.
At length she plunged into an energetic and hostile criticism of railways, and glared at the prince defiantly.
The trip abroad might have been enjoyed later on by Mrs. Epanchin and her two remaining daughters, but for another circumstance.
The prince gave a short narrative of what we have heard before, leaving out the greater part. The two ladies listened intently.
Hippolyte looked around at the laughing guests. The prince observed that his teeth were chattering as though in a violent attack of ague.
“My goodness!” shivered the clerk. “And his father,” he added, for the prince’s instruction, “and his father would have given a man a ticket to the other world for ten roubles any day--not to speak of ten thousand!”
The prince certainly was very pale. He sat at the table and seemed to be feeling, by turns, sensations of alarm and rapture.
“Gania, don’t be a fool! I tell you for the last time.”
Colia Ivolgin, for some time after the prince’s departure, continued his old life. That is, he went to school, looked after his father, helped Varia in the house, and ran her errands, and went frequently to see his friend, Hippolyte.
The next day Keller came to visit the prince. He was in a high state of delight with the post of honour assigned to him at the wedding.
“Oh, I heard that much, my dear fellow! But the thing is so impossibly absurd! A man of property like Evgenie to give IOU’s to a money-lender, and to be worried about them! It is ridiculous. Besides, he cannot possibly be on such intimate terms with Nastasia Philipovna as she gave us to understand; that’s the principal part of the mystery! He has given me his word that he knows nothing whatever about the matter, and of course I believe him. Well, the question is, my dear prince, do you know anything about it? Has any sort of suspicion of the meaning of it come across you?”
Towards six o’clock he found himself at the station of the Tsarsko-Selski railway.
But the young officer had recovered himself, and was no longer listening. At this moment Rogojin appeared, elbowing through the crowd; he took Nastasia’s hand, drew it through his arm, and quickly led her away. He appeared to be terribly excited; he was trembling all over, and was as pale as a corpse. As he carried Nastasia off, he turned and grinned horribly in the officer’s face, and with low malice observed:
The prince was given the middle room of the three, the first being occupied by one Ferdishenko, while the third was empty.
“We were leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking into the Neva at this moment.
“Everybody takes you in and deceives you; you went to town yesterday. I dare swear you went down on your knees to that rogue, and begged him to accept your ten thousand roubles!”
“Oh, make a sacrifice of yourself! That sort of thing becomes you well, you know. Why not do it? And don’t call me ‘Aglaya’; you have done it several times lately. You are bound, it is your _duty_ to ‘raise’ her; you must go off somewhere again to soothe and pacify her. Why, you love her, you know!”
“What? What hopes?” cried Colia; “you surely don’t mean Aglaya?--oh, no!--”
“Oh, she would funk a scandal like anyone else. You are all tarred with one brush!”
The prince paused to get breath. He had spoken with extraordinary rapidity, and was very pale.
“No, I’m not married!” replied the prince, smiling at the ingenuousness of this little feeler.
“A--a moral one?” asked the prince, involuntarily.
He walked to the far end of the verandah, where the sofa stood, with a table in front of it. Here he sat down and covered his face with his hands, and so remained for ten minutes. Suddenly he put his hand in his coat-pocket and hurriedly produced three letters.
“Listen to me! You are going to live here, are you not?” said Colia. “I mean to get something to do directly, and earn money. Then shall we three live together? You, and I, and Hippolyte? We will hire a flat, and let the general come and visit us. What do you say?”
General agitation prevailed. Nina Alexandrovna gave a little cry of anxiety; Ptitsin took a step forward in alarm; Colia and Ferdishenko stood stock still at the door in amazement;--only Varia remained coolly watching the scene from under her eyelashes. She did not sit down, but stood by her mother with folded hands. However, Gania recollected himself almost immediately. He let go of the prince and burst out laughing.
“And natural,” repeated Lebedeff with pedantic obstinacy. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by nature excessively curious; it would be quite easy therefore to entice him into a wood, or some secret place, on false pretences, and there to deal with him as said. But I do not dispute in the least that the number of persons consumed appears to denote a spice of greediness.”
The prince glanced in the direction indicated.
“I _did_ suspect him. When I woke up at half-past seven and tore my hair in despair for my loss and carelessness, I awoke the general, who was sleeping the sleep of innocence near me. Taking into consideration the sudden disappearance of Ferdishenko, which was suspicious in itself, we decided to search Keller, who was lying there sleeping like a top. Well, we searched his clothes thoroughly, and not a farthing did we find; in fact, his pockets all had holes in them. We found a dirty handkerchief, and a love-letter from some scullery-maid. The general decided that he was innocent. We awoke him for further inquiries, and had the greatest difficulty in making him understand what was up. He opened his mouth and stared--he looked so stupid and so absurdly innocent. It wasn’t Keller.”
“Mamma!” said Alexandra, shocked at her rudeness.
“Speak, Ivan Fedorovitch! What are we to do?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, irritably. “Please break your majestic silence! I tell you, if you cannot come to some decision, I will stay here all night myself. You have tyrannized over me enough, you autocrat!”
“I think you might fairly remember that I was not in any way bound, I had no reason to be silent about that portrait. You never asked me not to mention it.”
“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--”
He took her hand and seated her on the bench; then sat down beside her and reflected.
The announcement of his name gave rise to some surprise and to some smiles, especially when it became evident, from Nastasia’s astonished look, that she had not thought of inviting him. But her astonishment once over, Nastasia showed such satisfaction that all prepared to greet the prince with cordial smiles of welcome.
“I don’t know, father.”
“Directly! There, that’s enough. I’ll lie down directly. I must drink to the sun’s health. I wish to--I insist upon it! Let go!”
“I don’t love you a bit!” she said suddenly, just as though the words had exploded from her mouth.
So saying, Rogojin crossed the road.
“Yes, she is inquisitive,” assented the prince.
“There’s the money!... How dare you?... The money!”
“You should search your room and all the cupboards again,” said the prince, after a moment or two of silent reflection.
“The sun is rising,” he cried, seeing the gilded tops of the trees, and pointing to them as to a miracle. “See, it is rising now!”
“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.”
She now rose solemnly from her seat, walked to the centre of the terrace, and stood in front of the prince’s chair. All looked on with some surprise, and Prince S. and her sisters with feelings of decided alarm, to see what new frolic she was up to; it had gone quite far enough already, they thought. But Aglaya evidently thoroughly enjoyed the affectation and ceremony with which she was introducing her recitation of the poem.
“Burning for nothing,” shouted others.
“Oh, what a dreadful calamity! A wretched vase smashed, and a man half dead with remorse about it,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, loudly. “What made you so dreadfully startled, Lef Nicolaievitch?” she added, a little timidly. “Come, my dear boy! cheer up. You really alarm me, taking the accident so to heart.”
He leaped into the carriage after Nastasia and banged the door. The coachman did not hesitate a moment; he whipped up the horses, and they were off.
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.
Gania listened attentively, but to his sister’s astonishment he was by no means so impressed by this news (which should, she thought, have been so important to him) as she had expected.
“Oh, I saw that at once,” replied the latter. “I don’t think it at all nice of him to play a part. What does he wish to gain by it, I wonder?”
“Oho! we’ll make Nastasia Philipovna sing another song now!” giggled Lebedeff, rubbing his hands with glee. “Hey, my boy, we’ll get her some proper earrings now! We’ll get her such earrings that--”
“You are certainly mistaken; I do not even understand you. What else?”
“How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you so struck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?”
“It is most offensive!” shrieked Hippolyte; “it is an insulting suggestion, false, and most ill-timed.”
“I don’t understand you in the least, Parfen.”
But Rogojin added no words of his own in confirmation of this view, and as before, he recounted with marvellous exactness the details of his crime. He was convicted, but with extenuating circumstances, and condemned to hard labour in Siberia for fifteen years. He heard his sentence grimly, silently, and thoughtfully. His colossal fortune, with the exception of the comparatively small portion wasted in the first wanton period of his inheritance, went to his brother, to the great satisfaction of the latter.
“Well, you’ve put me into such a fright that I shall certainly make a fool of myself, and very likely break something too. I wasn’t a bit alarmed before, but now I’m as nervous as can be.”
“You are unjust; I found him sincerely repentant,” observed the prince, after listening for a time.
He looked at his listeners again with that same serious, searching expression.
“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed in alarm, snatching her hand away. She went hastily out of the room in a state of strange confusion.
“May I ask you, Hippolyte, not to talk of this subject? And not to use such expressions?”
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.
“Oh no! not at all--I--”
“At all events, you’ve disbanded your troop--and you are living in your own house instead of being fast and loose about the place; that’s all very good. Is this house all yours, or joint property?”
“I was there,” said Rogojin, unexpectedly. “Come along.” The prince was surprised at this answer; but his astonishment increased a couple of minutes afterwards, when he began to consider it. Having thought it over, he glanced at Rogojin in alarm. The latter was striding along a yard or so ahead, looking straight in front of him, and mechanically making way for anyone he met.
“He has astonished me,” said Ivan Fedorovitch. “I nearly fell down with surprise. I could hardly believe my eyes when I met him in Petersburg just now. Why this haste? That’s what I want to know. He has always said himself that there is no need to break windows.”
“I love Aglaya Ivanovna--she knows it,--and I think she must have long known it.”
The prince made no reply.
A week had elapsed since the rendezvous of our two friends on the green bench in the park, when, one fine morning at about half-past ten o’clock, Varvara Ardalionovna, otherwise Mrs. Ptitsin, who had been out to visit a friend, returned home in a state of considerable mental depression.
“Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that I have to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I am caught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brother look a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I have felt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear to you), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of men which has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is so prominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjoy paradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)--solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of ever fathering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous and conceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; of this you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on your horizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But a long and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the first place you will never gain a certain person.”
“Antip Burdovsky,” stuttered the son of Pavlicheff.
As to the girls, nothing was said openly, at all events; and probably very little in private. They were proud damsels, and were not always perfectly confidential even among themselves. But they understood each other thoroughly at the first word on all occasions; very often at the first glance, so that there was no need of much talking as a rule.
“It is not such a very dreadful circumstance that we are odd people, is it? For we really are odd, you know--careless, reckless, easily wearied of anything. We don’t look thoroughly into matters--don’t care to understand things. We are all like this--you and I, and all of them! Why, here are you, now--you are not a bit angry with me for calling you ‘odd,’ are you? And, if so, surely there is good material in you? Do you know, I sometimes think it is a good thing to be odd. We can forgive one another more easily, and be more humble. No one can begin by being perfect--there is much one cannot understand in life at first. In order to attain to perfection, one must begin by failing to understand much. And if we take in knowledge too quickly, we very likely are not taking it in at all. I say all this to you--you who by this time understand so much--and doubtless have failed to understand so much, also. I am not afraid of you any longer. You are not angry that a mere boy should say such words to you, are you? Of course not! You know how to forget and to forgive. You are laughing, Ivan Petrovitch? You think I am a champion of other classes of people--that I am _their_ advocate, a democrat, and an orator of Equality?” The prince laughed hysterically; he had several times burst into these little, short nervous laughs. “Oh, no--it is for you, for myself, and for all of us together, that I am alarmed. I am a prince of an old family myself, and I am sitting among my peers; and I am talking like this in the hope of saving us all; in the hope that our class will not disappear altogether--into the darkness--unguessing its danger--blaming everything around it, and losing ground every day. Why should we disappear and give place to others, when we may still, if we choose, remain in the front rank and lead the battle? Let us be servants, that we may become lords in due season!”
“Yes--at least about one. Then I told the whole three years’ story of my life, and the history of a poor peasant girl--”
“You shall hear all this directly, gentlemen. I--I--listen!”
“If you came without knowing why, I suppose you love her very much indeed!” she said at last.
“Marie was very gentle to her mother, and nursed her, and did everything for her; but the old woman accepted all her services without a word and never showed her the slightest kindness. Marie bore all this; and I could see when I got to know her that she thought it quite right and fitting, considering herself the lowest and meanest of creatures.
Aglaya was quite alone, and dressed, apparently hastily, in a light mantle. Her face was pale, as it had been in the morning, and her eyes were ablaze with bright but subdued fire. He had never seen that expression in her eyes before.
Rogojin was not smiling now; he sat and listened with folded arms, and lips tight compressed.
Madame Filisoff was a little woman of forty, with a cunning face, and crafty, piercing eyes. When, with an air of mystery, she asked her visitor’s name, he refused at first to answer, but in a moment he changed his mind, and left strict instructions that it should be given to Nastasia Philipovna. The urgency of his request seemed to impress Madame Filisoff, and she put on a knowing expression, as if to say, “You need not be afraid, I quite understand.” The prince’s name evidently was a great surprise to her. He stood and looked absently at her for a moment, then turned, and took the road back to his hotel. But he went away not as he came. A great change had suddenly come over him. He went blindly forward; his knees shook under him; he was tormented by “ideas”; his lips were blue, and trembled with a feeble, meaningless smile. His demon was upon him once more.
“Ah! What visitor did you turn away from my door, about an hour ago?”
“What children we are still, Colia!” he cried at last, enthusiastically,--“and how delightful it is that we can be children still!”
“Then you think they won’t see it?”
As is well known, these fits occur instantaneously. The face, especially the eyes, become terribly disfigured, convulsions seize the limbs, a terrible cry breaks from the sufferer, a wail from which everything human seems to be blotted out, so that it is impossible to believe that the man who has just fallen is the same who emitted the dreadful cry. It seems more as though some other being, inside the stricken one, had cried. Many people have borne witness to this impression; and many cannot behold an epileptic fit without a feeling of mysterious terror and dread.
“Do you know this for certain?” asked Evgenie, with the greatest curiosity.
“I don’t know, father.”
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.
At this moment she was called by someone. She broke loose from him with an air of relief and ran away.
“However, I bear you no grudge,” said Hippolyte suddenly, and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, he held out his hand with a smile. The gesture took Evgenie Pavlovitch by surprise, but with the utmost gravity he touched the hand that was offered him in token of forgiveness.
“Parfen, I am not your enemy, and I do not intend to oppose your intentions in any way. I repeat this to you now just as I said it to you once before on a very similar occasion. When you were arranging for your projected marriage in Moscow, I did not interfere with you--you know I did not. That first time she fled to me from you, from the very altar almost, and begged me to ‘save her from you.’ Afterwards she ran away from me again, and you found her and arranged your marriage with her once more; and now, I hear, she has run away from you and come to Petersburg. Is it true? Lebedeff wrote me to this effect, and that’s why I came here. That you had once more arranged matters with Nastasia Philipovna I only learned last night in the train from a friend of yours, Zaleshoff--if you wish to know.
“This is not the place for you,” said she. “Go to father. Is he plaguing you, prince?”