“Ha, ha, ha!”
“She’s mad--quite!” said Alexandra.
“It’s quite new.”
“Surely not _all_, ma’am? They seem so disorderly--it’s dreadful to see them.”
“Forgive a silly, horrid, spoilt girl”--(she took his hand here)--“and be quite assured that we all of us esteem you beyond all words. And if I dared to turn your beautiful, admirable simplicity to ridicule, forgive me as you would a little child its mischief. Forgive me all my absurdity of just now, which, of course, meant nothing, and could not have the slightest consequence.” She spoke these words with great emphasis.
“Oh, don’t you begin bantering him,” said mamma. “He is probably a good deal cleverer than all three of you girls put together. We shall see. Only you haven’t told us anything about Aglaya yet, prince; and Aglaya and I are both waiting to hear.”
“But I did not allow it,” murmured the wretched prince.
“Why, I declare, here he is!” she cried, stopping suddenly. “The man one can’t find with all one’s messengers sent about the place, sitting just under one’s nose, exactly where one never thought of looking! I thought you were sure to be at your uncle’s by this time.”
“Be assured, most honourable, most worthy of princes--be assured that the whole matter shall be buried within my heart!” cried Lebedeff, in a paroxysm of exaltation. “I’d give every drop of my blood... Illustrious prince, I am a poor wretch in soul and spirit, but ask the veriest scoundrel whether he would prefer to deal with one like himself, or with a noble-hearted man like you, and there is no doubt as to his choice! He’ll answer that he prefers the noble-hearted man--and there you have the triumph of virtue! _Au revoir_, honoured prince! You and I together--softly! softly!”
“It reminds me,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, laughing, “of the famous plea of a certain lawyer who lately defended a man for murdering six people in order to rob them. He excused his client on the score of poverty. ‘It is quite natural,’ he said in conclusion, ‘considering the state of misery he was in, that he should have thought of murdering these six people; which of you, gentlemen, would not have done the same in his place?’”
Suddenly, to the astonishment of all, Keller went quickly up to the general.
However, I hope I shall not interfere with the proper sequence of my narrative too much, if I diverge for a moment at this point, in order to explain the mutual relations between General Epanchin’s family and others acting a part in this history, at the time when we take up the thread of their destiny. I have already stated that the general, though he was a man of lowly origin, and of poor education, was, for all that, an experienced and talented husband and father. Among other things, he considered it undesirable to hurry his daughters to the matrimonial altar and to worry them too much with assurances of his paternal wishes for their happiness, as is the custom among parents of many grown-up daughters. He even succeeded in ranging his wife on his side on this question, though he found the feat very difficult to accomplish, because unnatural; but the general’s arguments were conclusive, and founded upon obvious facts. The general considered that the girls’ taste and good sense should be allowed to develop and mature deliberately, and that the parents’ duty should merely be to keep watch, in order that no strange or undesirable choice be made; but that the selection once effected, both father and mother were bound from that moment to enter heart and soul into the cause, and to see that the matter progressed without hindrance until the altar should be happily reached.
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over and her eyes were blazing.
“Come, come; what’s all this?” cried General Ivolgin, suddenly and angrily, coming close up to Rogojin. The unexpectedness of this sally on the part of the hitherto silent old man caused some laughter among the intruders.
“Mine, mine!” she cried. “Has the proud young lady gone? Ha, ha, ha!” she laughed hysterically. “And I had given him up to her! Why--why did I? Mad--mad! Get away, Rogojin! Ha, ha, ha!”
“I wrote, and I say to you once more, that she is not in her right mind,” said the prince, who had listened with anguish to what Rogojin said.
Five years of this Petersburg life went by, and, of course, during that time a great deal happened. Totski’s position was very uncomfortable; having “funked” once, he could not totally regain his ease. He was afraid, he did not know why, but he was simply _afraid_ of Nastasia Philipovna. For the first two years or so he had suspected that she wished to marry him herself, and that only her vanity prevented her telling him so. He thought that she wanted him to approach her with a humble proposal from his own side. But to his great, and not entirely pleasurable amazement, he discovered that this was by no means the case, and that were he to offer himself he would be refused. He could not understand such a state of things, and was obliged to conclude that it was pride, the pride of an injured and imaginative woman, which had gone to such lengths that it preferred to sit and nurse its contempt and hatred in solitude rather than mount to heights of hitherto unattainable splendour. To make matters worse, she was quite impervious to mercenary considerations, and could not be bribed in any way.
No one else followed the eccentric lady; but as she descended the steps she did not even look behind her, as though it were absolutely the same to her whether anyone were following or not. She laughed and talked loudly, however, just as before. She was dressed with great taste, but with rather more magnificence than was needed for the occasion, perhaps.
Our friend, Gania, belonged to the other class--to the “much cleverer” persons, though he was from head to foot permeated and saturated with the longing to be original. This class, as I have said above, is far less happy. For the “clever commonplace” person, though he may possibly imagine himself a man of genius and originality, none the less has within his heart the deathless worm of suspicion and doubt; and this doubt sometimes brings a clever man to despair. (As a rule, however, nothing tragic happens;--his liver becomes a little damaged in the course of time, nothing more serious. Such men do not give up their aspirations after originality without a severe struggle,--and there have been men who, though good fellows in themselves, and even benefactors to humanity, have sunk to the level of base criminals for the sake of originality).
“Of course it is; we are not a secret society; and that being the case, it is all the more curious that the general should have been on his way to wake me up in order to tell me this.”
“What is it then, for goodness’ sake?”
“I don’t know--I dreamed last night that I was being suffocated with a wet cloth by--somebody. I’ll tell you who it was--Rogojin! What do you think, can a man be suffocated with a wet cloth?”
“Well--he did sleep here, yes.”
“Excuse me--wait a minute--he says that the leg we see is a wooden one, made by Tchernosvitoff.”
“About the hedgehog.”
Mrs. Epanchin gazed keenly into the prince’s eyes. She was anxious to see what impression the news as to Evgenie Pavlovitch had made upon him.
One of these incidents was a visit from Lebedeff. Lebedeff came rather early--before ten--but he was tipsy already. Though the prince was not in an observant condition, yet he could not avoid seeing that for at least three days--ever since General Ivolgin had left the house Lebedeff had been behaving very badly. He looked untidy and dirty at all times of the day, and it was said that he had begun to rage about in his own house, and that his temper was very bad. As soon as he arrived this morning, he began to hold forth, beating his breast and apparently blaming himself for something.
“How he could hate me and tell scandalous stories about me, living among children as he did, is what I cannot understand. Children soothe and heal the wounded heart. I remember there was one poor fellow at our professor’s who was being treated for madness, and you have no idea what those children did for him, eventually. I don’t think he was mad, but only terribly unhappy. But I’ll tell you all about him another day. Now I must get on with this story.
“What are you up to? Where are you off to? You’ve nowhere to go to, you know,” cried Gania, out of the window.
But now another circumstance occurred, which changed all the plans once more, and again the intended journey was put off, much to the delight of the general and his spouse.
“What, Hippolyte? He found it out himself, of course. Why, you have no idea what a cunning little animal he is; dirty little gossip! He has the most extraordinary nose for smelling out other people’s secrets, or anything approaching to scandal. Believe it or not, but I’m pretty sure he has got round Aglaya. If he hasn’t, he soon will. Rogojin is intimate with him, too. How the prince doesn’t notice it, I can’t understand. The little wretch considers me his enemy now and does his best to catch me tripping. What on earth does it matter to him, when he’s dying? However, you’ll see; I shall catch _him_ tripping yet, and not he me.”
“I don’t _hate_, I despise him,” said Gania, grandly. “Well, I do hate him, if you like!” he added, with a sudden access of rage, “and I’ll tell him so to his face, even when he’s dying! If you had but read his confession--good Lord! what refinement of impudence! Oh, but I’d have liked to whip him then and there, like a schoolboy, just to see how surprised he would have been! Now he hates everybody because he--Oh, I say, what on earth are they doing there! Listen to that noise! I really can’t stand this any longer. Ptitsin!” he cried, as the latter entered the room, “what in the name of goodness are we coming to? Listen to that--”
“What, his face? only his face?” asked Adelaida. “That would be a strange subject indeed. And what sort of a picture would that make?”
“I read that last most praiseworthy thought in my manual, when I was twelve years old,” said Aglaya.
“Yes, my bones, I--”
“Of course you may; I am very glad to listen,” replied Muishkin.
“I have not seen all kinds of liberals, and cannot, therefore, set myself up as a judge,” said Alexandra, “but I have heard all you have said with indignation. You have taken some accidental case and twisted it into a universal law, which is unjust.”
“Because, you know,” Rogojin recommenced, as though continuing a former sentence, “if you were ill now, or had a fit, or screamed, or anything, they might hear it in the yard, or even in the street, and guess that someone was passing the night in the house. They would all come and knock and want to come in, because they know I am not at home. I didn’t light a candle for the same reason. When I am not here--for two or three days at a time, now and then--no one comes in to tidy the house or anything; those are my orders. So that I want them to not know we are spending the night here--”
“Have you always lived at home, Aglaya Ivanovna?” he asked. “I mean, have you never been to school, or college, or anything?”
Mrs. Epanchin left the room.
“But what have I done? What is his grievance?” asked Hippolyte, grinning.
“Yes--I dare say it is all as you say; I dare say you are quite right,” muttered the prince once more. “She is very sensitive and easily put out, of course; but still, she...”
“You are still suspicious, I see, and do not believe me; but you may be quite at your ease. There shall be no more tears, nor questions--not from my side, at all events. All I wish is that you may be happy, you know that. I have submitted to my fate; but my heart will always be with you, whether we remain united, or whether we part. Of course I only answer for myself--you can hardly expect your sister--”
“I think you are unfair towards me,” he said. “There is nothing wrong in the thoughts I ascribe to Hippolyte; they are only natural. But of course I don’t know for certain what he thought. Perhaps he thought nothing, but simply longed to see human faces once more, and to hear human praise and feel human affection. Who knows? Only it all came out wrong, somehow. Some people have luck, and everything comes out right with them; others have none, and never a thing turns out fortunately.”
Sure enough the cloak was lying on the ground. Nastasia had thrown it off her towards the prince, expecting him to catch it, but the prince had missed it.
“She died very soon; I had thought she would live much longer. The day before her death I went to see her for the last time, just before sunset. I think she recognized me, for she pressed my hand.
“How do you know I walked in the park and didn’t sleep at home?”
“You saw me as a child!” exclaimed the prince, with surprise.
“It is hardly an exact statement of the case,” said the prince in reply. “You have confused your motives and ideas, as I need scarcely say too often happens to myself. I can assure you, Keller, I reproach myself bitterly for it sometimes. When you were talking just now I seemed to be listening to something about myself. At times I have imagined that all men were the same,” he continued earnestly, for he appeared to be much interested in the conversation, “and that consoled me in a certain degree, for a _double_ motive is a thing most difficult to fight against. I have tried, and I know. God knows whence they arise, these ideas that you speak of as base. I fear these double motives more than ever just now, but I am not your judge, and in my opinion it is going too far to give the name of baseness to it--what do you think? You were going to employ your tears as a ruse in order to borrow money, but you also say--in fact, you have sworn to the fact--that independently of this your confession was made with an honourable motive. As for the money, you want it for drink, do you not? After your confession, that is weakness, of course; but, after all, how can anyone give up a bad habit at a moment’s notice? It is impossible. What can we do? It is best, I think, to leave the matter to your own conscience. How does it seem to you?” As he concluded the prince looked curiously at Keller; evidently this problem of double motives had often been considered by him before.
“Do you cut your pages with it, or what?” asked Muishkin, still rather absently, as though unable to throw off a deep preoccupation into which the conversation had thrown him.
The prince tried to speak, but could not form his words; a great weight seemed to lie upon his breast and suffocate him.
“Parfen! I won’t believe it.”
“Whom else?” said Lebedeff, softly, gazing intently into the prince s face.
It was declared that he believed in no classes or anything else, excepting “the woman question.”
“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?”
“Come, come; what’s all this?” cried General Ivolgin, suddenly and angrily, coming close up to Rogojin. The unexpectedness of this sally on the part of the hitherto silent old man caused some laughter among the intruders.
“I don’t want any dinner, thanks, Colia. I had too good a lunch at General Epanchin’s.”
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.
“Really?” said the old man, smiling.
“My goodness--surely she is not in love with such a--surely she isn’t mad!” groaned Mrs. Epanchin, under her breath.
“Wait,” interrupted the prince. “I asked both the porter and the woman whether Nastasia Philipovna had spent last night in the house; so they knew--”
The general shouted in his fury; but it was to be concluded that his wrath was not kindled by the expressed doubt as to Kapiton’s existence. This was his scapegoat; but his excitement was caused by something quite different. As a rule he would have merely shouted down the doubt as to Kapiton, told a long yarn about his friend, and eventually retired upstairs to his room. But today, in the strange uncertainty of human nature, it seemed to require but so small an offence as this to make his cup to overflow. The old man grew purple in the face, he raised his hands. “Enough of this!” he yelled. “My curse--away, out of the house I go! Colia, bring my bag away!” He left the room hastily and in a paroxysm of rage.
He continued to speak in a whisper, very deliberately as before, and looked strangely thoughtful and dreamy. Even while he told the story of how he had peeped through the blind, he gave the impression of wishing to say something else. They entered the study. In this room some changes had taken place since the prince last saw it. It was now divided into two equal parts by a heavy green silk curtain stretched across it, separating the alcove beyond, where stood Rogojin’s bed, from the rest of the room.
“Don’t you see he is a lunatic, prince?” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch in his ear. “Someone told me just now that he is a bit touched on the subject of lawyers, that he has a mania for making speeches and intends to pass the examinations. I am expecting a splendid burlesque now.”
“Koulakoff... Koulakoff means nothing. This is Sokolovitch’s flat, and I am ringing at his door.... What do I care for Koulakoff?... Here comes someone to open.”
“Quite so, quite so, of course!” murmured the poor prince, who didn’t know where to look. “Your memoirs would be most interesting.”
“Yes, I have,” and the prince stopped again.
“Is that you, Keller?” said the prince, in surprise.
“She died a few months later, from a cold,” said the prince.
“It’s a wonderful face,” said the prince, “and I feel sure that her destiny is not by any means an ordinary, uneventful one. Her face is smiling enough, but she must have suffered terribly--hasn’t she? Her eyes show it--those two bones there, the little points under her eyes, just where the cheek begins. It’s a proud face too, terribly proud! And I--I can’t say whether she is good and kind, or not. Oh, if she be but good! That would make all well!”
“It would be very pleasant,” returned the prince. “But we must see. I am really rather worried just now. What! are we there already? Is that the house? What a long flight of steps! And there’s a porter! Well, Colia I don’t know what will come of it all.”
“Now, that is a valuable piece of information, Mr. Keller,” replied Gania. “However that may be, I have private information which convinces me that Mr. Burdovsky, though doubtless aware of the date of his birth, knew nothing at all about Pavlicheff’s sojourn abroad. Indeed, he passed the greater part of his life out of Russia, returning at intervals for short visits. The journey in question is in itself too unimportant for his friends to recollect it after more than twenty years; and of course Mr. Burdovsky could have known nothing about it, for he was not born. As the event has proved, it was not impossible to find evidence of his absence, though I must confess that chance has helped me in a quest which might very well have come to nothing. It was really almost impossible for Burdovsky or Tchebaroff to discover these facts, even if it had entered their heads to try. Naturally they never dreamt...”
“Vera just told me. She tried to persuade me not to come, but I couldn’t help myself, just for one minute. I have been having my turn at the bedside for the last two hours; Kostia Lebedeff is there now. Burdovsky has gone. Now, lie down, prince, make yourself comfortable, and sleep well! I’m awfully impressed, you know.”
The prince jumped up so furiously that Lebedeff ran towards the door; having gained which strategic position, however, he stopped and looked back to see if he might hope for pardon.
“You are quite wrong...” began the prince.
But there were other defenders for Nastasia on the spot by this time. The gentleman known as the “boxer” now confronted the enraged officer.
Aglaya gazed at him for some seconds with precisely the same composure and calm astonishment as she had shown a little while before, when the prince handed her the note, and it appeared that this calm surprise and seemingly absolute incomprehension of what was said to her, were more terribly overwhelming to Gania than even the most plainly expressed disdain would have been.
“Prince, you are not only simple, but your simplicity is almost past the limit,” said Lebedeff’s nephew, with a sarcastic smile.
“No, they are not Nihilists,” explained Lebedeff, who seemed much excited. “This is another lot--a special group. According to my nephew they are more advanced even than the Nihilists. You are quite wrong, excellency, if you think that your presence will intimidate them; nothing intimidates them. Educated men, learned men even, are to be found among Nihilists; these go further, in that they are men of action. The movement is, properly speaking, a derivative from Nihilism--though they are only known indirectly, and by hearsay, for they never advertise their doings in the papers. They go straight to the point. For them, it is not a question of showing that Pushkin is stupid, or that Russia must be torn in pieces. No; but if they have a great desire for anything, they believe they have a right to get it even at the cost of the lives, say, of eight persons. They are checked by no obstacles. In fact, prince, I should not advise you...”
“No? No?” shouted Rogojin, almost out of his mind with joy. “You are not going to, after all? And they told me--oh, Nastasia Philipovna--they said you had promised to marry him, _him!_ As if you _could_ do it!--him--pooh! I don’t mind saying it to everyone--I’d buy him off for a hundred roubles, any day pfu! Give him a thousand, or three if he likes, poor devil, and he’d cut and run the day before his wedding, and leave his bride to me! Wouldn’t you, Gania, you blackguard? You’d take three thousand, wouldn’t you? Here’s the money! Look, I’ve come on purpose to pay you off and get your receipt, formally. I said I’d buy you up, and so I will.”
The crash, the cry, the sight of the fragments of valuable china covering the carpet, the alarm of the company--what all this meant to the poor prince it would be difficult to convey to the mind of the reader, or for him to imagine.
With trembling fingers he broke the seal and drew out several sheets of paper, smoothed them out before him, and began sorting them.
“But Nastasia Philipovna seems to me to be such a _sensible_ woman, and, as such, why should she run blindly into this business? That’s what puzzles me so,” said the prince.
“You see, Lebedeff, a mistake here would be a dreadful thing. This Ferdishenko, I would not say a word against him, of course; but, who knows? Perhaps it really was he? I mean he really does seem to be a more likely man than... than any other.”
“They say that they have come on business, and they are the kind of men, who, if you do not see them here, will follow you about the street. It would be better to receive them, and then you will get rid of them. Gavrila Ardalionovitch and Ptitsin are both there, trying to make them hear reason.”
“Not I--not I! I retire from all responsibility,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.
“My father was just about to be tried when he died,” said the prince, “although I never knew of what he was accused. He died in hospital.”
By the end of the third day the incident of the eccentric lady and Evgenie Pavlovitch had attained enormous and mysterious proportions in his mind. He sorrowfully asked himself whether he had been the cause of this new “monstrosity,” or was it... but he refrained from saying who else might be in fault. As for the letters N.P.B., he looked on that as a harmless joke, a mere childish piece of mischief--so childish that he felt it would be shameful, almost dishonourable, to attach any importance to it.
Varia had risen from her place and had started to go upstairs to her mother; but at this observation of Gania’s she turned and gazed at him attentively.
“How mean you were!” said Nastasia.
“Yes, of course,” said Ferdishenko. “C’est du nouveau.”
There was no reason for the prince to set anyone to watch, even if he had been capable of such a thing. Aglaya’s command that he should stay at home all day seemed almost explained now. Perhaps she meant to call for him, herself, or it might be, of course, that she was anxious to make sure of his not coming there, and therefore bade him remain at home. His head whirled; the whole room seemed to be turning round. He lay down on the sofa, and closed his eyes.
Aglaya did not so much as glance at the new arrivals, but went on with her recitation, gazing at the prince the while in an affected manner, and at him alone. It was clear to him that she was doing all this with some special object.
There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters--one of them was very long.
“To the twelfth century, and those immediately preceding and following it. We are told by historians that widespread famines occurred in those days every two or three years, and such was the condition of things that men actually had recourse to cannibalism, in secret, of course. One of these cannibals, who had reached a good age, declared of his own free will that during the course of his long and miserable life he had personally killed and eaten, in the most profound secrecy, sixty monks, not to mention several children; the number of the latter he thought was about six, an insignificant total when compared with the enormous mass of ecclesiastics consumed by him. As to adults, laymen that is to say, he had never touched them.”
“I knew nothing about your home before,” said the prince absently, as if he were thinking of something else.
If it had been any other family than the Epanchins’, nothing particular would have happened. But, thanks to Mrs. Epanchin’s invariable fussiness and anxiety, there could not be the slightest hitch in the simplest matters of everyday life, but she immediately foresaw the most dreadful and alarming consequences, and suffered accordingly.